Daniel Pipes: A Sea of Horrors, but Wisps of Hope in the Middle East
Mideast scholar gives his take on the tumultuous region at the Freedom Center's Texas Weekend.
Editor’s note: Below are the video and transcript to Daniel Pipes’ speech at the Freedom Center’s Texas Weekend, held June 17 - 18, 2015 at the Ritz-Carlton in Dallas, Texas.
Daniel Pipes: I’d like to start by bearing down, boring down a little further into what Bret Stephens said last night. I’m in basically total agreement with what he said. But he spoke globally, and I’ll speak regionally.
To begin with, he called the essence of Obama’s foreign policy coddling enemies and scolding friends. I wrote some months ago, the essence of the Obama foreign policy is to snub friends, downgrade US interests, seek consensus, and act diplomatically.
I would add to this that I see him as a standard-issue American leftist. I do not see him as particularly original. And in particular, although I have studied in depth his early life and concluded that he was born and raised a Muslim, and that he has not told the truth about his own background; nonetheless, I do not see any particular influence of this background on his policies. I’ve had many debates on the subject, but I don’t see it. I seem him as a cookie-cutter leftist American.
Looking at the Middle East in particular, I would argue to you that George W. Bush tried to attain too much – a free and prosperous Iraq, an Afghanistan that is transformed, solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, democracy – on and on. Too much. And failed basically at everything. Barack Obama has done the opposite – tried to leave the pivot to Asia, ignore the Iranian uprising, and so forth; and has likewise failed.
What I would offer in between these two extremes would be a foreign policy that seeks to protect Americans and American interests. We protect ourselves. In fact, the slogan of my organization, the Middle East Forum, is – promoting American interests. I think that by doing this, we have a guideline, a guideline that helps us decide where to get involved and where not, and also, I might add, a way to benefit the world. By Americans pursuing their own interests – not 100 percent of the time but the great majority of the time – we’re also helping others. Or, to put it differently, I have far more faith in Washington than I do in New York. Meaning, the US government rather than the United Nations.
I think our policy should be a simple one of approaching the Middle East by dividing it into essentially three parts. The governments that are headed by Islamists – or organizations, any Islamist movement, government – we should reject. Just never deal, never help with the Islamists as best you can.
Now, we have a major relationship with the government of Turkey; I’m not advocating ending it. But we should be against the Islamists wherever they are – Turkey, ISIS, and everything in between. We’re anti-Islamist. Just like you could say we’re anti-fascist. We’re just against them. Yes, sometimes you have to make a tactical deal. But we’re against them.
On the other hand, we’re always in favor of what might be called the liberals, the modern, more secular, the Tahrir Square types; the people who look to us for sustenance both moral and practical. They aspire to a better Middle East. We are their model. We should help them in every way we can, being fully aware that they are far from the corridors of power, and [are] not about to reach them anytime soon. But they are the solution, and we should stand by them.
And in between rejecting the Islamists, helping the modern liberals, we should work with the dictators. You have to. We should bring them over and deal with them. But do so with eyes open, and always putting pressure on them to improve.
For example, Hosni Mubarak was the tyrant of Egypt from 1981 to 2011. In that 30-year period, with the exception of two years – 2005, 2006 – we didn’t put pressure on them. We didn’t encourage political participation. We didn’t advocate for rule of law and the like. I believe had we done so over that long period, Egypt would be in a very different place today than where it is.
So reject the Islamists, accept the modern liberals, and deal warily with the dictators. So those are general viewpoints about US policy.
Looking at some specifics – of course, topic number one has to be Iran. It is reasonable to conclude from the last six and a half years that Barack Obama’s number-one priority in foreign affairs is not China, is not Russia, not Mexico; it’s Iran. And bringing Iran in from the cold is the goal, to make Iran just another normal member of the so-called international community, ending the decades of hostility. This in itself is a perfectly worthwhile endeavor.
Reminds one, for example, of Nixon going to China – in and of itself a good idea. The problem is, of course, in the execution, where it has been awful, and getting worse almost by the day – where our side is capitulating, lying, inconsistent. I mean, if you take just one example of many – after the November of 2013 joint plan of action, the US government came out with a factsheet. The Iranian government said that factsheet was inaccurate. And guess who was right? The Iranian government.
