TONY JONES: Well Saddam's trial may have adjourned for a short break, but there's been an orgy of violence throughout Iraq since last week's bombing of the Shi'ia Muslim holy site, the Golden Shrine, in Samarra. The wave of attacks and killings has left many fearful that the country is on the brink of descending into civil war. But at least one influential commentator, the director of the Middle East Forum, Dr Daniel Pipes, believes that while a civil war in Iraq would be a humanitarian tragedy, it would "not be a strategic one". Daniel Pipes joins us now from Philadelphia. Thanks for being there.
DR DANIEL PIPES, DIRECTOR MIDDLE EAST FORUM: Thank you, Tony.
TONY JONES: Can you explain to me how you could regard a civil war in Iraq as anything but a strategic disaster?
DR DANIEL PIPES: Well, let me start by emphasising that it it is a humanitarian disaster and in no sense do I want one to take place. It's a horrible prospect. Should, however, it take place I don't, think from the point of view of the coalition it is necessarily that bad for our interests.
TONY JONES: Can you tell us why you think that? And I suppose the broader question is do you think that other people, that people within the administration are thinking the same way?
DR DANIEL PIPES: No, I don't think they're thinking the same way because I think they aspire to create a new Iraq. I don't aspire to it. I think our coalition, Australian, American, British and other achievement was in getting rid of Saddam Hussein. This was an extraordinary development and wonderful for the Iraqis for the region, and for ourselves. That does mean that we're in a position to create a new Iraq, a free and prosperous Iraq. That is up to the Iraqis. No matter how many soldiers we put in, it will be the Iraqis who decide their future. We can help them with money, with soldiers, and other means, but it is they who make this decision. From that point of view, should there be a civil war in Iraq, there are various trends which will be disrupted, trends which I think are negative.
TONY JONES: Tell me what sort of trends you're talking about? Because I'm still struggling to understand how it would be anything but a strategic disaster.
DR DANIEL PIPES: Well, in the first place, there would be fewer attacks on our forces in Iraq as they fight each other. More broadly outside Iraq. There would be fewer attacks on us as the Shi'ites and the Sunnis attack each other. The imperative that the US Government, in particular, has been following would be shunted aside - an imperative which I think has led to negative results, because the victors in democracy, whether it be Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, have in all these cases been our most extreme enemies - the Islamists. And I think as developments in Iraq slow down the democracy process, so it will elsewhere and we will be the better for it.
TONY JONES: I'll come back to this question about the democracy experiment in Iraq in a moment, because there is a change of mood, it seems, among a lot of commentators in the United States on this question, on both sides of politics. But first, if your strategic assessment is right, or even if it's right, surely the United States would have both a legal and a moral obligation to step in between the two sides and stop a civil war?
DR DANIEL PIPES: I don't think so. Let me give a bit of history. Post-World War I the British and French victors, extracted, as historically victors had, money and other benefits from the defeated German and other powers. Post-World War II, the American and other victors did not extract money from Germany and Japan, but gave them money and it worked. Germany and Japan were rehabilitated. Since 1945, 60 years now, the notion that the victor pays, rehabilitates has become an assumption. I have nothing against it. It worked very well in 1945 but I don't believe it's a legal and moral obligation. I believe when one goes to war, one goes to defeat one's enemy not to rehabilitate them.
TONY JONES: Would I mind if I interrupt. You may not think it's a legal obligation, but under international law, occupying forces do have the duty, the legal duty, to protect civilians in the country that they're occupying.
DR DANIEL PIPES: I don't believe, at this point, the coalition forces in Iraq constitute an occupation no more than say American forces in Europe are an occupation force at this point. They are there at the invitation of the Government and can be told by the government to leave. So this is not an occupation anymore. There is now a constituted government in Iraq. I say the Iraqis are adults they are not our wards. They will define their future. We can help them but it is not our burden to re-establish, to rehabilitate Iraq on a new basis.
TONY JONES: If you don't accept the legal argument, what about the moral one?
DR DANIEL PIPES: The moral one is a good one, but it's not a defining one. That is to say that we do want to help Iraqis. All of us want to see a free and prosperous Iraq, but it is not a moral obligation on us. Just because we got rid of Saddam Hussein doesn't mean that we are obligated to fix Iraq. I think the great achievement of the coalition was to get rid of this hideous totalitarian thug running Iraq. A danger to the Iraqis, the region and the outside world. That does not imply that we must - we can try - but it doesn't mean we must or are obligated - to fix Iraq. And I don't think we can fix Iraq. If thought we could I'd say, "Let's try it. " I don't think the Iraqis want us there to fix Iraq. The big difference, the key difference, between the Germans and the Japanese 60 years ago and the Iraqis today is that the Germans and Japanese went through years of total war, were smashed by it. The Iraqis went through six weeks of very limited war, and came out liberated and feeling they they are in a position to determine their destiny. I say good for them, let them do that.
