Wednesday, the US Senate's Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee postponed indefinitely its vote on the White House's nomination of Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes to the board of directors of the federally mandated and financed United States Institute of Peace in Washington, DC.
The Senate committee's tabling of the nomination of a scholar to a think tank is in itself a small story. After all, it can be argued, no lives are at stake, and no government contracts large or small hang in the balance.
If it so desired, the White House could override the Senate's inaction by appointing Pipes to the think tank's board while Congress is in summer recess. This would not be unprecedented.
President Clinton side-stepped the Senate on a number of occasions during such recesses when he appointed ambassadors and federal judges who would otherwise have had their appointments buried in the Senate. And yet, the White House is not expected to act in this manner. Rather, it is expected to disengage and essentially allow Pipes' nomination to wither on the vine.
Pipes, a renowned scholar of Islam and the Arab world who heads the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum, is the bane of the existence of Arab-American terrorism apologists and radically anti-American Middle East scholars. These detractors understand the importance of Pipes' unapologetic and intellectually-anchored attacks on radical Islam and the threat such radicalism manifests both to Islam itself and to the US.
These terrorism apologists, heavily concentrated in high-profile organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Muslim Council on Public Affairs, and the Middle East Studies Association among others, launched an intellectual and public relations war against Pipes years ago. This war was intensified after the 9/11 attacks when millions of Americans woke up to the stark reality of the malignant force of radical Islam on US national security.
In the aftermath of the attacks, Pipes, who had been warning of this threat for over a decade, suddenly rose to national prominence. Pipes's detractors rarely debate the actual issues that he raises. Rather, they ignore the inarguable substance of his claims and seek to smear his reputation by resorting to the gutter tactic of launching an unrelenting stream of ad hominem accusations of bigotry and war mongering against him.
In nominating Pipes to the previously obscure US Institute of Peace, the White House was making an important statement. It was saying that it recognizes that in the war on terrorism, no less than in the Cold War, the intellectual foundations and rationales guiding the war effort are in many respects as important, if not more important for eventual victory, than the military battles. If the US is not able to intellectually discredit its enemies then it will not long sustain the will to fight them on the military battlefield.
In backing away from Pipes's nomination when it found itself exposed to baseless Muslim allegations of racism, the Bush administration is following the pattern of policy inconsistency that has marked its path since it entered office. Writing this week of this inconsistency as it relates to the president's domestic agenda, commentator George Will argued that "the administration's principal objective may be to avoid fights about cultural questions."
As if to prove the salience of this inconsistency, last week, The New York Sun published an article about a new advisory group formed by the State Department at the beginning of the month to guide US public diplomacy towards the Arab and Muslim world. The group, which is charged with recommending policy initiatives, "will report its findings and recommendations to the president, the Congress, and the secretary of state." Given its mandate, it should be noted, this new panel is infinitely more influential on US policy than the board of directors of the Institute of Peace.
Disturbingly, the group's members share none of Bush's expressed commitment to bringing freedom to the Arab world but rather have argued for years that Israel is to blame for the instability in the Arab world and the terrorism that emanates from it.
The group's chairman, former ambassador to Syria Edward Djerejian, has for over a decade been a firm advocate of appeasing Arab dictatorships, generally at Israel's expense. Djerejian has often issued public apologetics for Arab rejectionism and for Palestinian terrorism, which he claims are a result of Israeli foot-dragging in negotiations.
With Secretary of State Colin Powell's approval, Djerejian appointed as members of his group people like John Zogby, Shibley Telhami, and Stephen Cohen who have distinguished themselves as some of Israel's harshest critics among American intellectuals and consistent foes of those who propose democratization of the Arab world.
So, as the White House backs away from Pipes's appointment rather than contend with the political outcry from terror apologists masquerading as civil rights activists, the State Department announces the formation of a policy group filled with appeasement of tyranny specialists masquerading as public diplomacy experts.
