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The SWISH Report (7)

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Paul Rogers
7 December 2006

A fifth 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 fifth 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; a further in February 2006; and our most recent report in September 2006.

We understand that, although our most recent assessment was submitted only three months ago, you have asked us to provide a further report on your activities.

We understand too that the latest meeting of your cell raised concerns that events in the United States might not be conducive to your further progress.

There had been a hope that the Republican Party would maintain control of both houses of Congress after the mid-term elections of 7 November, that Donald Rumsfeld and John Bolton would remain in their posts and that the findings of the Iraq Study Group (the Baker commission) would be largely irrelevant. The reverse has happened - the Democrats have taken both houses, Rumsfeld and Bolton have gone and the Baker report is being taken all too seriously.

We also understand that there has been some criticism within your movement of your leader, in that he was remiss in not delivering a powerful message to the American people prior to the elections. If (the suggestion is) he had timed a broadcast to voice robust criticisms of the George W Bush administration, this might have buttressed the president's position and ensured the result you obviously desired in the elections: success for the Republicans.

Because of your concerns, you have asked us to give you an assessment of the effects of recent events, bearing in mind that the most consistent conclusions of our earlier reports have been that the Bush administration's policies have made it your most durable ally.

The reason for this judgment include the fact that the administration's interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, the killing of over 100,000 people, its use of torture and rendition, its mass detentions without trial and its close links with Israel have served powerfully to aid and even enhance your movement.

We do understand, however, that you have also, if reluctantly, accepted the broad conclusion of our most recent report that - even if your influence remains substantial - you are not fully in control of the wider jihadi movement.

Your concern now is that recent events could well lead to a fundamental reshaping of United States policy in order to aid a Republican victory in the 2008 presidential election. In commissioning this further analysis, we understand that you are particularly worried about four possible developments:

  • a major withdrawal from Iraq, substantially downgrading that country from its current status as a proven and hugely welcome jihadi combat training-zone for your movement
  • a willingness to engage in dialogue with some Taliban elements in Afghanistan, thus undermining the possibility of the re-establishment of a Taliban polity centred on Kandahar
  • sustained pressure on Israel to negotiate a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians leading to an economically viable Palestinian state, thus removing the "running sore" in the region that has been so useful to your movement
  • encouragement to states such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia to embrace a democracy agenda and engage in fundamental socio-economic reforms, undermining your appeal to the millions of marginalised people in such countries.

We have therefore conducted an initial analysis of these possibilities and will summarise our conclusions in reverse order. We will, of course, be only too willing to provide you with a much more substantial report; though this will require comprehensive funding, given the increasing costs of maintaining the security of our offices in Washington, London, Paris, Cairo, Riyadh and Islamabad. South Waziristan remains a district in which it is easy for independent consultants such as ourselves to operate, but that is not the case for our other offices.

Now to the issues you raise.

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

(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)" (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)" (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."

Democracy and governance

 

We see little likelihood of any major initiatives coming from the United States to encourage democratisation or socio-economic reforms across the middle east and the wider region. There are now enough people in and around the administration who have finally recognised that their style of democracy is a two-edged sword. If there was a transformation in the middle east in particular, they now anticipate that it would bring to power popular governments that would be identified persistently by their deep anti-American sentiments.

The refusal of Turkey to allow US troops to enter Iraq from the north in 2003 was an early indicator of current realities - indeed the idea of a US-induced democratic transition in the middle east disappeared out of the window faster than you could have said the words "Turkish parliament". More recent electoral successes by Hizbollah and Hamas reinforce this outlook.

Nor do we anticipate any major moves to encourage socio-economic justice. The current US administration's commitment to the free market, suitably orientated to US interests, and the rampant corruption and profit-taking that is now endemic in Iraq, make the idea that the United States is interested in any other approach merely amusing and in no way to be taken seriously.

 

Israel

 

The Baker commission and Britain's prime minister Tony Blair have each spoken recently of a need for an Israel/Palestine settlement, and there have been minor indications of movement on the Israeli side, but we see entrenched positions as being far too solid for any possibility of real progress.

A viable Palestinian economy would involve wholesale withdrawals from the West Bank, the release of Gaza from its current position as the world's largest open prison and radical changes in the governance of Jerusalem. Current Israeli politics, combined with the power of the US/Israel lobby, especially with its Christian-Zionist support, makes this unlikely in the extreme.

We would point to two developments that could, instead, work in your favour. The first concerns southern Lebanon, where Israel's military defeat in July-August 2006 is now recognised among Israeli security analysts as having greatly weakened the deterrent role of Israel's conventional forces. They were found seriously wanting, and there is a strong view that this deterrent power must be re-established. This may well involve a further war in southern Lebanon in the coming year.

The second development is that as the United States draws back from a possible military confrontation with Iran, Israel may consider it necessary to go it alone, at least in terms of military action designed to delay Iranian nuclear ambitions.

