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Before the Battle of The Black Gate, The Mouth of Sauron offers to let the Captains of The West peacefully withdraw under the following terms:

"The rabble of Gondor and its deluded allies shall withdraw at once beyond the Anduin, first taking oaths never again to assail Sauron the Great in arms, open or secret. All lands east of Anduin shall be Sauron’s for ever, solely. West of the Anduin as far as the Misty Mountains and the Gap of Rohan shall be tributary to Mordor, and men there shall bear no weapons, but shall have leave to govern their own affairs. But they shall help to rebuild Isengard which they have wantonly destroyed, and that shall be Sauron’s, and there his lieutenant shall dwell: not Saruman, but one more worthy of trust."

Would Sauron have honored these terms if the Men had accepted them? Clear authorial statements from Tolkein would be preferred, but I'd also accept speculative answers based on the text.

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  • The literal terms? Presumably. What he expects humans to think they imply? Not so much. – Egor Hans Feb 15 at 16:49
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No. Sauron was intent on ruling all of Middle-earth

You need only read a little further to find the answer to your question. Sauron promised that Men would be able to rule over their own affairs, however the Captains of the West see past this:

Looking into the messenger’s eyes, they read his thought. He was to be that lieutenant, and gather all that remained under his sway; he would be their tyrant and they his slaves.
The Return of the King: Book V, Chapter 10: The Black Gate Opens

This is reinforced by Gandalf's reply to the Mouth of Sauron:

And if indeed we rated this prisoner so highly, what surety have we that Sauron the Base Master of Treachery, will keep his part? Where is this prisoner? Let him be brought forth [...] We did not come here to waste words in treating with Sauron, faithless and accursed.

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    This is probably the best we're going to get, but it seems to be from the point of view of our heroes. So all it says to me is that they didn't believe Sauron would uphold it. I'm inclined to agree, but it seems at least theoretically possible that Sauron was telling the truth. – Ryan_L Feb 12 at 19:05
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    I'm going to accept this answer for now, but to play devil's advocate, would Sauron being "their tyrant and they his slaves" necessarily conflict with the terms offered, of perpetual, disarmed tributary? Could argue that they're just sunnier/gloomier descriptions of the same state of affairs. – TenthJustice Feb 12 at 23:19
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    @TenthJustice Very well, suppose that Sauron's terms are accepted and each side follows them faithfully. "All lands east of Anduin shall be Sauron’s for ever, solely." Forever. But there is no time limit for the fate of the lands west of the Anduin. Sauron could accept their surrender and then, the next year, change the deal or invade them. You might say that "forever" is implied, but in fact it is not, as the dealings with many a riddler in ancient tales will tell. – Invisible Trihedron Feb 13 at 0:04
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    I think possibly the main falsity is the implication that Sauron would have stopped at the Misty Mountains - yeah, tributary + unable to have weapons is essentially conquest anyway. But surely Sauron would have extended west to destroy Rivendell, claim the Shire, etc. – cometaryorbit Feb 13 at 0:17
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    @Ryan_L --- Theoretically yes, he might have been telling the truth. However, Sauron has a lot of form in this area. He lied to Celebrimbor, and he lied to Ar-Pharazon. Aragorn and Gandalf would have known about this, and also the disastrous consequences of believing him in those instances. It's also possible that Sauron lied to Eonwe after the War of Wrath (if he was telling the truth, he didn't keep his word for long [500 years is nothing for the Maiar]). – Ian Thompson Feb 13 at 13:09
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Doesn't much matter, really...
While I concur with Edlothiad's answer in so far as Gandalf knows his Enemy's heart and Aragorn knows the history of Sauron's treachery, there is one eensy little detail that the answer leaves out:

The One Ring

All of Mouthpiece of Sauron's speechifying is so much of a house of cards built on a foundation of shifting sand being eaten away by the Sea. Sauron does not know where the Ring is, as it wasn't found on Frodo, can not conceive that Gandalf would destroy it nor that Aragorn would actually help. After all, is it not the heirloom of the House of Isildur?

Sauron can only conceive of one possibility: that Aragorn has the Ring and, in his last desperation to seize power from Sauron, has now come to challenge him. Those terms, surely, are meant only to test Aragorn. If he didn't have the Ring after all, Sauron would call his bluff. If he had the Ring, surely he would rebuff Mouthpiece of Sauron.

The battle was, I think, joined simply because Sauron truly feared that Aragorn had the Ring in his possession and would presently storm the Black Tower itself and try to seize Sauron's throne. He'd been humbled before by a Numenorean, recall. That memory must surely sting! But, perhaps if he can throw enough expendable Orcs at Aragorn's "army", then perhaps he could be killed before getting into Mordor proper.

