Print Friendly and PDF
only search

The SWISH Report (14)

About the author

A 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 provide a further analysis of your prospects. We understand that you have two requirements. The first is to continue our previous approach of offering a frank assessment; including, where we think it appropriate, criticism of your decisions. The second is to give a preliminary evaluation of the impact of the Barack Obama administration on the prospects for your mission.

We are aware that you accept the fact that we work with other consultants, including the United States and British governments; and that you have seen that our most recent report was an advisory analysis for the International Security Unit of the Obama Transition Team in Washington. We assume too that you are familiar with the contents of this report, just as the US and British authorities must have had access to our previous reports to you (see "The SWISH Report (13.1)" [8 December 2008] and "The SWISH Report (13.2)" [15 December 2008]).

The context

We begin by respectfully reminding you of a common theme of our earlier reports: that much of the progress you have been able to make resulted from the incompetence of your principal opponent, the George W Bush administration, rather than your own prowess. For example, the forceful United States military response to the events of 11 September 2001 - involving rapid regime termination in Afghanistan - was not what you expected. Instead, you had anticipated a large-scale US military occupation of that country leading to a sustained guerrilla war stretching over at least a decade. This, you believed, would wear down the US; much as the 1980s war against the Soviet Union had, from your perspective, crippled the then other superpower.

In the event, the US military pursued its objectives in Afghanistan in October-November 2001 by using a combination of air power, special forces and (above all) the rearming of the Northern Alliance - thus avoiding a wholesale occupation. But although events in Afghanistan initially confounded your expectations, the Bush administration soon refocused its attention on Iraq in a way that represented a huge and unexpected gift to your movement. The invasion of Iraq in March 2003 led to a war that has now lasted more than six years and is still unfinished. This has delivered three great benefits to you. 

First, the civilian casualties and wholesale destruction - so widely and consistently reported by regional satellite TV news-channels - added greatly to the anti-American mood across the middle east and beyond. 

Second, Washington was so fixated on Iraq that it failed to recognise the re-emergence of an insurgency in Afghanistan and its increasing links with paramilitaries and radicals in western Pakistan.

Third, the conflict in Iraq has enabled thousands of young paramilitaries to travel to Iraq to get combat experience against highly trained and well-armed US troops in an urban environment. This has proved a far better training-ground than was available to these fighters' predecessors who were engaged in fighting low-morale Soviet conscripts in rural Afghanistan in the 1980s. The impact and effectiveness of this new generation of paramilitaries on the future of your mission is difficult to predict, but our Washington office informs us that this outcome is clearly understood among thoughtful military analysts and is causing considerable concern.

The Obama victory

Against the boon represented by the Iraq war, we must remind you that you made a serious mistake in October 2008 in failing to intervene in the US presidential election. This meant that you ignored the advice in our pre-election report, released on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. This report in turn cited the judgment of the previous analysis concerning the electoral outcome you should prefer:

"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 of George W Bush would have been ideal. Sadly for your movement, that cannot be." (see "The SWISH Report (10)", 29 February 2008).

But if the incumbent was ruled out, John McCain was a real possibility. In our October analysis we said:

"... 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..." (see "The SWISH Report (11)", 11 September 2008).

We therefore offered that in the weeks before the election your leader should:

"... make it known that you favour Barack Obama and believe that 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."

We accept that your leader was not willing to take this advice. But we must say to you, as members of the Strategic Planning Cell, that we do regard this as an error. You may treat this view as you will; in any case, your request is for us to analyse the situation as it now pertains.

The Obama administration

The Barack Obama administration has been in office for eleven weeks. This period already provides evidence, from the administration's response to world events and indications of internal policy decisions, on which to base a provisional assessment. This includes the impact of Israel's Gaza operation (which was halted days before the president's inauguration) and Israel's general election; developments in Iraq, Afghanistan and here in Pakistan; and the impact of the president's week-long overseas trip in early April 2009 (including to London for the G20 summit, to Strasbourg/Kehl for Nato's sixtieth-anniversary meeting, to the Czech Republic for a joint European Union/US discussion, and to Turkey and Iraq).


We would suggest that the approach of the new administration presents you with a number of problems:

* Barack Obama's style is far more open and conciliatory than his predecessor's, something conveyed by the forceful statement in his speech in Ankara on 6 April 2009 that the United States is not at war with Islam. This is not what you need, and runs markedly counter to the greatly valued "neo-crusader" rhetoric of George W Bush

* Obama is far more popular in western Europe, meaning that policies relating to the middle east and west Asia are less likely to divide the allies

* The Obama administration's stated intention to withdraw most forces from Iraq would remove one of your major assets - a substantial US military presence in the heart of the Islamic world.

* More generally, Obama's commitment to limit the US's dependence on fossil fuels must be worrying for you, for it implies that the US security posture envisages the Persian Gulf region acquiring decreased importance. You want a greater US presence in the region; if the commitment is followed through,  you seem unlikely to get it.

