The Baffling Patriotism of Daniel Pipes

Daniel Pipes waves Old Glory with an air of menace. He writes stuff like “Profs Who Hate America“. He names names and asks, “Why do American academics so often despise their own country while finding excuses for repressive and dangerous regimes?” These profs, he tells us, “consider the United States (not Iraq) the problem”. He’s much too smooth to actually call them unpatriotic. He trusts his readers to understand that he’s found a nest of apologists for terror, who turn against their country in its hour of need. His Middle East Forum also runs the campuswatch.org site, which outs academics caught in political misbehavior. He says that “The time has come for adult supervision of the faculty…”. This terrifies me. Jeez, the last thing I want is adult supervision!(*)

This guy is all the scarier because he gets to testify before congressional committees, while I just get to chat with losers at the Suspect Profs Support Group. Naturally my only thought is to save myself. How can I please this man? He sounds like a tough guy about to explode: “Especially as we are at war, the goal must be for universities to resume their civic responsibilities.” Civic responsibility, I can hardly remember what that is. Patriotism, too: good thing I’m an American.

Let me begin by trying to suck up to Pipes. Fortunately, I’m well positioned to do this. I supported the invasion of Afghanistan. I supported the Gulf War, 100%. That’s a good start, isn’t it?

If only I didn’t oppose an invasion of Iraq. At least I oppose it for the same reasons I supported the Gulf war: the importance of international conventions that are much more fundamental than ‘international law’ or the decisions of the United Nations. The world will never have any peace unless a basic rule is enforced: you can’t just wake up one day and decide to send your armed forces across someone else’s borders. Iraq hasn’t done anything to the US, and no one thinks it’s about to do anything to anyone else. So sending troops across its border comes too close, for my taste, to just what Iraq did to Kuwait.

Well, I don’t want to get Dan upset; he seems sensitive. I’m eager for him to know that I share his mistrust for lefty explanations of why the US wants to invade Iraq. We agree that it’s not about oil and it’s not part of some grand plan to dominate the world. After that, our views diverge a bit. He thinks the US wants to invade Iraq because it’s dastardly. I think the US wants to invade Iraq because the US can find Iraq, which is more than you can say about Bin Laden and the Mullah Omar. The US rightly thinks it faces an extremely serious terrorist threat, because those Al Qaeda folks really know what they’re doing. It hopes going after Saddam Hussein will make everyone forget that a few nobodies with box-cutters destroyed the World Trade Center and trashed the Pentagon, and the US is still looking for their leaders.

I’m sure Dan will forgive our little tiff over Iraq, because my views are pretty close to Zbigniew Brezinski’s, who has been certified 100% politically safe by none other than the Chuck Norris of American policymakers, Paul Wolfowitz. And here’s where things start to get interesting, because a lot of leftist objections to invading Iraq–unlike leftist objections to invading Afghanistan–speak directly to American self-interest. What about the claim that Iraq’s weapons are all but useless except for inflicting damage on invading troops? That means American troops, because it doesn’t look like we’ll get much Egyptian and Syrian cannon fodder this time. And what about the claim that invading Iraq, in these circumstances, will piss everyone off big-time and hobble the US war on terror? This too speaks directly to the defense of the United States. What about the worry that the US will get mired in costly, bloody nation-building? These are pro-American, not anti-American concerns. So here one begins to wonder if Pipes is really so much more patriotic than his targets.

Remember Pipes’ ominous pronouncement: “Especially as we are at war, the goal must be for universities to resume their civic responsibilities”? Never mind who died and made him Congress to declare this, I kind of agree that we’re at war. I think it’s almost racist to consider Al Qaeda as a matter for the police, because 9-11 represented a major military success and a genuine threat to America’s control over its own territory. So yup, this is real serious, we ought to be serious about what we do. Our policies should not be determined by sentiment and certainly not by placing the interests of others before the interests of Americans.

Now I wonder whether, despite Pipes’ veiled threats and patently insincere lip-service to free speech, we might possibly be permitted to have some opinions on the interests of our own country, even if we don’t have a 25-year-old degree in medieval Islamic history. (Pipes thinks the profs aren’t expert enough to talk about the Middle East, which means most Americans aren’t either.) I wonder if we’re allowed to notice that the Arab and Muslim worlds deeply resent our support for Israel, and that the Europeans tend to side with the Palestinians. Could we please also notice that the Muslim world has a hell of a lot of oil? And it seems–these calculations are tough for us little people–like the Muslim world would be a LOT happier to join the war on terror if we were supporting the Palestinians and their allies instead of the Israelis. So happy, in fact, that we’d very likely win our war, as well as more oil contracts than you could cram into Pipes’ doubtless-Made-with-Pride-in-the-USA briefcase. Islamic fundamentalism itself would be in big trouble, most of all in Palestine. As for a coalition to remove Saddam Hussein, why, we could write our own ticket. So it seems quite clear that we should be siding with the Palestinians rather than the Israelis–and very aggressively, I might add, sort of like we’re acting towards Iraq. We should, in other words, forge a military alliance with every country bordering Israel, much as we did in the Gulf War. The Europeans and Russians and Chinese and Japanese and, hell, everyone else wouldn’t mind, and of course that trained poodle Blair would skitter along at our feet.