Our government is untrustworthy in every way. Most recently, the Obama Administration said over and over again that we will have to know every single thing that the Iranians have done until now, so we’ll have a baseline, and we can see what is going forward. In the last week, we’ve learned, according to John Kerry, the Secretary of State, that we know “absolutely everything” that the Iranians have done until now and therefore have no need for inspections or other sources of information.
You just look at one capitulation after another, and you have a hard time understanding what is taking place. But I believe it’s worth noting that – I would make two points. One is that the only way ultimately to stop the Iranians from developing nuclear weapons is through force. Economic sanctions will not do it. I see the Iranian government comparable to the North Korean in that it is absolutely devoted to building these weapons and will do whatever it takes, whether it be starvation or what else.
Secondly, I see the negotiations that are now taking place as a sideshow, as a distraction. So they’re maintained, so that all the sanctions are in fact increased. Yeah, it makes life more difficult for the Iranian leadership. But there’s no reason to think that this will actually stop them.
The deal that is now in process, that presumably will come about in the next few weeks, is one, as Bret pointed out last night, where we are capitulating on issue after issue, and they’re making more and more demands. And we seem to be accepting it all.
Now, of all the many mistakes in the last six years, I would argue that none have been catastrophic. It’s been an accumulation of problems, such as you heard – the Chinese building islands, the Russians taking Crimea, and whatnot. But this, the Iranian deal, has the potential for being catastrophic.
The Iranian government is certainly not the first to have nuclear weapons. Pakistani government right nearby has them as well. And it is a very scary fact. But there’s something special about the Iranians that does not apply to Stalin or Mao, the North Koreans, the Pakistanis or anyone else. They have an apocalyptic mindset. They’re consumed with ideas about the end of days. And there is real reason to worry that they would deploy nuclear weapons in the hopes of bringing on the end of days.
Now, we could have an excellent academic seminar on this subject, whether they would or would not. But I think you’ll agree with me that this is not a subject we really want to enquire further into. We would just like to stop this and not find out whether they would use it.
But I believe the Iranians are different. The Iranian leadership is different from any other possessor of nuclear weapons. And they have reason to use these outside of the normal strategic concerns. They are thinking on a completely different level about Yaumul-Quiyamah, about the Day of Resurrection. And this gives me great pause and makes me conclude that it is absolutely necessary to stop them.
There are only two countries in a position to do it. Well, I should say there’s only one country in a position to do it. The others that could, such as the Russians and ourselves, are not going to do so. So it comes down to Israel. And the question that I get asked a lot is – will the Netanyahu government do so? And I said – if I knew, I wouldn’t tell you.
And I don’t know, so I can’t tell you. They don’t inform me about this.
But my inclination is to think that the Israelis have shown great cleverness and will likely do something quite unexpected here.
Now note that there have been a series of computer virus attacks on systems that should be immune, that are completely cut off from the Internet. Note that there have been a sequence of assassinations of top-ranking nuclear scientists, in Tehran or other cities. Note that there have been a number of major explosions taking place at the nuclear installations. I don’t know how one does that from outside. But they have. Whoever has done it, presumably the Israelis.
I’m inclined to think that the Israelis would use some kind of mechanism along these lines; internal, rather than airplanes coming from abroad; mechanisms which cannot in the final analysis be definitely ascribed to anyone. If you’re sending planes across Jordon and Iraq and into Iran, everybody knows who they belong to. But if things blow up, they don’t.
So that is my guess about what is likely to happen. And in retrospect, all this skirmishing about the negotiations now underway will seem pretty unimportant. Because it’s not really addressing the basic issue of the possession of nuclear weapons.
Other issues besides Iran – ISIS is the topic we are all consumed by. And I would agree with Ron Dermer, the Israeli Ambassador to Washington, that Iran is a thousand times more dangerous. But on the other hand, ISIS is a thousand times more interesting. It is this phenomenon that has come out of almost nowhere that takes Islam to an extreme that no one imagined. I mean, we’ve had the Taliban and the Saudis, and Boko Haram and Shabab. But ISIS just goes further.
