MARK COLVIN: Three years on from the invasion of Iraq, where do the neo-conservatives, who were so influential in the lead up to war, stand now?
One of them, Daniel Pipes, arrived in Australia today, and he says that even if Iraq does descend into full-scale civil war, it would not be a strategic tragedy.
Daniel Pipes is Director of the think tank the Middle East Forum, and when he was last here in 2004 he described himself without qualification as a neo-conservative.
Today, he was hedging his bets somewhat on the label, saying that many people associated him with neo-conservatism, and he wouldn't exactly argue with the description.
That might be because unlike, say, Paul Wolfowitz, who believed that Iraq should be liberated and that it could become a showcase for democracy in the Middle East, Daniel Pipes says the only reason for invading was American national interest.
In fact, he says Iraq's plight now is not a responsibility of the coalition that invaded and occupied the country.
DANIEL PIPES: I mean, it's a godawful thing, and I very much hope it doesn't take place, but should there be a civil war in Iraq, it doesn't very much affect those of us who don't live in Iraq. It's not really our problem.
MARK COLVIN: That sounds a bit reminiscent of Chamberlain at Munich, saying that Czechoslovakia was a country far away of which we know little.
DANIEL PIPES: Well, some countries far away are important to us, and… but not every country far away is important to us.
In other words, what I'm arguing against is the very widespread idea that we the Western countries and specifically the coalition countries are responsible for what happens in Iraq - I mean, something goes wrong in Iraq it's our fault, it's our problem, we must remedy it.
MARK COLVIN: Well what about the so-called pottery barn rule that Colin Powell is alleged to have told the President - you break it, you fix it.
DANIEL PIPES: I profoundly disagree with it. I think it is possible and necessary at times to go to war without taking responsibility for the country that you make war on.
Take a hypothetical but not remote example: should it be necessary to destroy some of the infrastructure in Iran to prevent the Iranian regime from building weapons of mass destruction, it is not therefore necessary that we who undertake that mission rehabilitate and fix Iran. We can just destroy some industrial military positions without fixing the country.
MARK COLVIN: If you don't take responsibility for Iraq, then somebody else, for instance neighbouring Iran, may well do.
DANIEL PIPES: Well, let me turn around and say that if I thought that we the coalition countries could define the destiny of Iraq, could determine its outcome, I'd be happy to do it. I'd be happy to do what's necessary to make them free and prosperous.
I don't think we can. And by the way, although we're trying hard to keep the Iranians out of Iraq they're already there. The Prime Minister of Iraq is a pro-Iranian Islamist.
MARK COLVIN: But if you pulled out altogether, then Iraq, certainly the south, could become just an Iranian proxy.
DANIEL PIPES: Well, I didn't advocate pulling out altogether. I'm saying we should lessen… lower our sights, we should understand that we don't control Iraq, cannot control Iraq, and that developments in Iraq are developments that are primarily made by the Iraqis.
And so if they fight each other they fight each other. I hope they don't, I wish Iraq well, but I as a foreign policy analyst from the United States am not willing to take responsibility for what takes place in Iraq.
MARK COLVIN: Among the reasons you give for saying that civil war would not be a strategic tragedy is that it would invite Syrian and Iranian participation, hastening the possibility of an American confrontation with those two states. How can that be anything but a danger?
DANIEL PIPES: Well, there are those who would like to see the Syrians and Iranians contained, and this would be a way to do that.
MARK COLVIN: Well when you say contained, you can't… America can't afford to take them on in open warfare, can it?
DANIEL PIPES: America's good at open warfare. It's just not good at occupying countries.
MARK COLVIN: What do you mean by confrontation with those two countries?
DANIEL PIPES: I am not sketching out specific scenarios, but I'm just saying that the development of a civil war in Iraq is a horrible prospect, and I in no sense want it to happen.
But if one looks at it coolly, one sees that it's not, from an American or for that matter Australian point of view, a disastrous possibility. It's disastrous for those involved, but not necessarily for those of us on the outside.
MARK COLVIN: You also speak disparagingly about what you call the dream of making Iraq a democratic model for the rest of the Middle East. Why?
DANIEL PIPES: I'm not disparaging, I just don't think it's realistic. Iraq is coming out of 30 years of Saddam Hussein's totalitarian dungeon. They're in no position, in my mind, to develop advanced institutions of democracy and capitalism. Democracy is not a process of months, it's a process of decades.
Look around the world and see how long it takes. Look, for example, at the ex-Soviet Union and Mexico - they've been at it now for some 15 years, and they're still very much in the middle of this process.
MARK COLVIN: On the other hand, I heard at the weekend Muammar Gaddafi giving a speech in which he was attacking extremist Islam, and this from the person who was once reviled by the whole Western world. Is it possible that change can come more quickly than you think?
DANIEL PIPES: Well, Gaddafi has always been hostile towards radical Islam.
MARK COLVIN: Well, he set up a so-called Green revolution, a state which was based around Islam.
DANIEL PIPES: Well, Green is the colour of Islam, but it was his own very personal view, eccentric and, from the Islamist point of view, heretical - not a term used in Islam - but not acceptable. And they have attacked him and opposed him through the decades. So it's not surprising that he would attack radical Islam.
What was surprising was that he renounced his nuclear weaponry. That was a remarkable step, and one of the few items of good news to come out of the Middle East in recent years.
MARK COLVIN: Neo-conservative like Paul Wolfowitz always had at the heart of their idea of neo-conservatism an idea of liberation, an idea of building democracy. Do you still call yourself a neo-conservative in the same sense?
DANIEL PIPES: Well, I've never called myself it really, except to say that others see me that way, and, you know, maybe I am one of them. But I do think that it's a wonderful vision, and I do think it's attainable. It just takes a long time.
MARK COLVIN: Middle East think tank director Daniel Pipes, speaking at the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney today.