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More Truce

MEMRI says bin Laden didn't offer a truce. Instead, he signaled he was open to a truce if America would care to put some terms on the table. MEMRI is not a really reliable source in my view, though there's not an obvious political motive for translating the statement their way, and al-Jazeera's English translation on this point was inconsistent with al-Jazeera's own sense of what should be excerpted, so perhaps they're right.

At any rate, I guess it's silly, but why not offer some terms, then? Since the White House would have the initiative, they could presumably just not offer anything they think is unacceptabe. Bin Laden seems to feel he needs to adopt a public posture of reasonableness, but if it's a bluff then why not call it?

January 20, 2006 | Permalink


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"At any rate, I guess it's silly, but why not offer some terms, then?"

The problem is that any possible US terms would have to include UBL surrendering to allied forces.

Perhaps we could offer to allow him surrender to the US attorney for Manhattan, rather than to military officials. Or if the administration were feeling less psychotic than normal, they could even allow him to surrender to The Hague.

But it's hard to imagine any truce that would involve the US suspending efforts to take custody of Bin Laden. And without such a suspension, there would be no possible truce.

Posted by: Petey | Jan 20, 2006 1:23:23 AM

Does this happen with other languages? I'm probably just missing it but I don't recall hearing significantly different meanings attributed to statements of the Chinese premier or the Japanese prime minister. Israeli leaders give speeches, so does Musharraf in Pakistan and there don't seem to be alternative versions.

Why do we always have this issue with Arabic?

Posted by: quietstorm | Jan 20, 2006 1:29:22 AM

I suspect MEMRI has something to do with it.

Posted by: teofilo | Jan 20, 2006 2:00:47 AM

"Does this happen with other languages?"

Yup. Translation ambiguity is a perennial.

Resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian problem has been complicated by the fact that the crucial post-'67 Security Council resolution reads somewhat differently in English versus French.

The world's first recorded peace treaty from the second millennium BC reads differently in Egyptian versus Akkadian.

Posted by: Petey | Jan 20, 2006 2:10:59 AM

I thought most diplomatic documents had a sort of boilerplate along the lines of "This document exists in English and French versions. In the event of a disagreement, the English version will be definitive." Is this not the case, then?

Posted by: ajay | Jan 20, 2006 5:46:15 AM

My guess is that to the Bush administration, negotiating is something that you do when you run out of alternatives and can't do anything else, much like the way sane people view war. Negotiations are a sign of weakness. The weak negotiate: the strong demand!

Posted by: Julian Elson | Jan 20, 2006 10:04:28 AM

At any rate, I guess it's silly, but why not offer some terms, then?

Serious question, Matthew: what terms would you propose?

As Petey suggests, my terms would include a surrender of al Qaeda. What would yours include?

Posted by: Al | Jan 20, 2006 11:35:10 AM

Al and Petey are right, and they're reminding me why I only read for the basketball commentary. I mean, what "terms," other than unconditional and immediate surrender, would you consider acceptable?

Maybe Mr. Garrison could write the treaty: "You go to hell! You go to hell and you die!"

Posted by: Steve | Jan 20, 2006 2:00:12 PM

My two cents:

Isn't it standard police procedure to at least pretend to negotiate with those who hold hostages? I believe one reason policemen do this is because it gives them time to study their opponent, perhaps catching him off-guard, or tricking him into revealing information that will help the police arrest him.

Wouldn't the same concept apply here?

For example, if we were to engage OBL in "truce" discussions, wouldn't that necessitate a more formal means of communication, which could conceivably help the U.S. pinpoint his whereabouts?

Just thinking out loud.

Posted by: LaurenceB | Jan 20, 2006 2:03:30 PM

OK, now I'm really going to get stupid.


Let's say OBL unilaterally called a truce. Let's say he issued an audio tape calling on his followers to cease the struggle in Iraq for the sake of the Iraqi people.