* Obama's outreach to Iran in his new-year message of 20 March 2009 must cause you concern. You have no liking for the apostates of Tehran, not least because of their antagonism to your Taliban associates; greater cooperation between the two states over Afghanistan could become problematic.

* The Obama administration shows some signs of being more committed to an Israeli-Palestinian settlement, a potentially disastrous outcome for you in the event that it was achieved.


We also suggest that - fortunately for your movement and its aspirations - these eleven weeks offer some positive developments:

* The Israeli actions in Gaza were of great value to you, not least through the extensive reporting across the Islamic world of the civilian casualties and material destruction in an already degraded territory  

* The outcome of Israel's general election was particularly satisfactory, especially as it made the hardline rightwinger Avigdor Lieberman a power-broker and led to his appointment as foreign minister

* Washington's overtures to Tehran will get little response until after Iran's presidential election in June 2009

* The Obama administration is intent on implementing an (Iraq-style) military "surge" in Afghanistan, but this has little real support from Nato allies. This could be the trigger for sharp intra-alliance divisions in coming months.

* The administration is intent on extending the war more fully into western Pakistan, not just by means of frequent drone attacks but almost certainly through the more extensive use of Special Forces.

* The insurgency in Pakistan is extending from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Balochistan into some of the major cities, including Islamabad / Rawalpindi, Lahore and (quite probably) Karachi

* Americans' attitudes towards the Obama administration are unusually polarised; the president's profile, positive overall, combines strong support from Democrats with surprisingly firm opposition from most Republicans. Any foreign-policy reversals will be reflected in bitter domestic political debate.  Moreover, by the early months of 2010 the administration will already begin to be constrained by the risks to the Democrats in the mid-term elections in November 2010

* The deepening global recession is already having a considerable impact on marginalised majorities in Egypt, Pakistan and elsewhere. As the elite regimes  they live under display a ruthless will to maintain political and social control, they will become more susceptible to your vision of "proper Islamic governance"

* Your Taliban associates, whose horizons were previously limited to Afghanistan, are now broadly more orientated to your global project

* There remain very powerful lobbies in Washington, especially the major defence contractors, with interests in maintaining confrontation with you. They will seek in every way possible to ensure the maintenance of the current exceptional levels of military spending, primarily by advocating an expansion of the use of force in Afghanistan and Pakistan while maintaining full control of the Persian Gulf.


We further suggest that - taking both problems and advantages into account - there is room for genuine uncertainty about your prospects. We remain sure in our earlier view that a John McCain presidency would have been a great asset to your movement. In that event, all of the advantages listed above would have still been present, with none of the problems. In this respect, we must state clearly that the Barack Obama administration is not good news for you.

Moreover, there are some significant complications. For example, although Israeli actions in Gaza have been of great value to you, there is a risk that Israel's new government will be so hardline as to lose some of its vital US support. Our Nazareth office tells us that some perceptive Israeli commentators are seriously worried about this prospect. If this were to happen, the Israeli government could come under strong pressure from Washington to engage in serious negotiations for a Palestinian state. This would be disastrous for you.

So there will indeed be difficulties ahead. But against this, four key factors remain in your favour:

* The conflict in Iraq is far from over, and there is a real prospect that the insurgency will itself "surge" in the remainder of 2009

* A number of loosely associated movements in Somalia and parts of north Africa continue to develop

* The heavy emphasis of the Obama administration on Afghanistan and Pakistan is exactly what you want, and there is little sign yet of Washington reassessing this policy

* Barack Obama cannot serve for more than eight years, and it is possible that he will be gone after one term; whereas your objectives are measured in many decades.

There is one more trend that is worth noting. This is that your movement has evolved into much more of an idea than an identifiable organisation. We appreciate that it was never a narrowly defined hierarchical entity, as depicted by your "far enemy". But now it is a very loose and continually mutating phenomenon over which you and your leader have very little control. You may regard this as regrettable. We believe you should see it as of inestimable value.


South Waziristan

9 April 2009


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

"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."

"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"

"The SWISH Report (12)" (6 November 2008) - to al-Qaida

"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."

"The SWISH Report (13.1)" (8 December 2008) & "The SWISH Report (13.2)" (15 December 2008) - to the Obama Transition Team:

"(The) standing of the United States across the middle east and southwest Asia is much diminished and its military forces are mired in a dangerous and long-term conflict in Afghanistan that is exacerbated by major problems in Pakistan. We do not believe that victory has been achieved (or will soon be achieved) in Iraq; and we hold that the al-Qaida movement has been dispersed into a loose network that is and will remain extremely difficult to counter.

We are aware that our advice in three of the four major aspects covered in this report - Israel-Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan-Pakistan - is considerably more radical than anything you currently propose; but you have requested our advice and we have given it. We acknowledge that to accept it is much to ask of you, perhaps especially because it represents a very different outlook not just from the neo-conservative vision of a "new American century" but from some of the assertive realists that you have already invited into your administration."

We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the
oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.