It's no surprise Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes has made so many political friends and enemies. A conservative columnist, counter-terrorism analyst and author or co-author of 18 books, he's a staunch supporter of Israel and a harsh critic of radical Islam.
Praised as an "authoritative commentator on the Middle East" by his allies at the Wall Street Journal, he's been branded "an anti-Islamist extremist" by some Arab-American groups. He's also the founder of the Middle East Forum (www.meforum.org), which, among other things, has a Web site called Campus Watch that monitors how Middle East studies are taught at U.S. colleges.
Pipes will be a keynote speaker Thursday night at Grove City College's star-studded conference on the prospects of spreading democracy in the Arab world, "Mr. Jefferson Goes to the Middle East," April 5-6 (Info: 724-458-3302). I talked to Pipes by phone Tuesday from Sydney, Australia.
Q: Were you in favor of going to war in Iraq, and how do you think it's progressing or regressing?
A: I was in favor. I continue to be in favor of the campaign to eliminate the rule of Saddam Hussein, with all the dangers to the Iraqis, to the region and to ourselves. From April 2003 on, I have argued that the U.S. government and its allies should have lower expectations than actually is the case. That we should treat the Iraqis like adults; that we should understand that they are going to run their own future, their own destiny, not us; that our role there is at best advisory, and that we should be patient. So lower expectations and a longer time horizon.
Q: Does that mean a significant change in what we are doing now, in terms of policy. Should we announce withdrawals?
A: The number of troops is not my issue. It's the placement and role of the troops. For three years now I have been protesting the use of American troops to mediate between tribes, help rebuild electricity grids, oversee school construction, which seems to me to be a wrong use of our forces, of our money. The Iraqis should be in charge of that. We should keep the troops there, in the desert, looking after the international boundaries, making sure there are no atrocities, making sure oil and gas goes out, otherwise leaving Iraq to the Iraqis.
Q: How do you define your politics?
Q: You're not one of those neocons who allegedly talked President Bush into going to war in the Middle East?
A: I have been called a neoconservative. I don't exactly know how a neoconservative differs from a conservative.
Q: Do you generally agree with President Bush's Middle East policy -- its goals and its methods?
A: I agree with the goals much more than the methods. I just gave an example of Iraq, where I believe the goal of getting rid of Saddam Hussein and trying to have a free and prosperous Iraq are worthy goals. I criticize the implementation. The same goes with democracy. I think democracy is a great goal for the region. I criticize the implementation; I think it's too fast, too American, too get-it-done yesterday.
Q: Is there anything major that the Bush administration should do now to make things go smoother?
A: We did something good in getting rid of the Taliban and getting rid of Saddam Hussein. That is really the extent of our role, to get rid of the hideous totalitarian regimes.
Let me add that I see these issues as basically sidelines. We are engaged in a war, a profound war and long-term war, in which Afghanistan and Iraq are sideshows. The real issue is the war that radical Islam, a global phenomenon, has declared on us and that has already been underway for many years, and we're still at the beginning of it. That's the really major issue.
Q: Recently I talked to Peter Galbraith and Ivan Eland, foreign policy experts who both favor a three-part partition of Iraq as a way to forestall or make a civil war in Iraq go away. Any thoughts on that?
A: Well, the neighborhood is unanimously against it and Iraqis are fearful of it, so I don't think there is much of a chance.
Q: What should U.S. policy be in the Middle East?
A: Well, I endorse the president's vision of a Middle East that is no longer under the control of tyrants, as it is today, or despots -- unelected officials, at best. But it is a long-term project that's going to take decades, not months, and has to be approached with that in mind.
Secondly, if we go too fast, as is the case, we bring our most fervent enemies to power, as we've seen most dramatically in the Palestinian territories, where a terrorist organization (Hamas) won a majority of Palestinian support. One can see that also in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Egypt, Algeria.
We have to be very cautious about pushing a process before the people of the area are really quite ready for it -- until they've gone beyond what I call the "totalitarian temptation," so that they have a more balanced, moderate view of the world than they do at this time.
Q: Do they have a lot of catching up to do?
A: To give an imperfect analogy: Germany went through a hideous period between 1933 and 1945. The condition of the Muslim world is not that bad but it's comparable. It's going through a particularly bad time. ... Our goal is to help the Muslim world move beyond this war through educational programs and other means. Fundamentally, we're at war with a substantial minority of the Muslim world and we are at war with them because they have declared war on us and we have to answer that.
Q: What is the biggest lesson you have learned from the Iraq war?
A: The ingratitude of the Iraqis for the extraordinary favor we gave them -- to release them from the bondage of Saddam Hussein's tyranny. They have rapidly interpreted it as something they did and that we were incidental to it. They've more or less written us out of the picture.
Q: How will we know when the occupation or the invasion of Iraq was a success or a failure?
A: Oh, it was a success. We got rid of Saddam Hussein. Beyond that is icing.