Posted: 6/5/2008 4:46:05 PM EDT
Sir Hugh Orde, Northern Ireland's top cop and potential candidate to head the London Police, says we ought to think about negotiating with Al Qaeda. More cops and counterterror agents won't be enough to deal with Osama's followers, he contends. So it's time to start "thinking the unthinkable."
Asked whether Britain should attempt to talk to al-Qaida, he said: "If you want my professional assessment of any terrorism campaign, what fixes it is talking and engaging and judging when the conditions are right for that to take place.
"Is that a naive statement? I don't think it is ... It is the reality of what we face. If somebody can show me any terrorism campaign where it has been policed out, I'd be happy to read about it, because I can't think of one."
After all, Orde argues, the Irish Republican Army did finally decide to put down its weapons.
"It got to a point where those combatants realised ... certainly on the republican side, it wasn't ever going to work. So there's a certain pragmatism in there. The question, does Bin Laden see it that way, probably not. If you don't ask, you don't know."
Orde's heart may be in the right place, but AQ and the IRA are totally different. What worked for one probably won't work for the other. The IRA had territory, interests, goals, and even political organization. There was a distinct hierarchy to either be targeted or negotiated with. AQ is, at present, a loose coalition, literally "the base" for various Islamist groups to pool their resources and ideology. Plus, it isn't the only Islamic extremist game in town.
The conditions that governed how the IRA behaved were rooted in the fact that the IRA had a realistic, if ultimately unachieved, goal. Its demands were temporal, not spiritual. And although the conflict split along religious lines, neither the Catholics nor the Protestants, to my knowledge, ever declared total religious domination as one of their goals. In short, the IRA had fanatics within its ranks, but its goals were not fanatical in comparison to AQ. There was room for negotiation.
But, how to you negotiate with a group who's demands are total? A group that literally desires to restore the world to some distant Islamic epoch. Do you send emissaries to a cave in Pakistan? And even if you could negotiate with Bin Laden, the viral nature of the AQ ideology does not mean that any agreement would stick. AQ has evolved beyond an organization into a movement that does not need a head from which to take orders. How many time have we killed "the second in command" of AQ in Iraq?
Plus, and perhaps more interestingly, the IRA did not exist in the age of the internet. How the British ever hope to negotiate with an ideology that is increasing forgoing the physical space in which to organize?