Al Qaeda’s False Offer of Truce

By Daveed Gartenstein-Ross
Weekly Standard Online
August 10, 2005

The latest Zawahiri tape continues al Qaeda’s attempt to divide the West.

AFTER AYMAN AL-ZAWAHIRI released a new videotape on August 4, the media focused on how he placed the blame for the last month’s terrorist attacks in London on Tony Blair’s shoulders and threatened even greater carnage in the future. Less noticed but no less important is al Qaeda’s changed tactical approach to the West: They are now attempting to convince Westerners that they are worth negotiating with and can be appeased.

Zawahiri put forth this idea in a section of the tape where he speaks directly to Americans. In it, he mentions the hudna, or truce, that Osama bin Laden offered last year in exchange for the withdrawal of foreign troops from the Muslim world. Zawahiri asks, “Didn’t Osama bin Laden tell you that you would never dream of peace until we actually live it in Palestine and before all foreign forces withdraw from the Land of Muhammad?”

In arguing that Westerners can buy peace through accession to al Qaeda’s demands, the group’s leaders emphasize three issues that they believe will have traction in the West: withdrawal from Iraq, ending support for Israel, and military disengagement from the Middle East.

The notion that al Qaeda can be appeased is, of course, false. By emphasizing its political grievances, the group attempts to obscure its long-term goal: reestablishment of the caliphate, which in al Qaeda’s mind is an Islamic super-state primed for perpetual war with the West. The 9/11 Commission Report discusses al Qaeda’s desire to reestablish the caliphate and both bin Laden and Zawahiri have written about this goal.

But a marked shift in al Qaeda’s rhetoric came in April 2004 following the Madrid train bombings, after which the group seemed to decide that its divide-and-conquer strategy could succeed. After all, those attacks apparently swung the Spanish election to the Socialist Party, which subsequently withdrew the country’s troops from Iraq.

Bin Laden’s previous communications to the West had been characterized by long strings of unrealistic demands. For example, in his November 2002 “Letter to America,” bin Laden demanded that the United States disallow interest-bearing loans, ban the production and consumption of alcohol, punish sex out of wedlock, ban gambling, and sign the anti-global warming Kyoto Accords.

But after Spain announced its troop withdrawal, bin Laden offered a truce to countries that similarly withdrew their forces from Iraq. This was his first peace offer designed to appeal to an appeasement-minded Westerner.

The tactic continued with bin Laden’s “October surprise,” the video released just before the 2004 election. In it, bin Laden painted al Qaeda as “free men who don’t sleep under oppression,” and suggested that America could find peace by addressing the alleged root causes of the conflict–which by then had morphed into U.S. support for Israel and America’s military presence in the Middle East.

Bin Laden’s October tape was also slicker in its appeal to Westerners. It was, in fact, such a blatant endorsement of the arguments in Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 that the filmmaker gloated shortly thereafter, “Did you get the feeling that he had a bootleg of my movie?”

Al Qaeda continued to speak to a Western audience in Zawahiri videos released in November 2004 and February 2005, which envisioned the West dealing with al-Qaeda “on the basis of respect and mutual interests,” and of “mutual cooperation with the Islamic nation.”

Zawahiri’s new video proceeds similarly. Not only does it remind Americans of bin Laden’s offered truce, but it also hits such talking points as blaming the London attacks on Blair’s cooperation with George Bush, criticism of Israel, calling for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, and comparing the Iraq war to Vietnam.

By and large, Westerners have thus far not been fooled by al Qaeda’s shift in rhetoric. After the September 11 attacks vividly demonstrated the carnage that al-Qaeda seeks, it’s difficult to take their more conciliatory rhetoric seriously. However, even prior to bin Laden’s October 2004 video, some Westerners were interested in negotiating with al Qaeda. (Britain’s former Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam argued that if the West didn’t open up talks with al Qaeda, “you condemn large parts of the world to war forever.”)

Thus it is important to see al Qaeda’s new approach for what it is: a simple tactic designed to oppose the liberal West.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is an international counterterrorism consultant and an attorney with Boies, Schiller & Flexner. He is a 2002 graduate of the New York University School of Law, and clerked on the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit following law school.

See the original article here.