Obama does not understand who Putin is

November 3, 2013, 6:15 pm


Interview with Daniel Pipes by Olga Doleśniak-Harczuk*

1.Will Bashar al-Asad comply with the demands of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons or not? And what will or could the Obama administration do when Asad will not comply?

Although initial reports indicated that Bashshar al-Assad is complying with OPCW demands, I would be surprised if he continues with this because the chemical weapons are crucial to his maintaining power. I expect the Obama administration to attack Syrian government installations without expecting or even wanting this to make much difference in the course of the civil war.

2.Does the U.S. – Russian agreement solve the crisis in Syria or not?

Not at all; it only deals with chemical weapons, not the much larger question of the civil war. Put in numbers: the chemical weapons accounts for just 1 percent of the civil war fatalities until now.

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3.Why is Russia standing by Bashar al-Asad? ( What political economic interests are here in play). What is Russia’s role in supporting al-Assad?

The Kremlin supports Assad: to stand by an ally, to help an Iranian ally, to help the Syrian Christians, to keep the naval facility at Tartus, and to annoy the U.S. government. Moscow’s support is an important supplement to the help Damascus gets from Tehran.

4.The Syrian port of Tartus is still an important base for Russia’s Mediterranean Fleet do this factor into Russia’s interest in the war’s outcome?

Yes, it is a factor; not because Tartus is important now but because it could be in the future.

5.Who is the biggest winner / the biggest loser on the “Syrian agreement”?

Russian president Vladimir Putin is the biggest winner, the Syrian opposition is the biggest loser, followed by Barack Obama, Turkey, and Israel.

6.You wrote: It’s a privilege to be an American who works on foreign policy, as I have done since the late 1970s, participating in a small way in the grand project of finding my country’s place in the world. But now, under Barack Obama, decisions made in Washington have dramatically shrunk in importance. It’s unsettling and dismaying. And no longer a privilege. The question is: What are in your opinion the biggest mistakes of Obama’s policy toward:

-Middle East

Favoring the Islamists.


Not understanding who Putin is.

-European countries (and especially toward Poland)

Taking Europe (and Poland especially) for granted, not taking its concerns into consideration.

7.You wrote also: Qatar (with a national population of 225,000) has an arguably greater impact on current events than the 1,400-times-larger United States (population: 314 million). What is the reason of this great disparity?

The Qatari government has shown purpose and focus, the American one has not.

8. After that what happened in the case of Syria – is the U.S. still a credible partner for his allies?

American allies are increasingly rethinking their place in the world.

9. The Jerusalem Post reports: Two-thirds of Jewish Israelis believe US president Barack Obama will fail to keep his promise to prevent Iran’s development of nuclear weapons, while only 27 percent believe he will succeed. How would you describe the current relations between U.S. and Israel? Are the Israelis after the “Syrian agreement” more skeptical toward Obama’s administration? What should Washington do to regain the lost credibility?

U.S.-Israel relations are better than I expected at this point, especially in terms of military cooperation. But the key issue is Iran and we do not know how that will turn out. Israelis worry along with others around the world about the Obama administration’s weakness and lack of attention. Washington could regain credibility by standing with friends and against enemies.

10. What is the real Iranian threat today? Is Rouhani’s charm offensive only ( as the Israel claims) a theater for the world public opinion? And again: What is Russia’s role in supporting Teheran?

The Iranian threat is ideological, terroristic, and nuclear. The Rouhani charm offensive is most likely intended to delay sanctions but we shall find out in a few days, when the P+1 talks take place.

11. Is U.S. twelve years since the 9/11 and the beginning of “War on Terror” more secure? What do you think when you recall 9/11?

Counterterrorism efforts have been quite successful; but the United States is more penetrated by radical Islam than it was twelve years ago. My recollection of 9/11 is primarily one of anger that the responsible U.S. agencies were so incompetent and did not protect the country.

12. What are in your opinion the main, bad consequences of Arab Spring?

I see the current upheavals in the Middle East as a necessary transition out of autocracy. The consequences are ugly but they cannot be avoided.