At that point, how many of us would be in favor of an immediate pull-out from Iraq, by raise of hands?

Now, those who raised your hand, step back for a moment and ask yourselves if you would agree to a truce right now with OBL on exactly those same terms: Namely, we will pull out of Iraq if OBL will pull out of Iraq. Who would agree to that truce by raise of hands?

A fun thought excercise, isn't it?

Just thinking out loud.

Posted by: LaurenceB | Jan 20, 2006 2:19:12 PM

"Al and Petey are right, and they're reminding me why I only read for the basketball commentary."

I'm a pretty liberal Democrat. The left's critique of the incredibly flawed administration reaction to the Al-Qaida threat is quite cogent.

"I mean, what "terms," other than unconditional and immediate surrender, would you consider acceptable?"

Why not offer a plea bargain? UBL would have a one time opportunity to voluntarily surrender to the international war crimes tribunal that is trying Milosevic. He'd be submitting himself to trial for the crime of intentionally targeting civilians with the WTC attack.

Osama almost definitely wouldn't take the deal, but making the offer would help the American national interest in multiple ways. Of course, this administration's weak and brittle stance toward Al-Qaida and the world makes such an offer impossible six ways to Tuesday...

Posted by: Petey | Jan 20, 2006 2:42:04 PM

My stupidity continues...

Why involve OBL at all in the terms of truce? He could only want a truce if he feels he is failing either militarily or politically in Iraq. I suspect both. So he wants out of Iraq. As luck would have it, so do we! But we most adamantly don't want to let him off the hook for 9/11.

So, the terms can be:

We'll continue to hunt down OBL vigorously wherever he is. He can feel free to have his people set off bombs elsewhere. But both Al Queda and the U.S. will leave Iraq.

If OBL refuses the deal, he looks like a man who refused to alleviate the suffering of fellow Muslims in Iraq to save his own skin. Whereas, if he accepts, we get to declare victory and leave Iraq, and we continue to hunt him down in Pakistan/Afghanistan. That sounds like a pretty good deal either way.

Posted by: LaurenceB | Jan 20, 2006 2:58:02 PM

So he wants out of Iraq.

I don't think that's what he's saying at all. As I understand it, he wants to STAY in Iraq. Remember, his overall goal is to revive the caliphate over all of the Middle East (including Iraq).

I think his idea of a fair truce is, if we withdraw from Iraq, he will stop killing our soldiers in Iraq.

Now, maybe it's just me, but I don't see a whole of benefit for us in that truce. But maybe we can bargain him up a little bit.

Posted by: Al | Jan 20, 2006 3:14:20 PM

they're reminding me why I only read for the basketball commentary

Nah. Matthew's usually wrong on the political posts (is this a surreptitious political post violating his agreements?), but he's also usually interesting on the political posts. Interesting trumps wrong every day of the week.

Posted by: Al | Jan 20, 2006 3:17:21 PM

Imagine that we offered to leave Iraq on the condition that Al Queda would also leave Iraq. Now imagine that OBL refuses.

What a P.R. coup that would be! From that point on, any criticism of the U.S. in Iraq can be countered with "Well, we offered to leave, but Osama refused." That would play great in Islamic countries, in Europe, and most importantly, in Iraq. It's the kind of political victory we need in Iraq. Hearts and minds would be won over.

And if he doesn't refuse, we get to declare victory!

Just thinking out loud. This could all be really, really stupid.

Posted by: LaurenceB | Jan 20, 2006 3:31:26 PM

I'm apparently missing something, because it seems pretty clear that he's not looking for a deal with the US.

1. No one ever chooses to negotiate a deal in public. If OBL can get tapes to Al Jazeera, he can get a message to us. He didn't do that; this isn't an offer of a deal. This is PR for the ME people.

