The SWISH Report (6)

Paul Rogers author pic
Paul Rogers
6 September 2006

A fourth 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 fourth report to you on the progress of your movement. You will recall that our work for you commenced with an initial assessment in July 2004, a follow-up in January 2005 and our most recent report in February 2006.

You will also recall that we informed you of other work we have undertaken for the International Security Policy Group attached to the prime minister's office at 10 Downing Street, London (May 2005); and for the Strategic Advisory Group at the United States state department in Washington, DC (September 2005). You are, we are assured, content to recognise that we will work for any client; and you will also have noted that the advice we offered to the parties in London and Washington has been comprehensively ignored.

Our most recent report to you, seven months ago, was intended to offer an assessment of likely developments in the following twelve months, together with a longer-term view of the prospects of your consortium. We understand that you have come back to us because of the rapid pace of events.

This is the sixth report openDemocracy has published from the South Waziristan Institute of Strategic Hermeneutics (SWISH). Three have advised al-Qaida, one the British government, and one the United States state department:

"The SWISH Report" (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)" (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)" (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)" (September 2005) – to the US 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)" (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."

Your movement's aims

At the outset, we need once more briefly to summarise your aims. In the short term you seek the eviction of foreign military forces from the Islamic world; termination of the House of Saud and of pro-western and corrupt regimes in Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan; the establishment of a Palestinian state; and support for movements in southern Thailand, Chechnya and elsewhere. In the long term you seek a renewed caliphate.

Even your short-term aims are measured in several decades. Among them, the removal of foreign military contingents from Saudi Arabia has already been accomplished; governments in Iraq and Afghanistan are so weak as to survive only through foreign military power; and the regime of Pakistan is unstable, with parts of the country not under central control. Given the decades-long timescale to which you work, you would see these as acceptable achievements. Your project of a revitalised and genuine caliphate may, in your view, take a century or more.

In contrast, your opponents - the near enemy of regional regimes and the far enemy of the United States - have a blinkered political vision which operates on much shorter timescales. You regard this as a considerable advantage.

Our earlier conclusions

In our report in February 2006 we pointed to many tendencies that could be viewed as positive for your cause. They included the emergence of Iraq as a combat training-zone for your supporters; the probability of a Taliban resurgence during the course of 2006 in Afghanistan; the level of activity of your associates in Jordan, Egypt, Pakistan and elsewhere; and the significance of the London bombings, especially in that the British security forces had little prior indication of the existence of the unit responsible.

We also referred once again to the fundamental point that your strong position stemmed very largely from the policies of your opponents - especially the Bush administration, whose actions were proving deeply counterproductive to their own stated aims. The policies implemented and the outcomes achieved by the US - among them widespread detentions without trial, torture, rendition, and the death of tens of thousands of civilians in Iraq - have all been of great value to you. At the same time we pointed to the beginnings of an anti-war movement in the United States and the possibility that western strategists might ultimately recognise the dangers of the policies being pursued.

We also discussed a number of reasons why United States policies, in particular, were unlikely to change. Two were especially important. The first was the intrinsic significance of Gulf oil supplies and the essential need for the US to maintain as much control of the region as possible; this alone made it highly unlikely that there would be a full withdrawal from Iraq. The second was the enduring strength of the Israel lobby in the United States, bolstered markedly by the growth of the Christian Zionist movement to political if not public prominence.

Overall, we concluded that your movement was in a strong position, especially in light of the contrast between your timescales and those of the near and far enemies. Meanwhile, however, we counselled strongly against any definitive sense of success, pointing out that it was the incompetence and stupidity of your opponents that was really paying dividends.

This year's developments

We now briefly summarise the main developments in the first eight months of 2006. Three areas have proved especially significant: Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon.

First, Iraq remains an attractive environment in relation to your aims. US forces continue to use heavy firepower to little effect except to cause huge collateral damage, and the Iraqi administration could not possibly survive without US assistance - indeed it is nothing more than a puppet government. While there is a rising incidence of sectarian violence, the impact on Islamic communities across much of the world is to reinforce the view that all the problems stem from the foreign occupation. The continual coverage of civilian losses on popular news channels such as al-Jazeera reinforces this view, and it is further supported by a wide range of forms of propaganda on VCR, DVD, web and other media outlets circulated by yourselves and your associates.

Iraq retains enormous value as a combat training-zone, and this is aided by two relatively recent processes: more evidence that young paramilitaries are travelling from Afghanistan to Iraq, gaining experience and bringing their knowledge, technologies and abilities back to Afghanistan; and the emerging trend of young Muslims from outside the middle east being attracted to jihad in Iraq. We suspect that this trend, still in its early stages of growth, is likely to have an impact over at least a decade, if not a generation. Indeed, Iraq now looks set to provide your wider movement with large cohorts of dedicated paramilitaries skilled at opposing the world's best-equipped and most powerful army.

Second, Afghanistan's experience has more than exceeded our expectations (expressed in February) of a resurgent Taliban. A full-scale guerrilla war is now in progress, and Taliban elements and their associates now control extensive parts of southern Afghanistan. The record poppy crop in 2006 shows western efforts at opium-poppy eradication to be dismal failures. The trend towards raw opium being refined inside the country has boosted revenues available to paramilitaries, meaning in turn that - for the first time in four years - there is every prospect of the war continuing through the winter of 2006-07.