From an Israeli perspective, one result would almost certainly be Iranian retaliation against US forces in Iraq and the Persian Gulf, drawing the United States into a conflict with Iran that would do serious damage to the Iranian economy. The less Washington moves to a confrontation with Iran, the more Israel needs to prompt it to do just that, given that many Israeli military strategists have long since regarded Iran as the greatest threat to their long-term security.

Neither a renewed war in Lebanon nor an Israel/Iran war would directly aid your movement, but the indirect benefits stemming from the effects of such wars would certainly flow. After all, the 2006 Lebanon war did not involve your movement, yet the sapping of Israeli prestige and the effect on its closest ally the United States both served to limit their power in the region.

Afghanistan

We are surprised that you think there is a risk of Nato engaging seriously with Taliban elements. Although Nato's International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) troops have been obliged to become more and more engaged in counterinsurgency operations rather than reconstruction, there seems little inclination to adopt other than military tactics.

It is true that the Nato summit in Riga on 28-29 November 2006 agreed a strategy that involves increased civil aid from the European Union and some United Nations agencies, and that much more intensive effort will be put into training the Afghan police and army. At the same time, several Nato member-states are reinforcing and re-equipping their troops in preparation for an anticipated Taliban offensive in spring 2007.

Meanwhile, Taliban elements now control sufficient parts of southern and southeastern Afghanistan to be able to utilise their singularly uncompromising if stabilising forms of governance. They are by no means always unpopular with local populations and this aids them in being able to regroup and develop their forces for the spring campaign in Afghanistan rather than across the border in our part of Pakistan. They even seem confident that they could take effective control of Kandahar next summer.

It is still possible that Nato/Isaf might attempt to bring Taliban elements into the political process, and we can appreciate that this would cause you concern. All we can say is that this is, for the moment, unlikely. Meanwhile, recent violence in several parts of Afghanistan does make it probable that the war will persist through the coming winter, with this likely to stimulate further Nato action rather than any prospect of negotiations.

Iraq

We understand that your greatest concern is that there will be a comprehensive United States military withdrawal from Iraq. You point to the view of Robert Gates that the United States is not winning the war, to the view of the Baker report that the situation is getting worse and to the change in the public mood in the United States as support for the war ebbs away.

In essence the Iraq Study Group calls for a withdrawal of combat forces, a reinvigorated emphasis on training Iraqi security forces and discussions with Iran and Syria as a prelude to cooperating to ensure stability.

We think it unlikely that there will be meaningful negotiations with Iran, not least because the United States would be negotiating from a position of weakness. Syria is only likely to cooperate on the basis of a resolution of the Golan Heights issue, but this will effectively be vetoed by Israel.

As to the training of Iraqi security forces, this has been attempted for three years with little effect. There is nothing to indicate that any major improvements are possible. It follows that the Pentagon will not be able to withdraw combat troops in any numbers. There may be a return to the policy of earlier in 2006 - concentrating troops in large bases and making more use of air power - but this has failed once and will fail again.

From an American perspective the harsh truth is that it only really has two choices in Iraq: stay there and try to regain control, or accept the need for a complete withdrawal. The fact that the United States has invested immense resources in overseeing and effectively controlling the Iraqi government, and given Iraq's singular strategic importance to the United States, makes complete withdrawal not an option. Unless the situation in Iraq gets massively worse than at present, and even allowing for the domestic unpopularity of the war in the run-up to the 2008 elections, we do not believe this option will be considered.

We would point you to the perceptive comments of retired US marine-corps general, Anthony Zinni (see International Herald Tribune, 5 December 2006). General Zinni earlier criticised the decision to go to war with the Saddam Hussein regime, saying that such action would be a dangerous distraction from Bush's war on terror; but he now says a rapid withdrawal would leave behind a paramilitary sanctuary, lead to more sectarian conflict and threaten security across the oil-rich region.

Zinni has correctly appreciated that the fundamental mistake was to embark on the military adventure at all; but that, the US having done so, this now excludes intermediate options.

You may be concerned at your own position but we would put it this way. If the United States "stays the course" you are presented with your jihadi combat training-zone for at least five to ten years - an ideal situation for you in relation to your long-term aims that stretch over some decades.

If, on the other hand, there really was a complete change in US policy and a precipitate withdrawal, however unlikely that might be, then you would be left with a failed state in the heart of your most important region, the middle east, enabling you to develop your movement with impunity.

Although we have said that the United States only has two real choices, we do actually believe that a middle path will be taken. This will include some withdrawal of combat troops and a consolidation in the major bases combined with more efforts to train Iraqi forces. These circumstances will provide you both with further combat training and the potential for setting up an infrastructure in a failing state. It is less than clear to us why you are worried at this time.

The potential

We would maintain our earlier view that while your movement has increased its capabilities and its support base, you are part of a wider and more diffuse entity that you do not control. At the same time, we do not see recent events as having decreased your potential.

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.

Wana

South Waziristan

07 December 2006

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