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The SWISH Report (11)

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An eighth 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 deliver another 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 and (in light of political developments in the United States) December 2006.

The next analysis was presented in November 2007; but the pace of events in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan - in the context of the evolving United States presidential-election campaign - led to the request for the next report only three months later, in February 2008. This last document clearly signalled to you that this might be the final occasion when our services might be required.

We are then particularly pleased that - even though our February 2008 assessment was somewhat blunt in terms of your movement's overall prospect - you have invited us to deliver one more report. We understand that on this occasion you require a brief updating of our analysis on your main theatres of operation, together with an analysis of the impact of the possible outcomes of the US residential election in November 2008.

Pakistan and Afghanistan

In our last briefing we made three judgments about Pakistan. First. that the country's then general-president Pervez Musharraf had been much weakened by the result of the country's just-held parliamentary election, and that we were not convinced he would survive. Second, that it was doubtful that a stable parliamentary coalition would emerge. Third, that there would be increased United States military activity within western Pakistan. In all three respects our analysis was accurate: Pervez Musharraf has gone, the domestic governing coalition is in disarray, and the US military is now conducting special-forces operations across the border with Afghanistan.

The assumption of the presidency by Asif Ali Zardari is also an indication that the feudal pattern of Pakistani politics is thriving; though civil-society elements and the legal profession may cause problems for the government. It is likely that President Zardari will be supportive of increased US military action, but this may cause deep unease in sections of the Pakistani military, as well as increasing the more general anti-American mood.

While our predictions seven months ago for Pakistan were reassuringly accurate, we must confess we were less effective in our analysis concerning Afghanistan. There, we were doubtful that the revitalised Taliban would extend their activities to major assaults on coalition forces - in the face of overwhelming firepower we instead expected to see an intense concentration on roadside bombs and martyr attacks. While these have indeed been increased, we also note the effective move towards the targeting of supply-routes, and a willingness, on occasions, to conduct substantial military operations. These have included a successful assault on the main prison in Kandahar and lethal attacks on US and French units.

One outcome of these developments is that the US military now puts a much greater emphasis on the war in Afghanistan and is looking to increase its own military deployments while seeking to persuade its Nato partners to be more supportive.


In our February 2008 report, we anticipated that the George W Bush administration, along with neo-conservative commentators, would develop an overall narrative centred on a "probability of victory" in Iraq which would downgrade the significance of the war in that country during the latter months of the presidential campaign. This has indeed been what has happened, with the framers of the narrative placing a great emphasis on Iraq's increased security. It is interesting in this context, however, that the United States military leadership is deeply reluctant to withdraw combat-troops to a level much below that of the pre-surge (that is, pre-February 2007) deployments. In spite of the pressing need for troops in Afghanistan, it now looks as though just one of the fifteen remaining US combat-brigades will be withdrawn in the September 2008 - March 2009 period.

We strongly suspect that many of the more astute military analysts in US Central Command (Centcom) and the Pentagon believe that security in Iraq is far more problematic than their political masters would like their citizens to believe. This is partly due to the hard line now being taken by the Nouri al-Maliki government, especially towards the integration of Sunni militias into the security forces, but also relates to strains in Shi'a / Kurdish relations and the growing influence of Iran.

The al-Maliki government claims to want a total United States military withdrawal by 2010 or 2011, but oil geopolitics makes this nonsensical - the US is in Iraq for the long term. While your associates in Iraq have had major reversals, we suspect these are short-term. We stand by our assessment of seven months ago:

"Although circumstances will not always be as favourable as 2006-07, rest assured that your paramilitary combat-training zone in Iraq will remain viable and of great use to you for the foreseeable future."

In this context, we note recent reports that some of your paramilitary associates from Iraq are now active in Somalia.

The American election campaign

In our last report to you it had become clear that John McCain was likely to be the Republican candidate and that Barack Obama might defeat Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. Our overall view was that:

"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 prepared to continue 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."

As a whole, we considered McCain to be a far better prospect from your perspective; though we had some concerns that such rightwing incumbents can, on occasions, opt successfully for radical change.

Today, with the Obama/McCain contest fully underway, we indeed believe that a McCain presidency is - by a considerable margin - the more favourable to your movement; not least because the Republican ticket is now supplemented by a vice-presidential nominee who is a Christian fundamentalist as well as a climate-change sceptic from an oil-rich state.

It remains the case that if elected, Barack Obama could be very limited in his security options. His speech to the leading American pro-Israel organisation Aipac in June 2008 was markedly hardline; he supports military reinforcements for Afghanistan; and he has implied that he would be willing to order more direct US military action in Pakistan. Even so, part of the reason for taking such positions relates simply to the realities of electoral politics. What he says now and what he would do in office may be very different, especially if the Democrats have convincing majorities in both houses of Congress.

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.

In one sense, however, we can reassure you about the outcome; for our associates in our Washington office believe that John McCain will win by a relatively small margin, although Congress is likely to remain Democrat-controlled. Their assessment is based on a prediction that while polls may well give Obama a small margin even up to election-day, a small but significant portion of those voting will be sufficiently influenced by residual prejudice to opt for McCain in the privacy of the polling booth. Their point is that even if only one in fifty voters behaves in this manner, that should help ensure a victory for McCain.

We acknowledge that this is very tentative, and that American politics are currently volatile and unpredictable; and that, after all, our assessment in November 2007 was made in the context of a likely Rudy Giuliani / Hillary Clinton contest!

Your concern must still be with the prospect of an Obama victory, and a key question is whether you should engineer a major attack against US interests shortly before the election. We would advise against this. Whether or not you have the resources to mount a major attack (and we understand why you will not take us into your confidence), the result could be unpredictable.

In the immediate wake of a 9/11-scale attack within the continental United States, Obama's advisers would know that this would benefit their opponent strongly. They might well then take the risk of going on the offensive against McCain, pointing to the folly of George W Bush's policies and the manner in which they have made the United States unsafe. It would be a risky strategy but these would be desperate times for the Obama campaign and it might just come off. The risk to you is too great and for this reason alone we do not advocate such an attack.

Instead, we stand by our recommendation in February 2008 that you seek, in the weeks before the election, to make it known that you favour Barack Obama and believe he would be a president with whom you could do business. This would be combined with strong statements to the effect that you believe a John McCain presidency would be a disaster for the United States and that he would be a leader unto darkness and death. Such a strategy, we believe, would go a long way to ensure he was elected, this being the outcome you should most earnestly desire.


South Waziristan

10 September 2008

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

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