WASHINGTON — Foreign policy hands and Middle East pundits responded with surprise and disbelief this week to the presidential nomination of Daniel Pipes, an outspoken Middle East hawk, to the board of the United States Institute of Peace, a federal institution dedicated to preventing, managing and peacefully resolving international conflicts.
Some scholars say that there is talk of organizing an effort among academics to oppose the nomination, either through a letter-writing campaign or congressional testimony.
Pipes, who heads a Philadelphia-based think-tank, the Middle East Forum, is known as a sharp critic of American-backed efforts at Israeli-Palestinian peace, including President Bush’s “road map” to peace. He espouses a theory of conflict resolution that rests on the assumption that peace usually is achieved only by one side defeating the other with military force or other pressure, and only rarely through reconciliation or negotiation.
He has also drawn criticism for his calls for increased surveillance of Muslim Americans, particularly soldiers and government officials.
“The U.S. Institute of Peace is a federally funded institution based on American democratic values, which is known for treading the middle ground,” said Judith Kipper, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank. Pipes, Kipper said, “has very extreme views.”
“They could definitely get a more objective person for the job,” said the veteran Middle East scholar Don Peretz, professor emeritus of political science at the State University of New York at Binghamton. “I don’t think his views are conducive to the objectives of the U.S. Institute of Peace, which are to work toward peaceful resolution of conflicts.”
Arab-American and Muslim-American organizations are urging the White House to withdraw the nomination and, failing that, urging the Senate to vote it down. One organization called on the institute to reject the nomination, a suggestion institute spokesmen dismissed.
Peretz’s and Kipper’s views were echoed by numerous scholars in the academic and think-tank community. When asked about the nomination, many experts on Middle East and international conflict resolution used adjectives ranging from “bewildering” to “preposterous.” Most declined to speak for attribution, however, variously citing an unwillingness to engage in ad hominem attacks, reluctance to criticize a presidential appointment and fears of souring ties with the institute, an important source of research grant money.
Several scholars, in fact, pointed to Pipes’s stated views on Middle East scholarship as a reason to oppose his nomination to the board.
William Quandt, a professor of political science at the University of Virginia, who headed the Middle East desk at the National Security Council during the Carter administration, said he worried that if Pipes is confirmed, the appointment would send a discouraging message to scholars applying for institute grants.
Pipes recently launched Campus-Watch, an initiative dedicated to monitoring college campuses for alleged pro-Arab academic bias. Some pro-Israel activists welcomed the initiative, while critics described it a modern-day form of McCarthyism.
Pipes enjoys the backing of several major Jewish organizations. David Harris, the executive director of the American Jewish Committee, said that his organization “wholeheartedly supports the nomination of Daniel Pipes.”
Harris praised what he described as Pipes’s “distinguished academic background and scholarship on Middle East and international affairs.”
Morton Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America, said Pipes deserved confirmation for the position both because he is a serious scholar and because his view of the Arab-Israeli conflict has been proven right more often than the views of his opponents.
“The U.S. Institute of Peace understands that Nazism was destroyed by military action, not by negotiations,” Klein said. By the same token, he said, it should realize that “there have been 10 years of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, including huge Israeli concessions, and all it brought was an Arab war against Israel. So at this point, any clear-thinking person understands that negotiations have failed and this is the time to have military action to force destruction of this terrorist regime, surrender, and a new group of players who might be serious about accepting Israel and living peacefully with it.”
Pipes has achieved prominence in recent months with his frequently stated contention that America’s real enemy in the current struggle is not Islamic terrorism, but militant Islam as the ideology that spawns terrorism. His positions on extremism in Islamic culture, religion and politics have provoked outrage among Muslim-Americans, who often label him a “Muslim-basher” and “Islamophobe.”
No less contrary to liberal convention are Pipes’s views on conflict resolution, the core mission of the U.S. Institute for Peace. Peace, Pipes explained to the Forward this week, is possible “when one side gives up its goals.” And that, he argues, almost always comes as a result of utter defeat.
When asked if such a philosophy is compatible with congressional legislation which requires that all members of the institute board “have appropriate practical or academic experience in peace and conflict resolution,” Pipes declined to answer, saying he could not discuss the nomination as long as it is pending approval by the Senate. The institute is a federal agency, established in 1986 to serve as America’s academy of peace. It has an annual operating budget of $16.2 million, wholly funded by taxpayer funds. The institute has recently started privately raising funds outside its operating budget to build an $80 million building on the Washington Mall.
Institute spokesman John Brinkley said the agency “does not take a position on whether or not nominees would be good or bad board members.” Several institute scholars told the Forward privately that the nomination had caused a stir internally.
The position is largely symbolic. Pipes will be one of 15 members of the board, which meets six times a year, mainly to approve applications for fellowships and grants for research in the field of conflict resolution. Three members of the panel are ex-officio representatives of the secretary of defense, the secretary of state and the National Defense University. The Pentagon is represented on the board by Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy affairs, who is considered ideologically close to Pipes on Middle East-related issues. Another board member is Harriet Zimmerman, a vice president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Pipes, if confirmed, would take the place of Zalmay Khalilzad, the White House special envoy to Iraq, and formerly to Afghanistan.
China scholar Charles Horner and international economic relations expert Stephen Krasner were also nominated last week by Bush to the institute board.
Some commentators see the nomination of Pipes as a sign of the growing influence that pro-Israel hard-liners wield in Washington.
Hussein Ibish, communications director of the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee, blasted the nomination as a “sad, Orwellian, symbolic” gesture of an administration that is heavily influenced by “far-right, pro-Likud neo-conservatives and other extremists” in the White House and Pentagon.
Similar criticisms of the administration have appeared in the Arab and European press, most recently over the appointment of retired Army general Jay Garner as the civil administrator of postwar Iraq.
In 2000, Garner went on a 10-day visit to Israel, organized by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, after which he endorsed a statement by the hawkish group praising the Israeli military for showing “remarkable restraint” in dealing with Palestinian violence.
Left-wing critics have cited the statement as evidence that Garner is an ally of the pro-Israel lobby. Sources close to Garner say the link is more tenuous than critics assert.
Similarly, liberals and Muslim leaders were critical of the appointment last December of Elliot Abrams, another outspoken critic of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, to direct the Near East and North Africa branch of the National Security Council.