I mean, it is unimaginable to go yet further than ISIS. What they’re doing is trying to apply seventh-century Arabian customs to the modern world. And they’re having a real response. They’re having two responses. One is the favorable one, which tends to get the attention of all these Muslims coming from the West, and from Tunisia and elsewhere, who are attracted to this vision, this pure vision of Islam. And that’s important. I don’t deny it.
But on the other hand, there’s a very negative reaction, both among governments and peoples. Peoples are alienated by the great majority of Muslims, not to speak of non-Muslims – are enormously alienated by this ISIS phenomenon. And I think it’s doing great harm in the long term to the Islamist brand. This is so extreme and so wild and so violent, so flamboyant, that it is doing great harm.
Looking specifically – but the one thing that I think will be lasting about ISIS is the notion of the Caliphate. The executive Caliphate, the caliph who actually made orders, ended in the 940s. 940s, not 1940s. Over a thousand years ago. And so there’s enormous resolve, excitement through the Muslim world that there’s a caliph again. This is something – I mean, there’ve been nominal caliphs for many years. But a real, actual, live, decision-making caliph is an ancient phenomenon. It’d be like someone deciding to revive the Roman Empire and actually doing it, having a piece of territory in Europe and calling it the Roman Empire. This would get everybody’s attention. I think they’ll have a lasting impact, and a negative impact.
Turning to Syria and Iraq, or what they call in certain circles [Sorakia], joining the two names together, Syria and Iraq – I am perfectly happy with the division of both Syria and Iraq into three sub-countries. There’s nothing sacred about the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916. It’s failure. Think of Hafez al-Assad and Saddam Hussein. These are miserable states that indeed today are miserable, murdering their own people. Nothing wrong with having a division into the Shiite-oriented part, the Sunni-oriented part and the Kurdish part. This is better for the locals, better for the region, better for us.
And indeed, the emergence of the Kurds in Iraq first, Syria second, and potentially Turkey and Iran is, I think, a benign development. The Kurds have proven themselves to be responsible in a way that none of their neighbors have been. So it is with welcoming arms that I say – bring on a united Kurdistan. Indeed, one that harms Turkey’s territorial integrity and Iran’s territorial integrity is fine with me. Let us help the Kurds. This is as close to an ally as we have in the Muslim Middle East.
Turkey – the elections took place just 10, 11 days ago. And they came out not so well for the AKP, the party that’s been ruling Turkey since 2002. It’s an Islamist party. But more importantly of late, it is the party of tyranny, it is the party of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. His Islamist proclivities are these days less important. And the fact that he is overriding rules and regulations, he is doing as he wishes – he is taking control of the banking sector, the media sector, the educational sector, the court system and so forth; and building block-by-block the parts that are necessary for a tyrannical one-man rule. A little bit like Chavez, say, in Venezuela.
So that is the dominant fact of Turkish life – that there is this figure, now in his 13th, 14th year of power, who wants to get more and more power. And he has been working through the system for the most part – elections, parliament. And this one didn’t turn out so well, for the first time – a serious setback. And the number of seats went down substantially, the number of votes went down substantially in the election. And so almost universally, analysts are saying that this is bad news for him and good news for those of us who are worried about him.
And I certainly agree it’s good news having a less – a plurality rather than a majority is excellent news. And having all these problems that the AKP now faces, trying to put together a government in the parliament, are good news.
But I disagree with everyone else, it seems; I haven’t read anyone’s agreeing with me, in that I say this doesn’t really matter. He has disregarded the rules always before; he will continue to now. I don’t know what his methods will be, but he will find a way to sideline the parliament and aggregate more and more power. Yeah, he is licking his wounds for these few days. But he’ll come roaring back. And his path towards tyranny, I believe, remains open. And he will go down it. And Turkey’s evolution towards a tyranny will continue. I’ll be surprised if he takes this minor setback and is dissuaded from working towards being a tyrant, or full tyranny.
