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


Voting in Combat

A new book tells the story of the mission and decimation of a SEAL team in Afghanistan in 2005. It is written by the sole survivor and even though that genre of books are often cut by the same cookie-cutter, this one details a very interesting and controversial core dilemma.

The SEAL team is staking out an Afghan village when they are discovered by a couple of young goat hearders. The dilemma now is if they should kill them or let them go. The commanding SEAL officer then puts the dilemma up for a vote, reminding his people of the ramifications of media warfare where what happens in Afghanistan, certainly doesn't stay in Afghanistan (General Krulac's notion of the Three Block Warfare).

"Then, Luttrell said, Murphy then warned his men that if they killed the goatherds, they would have to report the deaths, and the Taliban would publicize them, as well.

?[T]he U.S. liberal media will attack us without mercy,? Luttrell quotes Murphy as saying. ?We will almost certainly be charged with murder.?

And then, according to the book, Lt. Murphy turned to Luttrell, the petty officer second class. ?Marcus, I?ll go with you,? Murphy said. ?Call it.?"

This decision, of course, has been received with great controversy: A commanding officer that gives up his command for vote. But the book's author didn't see it as relinquishing the command:

"By putting the issue to a vote, Murphy was not abdicating his command responsibility, Luttrell said. ?Not at all. He had total control. He was in total command out there the whole time. He was a consummate professional.?"

I think this story shows a very underdeveloped face of modern, western warfare. Democracy, for which we fight, is seen as anathema to the logics of warfare. In armies such as the American with a tradition for hierarchy and a strong line of command, this will create controversies. In smaller armies such as the Danish, there might be a tradition for a more flat line of command. But still, it is controversial, letting the soldiers vote on a moral issue with operational implications. If it wasn't so tragically real for those three SEALs that were killed by the Talibans alerted by the young goathearders who were set free, this would be the stuff of movies. And by all accounts it is a sad celebration of democracy and humanism in times of war.

Surviving SEAL tells story of deadly mission - Army Times



Good news from the Middle East

Foreign Policy brings a very interesting little brief by Jean-Francois Seznec and Afshin Molavi on a quiet reformation of Saudi Arabia: The Magic Kingdom?s Wild New Ride.

We've heard the story before: support the modernising middle class. But in this case it actually seems that there are political structures and movements at the moment that supports such a push particularly now.

"A modernizing, moderate Saudi Arabia could be a lodestar for an Islamic world in turmoil. For most of modern Saudi history, the Kingdom has simply poured fuel on the burning oils of the Muslim world. Getting its own house in order by empowering the forces of modernization is a positive first step. But Europe and the United States need to realize that they have an important role to play in writing the country?s next chapter."



Iraq, Vietnam and national trauma

The Iraq war is becoming more and more reminiscent of the Vietnam war. Foreign Policy poke some grim fun of that comparison, by altering a brief from the Vietnam war on the repercussions of defeat - merelyreplacing "Vietnam" with Iraq.

But the Washington Post presents a piece of journalism that draws on the vast topical luggage of the Vietnam war, when they paint the situation of a 20-year combat veteran at the psychiatric ward of Walter Reed hospital.

Little Relief on Ward 53 - A chilling read that draws on the tradition of alienated combat veterans in American society. Among other horrors of the clash between bureaucracy and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is when the veteran is approached by an official who tries to make the soldier wear a patch to stop smoking: "The surgeon general is concerned about all the soldiers coming home with smoking habits," as he says.

If nothing else, the US will have gotten a grand, dark hole, from which will crawl magnificent monsters of literature, art and senseless violence in the years to come, as a large number of young men return with death on their mind. One of the veterans frame this, and echoes his colleagues 30-40 years back:

"All the banners said 'Welcome Home Heroes,' " Rearick said. "But the moment we start falling apart it's like, 'Never mind.' For us, it was the beginning of the dark ages. It was the dreams. It was going to the store and buying bottles of Tylenol PM and bottles of Jack."



Gongo: A democratic oxymoron

Okay. During the next few lines, I'm gonna spread a lot of nice words around. But with a higher purpose, I suppose.

