Neocon Man | The Nation


Neocon Man

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Daniel Pipes was a busy man in the days following September 11, 2001. The Philadelphia-based foreign policy analyst and commentator on terrorism and Islam first learned that planes had crashed into the World Trade Center when a local television producer called to invite him to the station for an interview. Over the next twelve months, Pipes would appear on 110 television and 450 radio shows. His op-eds graced the pages of the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times. The New York Post signed him up as a columnist. The Philadelphia Inquirer described him as "smoking-hot."

Click here to read Kristine's McNeil's November, 2002 Nation Online article on Campus Watch.

About the Author

Eyal Press
Eyal Press is a Nation contributing writer and the author of Absolute Convictions: My Father, a City, and the Conflict...

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It was not always thus. Pipes, 54, had labored in comparative obscurity during the 1990s, writing a series of books and articles that advanced a hard line on Arab countries from Syria to Saudi Arabia to Iran, and darkly warning that Muslim-Americans posed a threat to the United States. Back then, these were not popular topics on the talk-show circuit. Pipes indeed seemed destined to share the fate of his old friend Steven Emerson, another self-styled terrorism expert, who gained notoriety in the immediate aftermath of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing for suggesting that it bore a "Middle Eastern trait." Pipes himself echoed this, telling USA Today that the bombing showed that the West was "under attack" and that fundamentalists "are targeting us."

The words of a demagogue, or of a prophet ahead of his time? To a growing circle of conservative admirers, Pipes is the latter. The Forward recently named him one of the nation's fifty most influential American Jews. Last year President Bush overrode objections from Muslim-American groups in appointing Pipes to the US Institute of Peace, a federal agency whose mandate is to promote the "peaceful resolution of international conflicts," despite the fact that Pipes has long dismissed the very idea of peaceful resolution ("diplomacy rarely ends conflicts," he had written a year earlier).

But Pipes's biggest impact has not come from analyzing foreign affairs. It has come from pointing a finger at a purported fifth column lurking in a place conservatives have long suspected of harboring one: academia. Two years ago Pipes launched Campus Watch, an organization whose stated purpose is to expose the analytical failures and political bias of the field of Middle Eastern studies. The group's first act was to post McCarthy-style "dossiers" on the Internet singling out eight professors critical of American and Israeli policies. When more than a hundred scholars contacted Campus Watch to request that they be added to the list in a gesture of solidarity, Pipes obliged, labeling them "apologists for suicide bombings and militant Islam."

As the latter phrase suggests, when Pipes criticizes scholars, he doesn't just take issue with their arguments. He impugns their motives, tossing out labels like "self-hating" and "anti-American," and lifting quotes out of context to portray his targets as closet sympathizers with Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Pipes writes columns titled "Profs Who Hate America." "Why do American academics so often despise their own country while finding excuses for repressive and dangerous regimes?" he wrote in the lead-up to the Iraq war, which he heartily backed, mocking scholars for failing to see that Saddam Hussein posed an "imminent threat" to America.

In Pipes's view, universities these days are overrun by extremists who are reflexively hostile to the United States and Israel, blind to the dangers of Islamic terrorism and intolerant of students who dare to veer from the party line. Although Pipes is not wrong that some Middle Eastern scholars underestimated the danger of militant Islam during the 1990s, his portrait of the field as a whole is nothing if not extreme itself. Yet, with the help of Martin Kramer, who edits the journal Pipes founded, Middle East Quarterly, and Stanley Kurtz, a fellow at the Hoover Institution and contributing editor at National Review Online, Pipes has succeeded in popularizing this view.

His grievances have been aired on everything from MSNBC to NPR. The Washington Post ran a front-page story on the issue. College newspapers across the country have published bristling exchanges about Middle Eastern studies. The debate has even reverberated in Congress, where pending legislation would create an advisory board of government appointees to oversee the government-funded area studies programs responsible for teaching thousands of students about the Middle East each year. The goal of the legislation is to insure that Middle Eastern studies programs "represent the full range of views," as opposed to the "one-sided criticisms of American foreign policy" Stanley Kurtz complained about in recent testimony before the House of Representatives.

This might seem like an odd time to be policing the academy in search of scholars too critical of Washington's approach to the Middle East, given the chaos now enveloping Iraq, which numerous academic scholars foresaw. And Pipes's vituperative attacks have not made him a terribly popular figure on many campuses these days. Last fall, I watched him deliver a speech at Yale. Pipes showed up flanked by security guards, who whisked him out the door after the speech and a brief question-and-answer session. Nearly half the students in the audience arrived with a black cloth over their mouths to protest Campus Watch's threat to academic freedom.

Yet as one longtime Middle East hand who knows Pipes told me, those expecting Pipes to tone down his criticisms will likely be disappointed, for he carefully calculates what he says. "He's extreme, yes, but for a reason--to push the debate to the right. And it's been effective, no question."

Indeed, arguably Pipes's greatest achievement has been to capitalize on the fears generated by 9/11 in order to cast doubt on the motives and agenda of an entire profession--while keeping his own ideological agenda largely obscured from view.

In early January, I met Pipes on the tenth floor of a glass-and-steel highrise in downtown Philadelphia, headquarters of the Middle East Forum, the think tank he founded in 1994 to "promote American interests" in the region. Pipes is a tall man with a close-cropped beard and a lanky, basketball player's build. For all the venom in his writings, in person he is disarmingly soft-spoken and subdued. Throughout our interview in his corner office, decorated with a framed copy of the letter from President Bush nominating him to the US Institute of Peace, he spoke quietly, pausing frequently to rephrase his views. On television, Pipes affects the same cool dispassion, rarely raising his voice, even more rarely getting flustered. It's a style some believe he has cultivated to lend his pronouncements an understated--hence reasonable--air. "Dan has a sort of Svengali-like ability to portray a situation calmly but in the direst of terms," says Ian Lustick, a political scientist at the University of Pennsylvania who has debated him in the past.

One subject Pipes did not wish to discuss was his personal life. Yet his background is of more than passing relevance to anyone wishing to understand his worldview. He is the elder son of Richard Pipes, the renowned Sovietologist at Harvard who left an important mark on the politics of the cold war--and perhaps the current era as well. In the early 1980s Richard Pipes ran the Eastern European and Soviet Affairs desk at the National Security Council. Before that, he served as chairman of "Team B," a group of intelligence analysts brought together in 1975 by then-CIA Director George H.W. Bush. In a manner strikingly similar to that of the neoconservatives who recently dismissed more cautious estimates about Iraq, Team B's members scorned what they considered the timidity of the intelligence establishment, which at the time was supporting détente with the Soviet Union. Based on what Richard Pipes himself termed "soft evidence," Team B's members hyped the Soviet threat. One of its young weapons analysts was Paul Wolfowitz. The Defense Secretary at the time was Donald Rumsfeld; the Chief of Staff, Dick Cheney.

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