I believe that his undoing will not be domestic, will not be votes – trivialities like that. It’ll be foreign. Erdogan is a genius at domestic Turkish politics. He still dominates it, even with this setback. And he will continue to, as I’ve just argued. But his problem will be foreign. Because he thinks he’s such a master politician, he dominates the foreign policy, aggressive foreign policy. And everywhere you look in the region, Russia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Syria, Iraq, Israel, Egypt, Greek Cypriots, Greece – he’s got major [opponents]. Especially Syria.
And then to put the cherry on top of this confection, he even has problems with Turkish Cypriots. The Turkish Cypriots just elected a president who’s anti-Erdogan. You would think if there’s anybody that the Turkish government would have in the palm of their hands, it would be Turkish Cypriots, [tiny] Turkish Cypriots, with one quarter of one percent of the population of Turkey dependent on it for so much. But no, he’s alienated everyone.
And I expect, I predict, that he’s heading for trouble. And he’s already got plenty of it in Syria. But there’s much more to come. And this will be his undoing.
Egypt – Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has now been in power for two years. I like what he represents. I think you do, too. You wish him well. I am skeptical he’s going to achieve them. He’s got enormously high popularity at the moment. But he faces two problems that are not going away and that he’s not dealing with properly.
The first, of course, is the Islamist problem, where he is heavy-handed and alienating the Islamists more and more – the death sentences, the brutality. I’m in favor of being really tough with Islamists, but – oh, I don’t know, sentencing nearly 600 people to death for the murder of a policeman seems to me slightly disproportionate. And that’s what they’re doing. And just heavy-fisted repression is not the way to solve this problem. Light-fisted repression, maybe, but not heavy-fisted. It’s too much. And I worry that he is creating an animosity that will come – that’ll surge and create enormous problems for the government.
Second issue is economic. This doesn’t get as much international attention. But to put it simply, in the 1950s, Gamal Abdel Nasser, likewise a military officer, put into place a socialist regime of the 1950s, with great big Soviet-style factories that make everything from diapers to macaroni. And they’re still in place. Indeed, they grew substantially under Mubarak, and they’re growing further under el-Sisi. They’re all military men. And the way you keep your military colleagues happy is by giving them sinecures. You’re a retired colonel? Good, take over this cotton factory.
Well, as you can imagine, this is not a great way to run an economy. And estimates suggest that about one quarter of the Egyptian economy is run like this. And likewise, the disdain for agriculture is creating enormous problems, so that Egypt, both in absolute and relative terms, imports more food, more caloric intake, than any other country. And remember, Egypt is the breadbasket of the Nile. Can’t feed itself, depends on the Saudis and others for subventions to buy enough food to feed the people.
So between the economy and the Islamists, I see great problems ahead. And although I wish him well, I am braced for far more troubles ahead in Egypt.
Finally, a word about Israel – in 2002, Ehud Barak said that Israel’s like a villa in the jungle. I love that expression, I think it’s just great – a villa in the jungle. And if it was true in 2002, how much more is that true at a time when Syria’s in flames and Egypt is at the precipice, and so forth?
Everybody knows about Israel’s high-tech capabilities, its military prowess. But there’s so much more that is extraordinary. I see David Goldman here, so I will make a ritualistic bow in his direction as I talk about demography.
The entire Western world is getting smaller demographically, with the exception of Israel. You need roughly 2.1 children per woman. We’re not too far from that. But you go down from there to Singapore with 0.79 children per woman, roughly a third of what’s necessary. Well, Israel is 2.76, and going up. And yes, the Arabs and the Haredim are certainly part of that. But it’s also your secular Tel Aviv residents who are part of that. And it’s an extraordinary development, unprecedented development, that a Western country has more children, rather than less.
In energy – you know, the old quip about Moses going in the wrong way, turning, making the wrong turn. Well no, it turns out he didn’t make the wrong turn. According to some estimates, Israel has as much in energy reserves as – get this – Saudi Arabia. Now, they’re not as accessible. It’s far more expensive and complex to get to gas and shale oil and so forth, and these enormous pools of oil. But it’s there. And Israel’s beginning to see the benefits of this resource.