Starting off with Gongo. It rolls nicely off the tongue, doesn't it? It is an abbreviation (or actually more correctly an acronym) meaning "Government-sponsored Non Governmental Organisation". This is a phenomenon I have written on before, just set in the commercial world, where organisations set up by companies are called "Astroturf" (another nice word and a type of fake grass, including roots).

Gongos are the typical fare of autocratic regimes like the Russian, Chinese and the Central Asian republics, but we also have examples from democracies, such as the National Endowment for Democracy in the US.

I wonder if we could come up with any European Gongos?

Gongos are a democratic oxymorons. That is, a contradiction in terms on behalf of democracy. NGOs were set up to level the playing-field of power, but when un-democratic regimes set up gongos, they kick the ball way back for everyone involved.



Arms for peace? Proven recipe for disaster

Now the American forces in Iraq have started a program to arm Sunni insurgents to fight the mainly sunni-backed Al Qaeda movement in Iraq, according to

New York Times.

Well, I couldn't help - as many others - seeing the ghost of the good ol' colonial days rise from the ashes. The strategy of arming Bad Guys we don't like to fight Bad Guys we absolutely don't like is a time-tested and ancient method of fighting insurgencies. But I still need to think of an example where this short term fire-fighting hasn't led to long term agony. Two examples:

* Nationalist Chinese: Before and during WW2, the allied supported Chi'ang Kai-Check's forces, battling the Japanese a bit and the Communists a lot. The aid involved advisers, arms and actual units. It wasn't a question of love, I think, but seen as a better evil. Today the US 8th Fleet has to be ready to ploy the waters of the Taiwan Strait, which separates the nationalists and the communists together with their huge arsenals.

* Dirty war in South America: In Argentine during the 70's there was a hefty social warfare. The Alianza Anticomunista Argentina was formed at the far right wing to perform the dirty deeds of the government. But the organisation was empowered by this and continued to make trouble, making it difficult for succeeding governments to reform.



Privatised Psyops?

I can't quite figure this one out. Apparently a company doing PsyOps, Information Operations etc. on a commercial basis - with a very behaviouristic slant (in other words, saying that language and communication can be used to precondition and shape actions with people). They install "OPS rooms" where they can conduct information warfare and deception campaigns for governments and the military.

The language, though, is stumbling close to Orwell (which has been noted by several observers). And as it might work with military decision makers, the promise to provide an "Opcentre [that] can override all national radio and TV broadcasts in time of crisis", but it doesn't sit well with all the rest of us.

Strategic Communication Laboratories : Strategic Communication Laboratories


The stylistics of paranoid delusion

A video released in May from the Al Qaeda media-outlet As Sahab just came to my attention. It features Adam Yahiye Gadahn or Azzam the American, an Al Qaeda hangaround from California. On the video he threatens the US with the usual arsenal of Islamic fury, fire and brimstone. What is interesting about this video, however, is two things:

* The body language: Gadahn has a very stiff and odd use of his hands - giving the air of a very planned and deliberate actio. But at the same time it is the reflection of classical, Islamic rhetorical postures. Gadahn very often points upwards, a gesture common to a number of religious rhetoricians, but notably good ol' Osama bin Laden. It is my best guess that Gadahn is aiming to emulate his idols of religious diatribe, thereby providing a faint reflection of the very elaborate tradition of Islamic rhetoric.

* The wording: Gadahn mentions Virginia Tech and use it as a scare. But I was struck by the similarity between the words of Gadahn and Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter. I haven't done a comparative analysis, but both the phrases and the intonation gave off the same air of internet-age paranoid delusion. This likeness raises the question of the effectiveness of Gadahn's message. Too wound-up for a western audience (that sees the same parallels as me) - but how about the so-called "Arab street"? Are they taken by the phrases on "baby killers" and cowards? More susceptible, no doubt, but convinced? I don't think or hope so. And if I'm right, it just underlines the weakness of Al Qaeda as I have pointed out before: Their real lack of broad appeal. They can always score points on pointing out the horrors of the US warfare, but their own message is standing on thin legs with most of the main stream population; just like Cho's rambling only strikes a genuine chord with a minority of college minorities.

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Adam Gadahn - American Al Qaeda Warns US