Towards A Good Samaritan World

Wednesday, June 01, 2005


Yeah, I mean it.

I think it would be good strategy. The downside is that we would look weak, and that jihadists would take courage, saying we were on the verge of defeat. (I don't think, though, that jihadists would sincerely believe that; they've seen too much of American power.) And yet negotiation is effective against terrorists because it creates disagreement in their ranks, as some of them are willing to sacrifice a portion of what they want in order to get it peacefully, while others who take an all-or-nothing strategy see them as betrayers. That's why a mixture of repression and negotiation is the most effective strategy.

Probably bin Laden would refuse to negotiate, at least for now. By negotiating, he would disgust many of his followers and perhaps even risk his life. If he didn't negotiate, America could continue to make the offer and to gain moral high ground by doing so. "We want peace, it is they who refuse to listen," we could say.

If bin Laden did negotiate, there is, of course, plenty of room for doubt over whether such a man as bin Laden should be able to influence US policy. And what kind of demands would bin Laden make? Withdraw from Iraq; well, we might consider that if you can stop the terror attacks. Make Israel withdraw from Palestine; but the territories only, or must they evacuate their whole country? In any case, we are not in a position to do either, the most we could do is stop giving the Israelis aid. What could bin Laden give us in return? That depends on how much control he has over his fighters, and whether he would lose control if he were seen to be negotiating with the Great Satan. It's hard to foresee what these negotiations would look like, because they 1) are unprecedented and 2) depend heavily on a single rather mysterious personality.

But the main reason to negotiate with bin Laden is to show that we genuinely want to live in peace with the world. If we don't, we should. And an American call for peace to al-Qaeda would get the world's attention. We could address the al-Qaeda chief something like this:

"For years our nation and your organization have been fighting against each other. Many of our soldiers and civilians, many jihadist fighters, and many innocent civilians, have died in this struggle. They have died in the falling Twin Towers, they have died in car bombs and suicide bombings in Arab streets, they have died on the battlefield, they have died in prisons. On your side and on ours, we are all haunted by the memory of lost loved ones, whose voices we will never again hear, whose living faces we will never see. After the noise of battle comes the weeping. After the blood, the tears.

"We do not wish to continue this fight, and we believe that you, too, do not wish to continue it. But we each fight in the service of lofty ends, of principles and dreams in which we believe passionately. Up to now, our dreams, our principles, our ends have put us into conflict, and perhaps that conflict is inescapable. But we hope not. We wish to speak with you and seek some way to be reconciled with you, to see if what you desire might be made compatible with what we desire, and so that we might put an end to all the killing."

Think for a moment of how such a statement would challenge the world to take a second look at us, would shake the Bushitler stereotype to its foundations, would inspire and soften the left. Talk is cheap. Why not use more of it?


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