Pipes’s lost opportunity as a serious Iraq critic

I have often credited Daniel Pipes for being the only neoconservative who was not on board with the Bush democratization fantasy. He has consistently said that we should have installed a “democratically-minded strong man” in Iraq rather than try to democratize the country outright, a development for which it was clearly not ready (and probably never will be ready). His first article on that subject was published on April 28, 2003, less than a month after the fall of Saddam. He has written many more columns on this theme over the years, and now has collected them all.

Which leads to a question: Given the consistency with which Pipes has advocated this sensible approach, and given that Pipes is widely published in center-right publications and also frequently appears on television, why has his disagreement with democratization had so little effect on the debate over the last three and half years? Why have Pipes’s neocon colleagues never replied to his arguments? Why has there been no reevaluation by the neocons of the Bush policy until just the last few months, when the policy was falling apart before everyone’s eyes and its failure could no longer be denied?

I think the answer is that Pipes was far too gentle in the way he approached the issue. He would repeatedly put forward his own idea, saying, “Installing a strongman would be a good idea,” but he never seriously and forcefully exposed the falsity of Bush’s idea. And so the administration and the neocons could just ignore him and sail on with their mindless clichés.

Here’s the lesson. If Idea X is a terrible idea that is widely believed and is being followed, it’s not enough just to say politely, “I don’t agree with Idea X. I think Idea Y would be better.” It’s necessary to challenge X, to show the wrongness of X, to put the the advocates of X on the spot and force them to defend and explain their position. Pipes had the mainstream credentials to have mounted such an argument and to have helped trigger such a debate. But he didn’t do it. He didn’t even begin to do it. So his intelligent dissents from the Bush and neocon orthodoxy, just like those of William Buckley and George Will, had no effect in leading the country out of the dead end in which mainstream debate has been trapped for the last four years.

Of course, it’s possible that if Pipes had made the more forceful kinds of challenges to the neocon orthodoxy that I am suggesting, FrontPage Magazine and the New York Sun would not have published such articles. Still, given Pipes’s grasp of the problem and his prestige, it is a shame he didn’t try. See, for example, in his April 28 2003 article, how well he summed up and predicted the Iraqi nightmare:

What to do? If coalition forces leave Iraq precipitously, anarchy and extremism would result. Stay too long, they will face an anti-imperialist backlash of sabotage and terrorism. Hold elections too fast, the Khomeini-like mullahs will probably win. Keep the country under an occupation force, and an inifada would rear up.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at December 18, 2006 02:20 PM | Send

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