We note that International Security Assistance Forces (Isaf) are becoming reduced to using the kinds of heavy firepower that have been a feature of US counterinsurgency operations in southeast Afghanistan over the past four years. A great number of civilian casualties have resulted from such US actions, and these have stimulated in response widespread anti-American sentiment; this is a pattern we expect increasingly to apply to other Isaf participant states, not least Britain.

In retrospect, we are reminded of the opinion expressed by leading United Nations specialists in early 2002: that after the termination of the Taliban regime, there had to be a large, 30,000-strong peacekeeping force and very high disbursements of aid if Afghanistan was to make the transition to becoming a stable pro-western state. These policies were not implemented, with the results we now see.

Third, the Lebanon war has been an additional major factor in relation to your campaign, even though it bears little relationship to your own movement and aims. The war was important for its demonstration that a small group of dedicated and highly-trained paramilitaries - albeit aided by two assisting states - could hold off against very powerful Israeli military forces, in a way that did singular damage to the idea of Israeli deterrence based on conventional military power.

Furthermore, the Americans clearly encouraged Israel in its operations against Hizbollah because the Bush administration saw these as part of the wider war on terror that encompassed fundamental opposition to Iran. That Israel failed in its intentions may be bad news for the Israelis but is even worse news for the United States.

We recognise, however, that the main beneficiaries of the Lebanon war are Iran, Syria and Hizbollah, none of which relate in any strong sense to your movement. Indeed, some western analysts believe that this is bad news for you, in two senses: attention is diverted away from your movement and its aims to more specific national and regional developments; and there is a possibility that the Tehran administration may seek to use the Lebanon war's outcome to gain a strong regional power-base. There may be some truth in this, but it ignores the manner in which the west's political leadership, especially the United States, actively ignores or suppresses material distinctions between its explicit or presumed adversaries. This is a subject to which we now turn.

United States attitudes

As the US Congressional elections of November 2006 draw near, the Bush administration is consolidating its message in a very clear way. The essence of this message is twofold, and immensely to your advantage. The enemy is "Islamofascism", a force bent on world domination, and one every bit as threatening as Nazi Germany or the evil empire of the Soviet Union; and this enemy must be comprehensively defeated, even if this requires a long war stretching over many years. Any contrary view expressed in the United States is deemed to be deeply unpatriotic and potentially dangerous to US security.

We do not exaggerate. Take, for example, President Bush's speech on 5 September 2006 to the Military Officers Association of America. In contrast to other recent pronouncements, he focused to a considerable extent on the writings of your leader, Osama bin Laden, seeking to label him and the al-Qaida movement as the worldwide focus of the terror threat: "Bin Laden and his terrorist allies have made their intentions as clear as Lenin and Hitler before them. The question is: will we listen? Will we pay attention to what these evil men say?"

Such declarations may be designed to suit current political ends by influencing American domestic opinion about the 9/11 attacks on the eve of the event's fifth anniversary; but their significance is that they actually heighten the status and visibility of your movement, at the very time when quite different entities (not least Hizbollah and Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) have been or are becoming far more visible in their impact.

The intended (and probably achieved) effect of the United States president's rhetoric is to convince his own population that there is a single threat. Hizbollah, Hamas, Iraqi insurgents, the Iranian regime, the Taliban, radicals in Pakistan, Chechen rebels and many more are all part of a single entity, Islamofascism, and it is against Islamofascism that the United States must fight its long war.

Your movement's prospects

You will recall that our last report to you cautioned against hubris and pointed to the possibility of changes in leadership in the United States and Britain in the next two to three years. We also suggested that as the war on terror dragged on, the political leaders of these countries might at last start to take seriously the views of some of the more intelligent western analysts, and that they might therefore identify and act against your vulnerabilities.

We still hold this view; but we also recognise that conditions are even more favourable to you now than six months ago. In Iraq, the world's most powerful military force is thoroughly enmeshed in an insurgency that it cannot defeat; in Afghanistan, a coalition of elite western forces from the United States, Britain, Australia, Canada and elsewhere is failing to counter the Taliban; and in Lebanon, Israel's formidable armed services have been found severely wanting.

At the same time, the United States political leadership is elevating your movement - which in reality may actually be no more and no less than a key part of a wider entity - to a far higher status: that of an integrated global threat. These advantageous conditions, combined with the assessment of the US administration, may combine to persuade you that everything is going rather well.

We beg to differ.

Our conclusion has to be that you do not have any material control of what is happening, and that your leader's iconic status across broad sectors of opinion in the Islamic world does not extend to anything remotely like a consolidated power-base of influence and strategy. Just because George W Bush and his associates say that you have such power does not mean that you truly possess it.

What is happening is more complex and less predictable. In pursuit of its dangerous and counterproductive policies, the Bush administration risks generating precisely that clash of civilisations whose responsibility has been attributed to movements such as yours. But such a clash already has many diverse components and is increasingly unlikely to acquire coherent definition in the real world.

In conclusion, then, 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.

South Waziristan
07 September 2006

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