WASHINGTON — At the U.S. Institute of Peace, veterans of the Middle East peace process from several administrations recently sat around brainstorming about lessons learned in their grueling negotiations with the Israelis and the Palestinians.
The session, designed to offer advice to the White House on the eve of new peace talks, is a favored new program at the institute — a research center, with federal funding of $16.2 million a year, that is dedicated to promoting "the prevention, management and peaceful resolution of international conflicts."
Now this quiet haven of foreign policy advisors is at the center of conflict.
President Bush has nominated to the institute's board Daniel Pipes, a neoconservative Middle East scholar whose writings and sound bites have inflamed Muslim leaders. The nomination has sparked a new war between hawks and doves, complete with charges of Muslim-baiting and whispers of Jewish influence.
Pipes directs the Middle East Forum, a Philadelphia think tank that publishes the Middle East Quarterly. A scholar with a doctorate in history from Harvard who has studied Islam for 30 years, he has long warned of the dangers of Islamic extremism, predicting a war of terror against the United States.
Pipes, 53, son of Soviet scholar Richard Pipes, has been outspoken about Muslims. In his work, which includes 11 books, numerous journal and newspaper articles and a variety of television appearances, Pipes has compared [militant] Islam with fascism. He has urged more security profiling of Muslims and has argued that the increased Muslim populations in the United States, France, Holland and elsewhere around the world are a danger to Jews.
He also started Campus Watch, which describes itself as a "review and critique" of professors specializing in Middle Eastern studies, to monitor academic work for alleged pro-Arab bias.
The Council of American-Islamic Relations calls Pipes "the premier anti-Muslim attack dog since 9/11." Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the council, said the nomination is disturbing in light of Bush's visit to a mosque in the days after Sept. 11 to preach religious tolerance. "It sends an enormous message of insensitivity to Muslims," Hooper said. The council is lobbying Capitol Hill to kill the nomination.
The institute's 12 board members include representatives of the State Department, the National Defense University and the Pentagon. The other nine members are nominated by the White House and confirmed by the Senate, with the party in the White House controlling the swing seat.
Many on both sides of the debate agree that the controversy is largely symbolic, as the power of one board member probably would be tethered to the policies and direction of the institute, which primarily gives awards to scholars studying conflict resolution.
Beyond the controversy over Pipes, however, is a larger issue of what the Institute of Peace should do at a time of unrivaled U.S. military power. Some see Pipes' nomination as an attempt by the Bush White House to shift the focus of the institute from research on peaceful conflict resolution to advocacy of activist military policy — particularly in Israel.
"This is a sad gesture by an administration influenced by far-right, pro-Likud neoconservatives," said Hussein Ibish, communications director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. Citing Pipes' well-known view that Israel must defeat the Palestinians in order to secure its own peace, Ibish added that Pipes is almost "uniquely disqualified" for the board. "Anyone with views like this has no business being on the Institute of Peace," he said. "Possibly the Institute of War."
Pipes declined an interview on the specifics of his nomination, pending the decision by the Senate. But when asked about his views on peace, he said, "The strength of the U.S. military is the greatest peacekeeping force in the world. Peace is not achieved through weakness."
The president of the institute, Richard Solomon, is a former ambassador to the Philippines and a former State Department official. He said the institute, once almost exclusively a research organization, is expanding its mission — for example, by training civilian police officers to stabilize Kosovo and sending advisors to the reconstruction effort in Iraq.
"The world has changed, and we have the flexibility to innovate," he said. "We like to think of ourselves as more of a 'do tank' than a think tank."
Patrick Clawson, deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israel research organization, is a friend and colleague of Pipes. He noted that when Pipes served on the Fulbright Scholarship board, he did not prevent Muslims from entering the United States. And Clawson marveled that, even under attack, Pipes keeps stoking the fires — in a column that appeared in the New York Post, he argued that a newly liberated Iraq is not suited culturally for democracy and that what is needed is "a democratically minded Iraqi strongman."
Clawson said he believed that Solomon's observation — that the institute is becoming more of a "do tank" — was all the more reason to include conservatives on the board. "What's the point of becoming a 'do tank' if you don't have people on the board who reflect the opinions of U.S. policymakers?" he said.
Holly J. Burkhalter, advocacy director for Physicians for Human Rights, has been on the board since 2000. A Clinton appointee, she said she had not previously spoken out on Pipes' nomination, believing that his political leanings were not an issue. "There is a wide range of views on the board, and we make a wide range of grants," she said. "Our only litmus test is that the scholarship be excellent."
Her concern, she said, is that Pipes is "well-known for having made a career of imposing a different kind of litmus test, an ideological purity movement." Bringing that kind of tactic to the Institute of Peace, she said, could have "a chilling effect" on scholarship.