Now I would be the first to admit that I ain't no expert in international relations, politics or anything else for that matter. Indeed, the older I get, the stupider I seem to become. And the only advantage I get from that devolving intelligence is that I can ask stupid questions and not be embarrassed about it.
Like, is it US policy to simply wreck the Middle East to take the pressure off Israel?.
What makes me ask such an inordinately stupid question is stuff I'm hearing about Dr Daniel Pipes, who piped up in Australia recently. I never heard of him before (see, I told you how stupid I am), but did catch an interview he had with Mark Colvin (now, there is someone who knows everything, I'm sure) on my ABC. He seems a Very Important Person and well connected to certain links in Washington, and is really just a really nice, super-intelligent and reasonable guy, from the sound of his bio. The transcript of that interview is here, and you can see how he really overwhelmed anything Mark Colvin might know, really.
DANIEL PIPES: ... 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.Another person, William Rivers Pitt, had a slightly different take on the subject, which I post here only in the spirit of a "full and fair" report; I'll report, you decide.
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.
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.
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.
Last week, George W. Bush got up before a gaggle of reporters and washed his hands of the mess in Iraq. The question of how long an American presence will remain in that country "will be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq," said Bush. To be fair, he isn't the only one. The entire administration appears to have become bored with the whole process. Curiously, way back in 1987, Daniel Pipes urged the US to Back Iraq as a pawn to use against Iran. The Daniel Pipes website has collected all of his "electronically available" writings (the man is nothing if not prodigous), but this particular piece is not amongst them. One commenator, Prof Irfan Khawaja, pointed that out and also said this of Pipes:
Take Daniel Speckhard, for example. Speckhard is Director of the US Iraq Reconstruction Management Office, which is in charge of rebuilding Iraqi infrastructure ravaged by war and depredation lo these last three years. Speckhard is quoted in a report in last week's USA Today: "The Iraqi government can no longer count on U.S. funds and must rely on its own revenues and other foreign aid, particularly from Persian Gulf nations. 'The Iraqi government needs to build up its capability to do its own capital budget investment,' said Speckhard."
Really. They have no police or military to speak of, the hospitals are trashed, the lights won't stay on, the flow of potable water is screwed, roads and bridges are bombed out, hundreds of buildings are wrecked, the so-called "elected" government is totally powerless to contain or control the chaos within the country, headless bodies are popping up left and right, a dozen people die every day from bombings and executions, the entire country is careening towards civil war ... and somewhere in all this, Bush and his people expect the Iraqi government to "do its own capital budget investment."
I am going to find a china shop somewhere in the city and walk in with a free-swinging baseball bat. My goal, which will be clearly stated, will be to improve upon the place. I will spend the next three years meticulously destroying everything I see inside, from the cash registers to the display cases to the nice Royal Albert tea sets in the corner. Along the way, I will batter the brains out of any poor sod unfortunate enough to get in my way. When I am done, I will claim with as much self-righteousness as I can muster that none of the mess is my responsibility. I will then, of course, refuse to leave.
Hey, if the president can do it, it must be legal, right? Unfortunately, the difference between my china shop analogy and what the Bush administration is doing in Iraq is that I won't get anything out of it except an arrest record and a chance to enjoy my state's municipal accommodations. Bush and crew are reaping far better benefits from the mayhem they have caused.
