Just returned from the Wellington Club where myself and around eight journalists had lunch with Daniel Pipes, who has authored more than a dozen books on the Middle East or Islam. The Israeli Ambassador kindly hosted the lunch.
Daniel spoke on five broad topics, and we had a lively Q+A. I’ll go through them, off memory.
Iraq & Afghanistan
Pipes was very pessimistic for both countries, and said that the aim of transforming the countries into modern democratic states has and will fail. Worse, he believes they won’t even achieve the status of “a decent place to live”.
What makes his view of significance, if he was a supporter of the invasions of both countries. So he is saying, that the US has failed and will fail.
I asked whether the US were too ambitious trying to turn Iraq into a post-war Germany or Japan, and whether they would have been better to basically shoot Saddam, and the next ten in the line of succession, tell No 11 that he is now in charge, that he should leave the Kurds alone, and bring in some elections and basically pull out, leaving the infrastructure, the Baath party, the army etc intact.
Pipes basically agreed, and said that has been his long held position – that the US should have found a strongman, who was more palatable than Saddam, and left him in charge. It would not have achieved a secular liberal democracy, but it might achieve the country becoming a semi-decent place to live.
Pipes made a strong case that in terms of foreign policy, there is very little difference between Bush and Obama. Obama at one stage had more troops in Iraq and Afghanistan than under Bush. Also Obama has approved 50 attacks from unmanned drones, compared to 38 under the entire Bush presidency.
Obama’s outreach to Islamic states, with his Cairo speech did result in a more favourable impression of the US at the time. But a year later, the views of the US in the Islamic world have shrunk back to what they were under Bush.
Pipes thinks there is no doubt Iran is developing nuclear weapon – and that in fact it is a logical thing for Iran to do, as it makes you a military power, but in a far cheaper fashion than an increase in conventional forces.
He decried both the Bush and Obama strategy on Iran on the basis he has yet to work out what either of them is.
Pipes believes the threat of a nuclear armed Iran, under its current leadership, is so dangerous, that a military strike will be necessary.
I actually pushed back against this, on the basis that most Iranians want to get rid of their President, and an attack on their nuclear facilities is the one thing which will make his popularity soar, and guarantee the hardliners keep control for at least a generation.
Pipes said that he does think that Iran is the one country where the Islamic leadership is under real threat, and if left alone they are likely to be removed from power in the future. However he still regards the danger in the interim of an Islamic Iran with nuclear weapons to be so great, that he still thinks a strike is needed – but accepts the consequences will be a massive increase in terrorism etc.
Israel & Palestine
Pipes is a pessimist on a diplomatic solution. He asserts that you only have diplomatic solutions after the war is over, not as a way to stop a war. Until one side “wins” diplomacy will not work.
His preferred course of action is to try and increase the proportion of Palestinians who accept Israel has a right to exist from 20% to over 50%. He says only when a majority of Palestinians accept they will not succeed with their desire to destroy Israel, will a diplomatic solution have any chance of working.
Islam and Europe
Pipes says the growing Islamic population in Europe is partly due to the indigenous populations not producing enough children to maintain population, and partly the desire of people in Islamic countries to move to places with a better standard of living.
He says that there are three possible paths ahead:
- Europe muddles through with peaceful co-existence. He says that he sees no evidence at all that this is the likely scenario.
- Over time Europe becomes more “Islamised” with Islam as the dominant religion in Europe, and wide-spread sharia law – even some Islamic states in Europe.
- A massive back-lash from the indigenous Europeans, with neo-fascist and even fascist parties gaining support across the Europe.
A vigorous discussion on this topic. Canada was held up as one of the few Western countries which has managed Muslim immigration, which has not been radical Islamists. I suggested that NZ has also been successful at having Muslim immigrants, with almost no radicalisation here.
Pipes suggestion for keeping it that way, is that one should not discriminate against Muslims who wish to migrate here, but that one should absolutely discriminate against Islamists.
He said many people do not get the difference between Islam/Muslims and Islamism/Islamists. He says Islam is a religion like Judaism, Christianity etc. Islamism is a political belief like communism, zionism, fascism.
Was a very interesting 90 minute lunch and discussion, even if somewhat depressing in terms of the outlook for key conflicts, and for Europe. Barry Soper commented that it made him glad to live in New Zealand – for which I have to agree.