But does any of this really matter? In the vast scheme of things, what is the importance of a board of directors here or an advisory group there? Perhaps all that stands in the balance here is a highbrow intellectual debate.
Unfortunately, this is far from the case. The question of the nature of the war the US is fighting is critical to determining whether or not the US is adopting strategies capable of winning the war. The intellectual split between Pipes and Djerejian and the policies their views prescribe could not be starker. Pipes and his intellectual allies view the war as a cultural battle which pits Arab fascists and Islamic totalitarians against their own people as well as against Western democracies.
Djerejian and his fellows view the war as a conflict between helpless and pitiable masses led (happily) by exotic and oil-rich Arab leaders and what they perceive as Western imperialism best manifested in Israel.
In Pipes's formulation of the struggle, the US must be firm and unapologetic in its war against these regimes and their guiding ideologies. In Djerejian's view, the war will end when the US sacrifices Israel and in so doing shows the desert sheikhs and their wretched masses that the US has nothing against them. The view adopted by the White House of the nature of the war then has enormous implications for the strategies adopted in fighting it.
As if on cue to show the consequences of Djerejian's approach, this week Newsweek published an article that exposed an apparent Bush administration cover-up of suspected Saudi governmental collusion with the 9/11 terrorists. Omar al-Bayoumi, a suspected Saudi agent, met with two of the hijackers in 2000 right after he left the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles. He paid their apartment rent for two months and is suspected of having arranged for them to receive Social Security cards and flight training in Florida.
The administration is currently insisting that 29 pages of Congress's 900-page report on intelligence failures that preceded the 9/11 attacks be expunged. These 29 pages deal with Saudi involvement in the attacks. Powell, Djerjian's political patron and close friend, is one of the administration officials most associated with the Bush administration's policy of backing the Saudi government. The backing continues unabated in spite of the fact that Saudi citizens have provided al-Qaida with the bulk of its funding and soldiers.
As well, Powell and his associates have succeeded in convincing Bush to reverse his policies regarding the Palestinian Authority. Whereas a year ago, Bush conditioned US support for Palestinian statehoo
d on the emergence of a new Palestinian leadership "untainted by terrorism" and on Palestinian democracy, today Bush is meeting with Arafat's deputy of 40 years in the Oval Office.
Mahmoud Abbas, the Bush administration's new great white hope for Palestine, has consistently stated that he will not dismantle terrorist organizations. Rather than disavow his leadership in light of his intransigence and extremism, the administration follows in the footsteps of the previous two administrations. Bush embraces this Palestinian thug and his corrupt and terrorist cronies and does so while pressuring Israel, a key and stalwart US ally, to make dangerous concessions to terrorism.
Israel is today being pressured to withdraw its troops from Palestinian cities and release murderers from jail in the empty-headed hope that doing so will magically transform Abbas from a terrorist to a peacemaker.
In contrast, in Iraq, where Pipes's belief that tyranny must be defeated has been adopted as policy, the US is making progress in establishing the foundations of democracy and political stability in a land where such notions have never been allowed to take root. This successful, robust, and deeply moral policy was over the past decade firmly and publicly opposed by the members of Powell's advisory group as well as by Powell himself.
As Democrats and Europeans yammer vacuously about the fact that Saddam's weapons of mass destruction have yet to be found, they not surprisingly ignore the real weakness of the Bush administration's strategy of fighting the war on terrorism. The most damaging aspect of the administration's policy is that it is weakening its chance of winning the war by refusing to consistently apply the proper intellectual foundations of the war to its policies.
The longer the Saudi government is allowed to infect the Arab and Islamic world with its totalitarian message and money, the longer US national security will remain at risk. The longer the Palestinians are rewarded for their terrorist war, the longer they and their sponsors will serve as a source of instability and chaos in the region.
The Senate's tabling of Pipes's nomination is a small yet vital test of the administration's resolve. Unfortunately it seems that the administration is intent on failing this test.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.