Illegal immigration – not a topic one thinks about too much. Israel’s the one Western country that has handled it. It’s gotten rid of almost all of its illegal immigration. There’s almost no illegal immigration into Israel. This is a brewing crisis for Europe. Especially with summertime upon us, the Mediterranean fairly easy to cross, not too far from, say, Turkey to a Greek island, not too far from Libya to Malta or Lampeduza, a small Italian island. Israel has solved this problem.
Water – 20 years ago, the Israelis were suffering from water shortage, like everyone else in the Middle East – acutely, everyone else in the Middle East. They solved it. They came up with drip agriculture and desalination and recycling and so forth. And now they’re aflood in water. They can export it, they have so much, to their neighbors.
To give one statistic, Spain is the country that does the second-most amount of recycling, something in the order of 18 percent. Israel is the one with the most recycling at 90 percent, fully five times more than Spain.
Longevity – Israel for a while there had the world’s longest-living males. Not what you think of Israel and warfare and young soldiers dying, no. So Israel’s doing exceptionally well. Of course, it is under the threat not only of nuclear weapons and other WMD, but also the delegitimization process, which is now so alive.
I see a little bit of good news, in that the Islamists are fighting each other and are unpopular. I think this has – I think there’s been an inflection point, and the Islamist movement is on the way down. I see anarchy replacing tyranny. I see Kurdistan emerging.
So while there’s a sea of misfortune and even horrors in the Middle East, there are also some wisps of hope. Thank you.
So, floor is open. Yes? What are the ramifications of the drop in the price of oil?
Well, it is a temporary drop in the price of oil. If history is any guide, it goes down, and it goes up, and it goes down. So we’re now down. Not quite as down as we were, but we’re down. And it presumably will go up.
In the meantime, its ramifications are rather modest for the really rich states – the Saudis and their – the GCC states, Gulf Cooperation states. It is far more severe for the states that don’t have these sovereign funds and small populations but depend on it – Russia and Iran and Venezuela come first to mind. Nice trio, isn’t it? And they are truly suffering from this and have had to make real cutbacks, and have dissatisfied populations, and have political crises on their hands, or might before long.
So it really divides in two. Obviously, it helps. It also, interestingly, has not had much of an impact on Dallas and Texas, where the economy is far more diversified than it used to be, and overall, in the United States and other Western countries, is a good thing.
But you know, in the seeds of every decline in the price is the next rise. Because the wildcatting stops, or slows down. And therefore, there are fewer new sources coming online, and therefore the price is going to go up. And when the price goes up a whole lot more, drilling takes place, and therefore the price goes down. So there’s an inherent cyclical pattern to the energy market.
But looking specifically at these three – Russia, Iran and Venezuela – it is really bad news. For the others, they can endure it. Thanks.
I know one Pakistani, [Tariq Fatah], of Toronto, who keeps saying – Iran, Iran, why are you bothering about Iran? What about Pakistan? They got it, they got a lot of them. This is a virulent government, and not apocalyptic at least, but dangerous.
The general tendency not to pay that much attention to Iran is because the – sorry, Pakistan – is the Pakistani nuclear hold, arsenal, is understood in the context of India. So there’s a balance of terror somewhat akin to the US-Soviet. And nobody’s doing anything. The Pakistanis have not threatened or seemed intellectually inclined to get involved, say, against Israel, or use their nuclear weapons in other arenas. And that’s why we tend not to pay so much attention.
Whereas the Iranians are. And indeed, not just Israel. Those of you who’ve paid attention to the phenomenon called electromagnetic pulse will be aware of the danger of a nuclear weapon or two nuclear weapons going off in the high skies over the United States and knocking out our electrical infrastructure. It’s a rather interesting exercise to think that through – what does that mean not to have electricity in a country where we all depend on food coming from far away?
So nobody is worried about the Pakistanis doing that to us. Maybe we should be, but we’re not. We are very worried on Iran.
So therefore, while Pakistan has capabilities that Iran does not, we tend to see it vis-à-vis India.
Unidentified Speaker: (Inaudible)
Daniel Pipes: Unstable society, and things could change. And there could be a takeover of the government by Islamists and – I mean, not that they’re not already Islamists, but far more aggressive Islamists than today. Yes, yes. It’s certainly a very real danger.