2. What's the PR for? Dunno. Maybe the same thing as Hamas is looking for from its new London-based PR firm - a change in image. This could mean that he's being forced to the table by dwindling strength, and is looking to preserve some sort power. Or he's now sufficiently well-trusted by a sufficient number of people (think Sharpton) that this is just a natural move.

3. If he's looking for a new "reasonable" image, is this a good thing? Dunno. He'll have to take other actions, over time, to seem reasonable. Perhaps his range of actions will be more moderate. But, if he's successful, maybe he displaces more moderate voices as "A Voice of the People," and makes future US-ME negotiations more difficult/less likely to yield results in our interest. I favor stability a lot, so, if he is doing this, I think it's a good thing. But who knows?

4. If he really is trying to restructure his image, he'll have made better use of Lakoffian frames than any Dem. ever did.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Jan 20, 2006 3:42:19 PM

Tim -
I think we're all pretty much in agreement that Osama is not trying to sincerely broker a truce - as you say, he's just doing some PR. The interesting question is whether or not we can gain some advantage by playing this little PR game with him. I'm beginning to think we can.

Posted by: LaurenceB | Jan 20, 2006 3:59:43 PM

Al -

I think his idea of a fair truce is, if we withdraw from Iraq, he will stop killing our soldiers in Iraq.

I suspect you are correct and that he would refuse the terms that I suggested. But the beauty of those terms is that we win a PR victory if he refuses, and everything else remains the same. By refusing, his PR ploy fails.

Posted by: LaurenceB | Jan 20, 2006 4:10:02 PM


We can't beat him at this PR game. The moment we start to play, he wins - we have conceded that he is the sort of party with whom we should engage in political discussions. He is no longer some whacko madman with whom no decent person would associate. Instant credibility, baby! This is roughly the line anti-Sharpton Dems take about Sharpton. (Which would trouble Joe Klein more: Dems doing a meet'n'greet with Sharpton, or Arabs doing a meet'n'greet with OBL?)

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Jan 20, 2006 7:13:36 PM

What a laff riot! Someone is messing with our head, but we can't figure out who has anything to gain from doing so. Is it Bush, cranking up the old fear level for an election year? Or OBL, playing to his masses? And for once in our lives, we sincerely cannot understand what stupid response we could make that would make all of this worthwhile to Bush or OBL.

The whole thing should be some theatrical comedy gag, superimposed on the insanity of world events by the most ironical of dramatic troupes, guerilla theater to the Nth. But it probably isn't.

Of course, the smart thing would be to agree to OBL's demands, declare victory and get out, and if the rest of the world wanted our help dealing with him, we'd say "Sure, we'll hold your coat and give you fresh water between rounds". But we could never do that. Just thinking about it makes our weenie shrivel.

So, it's Bush and OBL, a battle of wits, and guess which one is unarmed. But, at least we know one thing- OBL at his worst comes nowhere near Bush in harming the country. Could be a photo finish.

Posted by: serial catowner | Jan 20, 2006 7:45:31 PM

Sorry, Matt, that was too harsh. I don't just read for the basketball. I don't read the TPM blog because I've got too many political blogs to read and not enough basketball & rock & roll blogs, but I don't hate the political stuff here. And I'm an unaligned voter myself, certainly not sympathetic to Dubya on most things. I have a feeling I'd agree with him, though, on the wisdom of any negotiations with OBL.

Posted by: Steve | Jan 20, 2006 8:55:29 PM


Certainly you are correct that engaging in a dialog with OBL grants him some credibility. However, I believe that ignoring him will also do that - perhaps even more so. Consider for a moment that from this point forward we can expect to hear Osama and his supporters claim that he extended an olive branch to the war-mongering Americans and it was rejected out of hand. Believe me - you will hear them say that. It seems to me reasonable to assume that that argument will add to his stature on the international stage, as well as in Iraq. (Although in a just world, it shouldn't.)

