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Jan 24 2006

The threat of terrorist attacks – 2

The recent release of an audiotape by Bin Laden offering a truce in the war may be used to kick off the election year season of ratcheting up the fear of terrorism.

In his message bin Laden points to attacks in other countries and promises a new attack on the US and explains the reason for not doing so earlier:

As for the delay in carrying out similar operations in America, this was not due to the failure to breach your security measures. Operations are in preparation, and you will see them on your own ground once the preparations are finished, God willing.

The Bush administration has reacted to the tape with its usual bluster, and the mainstream pundit class has responded along fairly predictable lines, vying with each to show who has the most macho response. As James Wolcott says: “What a pathetic, posturing, blowhard country we’ve become. Yesterday a new audio surfaces from Osama bin Laden, the man many speculated was dead. The media and political response was a phony show of “strength” and an embarrassing self-contradiction. Now it doesn’t take a terrorist expert to understand that when a charismatic figure who was instrumental in the deaths of 3000 Americans and remains [un]apprehended four years later extends a “truce” to the U.S., that this is hardly a sign of weakness. It is a gesture of supreme, serene hauteur.”

Justin Raimondo, Editorial Director of the excellent website Antiwar.com has a reasoned take on this latest development. He begins by pointing out that whatever one might think of bin Laden, he is nothing if not consistent in his behavior and seems to be a man of his word.

The “preparations” [bin Laden] talks about may be just about finished: at least, that is how it seems to me. If you examine bin Laden’s past pronouncements, and the public statements of al-Qaeda, a clear pattern emerges: there is a warning, followed by an attack – and a claim of responsibility. Bin Laden’s public persona is very consistent: he says what he intends to do, then he does it. We have no reason to disbelieve him, or to assume he’ll break the pattern this time.

Another pattern of behavior is that he always offers his enemies a way out: in the past, he has said that a change in U.S. foreign policy would have to mean a corresponding change on his part.

Raimondo then points out something that is often ignored in the media but has been clear to anyone who has actually read the statements of bin Laden, that while willing to execute murderous missions, bin Laden and al-Quaeda are not lunatics acting irrationally, but rational people carrying out a strategic plan that has well-defined goals.

[The videotape] confirms what analysts such as [Michael] Scheuer [a 22-year veteran of the CIA, counter-terrorism expert and the author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror] have long said: that al-Qaeda launched its global insurgency in order to secure certain specific and strictly limited goals, the primary one of which is to rid the Middle East of Western military and political dominance. By announcing that the U.S. would henceforth not be interfering in the affairs of other nations, we would effectively bring the insurgency to an end – and the threat of terrorism against the U.S. homeland would cease. This bin Laden pledges, on his word as a Muslim. It would be foolish to believe he doesn’t take such a vow seriously, or utter it in all sincerity – just as it would be equally foolish to disdain his threats as baseless boasting.

Of course, according to the demonological view of bin Laden, which depicts him as an irrational monster entirely without any strategic sense – or even any genuinely religious conviction – he is not capable of sincerity. The offer of a truce had barely been uttered before it was rejected by the U.S. government, which announced that it doesn’t “negotiate with terrorists.” We negotiated with Stalin, with Hitler, with despots of every size, shape, and hue – and yet to do so with bin Laden, even if indirectly, is impermissible.

What bin Laden offers is straightforward:

We do not object to a long-term truce with you on the basis of fair conditions that we respect.

We are a nation, for which God has disallowed treachery and lying.

In this truce, both parties will enjoy security and stability and we will build Iraq and Afghanistan, which were destroyed by the war.

But bin Laden is pessimistic that his offer will be accepted for reasons that reveal an understanding of the workings of what President Eisenhower once presciently warned of – the power of the “military-industrial complex.”

There is no defect in this solution other than preventing the flow of hundreds of billions to the influential people and war merchants in America, who supported Bush’s election campaign with billions of dollars.

Hence, we can understand the insistence of Bush and his gang to continue the war.

Even during the Tiger and other insurrections in Sri Lanka, I never understood the hardline position of ruling out negotiations. If you don’t negotiate with your enemies, then how will you ever know what really drives their thinking and actions? After all, if the negotiations don’t succeed or are done in bad faith, you always have the option of going back to war. War always has to be the last resort.

Many people will not be aware (this news surfaced briefly and then disappeared) that soon after the events of 9/11 when bin Laden and al-Quaeda had been fingered as the culprits, the ruling Taliban government in Afghanistan said that the “government knows the whereabouts of militant leader Osama bin Laden and has him under their control. A Taliban official said ‘Wherever he goes, there are people assigned to him, and he cannot move around without their permission’ ” They offered to turn over bin Laden and others to the US but “added that bin Laden would not be turned over to the U.S. unconditionally, and said the Taliban would need to see firm evidence of bin Laden’s guilt before they would even consider any handover.”

