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The SWISH Report (9)

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

Thank you for inviting us to deliver a further report on the progress of your movement. You will recall that our work for your planning cell commenced with an initial assessment in July 2004, a follow-up in January 2005 and further reports in February 2006 and September 2006. Because of your concerns over the outcome of the United States mid-sessional elections to Congress in November 2006 you asked us to present an additional report, which we did in December.

This is the ninth report openDemocracy has published from the South Waziristan Institute of Strategic Hermeneutics (SWISH).

Five 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 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."

We understand that you appreciate that we are a consultancy and will work for a range of customers. Before our last report, we had undertaken work for a unit in the British prime-minister's office (May 2005) and one in the US state department (September 2005). We understand that this did not cause you any concern, not least because our advice to both of those parties was comprehensively ignored.

Since our last report to you twelve months ago, we must inform you that we undertook a study for Gordon Brown's transition team at 11 Downing Street, (May 2007) shortly before he replaced Tony Blair. You may wish to know that only in one respect has our advice been followed - United Kingdom troops have been withdrawn to the outskirts of Basra - but in all other respects there has been little change.

Your aims and your concerns

We understand that the more immediate aims of your movement remain largely unchanged. They are:

* the expulsion of crusader forces from the region, especially those of the "far enemy" - the United States

* the termination of the House of Saud and its replacement with a genuine Islamist regime

* the termination of other pro-western and elitist regimes, not least the Mubarak regime in Cairo

* the establishment of a Palestinian state and the end of the Zionist entity

* support for legitimate Islamist movements in southern Thailand, Chechnya and elsewhere.

When we say "more immediate aims", we do appreciate that this is a relative matter. You seek and expect to achieve these aims over a period of decades rather than years. You then have the longer term aim of a region-wide caliphate, though this may take from fifty to a hundred years. Your timescales are therefore entirely different to those of your enemies, though the latter continue to exhibit little or no understanding of this.

In terms of your more immediate aims, the one shift of direction that we detect is a belief within your planning circles that Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan have all become more prominent as early candidates for regime change.

In our discussions with your local representative in Wana, we understand that you are interested in our analysis of the outcome of the 2006 mid-sessional elections in the United States, the nature and effects of the "surge" in Iraq, and the prospects for your movement in relation to the possible results of the 2008 presidential election, now less than a year away.

You appear to have particular concerns about the impact of the surge and whether it will lead to a substantive reduction or even a complete withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. You are far less concerned about current developments in Afghanistan and Pakistan where you see the prospects for your movement as being the best for some years.


We have to confess to being surprised at your concern over Iraq since the vaunted "success" there of the George W Bush administration is largely a construct. We would, moreover, have drawn that conclusion even before the numerous bombings and increase in violence of the past week.

Could we point to aspects of the surge which you appear to have overlooked? The first is that much of the time from November 2006 through to September 2007 was a period when neo-conservative elements in the United States identified the insurgency in Iraq as being almost entirely an al-Qaida operation. You saw no reason to do anything to disabuse people of this claim, although you knew it to be false.

In practice, the al-Qaida involvement in the Iraq insurgency was always relatively minor, even though it was of great use to you in two respects. It gave the impression that your movement was highly significant in that theatre of operations, and it enabled you to have cadres of young paramilitaries from outside Iraq gaining combat experience there.

It was, as we have remarked on previous occasions, a far better training- ground for your intended operations over the next decade or two. After all, experience of an urban-combat environment against the well-trained and heavily-armed forces of the far enemy is hugely superior to the training that you and many of your associates gained against poorly-trained Soviet conscripts in 1980s Afghanistan.

In reality, the great majority of the attacks on United States forces have been undertaken by Iraqi Sunni militias with few links to al-Qaida, or by a number of Shi'a militias. It suited the Bush administration to suggest otherwise because it made it much easier to link the Iraq war to its response to the 9/11 attacks.

Then came the surge, with five additional US combat brigades inevitably having a short-term effect in diminishing the overt aspects of what is a complex insurgency. For the Bush administration, though, this has been hailed as a victory against al-Qaida. The administration and its supporters, having promoted the false message that the Iraq insurgency is an al-Qaida operation, can now declare success against their great enemy - the central force behind the entire "Islamofascist" movement.

This interpretation of events is such a travesty of the actual situation that it should cause you little concern. But we would go further, and would argue strongly that the surge will prove of great value to you.

To make the point, consider the alternative.

If the Bush administration had not gone for a reinforcement of troop numbers, the insurgency would have intensified greatly during summer 2007, just as the Democrat-controlled Congress was really beginning to exercise its power. There could then have been an almost unstoppable call for a really large-scale withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. It is probable that the Republican Party would have lost its nerve in the face of a terminally unpopular administration that seemed clearly to be leading them to an appalling outcome in the November 2008 elections. Under such circumstances, the Bush administration could well have been pressured into consenting to a major withdrawal.