This cleverness reminds me of the way Fidel Castro has successfully gamed the U.S. for the last forty years or so. (sigh)

Posted by: LaurenceB | Jan 20, 2006 11:07:16 PM

A truce is not an acceptable solution and an insincere offer of one is both dishonest and dishonorable. Though refusing to discuss a truce may mean we miss the opportunity for a PR victory and may even harden OBL's resolve (if such a thing is possible) we must remain focused on our primary goal: the destruction of al Qaeda and the death of bin Laden. Nothing less is acceptable. Nothing.

Posted by: Steven A | Jan 21, 2006 1:22:20 AM

"Hudna" explained in todays NYT Week in Review:

January 22, 2006
The Basics
He's Got One Word for You: Hudna

IN an audiotape by Osama bin Laden that was broadcast by the satellite television station Al Jazeera last week, one word had seemingly far-reaching implications.

Mr. bin Laden, apparently addressing the American people, offered a "truce" - hudna, in Arabic - saying it could be "long-term" and would provide an opportunity to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan. The Bush administration quickly dismissed the offer.

A few non-Arabic speakers attach complicated meaning to "hudna," but in reality, its definition is simple. Hudna in different variations can mean calm, tranquillity or an intermission. In the language of politics, "it means the cessation of hostilities, which does not necessarily imply the end of the conflict," said Rashid Khalidi, the director of Columbia University's Middle East Institute. "It's the standard term for an armistice."

A few scholars have pointed to an almost 10-year peace treaty in 628 A.D. between the Prophet Muhammad and the Quraish as the defining example of a hudna.

This story is often cited as evidence that Muslims set a decade-long limit on such treaties. But others, including Khaled Abou El Fadl, an expert on Islamic law at the University of California, Los Angeles, called that notion a myth, saying treaties in Islamic history were often renewed.

Mr. bin Laden's offer needs to be seen in the context of his three audiences, said Bernard Haykel, a professor of Islamic studies at New York University.

For the first two, America and most of the Muslim world, the offer is simply of a truce.

But for a third, much smaller audience of Muslims- Salafis, or scriptural literalists - Mr. bin Laden may be offering a hudna in part to boost his legitimacy as their leader, Professor Haykel said.

In Islamic jurisprudence, offering a hudna is one of the prerogatives of a ruler. "He's saying, 'I'm the leader of this virtual nation that exists in our dreams and which I hope to make a reality,' " Professor Haykel said.

Part posture and partly sincere, Mr. bin Laden's offer of a hudna reinforces a theme repeated time and again in his speeches, Professor Haykel said: as the defender of Islam, he can reciprocate in offering violence or peace.

Posted by: artappraiser | Jan 22, 2006 3:03:44 PM

In the beginning, I decided to join the campaign to impeach your "smirking chimp", my "dum'ass botch". As evidence for that, you'll soon be invited to click on a hyperlink.

Before doing so, however, I would like you to read through the rest of this text. In case, you'd like to know, the U.R.L for your blog, specifically, "matthew", is found at the third hyperlink on the list below ... ah, please remember, no clicking until AFTER reading the entire text.

Perusing your blog, I believe I arrived at what is a reasonable inference. That is, both you and your readers would welcome news that indicates the campaign to impeach the president is increasing in both vigor and breadth. Ah, you'll find that evidence by clicking on the second enclosed hyperlink.

As for my plan for capturing Osama, you'll find it by clicking on the first listed hyperlink, which immediately follows this colon:




.he who is known as sefton

oh, yes, surely, you've heard about the government "requesting" certain records about internet activity. oh, br'dah! ... cynical and skeptical lil'ole me, I'm smelling a rat in all that. Quite candidly, I have cause to suspect that more than compiling statistics on access to pornographic websites is involved.

oh, yeah, right after Hitler came to power, the German people were assured that, if they were innocent of untoward activity, they would have nothing to worry about ... yeah, right. .

Posted by: A Alexander Stella | Jan 22, 2006 7:21:11 PM

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