A Truce, But Why?
By Lee Harris
History is what no one ever expects to happen, and last week it happened
again. A tape was released, purportedly from Osama bin Laden, in which he
offered a truce “under fair conditions” with the United States, in order to
rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan.
For the sake of argument, I am going to assume that the tape from Bin
Laden is authentic, and that he is sincere in offering a truce. I am aware that
these are both bold assumptions, but neither of them affects the question that I
want to address, which is, even if it is a ploy, why would bin Laden permit
himself to be cast in the light of a suppliant offering a truce? The mere offer
of a truce, after all, is an admission of weakness, if not defeat. So, if the
tape is authentic, we have to ask the question, Why would bin Laden risk
appearing either weak or, worse, defeated, in the eyes of his many followers and
admirers in the Muslim world?
It is true that he also threatened more attacks on America, and that he
even offered an explanation for why there have been none since 9/11, namely,
that he has chosen not to attack us. Of course, this bluster could be simply a
way of saving face, of looking tough at a moment of weakness; but, again, we
have to ask, Why would Osama bin Laden decide to show such a moment of weakness
in the first place?
To see what I mean, imagine the public response if George Bush had made
a similar appeal for a truce with al-Qaeda. How would this go over with the
American public, and the rest of the world? Wouldn’t such an offer, however
sincerely intended, be treated as a sign of exhaustion or even appeasement --
evidence that the United States had grown weary of its struggle against
terrorism, and was desperately looking for a way out? Certainly, that is exactly
how our enemies would look upon it.
The above argument may, of course, be offered as evidence for rejecting
the authenticity of the tape itself, but I want to go out on a limb (quite far
out on a limb) and to suggest another possibility, speculative though it may be:
Bin Laden is scared, but he is not afraid of our drones hovering perilously
close above his head. I want to suggest that bin Laden may be scared of what is
currently unfolding in the Muslim world -- not afraid of the march of democracy
in the Middle East, but afraid that the Muslim world may be on the brink of
tearing itself apart, of plunging back into the feud-blood between Sunnis and
Shi’ites that has been the theme-with-variations of all Islamic history; and
worse, a blood-feud that might be won not by the Sunni Arabs, who have won
virtually all such feuds in the past, but by the Shi’ite Persians, whose history
has hitherto been that of the perennial loser.
Since 9/11, the events of the world have not followed Osama bin Laden’s
original game plan. 9/11 was designed to unite the Arab world behind bin Laden,
to anoint him as its supreme leader and spokesman. It was intended to be a
glorious rebirth of the Arab Golden Age. Instead, four years after 9/11, seldom
a day goes by in which Muslims are not blowing up, torturing, or beheading their
fellow Muslims. In Palestine, Hamas and Fatah are at each other’s throats; in
Iraq, it is the Sunnis and the Shi’ites, and the Shi’ites seem to have the upper
hand. Surely, that was not part of bin Laden’s grandiose fantasy.
And then there is Shi’ite Iran.
Iran’s new President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is looming larger and larger
on the world’s stage, and he has behind him an enormous nation of over sixty
million people, a large chuck of the world’s oil supply, and an army of 350,000
men. Furthermore, Ahmadinejad appears intent on treading the same path as
Pakistan, India, and North Korea in disguising his ambition to make his nation a
nuclear power behind a very thin veil -- an astonishingly thin veil -- of
developing “atoms for peace.”
Bin Laden had not been heard from in a year. Ahmadinejad seems to be
making news every week. When bin Laden speaks, it is on tapes smuggled to
al-Jazeera; when Ahmadinejad speaks, it is in front of the cameras of the world.
As bin Laden becomes more and more eclipsed, the focus of the world’s attention
has turned, with increasingly dismay and alarm, to the histrionics of
Ahmadinejad. What will he say next? What will he do next? He has threatened to
cut off Iran’s supply of oil to the world, and it seems almost as if he has us
over a barrel -- actually, over several millions barrels. And would a man who is
willing to use oil as blackmail refrain from using nuclear weapons for the same
purpose? What can the beleaguered bin Laden do to top that?
Hitler, in his final days in the bunker, was convinced that the West
would realize the danger posed by the Soviet Union and would act to keep Stalin
from taking over half of Europe by offering an alliance with Germany to fight
against the Bolshevik threat. It was a fantasy, of course -- but, as we all
know, Hitler’s fantasy did not make the Soviets less menacing. Is it possible
that bin Laden, holed up in a far more primitive bunker, may be entertaining a
similar fantasy, offering us a truce, or even (gasp!) an alliance, in order to
rebuild a Sunni-dominated Iraq and Afghanistan against the threat posed by the
militant Shi’ite state of Iran -- an Iran led by its charismatic demagogue
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with his pronounced gift for grabbing the world’s attention
-- a kind of Persian Hitler whose career still lies before him, unlike bin
Laden, whose glory days are all but done?
Did bin Laden ever imagine that when the Twin Towers went down that
their collapse would begin a historical process that would end by making Iraq
virtually a Shi’ite state? No -- no more than we did when we removed the
Ba’athist regime of Saddam Hussein in the genuine hope that out of the rubble
would emerge a modern secular state.
The Bush administration, rightly fearful of an Iraqi drift toward Iran,
is currently trying to bring the Sunni Arabs of Iraq back into the government
from which we ousted them. Bin Laden, if the tape is authentic, is strangely
reaching out to call for a truce, if not a partnership, with the nation that his
organization brutally and wantonly attacked over four years ago. Is he acting by
the maxim, The enemy of my enemy is my friend? And if so, how should we respond
to him, in a world that may soon to be menaced by an enemy, Iran, whose power to
do us ill may far transcend whatever resources are still left to Osama bin
Laden? And an enemy whose friends, ominously enough, are Russia and China?
Of course, we can no more cut a deal with al-Qaeda to fight with us
against militant Shi’a than the Allies in World War Two could cut a deal with
Hitler to fight against the Soviets. But whose fault is that? Osama bin Laden
set off a chain reaction of events that have led to the destruction of his
dream. If he is now in a bunker of delusion, it was his own actions that have
put him there.
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
This is a very thought compeling article I read earlier today. It comes to us from TCS Daily