You and we each know that the very last thing you would have wanted would be for the US to engage in such a withdrawal. You need major US forces in Iraq for years, preferably decades, and our belief is that the short-term "success" of the surge will help ensure that this is exactly what you get.

The Bush administration, and especially its neo-conservative elements, has now focused on an overall Iraq narrative of "the probability of victory". We know this is a chimera but they do not. The consequence of this is that the administration will aim to downgrade the Iraq war in the public consciousness in the coming months, even as the surge is forced to come to an end because of military overstretch.

The conclusion is that we do not believe that you should be too concerned about what happens in Iraq over the next twelve months. Our own expectations are that the insurgency will continue, and probably gain some momentum as the additional US combat brigades are withdrawn. It may not have a great impact on the forthcoming election and it is probable that Afghanistan and Pakistan, not to mention northwest and northeast Africa and possibly Iran, will come to the fore. The fact that these regions have a far lower profile within the United States means that their prominence may not, however, have much impact on the 2008 election.

The presidential election

That leave the election itself and what it means for the progress of your movement. At the present time, the front-runners are assumed to be Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani. This may change, and we can then, if you wish, update our analysis.

In terms of your overall campaigning, you may be surprised to know that we do not actually believe it matters greatly who gets into the White House next year. You do, after all, think in decades whereas they (whatever the complexion of the new administration) will be thinking it terms of four or eight years.

Furthermore, as oil security becomes ever more important to the United States, the military posture in the Persian Gulf region as a whole will scarcely diminish. Indeed, they are already engaged in reaching agreements with their client regime in Baghdad about a long-term military presence, just as they are already building the military infrastructure to guard the Iraqi oil terminals in the northern Gulf.

There is some difference between the two candidates, but not much. A Hillary Clinton presidency would be conservative in its middle-east policy. There would be some change in style but little in substance, and the administration would be markedly pro-Israel in most respects. It would cause you few problems.

At the same time, while Clinton would scarcely present difficulties, a Rudy Giuliani administration could actually be of positive value to your movement. He is likely to be more overtly belligerent, more willing even than Clinton to maintain the current US forces in the middle east and southwest Asia, and more likely to confront Iran.

But even though Giuliani, or a candidate like him, would be better for you, the differences are not so great between the Republicans and the Democrats for you to plan to intervene in the campaign by means, for example, of another 9/11-level attack. In short, we see very little sign of any fundamental rethinking of their approach to their war on terror. The United States will continue to do what you want, whoever gets elected.

The coalition

In relation to broader if related issues, we would point to three aspects of the behaviour of the wider US-led coalition in their "war on terror". The first is that the outcome of the Australian election of November 2007 at least suggests the possibility of foreign policy influencing an election result - an unusual feature in western political systems. The new Australian government will most likely withdraw combat troops from Iraq, and this will slightly weaken the US position.

The second is that the Gordon Brown government in Britain is reorientating its limited military capabilities from Iraq to Afghanistan. These two developments both mean that the United States is going to be relatively more isolated in Iraq. at the same time, this is no great problem for you: neither Australia nor Britain are really significant players in this great game.

The third aspect, very much linked to this, is that Afghanistan and western Pakistan are now far more central to your overall campaign. You are helped in this by recent developments in Pakistan and also by the persistent use of firepower by coalition forces in Afghanistan. As your Taliban associates slowly gain more control across much of the south and east of the country, Nato's forces are proving inadequate to their task and forced to rely more and more on air power; the consequence is civilian casualties and deepening unpopularity.

We know that you were concerned that some of the more intelligent military officers, not least among the British and the Dutch, have been prepared to negotiate with Taliban elements, and you were worried that this might even involve the incorporation of the Taliban into the Afghan political system. This was a justified concern when such Taliban elements were bargaining from a position of relative weakness, but we detect that this is less and less the case. As a consequence, we see little prospect for a negotiated outcome that falls short of your desired regime change in Kabul.

A single concern

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, is a bonus.

We do have to confess to one concern that may surprise you, given that it relates to a matter that may seem to have nothing to do with your movement. 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.

In some circles, the view is evolving that this is a fundamental problem, with the oil addiction being at the root not just of insecurity in the Persian Gulf but of an impending climate catastrophe. Some quite strident arguments are now emerging in favour of a rapid move away from oil dependency. If this were to happen, then the Gulf could decrease in importance in a matter of years, oil prices could fall and your financial backers in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere could have difficulty in maintaining support for your movement. Worst of all for your movement, the United States might be moved to withdraw from the region.

In view of this, you might like to consider promoting the argument that those who advocate radical action on climate change are really seeking to undermine the legitimate power-base of the United States. They could be portrayed as unpatriotic, even seeking to weaken the United States in the face of the Islamofascist threat.

This may be a new departure for you, and may strain the capabilities of your public-relations associates. Even so, given their prowess in other respects in recent years, we are confident that they would be up to the task.


South Waziristan

29 November 2007

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