Harvard terrorism expert: It's about time we talked to Osama, don't you think?

But not face to face, she insists, without saying why. I think it should be face to face. If you’re going to immolate your own honor, at least have the stones to look the man in the eye when you’re doing it.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You’ve mentioned the possibility of setting up talks with groups like al-Qaida. How would such talks be set up?

Richardson: Well, I’m not suggesting that President Bush sit across a table from Osama bin Laden. They would be informal, set up through back channels. These sorts of efforts from the British government were instrumental in the successful resolution of conflict in Northern Ireland. And it’s conspicuously lacking from the United States right now.

Talks wouldn’t have to be negotiations. Sometimes diplomacy is just a matter of feeling the other side out, of finding out what they actually want. If we could find splits within the organization of al-Qaida, we could play them off of each other for our benefit, isolating the most radical elements. Some people say that setting up talks with terror groups would grant them too much legitimacy. But, in my view, declaring war on a terror group is actually the most effective way of granting legitimacy.

Zawahiri has put out three tapes in the last six days, one of them 94 minutes long and the latest a four-minute quickie that dropped within the past hour or so in which he stamps his feet over Musharraf’s decision to broadcast Burqa Boy’s shame to the world. Adam Gadahn gave a list of demands six weeks ago that went widely unnoticed despite the bouquets tossed at Ron Paul by the media after he scolded Giuliani at the debate for not listening closely enough to the enemy. If you’re hot to see “what they actually want,” watch the tapes. Or don’t, if you’d rather pretend that they’re just a “starting point for negotiation,” that Gadahn can’t possibly mean what he said, etc etc. Admittedly, watching tapes doesn’t really “foster dialogue,” which as we know is in all circumstances a virtue in itself and to be pursued.

Whatever. It’s been awhile since this argument was floated. We were overdue. I’d be curious to hear what Ron Paul thinks of Richardson’s idea, though, since he sort of got the ball rolling nationally on this subject and he’s famously open to alternate perspectives. Meanwhile, follow the first link in this post and see which candidate’s position on terror Richardson favors. Hint: It’s not Paul’s. It’s the guy’s who just won the MoveOn.org straw poll.