As I see it, Pipes is neither the demon that his enemies have made of him, nor the savior that his champions have made him into. He is, on the one hand, an astute and courageous scholar of militant Islam who has said what needs to be said on that subject without worrying too much about winning popularity contests. On the other hand, however, he is an insensitive, careless, and unreliable journalist with a consistent pattern of exaggeration and misjudgment that he adamantly refuses to acknowledge or rectify. Both facts are real; neither should be ignored.Pipes, in a detailed response to Khawaja's criticisms, merely had this to say about the "Back Iraq" article missing from his extensive archives:
As for the 1987 New Republic article not appearing on my website, www.DanielPipes.org: a review of my writings will reveal that dozens and dozens of my 1980s articles are not on the website yet, for the simple reason that I lack their electronic versions; should anyone volunteer to type up this New Republic piece or others from back then, I will gladly post the results.Well, I don't know if a pdf file is an electronic recording (there's that ignorance thing popping up again), but there is a pdf file of the Back Iraq article available on the net.In that article, Pipes and Laurie MyIroie argue "the fall of the existing [Saddam] regime in Iraq [to Iran] would enormously enhance Iranian influence, endanger the supply of oil, threaten pro-American regimes throughout the area, and upset the Arab-Israeli balance." Following are more excerpts:
"The United States must take clear military, economic, and political steps to demonstrate that it opposes the appeasement of Iran and considers an Iranian victory inimical to Western interests. Ironically, helping Iraq militarily may offer the best way for Washington to regain its position in Tehran. The American weapons that Iraq could make good use of include remotely scattterable and anti-personnel mines, and counterartillery radar.... although Khomeini's men will never love us, they could be made to fear us.He now concedes, though, that Iraq may be lost to Iranian influence. He told Mark Colvin
A more serious argument against a tilt toward Iraq is the danger that a victorious Baghdad would itself turn against pro-American states in the region - mainly Israel, but also Kuwait and other weak states in the Persian Gulf region. Under Saddam Hussein, Iraq has a history of anti-Americanism, anti-Zionism, support for terrorism, and friendliness toward the Soviet Union. But the Iranian revolution and seven years of bloody and inconclusive warfare have changed Iraq's view of its Arab neighbors, the United States, and even Israel.... Iraq is now the de facto protector of the regional status quo. Iran, the revolutionary state, is more likely to turn its weapons against Israel.
Some will say the United States should simply pull back and have nothing to do with either side in the Gulf war. Although it's true that we've bungled our prior involvement, the conflict is too important to ignore. At stake is the possible resurgence of anti-American fundamentalist Islam, the security of Western access to Persian Gulf oil, and potential Soviet predominance in the region. Abdication is not a responsible choice."
, "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." So, a civil war and a battered Iraq infrastructure may be just what is needed to keep Iran focused on its gains against Iraq's Sunnis rather than its other arch-enemy Israel. And while the focus remains on Iraq, Israel remains free to deal with "the Palestinian issue".And Pipes, still in Australia, suggests it is time to take the gloves off on that one. Writing in The Australian he says,
AS Israelis go to the polls, not one of the leading parties offers the option of winning the war against the Palestinians. It's a striking and dangerous lacuna.Pipes has his backers, as his bio shows. He also has some detractors.
First, some background. Wars are won, the historical record shows, when one side feels compelled to give up on its goals. This is only logical, for so long as both sides hope to achieve their war ambitions, fighting either continues or potentially can resume.
Those goals are simple, static and binary. The Arabs fight to eliminate Israel, Israel fights to win the acceptance of its neighbours. The first is offensive in intent, the second is defensive. The former is barbaric and the latter civilised. For almost 60 years, Arab rejectionists have sought to eliminate Israel via a range of strategies: undermining its legitimacy through propaganda, harming its economy through a trade boycott, demoralising it through terrorism and threatening its population via weapons of mass destruction.
While the Arab effort has been patient, intense and purposeful, it has also failed. Israelis have built a modern, affluent and strong country, but one still largely rejected by Arabs.
This mixed record has spawned two political developments: a sense of confidence among politically moderate Israelis, and a sense of guilt and self-criticism among its Leftists. Very few Israelis still worry about the unfinished business of getting the Arabs to accept the permanence of the Jewish state. Call it Israel's invisible war goal.
All manage the conflict without resolving it. All ignore the need to defeat Palestinian rejectionism. All seek to finesse war rather than win it.
For an outside observer who hopes for Arab acceptance of Israel sooner rather than later, this avoidance of the one winning strategy prompts a certain frustration, one that's the more profound on recalling how brilliantly the Israelis understood their war goals early on.
Fortunately, at least one prominent Israeli politician advocates Israeli victory over the Palestinians. Uzi Landau notes simply that "when you're in a war you want to win the war".
He had hoped to lead the Likud in the present election but failed to win anything approaching a majority in his party and is ranked 14th on the election list this week, not even high enough to guarantee him a parliamentary seat.
So they experiment with compromise, unilateralism, enriching their enemies and other schemes. But as Douglas MacArthur observed: "In war, there is no substitute for victory."
The Oslo diplomacy ended in dismal failure and so will all of the other schemes that avoid the hard work of winning. Israelis must eventually gird themselves to resuming the difficult, bitter, long and expensive effort needed to convince the Palestinians and others that their dream of eliminating Israel is defunct.