Unidentified Speaker: Do you see any long-term benefit to the early cooperation between – to Israel in the early cooperation with Israel and Saudi Arabia (inaudible) states? And is there a mutual enemy, Iran, do you think [could] get involved in this uptake long-term?
Daniel Pipes: I don’t know about you, but – the question is about the Israel-Saudi cooperation. I don’t know about you, but when I saw the picture of Dore Gold and Anwar Ashki shaking hands at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington earlier this month, I fell off my chair. One knew that these discussions were underway. I even heard personally from Gold little intimations that he knew things that I didn’t know. But to see them come out in public like that is extraordinary.
Now, that is easy for the Israelis. They’re happy to shake hands with Arabs. Not so easy for the Saudis. You pay a price for shaking hands with Israelis.
So why did they do it? I think they did it in order to put pressure on the Obama Administration. And I don’t know how effective it is, but it’s certainly with that in mind. And it is an extraordinary development to have what has historically been one of Israel’s most hostile enemies, going back to King Ibn Saud in the first half of the last century – very [lovely], anti-Zionist, anti-Israel – to have them shaking hands in public in Washington is – it ranks up there with Anwar Sadat going to Israel in terms of shock. It’s not as big a strategic shift as that, but it is very substantial.
Now, I would argue that these changes when they take place are temporary, and that when this crisis passes, however it’s resolved, the Saudis will retreat. They will not be shaking hands with Israelis in the future.
Nonetheless, it is a substantial chipping away of the Arab rejectionism policy. So in that, it is something positive, as well as being positive vis-à-vis Iran and putting pressure on the Obama Administration. However, in the latter case, I just don’t see the Obama Administration as pressurable. I mean, no number of senators, no number of foreign governments, can get it to stop retreating from one position after another. In the annals of diplomacy, I don’t think there’s ever been a negotiation quite like this one.
And it turns out the French are becoming the stalwarts of Western interests. The French. That tells you something right there.
Unidentified Speaker: Two questions – one for my husband, who’s not here. Will Israel ever see peace? Okay, that’s – my husband wants you to answer that. And the other thing is – I don’t know who said this, if it was Mel Brooks or Obama – (technical difficulty).
Daniel Pipes: Mel Brooks.
Unidentified Speaker: (Inaudible) that he wants this world order, working toward this. And as a Muslim, is he a (inaudible) –
Daniel Pipes: Will Israel ever see peace?
You know, there are two kinds of peace. There’s deterrent peace, such as we had with the Soviets; and there’s Democratic peace, such as we have with the Canadians. And they’re very different. One, we have to remain armed and vigilant; the other, not. Israel has had, and will have in the future, deterrent peace.
So really, your question is – will it ever have Democratic peace, will it ever have real friendly relations and tourism, exchange of students, and so forth? I think so. But far in the future. Not something any of us will see. Even my 14-year-old daughter here will not see it.
Unidentified Speaker: (Inaudible) Syrians in Muslim faith put into the Dallas area, close to the north part, being the largest area –
Daniel Pipes: Let me get to your second question.
So I think deterrent peace is the best that Israel can hope for, for decades and decades to come. On the question of Obama and his being a Muslim – though I alluded to this earlier; let me say a bit more about it.
At the time of the Hillary Clinton versus Obama primary confrontation in 2008, the mainstream media got interested in Obama’s background and did invaluable work that someone like me can’t do on his own. They went into places like Indonesia and elsewhere and did real research. That and subsequent statements by Obama himself, and some other research, has shown us, without any doubt whatsoever, that he was born and raised a Muslim. Not an Islamist. Neither of his alleged fathers, Obama or the Indonesian, were pious Muslims, particularly. But both were Muslims.
And he himself – I mean, there’s just no doubt. We have the paperwork of his registration in the public school in Indonesia, where he was listed as a Muslim. And he’s not shy about telling you, as having gone to Koran class, and he can recite the Adhan, the call to prayer. And he’s fluent in the sort of basic Islamic precepts, which, if you’re not – if you didn’t do that at a young age, you wouldn’t be.