TONY JONES: Isn't it far too cold-blooded a calculation for the invading force to say, "Well if the Shi'ia and Sunni are shooting and killing each other, at least they're not shooting at us?"
DR DANIEL PIPES: Let me emphasise I do not want them to be shooting each other. I wish that the communities found a way to work together. I'm just saying should there be a civil war, it is not necessarily all that bad for our interests. By no means am I endorsing it, by no means do I want one. I'm looking at it in a cool way and saying there are advantages to it. Let me emphasise that does not mean I want it to happen.
TONY JONES: It's just slightly shocking for someone to say that so boldly, that's the point I'm making.
DR DANIEL PIPES: Well I think it's useful to look at it coolly and say, "What are our interests here?" After all, we are looking at Iraq from our national interest point of view. Will we be all that set back by this? I say no. There are negative things, there are positive things. It's a mix. I'm not quite sure how it will come out.
TONY JONES: Let's go back to this other fundamental argument, in fact, the argument you've been making for some years now, that the democratic experiment simply isn't going to work or wasn't going to work as you were saying in Iraq. There seem to be a number of commentators from both sides of the political fence coming to that conclusion now in the United States and only today in the 'Washington Post', the 'Atlantic Monthly's Robert Kaplan writes,"For the average person in Iraq a despotic state that can protect him is far more moral and far more useful than a democratic one that cannot."
DR DANIEL PIPES: That's a good point. But my emphasis is somewhat different, in that by pushing forward too quickly - and I emphasise too quickly - the democratic process, we're bringing totalitarians to power. Whether it be in Afghanistan Iraq or the other countries I listed, it is the Islamists, it is the radical Islamist forces, which are best funded, most ideally coherent who invariably succeed. The most dramatic was in Hamas in the Palestinian Authority. Hamas succeeded in late January, just a month and a bit ago. I worry this is going too fast. I endorse it, it's a great goal. We want a democratic Middle East, but it has to be done slowly, cautiously, modestly, not ramming it through despite the consequences.
TONY JONES: Kaplan's argument - he's coming from the left as I understand it - is pretty similar in many respects to what you're saying. He's saying it has to be a long-term project. He's pointing to the fact that, in his view, the most stable states are Jordan, Morocco and the Gulf Emirates - countries that are all monarchies. It's too late, however, to turn back the clock and change the way you deal with Iraq, so what's the next step as far as you would see it?
DR DANIEL PIPES: The next step is to recalibrate, to realise that democracy, or elections, are the culmination of a long process of building civic society. Rule of law, voluntary associations, freedom of speech and so forth. This takes decades. We've seen this around the world, and that the Middle East needs time to develop these counter-intuitive sensibilities. To learn the things that we as Westerners know as we grow up. They don't know these things, it will take time and that we should slow down the process. Yes, work towards eventually democracy, but more slowly than we're doing at present.
TONY JONES: The problem, of course, is the rhetoric, which led us into war that came from Washington - and its allies, for that matter - saying that one of the great goals of this war, of this invasion was to create a democracy and the neo-conservative dream bound up in that, that a model democracy in Iraq would somehow radiate throughout the Middle East. I mean, how can President Bush step back from that?
DR DANIEL PIPES: Well, he has already somewhat stepped back in that he doesn't really talk about free and prosperous Iraq, he talks about a free Iraq. He has worked backwards from it. But yes, the name in the US was Operation Iraqi Freedom. I bristled at that. I thought it should be 'Operation American Security'. And we don't spend American lives to win other people's freedom; we do it in order to protect ourselves. I think, again, a more modest approach where we keep an eye on our interest and hope for the best for the Iraqis and do the best we can for them, or any other people's, but not make their welfare the reason why we go to war, why we lose lives. That's not going to work.
TONY JONES: Let me ask you this: who do you believe is responsible for the outrages, such as the attack on the Shi'ia shrine in Samarra, which appear to be aimed at provoking civil war?
DR DANIEL PIPES: I have no reason to disagree with the consensus assessment that this is al-Qaeda or some affiliate of it. But one point that doesn't come out often is to note that the Sunnis have been running Iraq for a very long time and although they now constitute a quite small minority - 20% of the population - they believe they should be running the country. And that is behind much of the politics since the overthrow of Saddam three years ago: they're reluctant to let go; they see themselves as the natural rulers of Iraq. And that explains, I think much of the violence - not specifically this violence but, broadly - the Shi'ite unrest and unwillingness to fit into a new order.