The Taliban spokesman further said that “only an Afghan court can decide whether to turn him over to the U.S. or try him within Afghanistan itself. ”

What was Bush’s response to this offer? Summary rejection. “There’s no need to negotiate” Bush said, and went to war in Afghanistan.

And so here we are, more than four years later with bin Laden still making threats and the US stuck in hopeless wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Perhaps the Taliban were not negotiating in good faith. But we will never know the answer to that question because that path was never explored.

The rejection of the Taliban offer by the US could not have been because the US had no links with the Taliban government because there is story behind even this story.

It turns out that the US government and the oil giant Unocal had been in secret negotiations with the Taliban for nearly a year to construct an oil pipeline from Turkmenistan to India that passed through that country. But the talks broke down in August 2001 because the Taliban also wanted help in rebuilding their country but the US wanted to only build the pipeline and have nothing to do with helping Afghanistan restore its ravaged infrastructure.

Could it be that the events of 9/11 provided the Bush administration with an ideal opportunity to militarily overthrow the Taliban government and replace it with a new pliable one (like the present Karzai government) that would carry out the US government’s wishes on the pipeline, and this was why offers of talks were rejected out of hand? It is interesting that both Hamid Karzai and Zalmay Khalilzad (the Bush Administration’s ambassador to Afghanistan after the overthrow of the Taliban and now US ambassador to Iraq) were both consultants to Unocal. You can read the story of the oil pipeline negotiations (which also involves that bottomless cesspool of corruption that is Enron) here.

I think it is clear that bin Laden is fully confident that, given Bush’s track record and the state of political discourse in this country, Bush will not take him up on his offer of a truce. That must mean that this new statement is designed more to show the rest of the world that he, not Bush, is the reasonable person. When the next attack occurs, he will tell the world that Bush could have prevented it, but didn’t. And so more innocent people will die in the endless cycle generated by these propaganda wars.

We have to shift the whole focus of this debate from military posturing to realizing that terrorism is at root a response by the militarily weak to a political problem with political causes and hence must have a political solution that is arrived at by a realistic examination of the issues at hand and negotiations with the relevant parties. As Raimondo says:

How can we win the “war on terrorism”? It is the task of Sisyphus, in the context of current American foreign policy: in short, it cannot be done. If we define “victory” as the cessation of enemy activities aimed at the West, however, it is clearly within reach, but only if we venture outside the narrow parameters set by American policymakers, who somehow believe that global hegemony is a legitimate goal – except when it is pursued by someone else.

Raimondo takes direct aim at the foolish notion that al-Quaeda hates us for who we are and will not rest until all American women wear burkas and all American men grow beards.

No, they don’t hate us on account of our much-vaunted modernity: neither Madonna nor Sex and the City has set this jihad in motion. It isn’t Brokeback Mountain that enrages or concerns them: it’s all about our foreign policy of untrammeled aggression, our unconditional support for Israel, our support for tyrants from the Saudis to the butchers of North Africa, and our policy of enforcing a regime of low-priced oil on our regional satraps. As long as our rulers persist in this course, they endanger us all – and what is clear beyond any doubt is that we have no reason to believe they can protect us from the consequences of their folly.

Of course, even the idea of actually reading the statements of bin Laden and of carefully examining the al-Quaeda manifesto will be horrifying to some and painted as soft on terrorism at best and treasonous at worst. Somehow people have been trained to respond on the basis of perceptions and stereotypes and hysteria rather than clinically examining the situation before them and rationally weighing the options.

In Sri Lanka, the twenty-year old war finally resulted in a two-year truce when the government wearied of trying to wipe out the Tigers militarily, realized it was hopeless, and after years and years of refusing to talk with the Tiger leaders, started negotiations. Unfortunately, the aftermath of the tsunami and a change in government resulted in the negotiations almost breaking down and the risk of war and terrorism is dangerously increasing. But there are lessons to be learned from that and many similar experiences world wide, which is that fighting a determined and committed guerilla enemy is usually a war of attrition in which conventional armies and strategies, especially those fighting in a foreign country that has different language, culture, religion, and customs, are at a huge disadvantage.

Bin Laden says he is willing to wait us out if we choose not to negotiate, and he can point to a track record on patience with what they did to the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. As he says:

Do not be deluded by your power and modern weapons. Although they win some battles, they lose the war. Patience and steadfastness are better than them. What is important is the outcome.

We have been tolerant for 10 years in fighting the Soviet Union with our few weapons and we managed to drain their economy.

They became history, with God’s help.

You should learn lessons from that.

The message of this tape signals an ominous development. It calls for careful examination and a reasoned response. Unfortunately, what we are likely to see instead, especially in an election year, is a competition to see who can look and speak the toughest.

POST SCRIPT: Hide! The sky is falling! Or something…

Cartoonist Tom Tomorrow, on target as usual, gives us Fear Factor: The terrifying world of the average conservative.

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