His half-sister has talked about their going to mosque on family occasions. And friends of his from back then talked about the things he did. There’s just no doubt. And at some point in his 20s – and we don’t know when – he converted to this quasi-Islamic form of Christianity at the hands of the Reverend Wright, who himself was a former Nation of Islam minister.
So he became a Christian. I accept that. I don’t argue. I’m not going to tell you what’s in his heart or in his mind. I don’t know. He says he’s a Christian; I accept that.
And as I mentioned before, I don’t see that this Islamic background is particularly important. I don’t think that this is the key to the Iran topic. To put it differently, he’s a leftist, he’s a socialist.
Stanley Kurtz, who is here – will be here – has done extraordinary work, did a book that unfortunately didn’t get much attention, looking into primary resources, and Obama’s early history as a socialist. This is who he has been since college days. And this is what I believe explains his policies. And if you look at other socialists, say in Europe, you’ll find similar policies. I don’t think you have to turn to the Islamic dimension to explain that.
I like to say that Obama really doesn’t want to be President of the United States. He wants to be Prime Minister of Belgium. He wants to be one of the pack, he wants to be just one of the guys, and make decisions in a multinational way. This is not – doesn’t feel right to be doing things unilaterally. He fits – he’s a European-style socialist.
What about the sanctions and Congress? Well, I think – I dismissed the importance of this whole ruckus before the Iranian nuclear buildup. Whether or not the sanctions are in place, they will continue. It’ll be the slower and longer process, slower and more painful process; or it’ll be a quicker and easier one. But it’s not going to fundamentally change the outcome.
Where it is really important, I think, is in American domestic politics. This raises all sorts of constitutional issues. There had been many executive agreements by the US government with other governments. But they tend to be on the order of fishing agreements with Canada. They’re not really controversial. And to have this extraordinarily disputatious and important treaty be called an executive agreement – presumably is coming up in the Supreme Court, and is going to be the subject of much internal debate about the limits of what the President can do on his own.
In any case, what he’s done is flipped it. Because normally a treaty requires two thirds of the Senate. Now, all he needs is one third of the Senate, and similarly in the House. So it’s much easier to pass this, even if the Congress does act, than it would’ve been under normal circumstances. This is something new in American history – have a major treaty pretending to see it as an executive agreement.
Unidentified Speaker: (Inaudible – microphone inaccessible)
Daniel Pipes: Oh, the [Sani bonus], so-called. Well, the estimate used to be $50 billion; now it’s $150 billion. Who knows where it will end up? But yes, the Iranians will get an enormous economic advantage, allowing them to be much stronger in Syria and Iraq and Yemen, potentially in Libya; Hamas and Hezbollah. And in the West, they’re building up their sleeper network, yes. It enormously enables them.
Unidentified Speaker: (Inaudible – microphone inaccessible)
Well, Bret Stephens said last night in his conclusion – get your Democratic senators – and beyond that, representatives – to get upset over this. I think that’s the key. So far, it doesn’t look – it’s close, but it doesn’t look like they will stand up – the Democratic members of Congress will stand up to Obama. But only if they do will [they] be this kind of crisis. But doesn’t look like it to me.
The Muslim Brotherhood and its brand of Islamism – well, broadly speaking, there are three forms of Islamism that are dominant now. There is Shiite revolutionary Islamism, as represented by the Iranian regime – violent, aggressive, all over the place. But minoritarian. Shiites make up 10 percent of the total Muslim population. And they’re sort of like Protestants, in the sense that there are many, many subdivisions within the fivers, the seveners, the 12ers and others. So there’s not a single Shiite community, and they find it hard to work together. But they are on the warpath.
And then you have the Sunni reactionary, as represented by Saudi Arabia, holding onto what they have and in defensive mode these days. And thirdly, you have the Sunni revolutionary, where – or revisionist, like ISIS, which are also on the warpath. Or to put it in slightly different terms, you have a spectrum going from ISIS at the very furthest extreme – Boko Haram, Shabab, Taliban – and then, say, Muslim Brotherhood somewhere in the middle, using violence on occasion; not using it when not necessary. And then you have, oh, I don’t know, Fethullah Gülen, if you know that name. He’s a Turkish preacher living in a small town in Pennsylvania. Or on a larger scale, Erdogan. They don’t use violence particularly. They work within the system.
