The SWISH Report (12)

About the author
Paul Rogers is professor in the department of peace studies at Bradford University, northern England. He is openDemocracy's international-security editor, and has been writing a weekly column on global security since 28 September 2001; he also writes a monthly briefing for the Oxford Research Group. His books include Why We’re Losing the War on Terror (Polity, 2007), and Losing Control: Global Security in the 21st Century (Pluto Press, 3rd edition, 2010). He is on twitter at: @ProfPRogers

A ninth report from the South Waziristan Institute of Strategic Hermeneutics to the al-Qaida Strategic Planning Cell (SPC) on the progress of the campaign.

Thank you for inviting us to submit a further report on the progress of your movement. You will recall that our work for your planning cell began with an initial assessment in July 2004; continued with additional reports in January 2005, February 2006 and September 2006; and (in light of political developments in the United States) another in December 2006.

The next analysis was submitted in November 2007. The flow of events in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq - against the background of the United States presidential-election campaign - provoked the commissioning of a report soon afterwards, in February 2008. This last document - as part of its fairly blunt conclusions - clearly indicated to you that this might be our last such report.

We were, then, gratified by the request for another report in September 2008, which addressed developments in your main areas of operation in the context of the forthcoming election. We understand that on this occasion you require us to provide a brief initial assessment of the impact of Barack Obama's victory on 4 November 2008 on your movement's aims.

The election campaign

In light of the fact that you have both long-term aims (stretching over a century) and short-term (conceived on a ten-to-thirty-year basis), we should say at the outset that the policies of the new administration may not be especially significant for you. Nevertheless we are pleased to offer a provisional assessment and will complete a more substantial report for you after 20 January 2009, when President Obama delivers his inaugural address and by which time the shape of the new administration will be clear.

The beginning of our assessment flows from the conclusion of our last report, presented at a time when the election campaign was nearing its peak. We said then:

"What is best for you is that the United States remains resolute in its support for Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt; fully addicted to oil and therefore determined to remain dominant in the Persian Gulf; and continuing to pursue its war against you with the utmost vigour. In other words, eight more years for George W Bush would have been ideal. Sadly for your movement, that cannot be."

We did have some concerns that John McCain, with an element of the maverick about him, might develop policies that would cause you problems; but our overall conclusion was that he would be far closer than Barack Obama to the George W Bush's administration's policies on the "war on terror" - which have helped you so much in the past. We also emphasised that the Bush era's legacy would constrain Obama's options once in power - but that our real concern was the possible effect of a considerable change in style in United States attitudes to the majority world. A more sympathetic and engaged United States would not be at all good for you. It might have little impact in your heartlands in southwest Asia, but it could seriously undercut your support in the wider world.

We therefore advised you to make it clear that you would welcome an Obama victory and to ensure that this was widely publicised, since we anticipated that this would seriously damage his electoral chances. We are surprised that you did not exercise this option. The end result is that Obama has now been elected - the outcome that we believe you should not have wanted.

In September 2008, our Washington office advised us that McCain would win by a small margin, and that your intervention could be pivotal in ensuring this result. In the event, our Washington associates were wrong on the first point, but this was mainly due to the traumas in the domestic economy (which emerged fully, with the collapse of Lehman Brothers, two days after our last report was published). Perhaps these developments caught you by surprise, but we have to say that we fail to understand why you did not intervene to help ensure a McCain victory.

We hope you will not take offence if we remind you that earlier reports pointed to the need for your movement to be facing a resolute "far enemy" prepared to use intensive and persistent military force. This is what the Bush administration did in two wars which have led to the deaths of over 100,000 people, well over 4 million refugees, 120,000 people detained without trial, and torture, rendition and wholesale prisoner abuse. All of this has been a gift to your movement; and we have previously had to say to you that much of your success has stemmed from the calamitous and counterproductive policies of your far enemy rather than your own competence.

The new president: five risks

Although this is very much a preliminary assessment, we feel you should be guided by the risk that Washington's policies will alter in a manner that could seriously damage your movement. In this context, what should be your greatest concerns; and does a Barack Obama victory make it more likely that any of them will be realised?

There are five main risks:

* The new administration plays a far more positive role in insisting that Israel negotiates a lasting settlement with the Palestinians

* The new administration makes rapid progress in moving the US towards a non-oil-based economy, thus decreasing the long-term strategic importance of the Persian Gulf region

* The new administration speeds up the process of disengagement in Iraq - completing the withdrawal of all combat-troops within two years, scaling down training and other elements to less than one-fifth of current overall personnel levels (from 130,000 to 25,000), and declaring a willingness to establish a timetable for a total withdrawal

* The new administration changes policy on a further build-up of forces in Afghanistan and engages more systematically in negotiations with Taliban elements

* The new administration seeks broadly based multilateral cooperation on many issues, not least climate change, demonstrating a style of international engagement that is in marked contrast 2001-08 period

If all of these policy changes were to be embraced, then we have to say that your movement would be in serious trouble. For the moment we cannot be sure how far the Obama administration will go, but we can offer five pointers.

The new president: five pointers

The first is that the new administration will be heavily preoccupied with the domestic economy, to the extent that this will dominate its first year at least. At the same time, there will be rising concerns over the intensifying conflict in Afghanistan.

The second pointer is that its relations with Israel will depend substantially on the outcome of the forthcoming Israeli (January 2009) and Iranian (June 2009) elections. If Binyamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad win their respective elections, an Obama administration will face real problems in altering US-Israel policy, even if it wishes to.

The third is that an Israeli military strike on Iran before Obama's inauguration is by no means out of the question, even with the current disorganisation within Israeli politics. Your movement may have no sympathy for Shi'a Iran, but an Israel attack (and the subsequent inevitable involvement of the United States) would be seen across much of the region as an additional part of a general assault on Islam. As such, it would benefit your movement.