13. Turkey was one of the first nations, that joined NATO, and Ankara was always seeking for allies in the west. But now- how it seems Ankara feels a little bit neglected. And it wants to buy Chinese missile defense…it sounds like trouble. What happened with the once good U.S.-Turkey relations? How important is Turkey as the “soft power country” between Europe, Asia, Middle East and U.S.?

A strange Turkish election in 2002 brought Islamists to power and they are engaged in a long-term effort to remove Turkey from the Western alliance. I worry that Turkey will be our leading problem in the Middle East.

14. You had been studying mathematics, but finally you decided to change into Arabic language and history. Why? What was the reason?

Partly, it was that I could no longer understand what I was doing in mathematics; partly, I traveled in West Africa and the Middle East and wanted to understand these regions, their Islamic component in particular.

15. You studied Arabic and the Middle East, after graduating you spent two years in Cairo. Was it the time as you realized that Islam or better – islamization can be a real threat or that thought came later?

My career coincided with the beginnings of the Islamist surge now dominates. I never imagined then a phenomenon like the Taliban or Al-Qaeda; Islam seemed to be in retreat, not growing.

16. What was and is the mission of Campus Watch? I remember a time as some journalists suggested that you are “an anti-Arab propagandist”. What was your reaction on this accusation?

Campus Watch reviews the work of Middle East studies specialists in North America. To the accusation that I am anti-Arab, I turn this around and say that those who make the accusation are in fact anti-Arab. An example: I wrote three books against the Assad regime between 1990 and 1996. Two decades later, it is clear to the world that I was correct to oppose the regime and that those who apologized for it were in fact hostile to the interests of Syrians.

17. 1990 you wrote: “Western European societies are unprepared for the massive immigration of brownskinned peoples cooking strange foods and maintaining different standards of hygiene…All immigrants bring exotic customs and attitudes, but Muslim customs are more troublesome than most.” At that time it was controversial but now many countries see, that you were right. In Germany, Great Britain or France Muslim customs came with their own way of life and are not interested in that what we call “integration”. Many of Muslim are nice people, but we have also very dangerous Muslims in Europe, who are playing their own war on Christian/Jewish values in our countries. The decapitation of a British soldier in London few months ago was a shock to many Europeans. The question is: What can we do? Is it too late to change our policy toward Muslim immigrants? What would you suggest on that issue to the governments of European countries?

Western peoples need to be proud of their culture and believe in their morality, as opposed to the multicultural mood that now dominates and sees all cultures and moralities as equivalent.

18. How will look the world in twenty years?

I see a stronger United States, a weaker Europe, a very weak Russia, a less ambitious China.

Personal questions

19. Do you visit Poland sometimes? About what are you thinking about when you think about Poland, the place where your parents – Irene and Richard Pipes were born. Do you speak Polish? Do you like Polish food?

I have visited Poland many times, including with my parents, starting with a student group in 1976. I am very aware that both sides of my family for many generations lived in Poland. At my birth, my parents were intent on becoming full Americans, so they did not teach me Polish. I very much enjoy Polish food, but not too often – or I would get too heavy!

20. Your father, prof. Richard Pipes came few weeks ago to Warsaw where he took a part at the ceremony of his 90th anniversary on The Warsaw University. Are you proud of your father? Do you always agree with his point of view on policy and history or there is also space for different views? Your father seems to be a very strong personality, was is it like to be a son of prof. Pipes?

I am indeed proud of my father, for many reasons but most of all because he developed an understanding of the U.S.S.R. that not only proved to be correct but that he had to defend from colleagues who for decades criticized him. He and I basically agree on history and politics; our disagreements tend to be tactical rather than strategic. In general, I am more conservative than he is. He indeed does have a strong personality, which I admire, and it helped me define my own views and career.

*Gazeta Polska
October 23, 2013
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Cross-posted with permission

Related: Arab/Muslim World, Dictator Watch, Europe, Foreign Policy, Iran, Islam, Obama, Russia, Society, Syria, Terrorist Groups, Turkey, WMD

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