TONY JONES: The other great risk of sectarian conflict worsens in Iraq is that both Syria and Iran could be drawn into the conflict on either side. And how real is that possibility? And isn't that, in fact, one of the greatest dangers faced by the United States?
DR DANIEL PIPES: It is definitely a real possibility and there's also the possibility of Turkey, which has an unresolved border at the north of Iraq, where there's a lot of oil coming in, as well. I'm more worried about the Turkish involvement, in some ways, than the other two. The US has extreme tensions, with both Syria and Iran - this could exacerbate them. I don't know that that's all to the negative. I'm not - this is a complicated matter. But again, you know, strategically speaking, coolly speaking, I'm not sure that's all to the bad; Turkey would be all to the bad.
TONY JONES: Let's look at Iran for a minute, because the Iranian regime, under considerable international pressure, appears to have blinked tonight. It's agreed to go back to ministerial talks in Vienna with the EU negotiators at the very least, not American negotiators, but with EU negotiators. I mean, they are facing the possibility of this whole thing going to the UN Security Council within a week, if they don't begin negotiating again. What do you think is happening here?
DR DANIEL PIPES: Well, I think the important thing about Iran is that unlike, say, Iraq under Saddam Hussein, which was a one man Stalinist rule, where one man's mind ran the country, in Iran, you have contending power centres and our goal - the outside world's goal - has to be to encourage those elements in Iran that are unenthusiastic about the race towards nuclear weaponry, to stop it. And interestingly you said was the Europeans. It is the Europeans who are at the forefront of this, for a variety of reasons, not the Americans. And it is the Europeans who are pressing as hard as they can and making some rather bold statements in this regard about the need for the Iranians to slow down. And I think the prospects are decent, that elements within Iran that don't want to be isolated that don't want war, that don't want this trouble ahead could prevail over the hot heads and say "Slow down. Watch out. Don't do this."
TONY JONES: Can I ask what sort of message, though, does it send to Iran - which wants to develop nuclear weapons clearly - that President Bush has today concluded a deal with, essentially, a nuclear renegade, someone that broke with the international consensus: India, and signed a deal to give them American nuclear technology?
DR DANIEL PIPES: Yeah, it is problematic. I have grave doubts about it as well. One point to make is that the Indians never signed the nuclear proliferation treaty and, in that sense, are not renegade in the same way that the Iranians are - though I acknowledge that's a fairly legalistic point. No, these - there is a problem that we try and keep people or States out of the nuclear club but once they get in, they're in and we accept it. It is hypocritical, there is no doubt, but at the same time I'm not quite sure what the alternative policies are. This is a high priority for the Indians and the US is looking to improve, finally, its relations with India. So this is a natural - I am very queasy about it.
TONY JONES: Doesn't it fundamentally undermine the argument that they're making about Iran developing nuclear weapons, though, that they're prepared even to strike Iranian nuclear sites, that that threat has been left out there. At the same time they're dealing with a country that broke the international consensus?
DR DANIEL PIPES: There is hypocrisy I grant, but at the same time there's a big difference between regimes. We accept, more dramatically, we accepted the Pakistani development of nuclear weaponry in a way we don't accept the Iranian one because we were not that worried that the Pakistanis would use it. We are truly worried that the Iranian capability, nuclear weapon capability would be used, would be deployed, would be not just a bomb in the attic, there for a rainy day, but actually be used. And that's why the alarm overrun. It's a lot to do with the nature of the regime as well as the technical and nuclear capabilities.
TONY JONES: Daniel Pipes, the President now goes to deal with a military dictator in Pakistan. He goes from dealing with a nuclear renegade in India to another nuclear renegade in Pakistan, who also happens, as it turns out, to be a military dictator. What will he be saying to President Musharraf about his desire to spread democracy throughout the world, do you think?
DR DANIEL PIPES: Well I think the kind of counsel I would give about going slow is likely to be - more likely to be applied in Pakistan than in many of the other neighbouring or regional states. That yes, we want democracy, yes, please move in that direction - and I'm quite happy with that. I think that nudging dictators towards democracy, opening things up at lower levels, at the municipal level, at the legislative side, is perfectly legitimate. I don't think Pakistan is ready for immediate, total, open democracy such as you and we know. But working in that direction, opening things up, having a favourable trend - that to me seems like a good idea and I would hope the President would push Mr Musharraf in that direction.
TONY JONES: Well, Daniel Pipes we will have to leave you. Once again, we thank you for getting up so early in the morning to come and speak to us on Lateline.
DR DANIEL PIPES: Thank you for the invitation to chat.