Domestically, you have the same kind of range of crazies who want to behead people at one extreme, and recognized national institutions that get invited to the White House and acknowledged as legitimate forces on the other.
In my view, the crazies, the violent ones, are doomed, both because they upset fellow Muslims, attack fellow Muslims and bother them, and because non-Muslims universally despise them. And non-Muslims have a lot more power, whether it be WMD or intelligence services, than do the Muslim forces. That’s doomed. ISIS is doomed in that sense.
It is the nonviolent Islamists, the ones who work through the system – Erdogan and, more interestingly, his now rival, Abdullah Gul, who’s emerged in the last few days as a major new force. He’s the cofounder of their party back in 2000. Gul is a very, very cautious politician. Not aggressive, like Erdogan. But he’s an Islamist. He is dangerous. And likewise, the groups in this country are dangerous. And they work within the system, they’re invited to the White House. They go on national television. They have professorships at major universities. That’s what I worry about most.
So I take a very different view from the usual one. Terrorism, other forms of violence, is obviously abhorrent. But there is a silver lining to it, in it’s what moves opinion. From a personal point of view, it was very lonely 20 years ago, very lonely, very hard to get people worried about this. But the drumbeat of violence culminating in 9⁄11, and continuing all the time since then, has driven people over to my side. And people are worried now. And I attribute that not to the professors and the media and the White House invitations, but to the violence. The drumbeat of violence is what changes opinions.
So violence, in a cold-blooded strategic manner, is our friend. It’s a horrible thing. But it’s what teaches people. Blood running in the streets teaches people. It’s what I call education by murder. It’s teaching people. So I think violence is counterproductive.
Well, if I were on their side, and I were giving them advice, I’d say – cut out the violence. Work through the system. Selectively, perhaps, use it to intimidate, but basically cut out the violence. They’re not doing that. And so I think they’re facing – for example, in Europe, they’re arousing hostility especially through violence. It’s the violence. Charlie Hebdo or other recent actions just drive public opinion, move voters over to the anti-Islamic parties.
So I think they’re making major mistakes, to our benefit.
What about the stability of Saudi Arabia? Well, the internal stability is very established. The Saudis – little bit of background. Saudi Arabia’s a unique place. It is the most unusual country in the world, from the point of view of social mores, governmental institutions and whatnot. For example, there’s not a single movie house, and there’s never been one, in Saudi Arabia. There’s no pretense of democracy, there’s no constitution, there’s none of this rigmarole that you find in other countries of a Western-based government.
There is what’s called gender apartheid, that even if you’re, say, from Qatar or Kuwait, you know those countries – you go to Saudi Arabia, you’re astonished by it. It’s so different from every other country. It has Mecca and Medina. I mean, what other cities are forbidden to non-Muslims, or to anybody? It’s just a preposterous notion, but it exists in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia has three different forces – the Pakistani mercenaries to defend the oilfields, the national army to protect the borders, and the tribal guard to protect the monarchy. Who else does that? Saudi Arabia – you know, there are many monarchies around the world. And say they have 10, 20, 50 members in the royal family. Well, guess how many there are in Saudi Arabia? Males alone – because women don’t count in this regard – 10,000. They are a nomenklatura, to use the Soviet term. They run the country. Yeah, they’ll let in other skilled people to do this and that. But it is a family organization. This is unique. Nobody else has anything like this.
So from that point of view, the Saudis are very strong. And you move a few miles, and you go through a checkpoint. They censor, they watch. It’s a police state, and a powerful, competent police state.
Their problem is that they have, for now some 70 years, depended on the United States for their external security. And for the first time, they’re worried about that. And rightly so. So as you suggest, they’re taking steps to protect themselves. And that means, of all things, turning to Israel. It’s a logical step, but still it’s an astonishing step. And I would suggest it’s a temporary step.
Should we have a different government in two years, I think you’ll see a closing down of this relationship. But it is an exigency of this particular moment.
Unidentified Speaker: Thank you, Daniel.