Personal and academic blog. Explores the borderlands between rhetoric, politics and intelligence.


Retorik, diplomati og verdenspolitik

Fra september og frem skal jeg undervise i et nyt kursus jeg udvikler. Det handler om sprog og verdenspolitik, krig, diplomati og statsmænd og kvinders retorik. Skynd dig at meld dig til - begrænsede pladser og brandvarmt indhold!

Kurset udbydes her, på Folkeuniversitetet i København.

Når det slår gnister på den internationale scene, og aviserne bliver fyldt med billeder af oprør og krig, så skaber verdens politikere og generaler mening med de taler og tekster de skriver. På den måde forstår vi anden verdenskrig i Churchills taler og den nye terrorisme i militante mullahers prædikener. Men under overfladen foregår der også et politisk spil der bestemmer hvordan en krise udvikler sig.

I kurset skal vi både overveje hvordan retorik i form af tekster, taler og billeder påvirker den internationale politik og hvordan politikken er afgørende for retorikken. Der gives en introduktion til retorikkens grundbegreber og studiet af den internationale politik, samt til emner som propaganda, diplomati og magt. Undervejs skal vi undersøge historiske og nutidige eksempler på retorik i verdenspolitikken og stifte bekendtskab med de vigtigste teorier. Kurset giver indblik i samspillet mellem retorik og politik og skaber mulighed for bedre at forstå internationale kriser og den måde de sættes i scene i medier og historiebøger.

En tekstsamling sælges på holdet.

Webcomic: The paradox of international politics

The paradox of political realism as illustrated by Boy on a Stick and Slither.



Foreign Policy has a feature on who is who in Iran.

This is delicious web-journalism: interactive, short and organised. It almost makes you want to print out the different mullahs and play a game of Mullah-cards.

"I play the Chariman of the Expediency Council. He has super awesome pragmatist credentials +2. Oh? I top you with the mega conservative editor with nuclear glow +1."


Insurgents and the art of public denial

The Counterterrorism Blog has an interesting little piece on how the Al-Fajr "media center", which is the "official" outlet for Al Qaeda videos and other forms of communiqués, has denied that it should be behind statements that "the newly designated commander of Al-Qaida in Iraq Abu Hamza al-Muhajir personally beheaded two U.S. soldiers taken captive in Al-Yousifiyah".

They reject it on the internet and states that it is a sign of the "defeat of the crusader forces and their allies".

This is an interesting little thing. It shows that the AQ media strategy is somewhat consistent. And that the concerns over strategic persona(s) are indeed real, as I have written on here.

In this sense the Al-Fajr looks very much like a PR outfit that tries to publicly deny a political scandal - and that makes them a little bit more understandable than the otherwise anarchic doings and sayings attributed to AQ in the global "war on terror".


Megaplayers and Micropowers

Moses Naim is editor in chief at the respectable leftish Foreign Policy and he gives voice to an interesting take on the new reality of international relations:

This trend, where players can rapidly accumulate immense power, where the power of traditional megaplayers is successfully challenged, and where power is both ephemeral and harder to exercise, is evident in every facet of human life. In fact, it is one of the defining and not yet fully understood characteristics of our time. Today, scholars are arguing whether the international system, once divided in half by the Cold War, is transitioning into a unipolar one where the United States is the sole superpower, or whether we may be moving toward a multipolar system centered on the United States, China, and other powerful nations. It may be neither. What may be coming?and in some ways is already here?is a hyper-polar world where many large, powerful actors coexist with myriad smaller powers (not all of which are nation-states) that greatly limit the dominance of any single nation or institution. Such a world opens many new attractive opportunities for the little guy, whether a small country, a new company, or a talented individual. But those opportunities must come at the expense of something?and, in this case, that is stability. Whether you prefer cheering for David or Goliath, the complex interplay of megaplayers and micropowers portends a more volatile, fractious world.

Mubtakkar of ... gas

"Dick Destiny" writes expertly on the alledged "Mubtakkar of Death" plot for AQ to use poison gas on the NY underground. He pretty much questions the central claims of Suskinds story as to how easy it is to produce a weapon of mass destruction here.

