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April 26, 2003

Next Steps in Iraq

Daniel Pipes, interviewed, discusses the clash of Muslim civilizations
BUCHANAN: All right, folks, there's something like, maybe one to two million Shiites in Karbala now, and their demonstrations are very militant and increasingly anti-American. It raises questions. "The Washington Post" today said the United States seemed ill-prepared for the strength of the Shia movement and also its politicization, and also that Iran may be moving agents into southern Iraq. Here to discuss all this and the roadmap to Middle East peace is Daniel Pipes, who's is the director of the Middle East Forum, and he's the book on—wrote a book called "Militant Islam...

PRESS: Reaches America.

BUCHANAN: ... Reaches America". It's not yet in America politically right now, Daniel Pipes, but let me ask you this. You have seen these demonstrations, these religious in Karbala and increasingly they seem to be anti-American. Many of their leaders seem to be anti-American. First, do you anticipate an effort to set up an Islamic republic in Iraq or in southern Iraq, and, secondly, if that effort is made, should the United States, if necessary, resist it with military force?

DANIEL PIPES, DIRECTOR, MIDDLE EAST FORUM: Well, first, yes. The Iranian regime, which is faltering ideologically, is losing support domestically. I call it the Brezhnevite era in Iran. It's a strong state, but a hollow state because fewer and fewer people believed in the ideology.

Suddenly, they have this opportunity next door. There's a substantial population of similar-minded—or similarly—similar people of similar religion who are very interested in what they have to offer, and it has, as you just accurately described, real potential in Iraq of the sort that it doesn't in Iran.

What should the United States do? Well, that's a tough question. My feeling is that we should not stay there long. That we should, as much as possible, hand over power to an Iraqi strongman. I think the record shows that it takes time to go from the totalitarianism of Saddam Hussein to democracy, and we can't be there for 10, 20 years. It has to be someone indigenous who is strong...

BUCHANAN: Right.

PIPES: ... and who can make this transition.

BUCHANAN: That makes a lot of sense to me, quite frankly, but the president has indicated we're going to have democracy and it's going to be sort of one man, one vote. They're going to decide.

PIPES: Right.

BUCHANAN: Clearly the majority in the south is Shia. It is increasingly militant. Again, what does the United States do if they choose a leader, an ayatollah of some kind in there? Do we just get out and just say we did our best, we got rid of the weapons, Saddam is gone, now we have to live with this the way we live with Iran.

PIPES: Oh I hope not. I mean, I hope we do try something else. But, you're right, that the present U.S. idea is to go forward with democracy as quickly as possible. I'm wondering if that is necessarily the thing we have to do. We might want to hold off a bit, go slower. You know, it takes time. You need institutions. You need mentalities. You need customs. Democracy just doesn't happen instantly.

PRESS: Daniel, Bill Press here. Let me ask you about the war overall because in this country we see—most people see the war in Iraq as a very successful war of liberation. How is it seen to people you talk to in the Arab world, the same way?

PIPES: Well no, Bill. There is deep suspicion of the United States. There is fundamentally a very poor understanding of what the United States is and what it aspires to, and there's a widespread conviction that the United States is in Iraq either for the oil or in some fashion on Israel's behalf. But very little willingness to see the United States as a party that goes in, fix things, and leaves, which, of course, is our record. We have a very, very good record.

PRESS: Now, if the president tried to forestall any—a lot of criticism in the Arab world very early on by saying that Islam is a peaceful religion. A headline in "The Washington Post" this morning caught my attention. "Scholar criticizes Bush's characterization of Islam"—it happens to be you where you say that the president was wrong, should not have characterized Islam as a peaceful religion. Are you saying that Islam, like Franklin Graham said, maybe is an evil or a violent religion?

PIPES: Well first of all, I did several times with the producers try and establish that I would not discuss this on this program.

PRESS: It's in "The Washington Post" this morning. That's why I asked you about it.

PIPES: It is, indeed, but I did say I didn't want to discuss it, but let me just clarify, no, I'm not saying Islam is evil. If you look a sentence further in that article, it says I never talk about Islam is this or Islam is that. It's like saying United States is this or Americans are that. It's too big. You can't just characterize it in a single word.

BUCHANAN: All right, let me get specific here. The United States appears to have stopped the pressure on Syria. Colin Powell is going to go there, and we're going to turn the pressure instead on Sharon and try to get a roadmap for peace, which he is resisting, and the president apparently is behind this. Was that a mistake, "A", and, "B", I guess the final question from me, do you agree with Professor Huntington about the clash of civilizations being inevitable, or can we avoid that great conflict?

PIPES: These are a lot of different issues. On the clash of civilizations, no, I do not agree with it. I believe that the great issue that confronts us today is how Muslims are going to interpret their religion. Are they going to interpret it as Osama bin Laden does? Are they going to interpret it in a moderate, modern and good neighborly way? I think it is ultimately a debate among Muslims.

BUCHANAN: Right.

PIPES: I think the United States and the outside world more generally has a role to play in helping the side it wishes to win, but ultimately it is among Muslims, and I am very much advocating that we work with moderate Muslims. My single summary sentence is that militant Islam is the problem and moderate Islam is the solution...