The fourth pointer is that a speeding up of the withdrawal from Iraq (which would be popular within the United States) is a strong possibility - but there are few signs at present that an Obama administration will go for a fundamental review of US energy policy and a downgrading of the importance of the Persian Gulf.

The fifth is that there is little indication either of any changed policy towards the conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is likely to prove your most fruitful area of operations, though this carries with it a particular risk. If you and your Taliban associates prove to be really successful in facing down US and other Nato troops, the outcome may be that an Obama administration fundamentally rethinks its military posture and wider political engagement in the region.

As you will appreciate, these are no more than initial comments. We would emphasise, however that - even if individual policies turn out to be not so different - the change of style that an Obama presidency may entail could have a considerable international impact.

A new danger

In conclusion, there is one potential trend which could cause your movement a range of problems - even there is little evidence of your interest in it or of any direct relationship to your movement and its aims. An awareness of the risks of climate change has risen rapidly in some of the countries of the Atlantic community - the British government has even embraced the idea of an 80% cut in carbon emissions by 2050. The mismatch of timing between problem and solution here is less important than what the decision implies: that radical action is now recognised by some western states as being essential.

There is now a school of thought in the United States that for the country to face the uncertainties of climate change while being dependent on imported oil is an unacceptable combination. Thus, and notwithstanding the caution expressed above, the new Obama administration could embark on a substantial programme to cut carbon-emissions that would lead the country away quite rapidly from its current oil/gas dependency. Moreover, it could do this in part through a series of federal programmes that would also address the current economic downturn.

Such a policy would take the best part of a decade to have a major impact. Yet its political psychology and social reverberations would mean that over a much shorter period the strategic importance of the Persian Gulf would decrease. If the far enemy began to lose interest in your core region, then your movement really would be in trouble. We will explore this further in a later report; but at this stage, we would suggest that this could emerge as the most potent threat to your movement.

Wana

South Waziristan

06 November 2008

This is the twelfth report openDemocracy has published from the South Waziristan Institute of Strategic Hermeneutics (SWISH). Eight have advised al-Qaida, two the British governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and one the United States state department:

"The SWISH Report" (14 July 2004) – to al-Qaida:

"The immediate requirement…is therefore to aid, in any way within the framework of your core values, the survival of the Bush administration."

"The SWISH Report (2)" (13 January 2005) - to al-Qaida:

"You are… in the early stages of a decades-long confrontation, and early ‘success' should not in any way cause you to underestimate the problems that lie ahead."

"The SWISH Report (3)" (19 May 2005) – to the British government:

"We believe that disengagement from Iraq, more emphasis on post-conflict reconstruction in Afghanistan, and vigorous diplomacy in support of a two-state Israel/Palestine solution offer you the best short-term hope of avoiding further damage to your government's credibility in relation to the United States-led war on terror."

"The SWISH Report (4)" (1 September 2005) – to the United States state department:

"What we find quite extraordinary is the manner in which the full extent of your predicament in Iraq is still not appreciated by your political leadership."

"The SWISH Report (5)" (2 February 2006) – to al-Qaida:

"The greatest risk to your movement is that the opinions of some of the sharper analysts on both sides of the Atlantic begin to transcend those of the political and religious fundamentalists that currently dominate the scene. If that were to happen, then you could be in serious trouble within two or three years."

"The SWISH Report (6)" (7 September 2006) – to al-Qaida:

"(The) influence of your movement and your leader is considerable, but you are not in control of your own strategy; rather, you form just one part of a wider process that is as diffuse and unpredictable as it is potent. You could point to the United States failure to control its global war on terror and you would be correct to do so. You could then claim that it is your own movement that is setting the pace - but you would be wrong. The truly revealing development of recent months is that we have reached a point, five years after 9/11 where no one, but no one, is in control."

"The SWISH Report (7)" (7 December 2006) – to al-Qaida:

"In Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as across the wider middle east, it is the power and influence of the United States that is in crisis. Your movement may not be entirely coherent and the overall circumstances may be more complex than a few months ago, but it probably has greater potential for enhancement and further development than at any time in the past five years."

The SWISH Report (8)” (16 May 2007) - to the British government:

“Radical changes in your policies in relation to Iraq and Israel are essential, together with a review of policy options for Afghanistan. More generally, you must start the process of reorientating political and security thinking towards the real long-term global challenges.”

The SWISH Report (9)” (29 November 2007) - to al-Qaida:

“Our broad conclusions are that your prospects are good. Developments in Iraq should not worry you; events in Afghanistan and Pakistan are markedly positive for you; and the work of your associates elsewhere, including north Africa, are a bonus.

We do have to confess to one concern that may surprise you...In a number of western countries the issue of global climate change is rising rapidly up the political agenda and one of the effects of this is to begin to make some analysts and opinion-formers question the western addiction to oil.”

The SWISH Report (10)” (29 February 2008) - to al-Qaida

“It is said that revolutions change merely the accents of the elites, and we fear that such would be the consequence of your movement coming to power. A lack of flexibility would lead to unbending pursuit of a false purity that would decay rapidly into a bitter autocracy, leading quite possibly to a counter-revolution.

If you really want to succeed then you have to engage in thinking that goes far beyond what appear to be the limits and flaws of your current analysis. We would be happy to assist, but we doubt that your leadership will be willing to allow us to do so. We therefore submit this as possibly our last report.”

The SWISH Report (11)” (11 September 2008) - to al-Qaida

"In any case, whatever his actual policies, we most certainly would expect under an Obama presidency a marked change in style towards a more listening, cooperative and multilaterally - engaged America. That must be of deep concern to you. A more "acceptable" America in global terms is the last thing you want"