The newsmedia and counterterror experts are literally possessed by things that are easy to make or easy to do and which can cause mass death. And, lacking clear and concrete evidence to the contrary, it is reasonable to be suspicious of them.

It is always a pleasure to read a critical expert who isn't carried away by the doomsday-scenarios. And Dick Destiny claims to be an expert on Rock n' Roll as well, a nice portfolio to have for a security expert...


Danish UAVs to be resold as spareparts

At the moment there is an exploratory work going on in the Danish parliament to sort out the blame in the farcical case of the Danish Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. A number of UAVs were bought from the French SAGEM. The type SPERWER (or "Tårnfalken" in Danish) has been bought by a number of other countries and even operated in Afghanistan by Canadian forces. In Denmark it was recently decided to scrap all of them (10 or more), without ever having had them in operational status.

That has been a little venture of 436 million Danish crowns all in all.

Now minister of Defence Søren Gade hopes to soften the hard landing by selling the UAVs off as spareparts, to Canada among others.

I wrote something about the "Tårnfalken" project here in an essay on Denmark and the revolution in military affairs.


Anti-pod astroturf

It's been a while since I wrote on anything but intelligence, but I just stumbled across an interesting example of my old friend Astroturf. Just like you roll out fake grass when you play on astroturf, a company can roll out fake grassroots when trying to influence policy-makers or consumers.

The homepage iDon't is an interesting example. Apparently it is a youngish, hip page, flirting with the well-tried revolutionary/military iconography, mixed with a dash of techno-gothism. In other words, it could have been whatever collective of web-designers, musicians, creative hippies or others who have lauched the site. Moreover the message of the site is "Don't buy an iPod, that is conformity. You don't want to be a conformist, now do you?" - this is cutting edge anti popular culture - Apple used to be the good guys, so the first to fret on their new corporate persona are avant garde, non?

The site is really typical of the zeitgeist among radicals and cultural deconstructivists on the net: it has a blog, you can print your own stickers, it links to other sites with anti-iPod content. Some of it is a bit strained though, for example the author behind the blog "Eric aka Da Sheep Herder" (sheeps are used a lot on the site) who greets the reader as "fellow radicals". Overmuch and reeks of this guy in highschool who would get all the right clothes and say all the right things to "belong" to a fraction, but who would always overdo it and labeled a "poser", radical, goth, hip-hop, death-metal, rock n' roller by those he tried to impres. The internet of course, is home to a million of those personas.

However, when you dig through the pages you find that it is indeed another producer of MP3-players who seems to be behind it, namely SanDisk, presented as "The Alternative". This is very subtle, with only one or two links going out from to

In my view it is a good example of astroturfing - seemingly a young crowd is tired of iPod "iTatorship" and want to blow their trumpets about it. On the other hand it also shows how delicate a business it is to set up a fake front-organisation - if you are constructing your views, you don't have a connection to that real and true sentiment that drives other grass-root organisations. Your lingo becomes strained and the phoney-ness of it all shows to all observant spectators. I guess the most successful examples of astro-turfing would latch onto an existing organisation and support them in spreading a message you agree with.


To win a battle and lose the war

Foreign Policy has recently published the "Terrorism Index", mapping out American Foreign Policy-makers' views on the war on terror. And the message is quite clear: 84 percent of all participants, across political orientation, disagree with Bush's statement that the war on terror is being won.

57 percent believe that an attack on the US the scale of London or Madrid could take place by the end of 2006, 91 percent believe that it will take place before the end of 2016.

An interesting note is that the public seems to hold more or less the directly opposite views than the experts.


Somali taliban?

The Union of Islamic Courts have seemingly taken control of Mogadishu after a decade of anarchy.

And it seems as if it is the Taliban model that we see unfolding once again: weary of war and trouble the citizen are greeting a strict religious authority, seemingly uncorrupted by worldly greed that so many of the other warlords have been dictated by. The backing seems to be from Saudi-Arabian or Iranian sources.

