Opposition parties use the Senate confirmation process to block presidential appointments they don’t like, but it’s a weapon that has to be used reluctantly and in extreme cases.
In filibustering the judicial nomination of Alabama Atty. Gen. William H. Pryor Jr., for instance, Senate Democrats are stopping a far-right extremist from joining a federal appeals court for life. But in trying to prevent Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes from joining the board of the U.S. Institute of Peace, Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) are abusing their privilege.
Pipes has a long record of stirring up controversy on Islamic affairs. Long before Sept. 11, 2001, he warned of the danger of Arab terrorists lurking within the United States. He has been a fervent defender of Israel, including its settlement policy. His stands have earned him the enmity of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which is leading the charge against his nomination.
But however provocative Pipes may be, he is no bigot. In his 2002 book “Militant Islam Reaches America,” he states that Muslim immigrants can “bring much of value, including new energy, to their host societies.” He has consistently urged Arab Americans to shun radicalism and embrace moderate Islam. Pipes, who earned his doctorate at Harvard and has written 11 books, would bring a lively and inquiring mind to the institute, which is a research organization created by Congress to promote peaceful resolutions of international conflicts.
Pipes would not, in this capacity, have remotely the power of a federal judge. His nomination has been endorsed by a number of distinguished scholars, including Paul Kennedy, Fouad Ajami and John Keegan.
President Bush appointed Pipes to the board April 4 and is reportedly considering a recess appointment, which circumvents the normal Senate approval process. It should not have come to this. Sens. Kennedy, Dodd and Harkin should drop their resistance to Pipes.