THE SWISH REPORT

COMMENTARY ARCHIVES, 8 Nov 2008

Paul Rogers

In light of Barack Obama’s victory in the United States presidential election, the al-Qaida movement once more solicits advice from the renowned management consultancy.
 
A ninth 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 submit a further report on the progress of your movement. You will recall that our work for your planning cell began with an initial assessment in July 2004; continued with additional reports in January 2005, February 2006 and September 2006; and (in light of political developments in the United States) another in December 2006.

The next analysis was submitted in November 2007. The flow of events in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq – against the background of the United States presidential-election campaign – provoked the commissioning of a report soon afterwards, in February 2008. This last document – as part of its fairly blunt conclusions – clearly indicated to you that this might be our last such report.

We were, then, gratified by the request for another report in September 2008, which addressed developments in your main areas of operation in the context of the forthcoming election. We understand that on this occasion you require us to provide a brief initial assessment of the impact of Barack Obama’s victory on 4 November 2008 on your movement’s aims.

The election campaign

In light of the fact that you have both long-term aims (stretching over a century) and short-term (conceived on a ten-to-thirty-year basis), we should say at the outset that the policies of the new administration may not be especially significant for you. Nevertheless we are pleased to offer a provisional assessment and will complete a more substantial report for you after 20 January 2009, when President Obama delivers his inaugural address and by which time the shape of the new administration will be clear.

The beginning of our assessment flows from the conclusion of our last report, presented at a time when the election campaign was nearing its peak. We said then:

"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 continuing 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."

We did have some concerns that John McCain, with an element of the maverick about him, might develop policies that would cause you problems; but our overall conclusion was that he would be far closer than Barack Obama to the George W Bush’s administration’s policies on the "war on terror" – which have helped you so much in the past. We also emphasised that the Bush era’s legacy would constrain Obama’s options once in power – but that our real concern was the possible effect of a considerable change in style in United States attitudes to the majority world. A more sympathetic and engaged United States would not be at all good for you. It might have little impact in your heartlands in southwest Asia, but it could seriously undercut your support in the wider world.

We therefore advised you to make it clear that you would welcome an Obama victory and to ensure that this was widely publicised, since we anticipated that this would seriously damage his electoral chances. We are surprised that you did not exercise this option. The end result is that Obama has now been elected – the outcome that we believe you should not have wanted.

In September 2008, our Washington office advised us that McCain would win by a small margin, and that your intervention could be pivotal in ensuring this result. In the event, our Washington associates were wrong on the first point, but this was mainly due to the traumas in the domestic economy (which emerged fully, with the collapse of Lehman Brothers, two days after our last report was published). Perhaps these developments caught you by surprise, but we have to say that we fail to understand why you did not intervene to help ensure a McCain victory.

We hope you will not take offence if we remind you that earlier reports pointed to the need for your movement to be facing a resolute "far enemy" prepared to use intensive and persistent military force. This is what the Bush administration did in two wars which have led to the deaths of over 100,000 people, well over 4 million refugees, 120,000 people detained without trial, and torture, rendition and wholesale prisoner abuse. All of this has been a gift to your movement; and we have previously had to say to you that much of your success has stemmed from the calamitous and counterproductive policies of your far enemy rather than your own competence.

The new president: five risks

Although this is very much a preliminary assessment, we feel you should be guided by the risk that Washington’s policies will alter in a manner that could seriously damage your movement. In this context, what should be your greatest concerns; and does a Barack Obama victory make it more likely that any of them will be realised?
There are five main risks:

* The new administration plays a far more positive role in insisting that Israel negotiates a lasting settlement with the Palestinians

* The new administration makes rapid progress in moving the US towards a non-oil-based economy, thus decreasing the long-term strategic importance of the Persian Gulf region

* The new administration speeds up the process of disengagement in Iraq – completing the withdrawal of all combat-troops within two years, scaling down training and other elements to less than one-fifth of current overall personnel levels (from 130,000 to 25,000), and declaring a willingness to establish a timetable for a total withdrawal

* The new administration changes policy on a further build-up of forces in Afghanistan and engages more systematically in negotiations with Taliban elements

* The new administration seeks broadly based multilateral cooperation on many issues, not least climate change, demonstrating a style of international engagement that is in marked contrast 2001-08 period

If all of these policy changes were to be embraced, then we have to say that your movement would be in serious trouble. For the moment we cannot be sure how far the Obama administration will go, but we can offer five pointers.

The new president: five pointers

The first is that the new administration will be heavily preoccupied with the domestic economy, to the extent that this will dominate its first year at least. At the same time, there will be rising concerns over the intensifying conflict in Afghanistan.

The second pointer is that its relations with Israel will depend substantially on the outcome of the forthcoming Israeli (January 2009) and Iranian (June 2009) elections. If Binyamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad win their respective elections, an Obama administration will face real problems in altering US-Israel policy, even if it wishes to.

The third is that an Israeli military strike on Iran before Obama’s inauguration is by no means out of the question, even with the current disorganisation within Israeli politics. Your movement may have no sympathy for Shi’a Iran, but an Israel attack (and the subsequent inevitable involvement of the United States) would be seen across much of the region as an additional part of a general assault on Islam. As such, it would benefit your movement.

The fourth pointer is that a speeding up of the withdrawal from Iraq (which would be popular within the United States) is a strong possibility – but there are few signs at present that an Obama administration will go for a fundamental review of US energy policy and a downgrading of the importance of the Persian Gulf.

The fifth is that there is little indication either of any changed policy towards the conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is likely to prove your most fruitful area of operations, though this carries with it a particular risk. If you and your Taliban associates prove to be really successful in facing down US and other Nato troops, the outcome may be that an Obama administration fundamentally rethinks its military posture and wider political engagement in the region.

As you will appreciate, these are no more than initial comments. We would emphasise, however that – even if individual policies turn out to be not so different – the change of style that an Obama presidency may entail could have a considerable international impact.

A new danger

In conclusion, there is one potential trend which could cause your movement a range of problems – even there is little evidence of your interest in it or of any direct relationship to your movement and its aims. An awareness of the risks of climate change has risen rapidly in some of the countries of the Atlantic community – the British government has even embraced the idea of an 80% cut in carbon emissions by 2050. The mismatch of timing between problem and solution here is less important than what the decision implies: that radical action is now recognised by some western states as being essential.

There is now a school of thought in the United States that for the country to face the uncertainties of climate change while being dependent on imported oil is an unacceptable combination. Thus, and notwithstanding the caution expressed above, the new Obama administration could embark on a substantial programme to cut carbon-emissions that would lead the country away quite rapidly from its current oil/gas dependency. Moreover, it could do this in part through a series of federal programmes that would also address the current economic downturn.

Such a policy would take the best part of a decade to have a major impact. Yet its political psychology and social reverberations would mean that over a much shorter period the strategic importance of the Persian Gulf would decrease. 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.

Wana
South Waziristan
06 November 2008

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