But we know where the Ring actually is! It's on the stoop of Sammath Naur, and three Hobbits of all things are about to contest for its mastery! And we know what happens next: after the brawl, the Ring ends up falling into Fire.

What does this mean?
Ultimately, even if Aragorn had faltered at the last minute and surrendered, surely Sauron would have gloated and would not have missed the opportunity to go up to the Black Gate himself to oversee the surrender & humiliation of Isildur's Heir, the final overthrow of Numenor. With the surrender, Sauron's heart would swell with dark hope: he would know for sure that Aragorn did not have the Ring after all -- why would he surrender with a thing of such great power at his command?

Knowing that his enemies lacked the Ring, he might even feel a sense of relief. He still had time to locate it, after all, it had to be close! He could spend some time, now, figuring out what that Hobbit was doing wandering around the borders of Mordor. So many questions that he did not have time to resolve!

Oh, but wait!

By the time he got up to the Gate, the Ring would have gone over the edge, would have melted, would have died. And with it, Sauron's essence & power. And all the Terms of Surrender uttered by Mouthpiece of Sauron would be moot.

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  • Would Sauron have been able to actually venture to the battle site himself? AFAIR he had long lost his previous giant humanoid physical form and was before and during the time of "lord of the rings" physically bound to the black tower, i.e. the tower or parts of it were his "body" then, which should have severely hampered his mobility. – das-g Feb 13 at 8:14
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    @das-g I don’t think he was bound. There was proof that he was in the Mirkwood not long ago, only having returned to Mordor since a few decades before. – Rad80 Feb 13 at 11:12
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    @das-g the films imply that the eye atop the tower is literally Sauron, but the books, the Hobbit films, and even earlier plans for RoTK, make it clear that Sauron has a humanoid body. – OrangeDog Feb 13 at 13:19
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    Yes, this is a movieverse vs books distinction. In the movies, Saruman claims Sauron "cannot yet take physical form", and this is probably correct for the movies; but in the books, Sauron absolutely does have a physical form (Gollum even comments that he is still missing one finger). Tolkien's letters also make clear that this was the intent - his form was that of "a man of more than human stature, yet not gigantic". – cometaryorbit Feb 13 at 19:31
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    @cometaryorbit -- Quite so. As for the movies, Mouthpiece of Sauron never offers terms in one of the quirkiest, funnest scenes in the movies. In fact, it is Gandalf that dictates terms, largely the same terms that are dictated to Gondor in the books: "the armies of Mordor must disband, (Sauron) is to depart these lands, never to return." Based on the movie alone, the question is either senseless or moot. – elemtilas Feb 13 at 20:24
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The question is moot, and not just because his power was about to be destroyed.

Sauron didn’t just expand his rule by war, he was also a corrupter. Even if he had refrained from war, that would only have been because he was working to bring them under his sway via corruption.

He was incapable of deciding enough is enough, and so would not have kept to what you are implying is the spirit of the bargain. In actual fact, by the literal terms of the proposed agreement he would rule his own lands forever and they be a tributary for an unspecified, but by comparison, lesser amount of time. This would leave open the possibility that they would stop having to pay tribute at some time in the future, which is probably how he would corrupt them, with the possibility of being out from under his thumb.

His boundless desire:

Now Sauron’s lust and pride increased, until he knew no bounds, and he determined to make himself master of all things in Middle-earth, and to destroy the Elves, and to compass, if he might, the downfall of Númenor. He brooked no freedom nor any rivalry, and he named himself Lord of the Earth.
The Silmarillion - Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age

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  • There's no special evidence that Sauron is a megalomaniac or otherwise "incapable of deciding enough is enough". He wants to rule the world, sure, but that's not the same thing. – Valorum Feb 13 at 23:58
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    Well - I suppose that depends on how you define "megalomaniac". One could argue that he was not a megalomaniac because he genuinely was the greatest power on Middle-Earth at that time, and except for his one false assumption that Eru had definitively abandoned Middle-earth and Men at the Fall of Numenor (see "Notes on Motives in the Silmarillion" in HoME X: Morgoth's Ring) his confidence in his ultimate victory would have been quite rational. But I do not think he was capable any longer of settling for less than total rulership (from that same essay) - though he could dissemble for centuries – cometaryorbit Feb 14 at 1:26
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    (Which to any mortal would look the same as having given up his greater ambitions.) – cometaryorbit Feb 14 at 1:27
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    I think this answer does make a good point that the literal wording (as opposed to implied spirit) is not necessarily incompatible with Sauron's ultimate control of Middle-Earth though. – cometaryorbit Feb 14 at 1:28

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