It will be interesting though to see if the Union of Islamic Courts will run into the same paradox as Taliban and later Hamas - the controlling feature of local success and popularity (lack of too much unpopularity, rather) is the controlling feature of foreign policy isolation.

Update: Apparently there are no intentions on behalf of the Courts to turn Somalia towards an Islamic state. Let's see about that.

Below: note the nice camouflage, complete with little half-moons. Guerilla-chic. Photo: BBC


Terrorist plots to be unveiled?

The Counterterrorism Blog has got juicy rumours: Following on the Canadian terror-cell - that tried to get three tonnes of ammonium nitrate and supposedly is connected to the kids arrested in Denmark over terror allegations - they report that Steven Emerson (who is a journalist with a scarred reputation) hints that a number of "Al Qaeda" plots have been foiled in the US and that they will be revealed soonish.

It is interesting that if this is true, it will be used for political gains (during mid-terms for example) - at least it is a bird in the hand for any administration being a bit cynical about when to disclose stuff from the judging powers that be.

Of course it takes some time to investigate these kind of cases properly and OPSEC must be upheld, but I'll be a bit critical when the levee breaks.


Zarqawi's new video - or: The house Bin Laden built

The Syrian terrorist-leader in Iraq Musab al-Zarqawi has just released a new video. It contains the usual attacks on the Iraqi government, the US as well as some new songs, in the form of Zarqawi urging Sunnis to attack Shias - a theme Zarqawi has harped on before, but not in this direct form.

What is really interesting here, though, is how closely Zarqawi emulates Bin Laden's style. The most obvious thing is the prominently placed submachinegun in the background. It is a rather special type of gun (a AKS-74U, if I'm not mistaken). Normally Bin Laden is reported to have a "AK 47" - that is a generic description that serves its purpose by connotation - AK 47, we know, is the weapon of third world rebels. But actually by branding the smaller AKS-74U there are a number of connotations that are usually overlooked:

* It is a specialist weapon. Shorter and less accurate than the ordinary assault rifle it was developed for vehicle crews. It is thus not the most powerful weapon, and it denotes that its wielder is a thinker first and a fighter secondly. This stands very much in contrast to earlier pictures of Zarqawi, where he brandishes a M249 SAW light machinegun. This shift in emphasis is interesting and it is a question whether Bin Laden has established a "genre" - where the "thinking man's gun" is more appropriate than the more gung-ho machinegun.
* Furthermore it is a gun that must be harder to come by than the ordinary AK-74/AK-47 - this signals class and exclusiveness. This might be Zarqawi's bid for sophistication, not a thing that he has been accused of much.

Another interesting feature is his black headwear. In the traditional moslem iconography black is for martyrs, whereas white is for purity and doctrinal authority. In this way he sets himself apart from Bin Laden and underscores that he is the man of action.

In all circumstances it seems as if there is a "jihadi genre" that is being instituted the way genres are, by following and reinterpretation.

Creveld's Paradox

John Robb at the Global Guerrillas uses the Haditha incident (how vague and androgyneous that word is, if it indeed was a massacre) to showcase the skilled military thinker Martin van Creveld's paradox:

In other words, he who fights against the weak - and the rag-tag Iraqi militias are very weak indeed - and loses, loses. He who fights against the weak and wins also loses. To kill an opponent who is much weaker than yourself is unnecessary and therefore cruel; to let that opponent kill you is unnecessary and therefore foolish. As Vietnam and countless other cases prove, no armed force, however rich, however powerful, however advanced, however well motivated is immune to this dilemma. The end result is always disintegration and defeat...

This is basically a rhetorical, topical element of strategy. In other words - in assymetric warfare you will turn out to appear either cruel or foolish if you are the large part - both those qualities are not really military features, rather elements of ethos, of reputation. Thus you don't fight to destroy your opponent's Clausewitzean centre of gravity, rather you fight for your reputation. And in that fight, everyone with rhetorical cunning can participate.