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Thursday, January 26, 2006
Should America Have Accepted Bin Laden Truce?

Osama Bin Laden, after months of silence, in a dramatic announcement, offered a truce to the United States.
"This message is about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and how to end those wars," it began.

"It was not my intention to talk to you about this, because those wars are definitely going our way.

"But what triggered my desire to talk to you is the continuous deliberate misinformation given by your President [George] Bush, when it comes to polls made in your home country which reveal that the majority of your people are willing to withdraw US forces from Iraq.

"We know that the majority of your people want this war to end and opinion polls show the Americans don't want to fight the Muslims on Muslim land, nor do they want Muslims to fight them on their (US) land.

"But Bush does not want this and claims that it's better to fight his enemies on their land rather than on American land.

"Bush tried to ignore the polls that demanded that he end the war in Iraq.

"We are getting increasingly stronger while your situation is getting from bad to worse," he told the US, referring to poor US troop morale and the huge economic losses inflicted by the war.

"The war in Iraq is raging and the operations in Afghanistan are increasing."

"In response to the substance of the polls in the US, which indicate that Americans do not want to fight Muslims on Muslim land, nor do they want Muslims to fight them on their land, we do not mind offering a long-term truce based on just conditions that we will stick to.

"We are a nation that Allah banned from lying and stabbing others in the back, hence both parties of the truce will enjoy stability and security to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan, which were destroyed by war."

....Addressing Americans again, he said: "If your desire for peace, stability and reconciliation was true, here we have given you the answer to your call."

The United States responded, through the White House Press Secretary, that the we don't negotiate with terrorists, we put them out of business. However, for the purposes of analysis, let's bracket the Bush Administration's brashness to dismiss this potential olive branch. How should we, then, view Bin Laden's proposal.

Dan Drezner suggests that we should this proposal as a joke because it was just a bad publicity stunt. "I'm very wary of sounding triumphalist, but this sounds much more like bad spin control and concern about losing the war than an act of benevolence." Moreover, Drezner observes, "Time's Tony Karon thinks bin Laden has surfaced because he's worried about his own standing among the jihadists:
The message — relatively "moderate" by Jihadist standards, in that it appeared to stake out a hypothetical negotiating position and the prospect of coexistence with the U.S. at the same time as warning of new violence — was notable less for its content than for the fact that it was released at all. Despite directly addressing Americans, its primary purpose may nonetheless be to remind Arab and Muslim audiences of his existence, and to reiterate his claim to primacy among the Jihadists.... in the year of Bin Laden's silence, he has begun to be supplanted as the media face of global jihad by Musab al-Zarqawi, whose grisly exploits in Iraq grab headlines week after week.
I dunno... this sounds like international relations analysis using the mindset of a Hollywood publicist."

Drezner's triumphalism is justified if we assume that Al Qaeda is not in operational control of the insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, if we allow that Bin Laden's word could affect the resolve of his side's troops to fight, then the triumphalism might be counterproductive. The aim of the United States is to build stable, democratic states in Afghanistan and Iraq. Even if it is possible to export democracy, that project is infinitely complicated by the respective insurgencies. Defeating the insurgency is as much a political question as is a military question-- just like transnational terrorism itself.

Bin Laden's leaf suggested that for the first time since 2001, America's conflict with his organization might override two political goals that we both share: the creation of stable states in the region. I don't want to overstate the convergence between Bush and Bin Laden; stable for him means Islamist, whereas stable for Bush means no insurgency, a vote, and a constitution. These two goals, especially for the neoconservatives, diverge but they need not be mutually exclusive. The only things preventing the political strategy of the vote, the election, and constitution from working in both countries are the two insurgencies. Bin Laden offered us a compromise solution whereby we could declare victory and he could cease his jihad.

Refusing to negotiate with Bin Laden leaves Washington with only one option: putting him out of business, making political problems of institution and state-building into military problems--defeating the insurgency--where the balance of power is against the external power. If the basic theory behind the intervention is correct--that there exists a silent majority waiting for the prosperity and freedom of market democracy--a rebuilding period would vindicate the neoconservative vision and help the people of both countries.

We should have accepted the deal. But not with open arms.

If Dan Drezner is right, and Bin Laden is trying to save face, and the United States withdrew, then we would be doing him a huge favor. How do we prevent treachery? Bush should declare that he will remove American troops from Afghanistan (Move 1), and, within three months Bin Laden would have to end operations in both Afghanistan and Iraq (Move 2). If the operations (defined as the insurgencies) ended, within two months of the end of operations, Bush would bring the troops home to America (Move 3 and endgame). In this way, Bush can test whether Bin Laden still has operational control of the insurgency, and, show his willingness for diplomacy. He can also ease the logistical burden on the army temporarily, and, hold another card in his hand against the Iraqi insurgents. In the best possible situation, the war in both states ends, and Bush has two years to rebuild the countries before he leaves office.