Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Saladin's Ghost

Back in January when Bin Laden offered America a truce, I posted a light-hearted note on the Bellman called Truce or Consequences.

The whole truce proposal was so surreal. Bin Laden offers the great Satan a truce? It seemed like a sure sign of weakness, like the US had him on the ropes.

Today I read an interview by Steve Perry in the City Pages magazine with Michael Scheuer, the former chief analyst of the CIA's Bin Laden unit.

Mr. Scheuer discusses the Muslim tradition of offering your enemy a truce before you attack. This was unsettling news to me.
CP: After the latest bin Laden tape aired, the official spin was to call it a political bluff, or even a call for truce out of weakness on his part. But you've written and spoken about seeing a different aim behind these bin Laden warnings, one that has more to do with meeting the expectations of a Muslim audience than a Western one.

Scheuer: I think that's very much the case. He's very conscious of the tradition from which he comes and how that history works. It's the tradition of the prophet that you warn your enemy and you offer a truce before the fighting starts. Saladin followed the same tradition against the Crusaders in medieval times, and bin Laden has been very careful to follow that in his time. He's offered us warnings numerous times, but this is the first time he's offered a truce in addition. In the early summer of 2004, he offered the Europeans an almost identical truce or cease-fire. They refused him much like we did, and he attacked them in July of '05 in London....

In the summer of 2003, he got a religious judgment from a very reputable Saudi cleric that he could use weapons of mass destruction, specifically nuclear weapons, to kill up to 10 million Americans.

After 9/11, he had several very important loose ends to tie up, in religious terms, before he could attack us again. He's done all of those things. |City Pages|

I read several newspapers every day and I don't recall seeing this discussion anywhere. Was I just distracted?

Unfortunately, the article gets even gloomier...
CP: You spoke on 60 Minutes over a year ago about bin Laden's seeking and obtaining the fatwa to use nuclear weapons against the U.S. Do you think it's his wish to use nuclear weapons in his next attack?

Scheuer: Sure. If he has them, he'll use them. It's not like he's looking for a deterrent. In old Cold War terms, he's looking for a first-strike weapon. One of the problems we have in the West, and particularly in America, is we view him as kind of a person who wouldn't have anything else to do if he wasn't killing and fighting. Clearly he would. America is not their first target. Their first targets are the Arab states like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, that are tyrannies, and Israel. We're being attacked because bin Laden has argued that the other targets, the more important targets, are easy pickings if they can drive us out of the Middle East. One of the ways they look to do that is to create a situation in the United States that is so destructive, in terms of the economic impact and casualties, that it would take the U.S. military to administer the after-effects of the attack. Clearly their preference is for a nuclear-type weapon.|City Pages|
Very interesting. What I find curious is that the administration didn't jump on this line of reasoning. They've been trying to scare the bejesus out of the American people to justify the domestic wiretapping in contravention of FISA.

Why not emphasize the deadly seriousness of Bin Laden's offer of truce? Maybe because it would emphasize the administration's inability to track Bin Laden down.

Or maybe because it would force the administration (and the country) to seriously consider a response to his truce other than laughing it off?

I'm not laughing anymore. But I'll be damned if I know what to do, other than to stop and smell the roses more often.

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