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


Al Qaeda's strategic populism

Slate hits a sore spot, when they ask the oft-asked question "Why do they hate us?" - but then actually try to look it up. By using the recent collections of Al Qaeda's communiques, they point to the fact that Al Qaeda runs after whichever anti-American greivance that will kick up a sentiment . But these grievances are not real concerns of Al Qaeda's, and it really becomes clear if you compile the issues and put them side by side:

Most Americans would agree with many of these complaints. And that's precisely the point. These are not real grievances for al-Qaida (it does not bear mentioning that Bin Laden is probably not very concerned with campaign finance reform). They are a means of weaving local and global resentments into a single anti-American narrative, the overarching aim of which is to form a collective identity across borders and nationalities, and to convince the world that it is locked in a cosmic contest between the forces of Truth and Falsehood, Belief and Unbelief, Good and Evil, Us and Them.

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The good ol' war and the bad new one

Russian Tupolev TU-95 bombers have flown a sortie to provoke a response from US fighters over the US base at Guam. That are reminiscent of the good ol' days of military signaling, where you would fly/sail/march close to the other side's border to provoke an escalation of readiness. Though a threat, it was so institutionalised that everyone knew their roles. A recent incident, where the diplomatic spat between Russia and the United Kingdom was underlined by an increase in the number and range of Russian sorties over the North Sea, indicates that this time-honoured tool of diplomatic signaling is being taken up by the Russian government once again. It serves as a show of strength and carries the symbolism of readiness for actual war.

In other news, the new kind of war once again just shows to be confusing, violent, dusty and not at all easy to make anything off so readily for all us armchair strategists. The British (and Danish) withdrawal from Basra throws the area into disarray, and criminal, tribal strife. Everything the British and Danish soldiers have risk and lost their lives for over the last four years, are in danger of deteriorating in an instant. Once again, we are forced into considering the classical dilemma: Empire (continual occupation) or isolationism (let them sort their own bullets). Globalisation seems to rule out the latter, and perhaps also the first. Perhaps we should only rejoice a rising Russia, that could put us back in the good ol' ways of bi-polar order.


What they think over there

It seems that it is a time-honored journalistic tradition to report what the other reporters think about us. Danish television and newspapers excel at this kind of navel-gazing. However, the news show Vesti on the Russian television station "Rossia" has alledgedly done this with a sinister twist: they have designed their own version of front page for Times of London. It says that Russian millionaire "Berezovsky is playing us, and it's embarrassing". They have grabbed a piece of opinion from the letters department and constructed a front page around it. I don't know how grave this is - but it sure sounds as a text book example of manipulation of consent and opinion.

All in all it seems that Vesti is pretty obsessed with Beresovskij at the moment: C?? ? ?????? ??????? ????? ?? ??????? ???????????? ?? ??????? (about a French connection of his).

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Nerding the Chinese subs to the surface

Over at Arms Control Wonk there is an intensely interesting post, dissecting the Chinese naval strategy for building missile-armed submarines (SSBNs) for nuclear deterrence against the US and Russia. Jeffrey Lewis, owner, ask the interesting question How Capable is the 094? as a part of an ongoing series on the Chinese submarine programme. Analysing his way through open source information on the subs, he draws a number of very interesting conclusions about how those subs can actually operate, how their patrol patterns would be, what targets they are intended for and so on.

But it gets really interesting when his thoughts are garnished by knowledgeable bloggers and geeks that contradict, support and all in all enlarges his thoughts.

This is a brilliant example of grassroot, web 2.0 technology driven Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) - and I love it.

Perhaps my knees gets wobbly over this sub dissection as I am myself nurture a nerdish complextion towards submarines and the strategic pictures they paint. I recently stubled over the ultimate naval strategy game package, consisting games such as Fleet Command, Sub Command and Dangerous Waters. These games are a million kilometres away from other computer games and they throw mud in the face of every decent 3D engineer who has toiled away to harness the fantastic powers of modern computers. They run in 3D, agreed, but you can tell how this is mostly an annoyance, a distraction from what the developers Sonalyst (and their nerdish constituency) really care about: Sensors. Instead of blazing around in 3D environments in a hectic tempo like any normal red-blooded computergame, you sit for hours in front of a 2D (albeit very realistic) depiction of a sonar waterfall. You check your various inputs, deploy towed arrays, drop sonarbuoys, listen, wait and listen some more. Even with time-acceleration it is ridiculous. Suddenly you get a confirmed contact and have those five minutes of nerve-riddled action. There is no way of smarting over that you enjoy games like these, but to anyone with the inclination, they prove a very addictive pass time.

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I have a deep respect for some of the officers you meet out and about. I couldn't tell you what they're made of, but in Denmark and many other countries there is an element of breeding as a part of the education of an officer. And it seems that when you combine military skills with the humanities, social sciences and even poetry, you cast people of potential. I've met some British officers of this tradition, and a few Danish.

The Times' article on one of the most talked-about officers at the time, Colonel H.R. McMaster (who alledgedly was passed over for promotion, despite his new approach to COIN, Counter Insurgency) is an interesting hint towards this tradition. He appears as an officer able to consider and re-consider, rather than following field manuals and career jockeying. On the other hand, I wouldn't know, but it is worth a read. Leaving now not the way out of Iraq.

On this note: The Danish soldiers are just dis-engaging from Iraq at this moment. Most major Danish newspapers have run personal stories from the war, and I want to write a bit about the the impact on the Danish self-appreciation after this war and the formation of mentality in a nation-at-war.