Notice that this has nothing to do with blaming the US or Israel for 9-11 or anything else: moral responsibility is a complicated matter and yes, Pipes, I do happen to be an authority on it. I can even figure out that the primary responsibility for the 9-11 attacks lies with those who planned and executed them. But responsibility for 9-11 has no bearing on the simple truth that US interests lie in opposing Israel, not supporting it.

Notice too that I don’t allege any conspiracy, or cabal, or Jewish lobby. I have no knowledge of such things. I admit I’m puzzled by how America could be so blind to its own interests, but maybe that’s because Israel used to be seen as a partner in the fight against communism in the Middle East. That might have made sense forty years ago, but today it’s as rational as keeping a garlic wreath handy in case vampires bust into your house. As for Israel’s value in fighting terror, or Islamic fundamentalism, or Saddam Hussein, or anything else, where’s the beef? Every time we want to fight any of these things, we have to bring Israel wheelbarrows of cash, bribe it to keep its head down. Some valuable ally, huh?

So let’s put our cards on the table, Pipes. Don’t go all candy-ass on me and talk about blown-up babies or our moral obligations to the wonderful state of Israel. This is war, you tell us; it’s the defense of America. Well then, defend it, for Christ’s sake. Don’t bleat. The time has come to dump Israel, hard. America’s defense demands it. And if you’re not with America, of course, you’re against it.

The funny thing is, this isn’t even callous. The best thing that could happen to Israel is for America to back the Palestinians, because only then could there be a real peace settlement. Even if you discount its small but primo-quality nuclear arsenal (enhanced by cruise missiles, satellites, ICBMs and missile-firing subs), Israel comes out so powerful that US support for the Palestinians wouldn’t do too much more than level the playing field. That’s what it would take to get Israel out of the occupied territories and within its own borders, so it can live in peace.

And it gets funnier. Throughout the cold war, throughout the Vietnam conflict, one could at least understand why right-wing pundits thought they were advancing American interests. The worst excesses were justified as anti-communism and indeed, as long as the Soviet Union was around, fear of communism was never completely crazy. Even assuming the government or the right-wingers were really out to advance the interests of American corporations, one could easily read this as misguided patriotism.

But it’s different now, isn’t it? It’s not just that backing Israel damages US interests; it’s that this is so obvious. You don’t secure oil supplies by supporting the country which has no oil, but antagonizes your suppliers. You don’t fight a formidable terrorist enemy by allying yourself with an essentially useless power, one which alienates the very states whose support would almost certainly turn the tide.

You can’t even suppose an obsession with Islamic fundamentalism has blinded Pipes and company to America’s real interests. He can’t be all that obsessed, because he doesn’t seem to mind that the US isn’t helping out much against the Chechens. And even if you overlook direct harm to US policy objectives, the alliance with Israel still impedes the fight against Islamic fundamentalism. After all, by far the most murderous Islamic fundamentalists operate in Algeria, where over a hundred thousand people have died at their hands. But you don’t hear America’s so-called hawks calling for extensive military aid to that country–you’d think the Algerian government would be buried under a mountain of American arms by now. Pipes has plenty to say about how bad the Algerian fundamentalists are, but his recommendations concerning American support for the Algerian government are inexplicably tepid. This couldn’t be because Algeria sides with the Palestinians, could it? These experts, they sure know how to send a message: “You may be fighting the same enemy as the US, but if you care about Palestine, you can just fuck off and die.”

I can understand how US Presidents, badly advised, would make a ruinous alliance with Israel, but I cannot understand the mentality of their advisors. I cannot imagine why any patriotic American would want the US to get itself hated in Israel’s occupied territories, let the world’s most deadly fundamentalists run amuck in Algeria, and guarantee anti-Americanism a brilliant career throughout the Islamic world. I also can’t understand how any patriotic American could subordinate our vital strategic interests to Israel’s territorial ambitions: an anti-Israel alliance would make mincemeat out of Al Qaeda and instantly neutralize Saddam Hussein.

So let’s look before we smear, shall we, Pipes? Because two can play that game.

MICHAEL NEUMANN is a professor of philosophy at Trent University in Ontario, Canada. He can be reached at: mneumann@trentu.ca


(*) Pipes’ own site proudly presents evidence of his maturity at http://www.danielpipes.org/article/475.


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Michael Neumann is a professor of philosophy at a Canadian university.  He is the author of What’s Left: Radical Politics and the Radical Psyche and The Case Against Israel.  He also contributed the essay, “What is Anti-Semitism”, to CounterPunch’s book, The Politics of Anti-Semitism.  He can be reached at mneumann@live.com


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