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


Danish political micromanagement in action

It now seems that the Danish military will get to keep one of two types of cluster bombs that it owns, after a debate in the Danish Parliament, Folketinget. Cluster bombs have been the symbol of careless militarism and indifference towards civilians, as they have a tendency to leave some of their submunitions unexploded, for kids and others in the war zone to pick up. Recently the pension funds in Denmark were revealed to invest in companies that make this still popular weapon that is used to destroy vehicles, small buildings - and other people of course. Most of them quickly relocated their money and made sure to publicly announce that move.

Now the Military gets to keep its munitions despite a Norwegian report that claims that 10% of even the best bombs leave unexploded submunitions.

But it comes at a price. A broad range of parties have agreed to vote for the deal, under the condition that the government informs them whenever the clusterbombs are to be used. Please replay that scenario on your inner screen.

With this piece of deal-making, the parties have tried to tackle a touchy, symbolic weapons system by submitting it to parliamentary oversight. And as Denmark allegedly never has used cluster bombs in live missions, it seems to be a safe symbolic action to take for all involved parties, showing themselves as concerned, yet responsible.

But deals like this introduces a strange, delusional relationship between military and politicians. In effect, politicians are put in charge of tactical decisions. This is not a new phenomenon. During the Vietnam War, President Johnson and his staff were picking out targets in the air raids of "Operations Rolling Thunder" against North Vietnam. They did this because they wanted to avoid greater political repercussions and because aerial photos made it seemingly easy to ring a building or two on the map.

However, politicians can't and shouldn't make tactical decisions like that, even though they might have political repercussions. For the Military's sake and for their own sake. If the Danish Parliament ever had to sanction the use of the bombs, they shouldbe faced with the detailed explanation and defence of the decision afterwards. This would give politicians a more visible symbolic hand in actual conflict. But I think it would be too easy to push the responsibility down the line blaming the commanders or the people pushing the button, and then the gesture of parliamentary oversight would be truly delusional.

The decision is made tomorrow in the Folketing

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Go home! But where?

The political discussion in Denmark has taken a turn at discussing condemning Islamic fundamentalism. This happens after the recent spat of car-burnings by boys mainly of Arab background, the revealed murder plot directed against one of the cartoonists of Cartoon-Crisis fame and the ensuing flare of Cartoon-crisis 2.0.

Hizb ut Tahrir took the centre stage of this discussion after a protest march where they once again publicly stated their anti-democratic intention.

This spurred the age old question: Why have you come to Denmark, why don't you just go home? This time it was asked by among others the Minister for Justice Lene Espersen in a debate on TV2.

I think the question, when asked in connection to Moslems of a radical salafist leaning is misunderstood.

It implies that the countries that these people come from would be a better place to be if you fight for the Caliphate, the world-spanning empire, uniting the Moslem umma.

But the essence is that these guys believe in an utopia, a place that isn't there. This is in many aspects the most powerful appeal of their movement: "We want to recreate a time of glory and justice and piousness". In this aspect Hizb ut Tahrir is similar to other totalitarianism's dreams of the Tausendjähriges Reich or World Socialism. Of course a moslem country would be more permissive of some aspects of salafist dogma (such as incoorporating elements of Shaaria laws), but very often the political climate of these countries will be much more harsh for these organisations. And then it becomes obvious why you'd rather be in Denmark than in Syria. If you aim after utopia, your post address matters less and rationality of course will have you settle in the most permissive climate.

I don't support the idea that the organisation should be banned. It is radical and radicalizing, but as long as they are under special scrutiny, those views are better kept in the public and not chased further underground.

But that the Justice Minister can wonder why they just don't go home, hints that her understanding of the nature of utopian organisations lacks somewhat and I doubt she would have many reservations outlawing them.

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Free business idea for you: Eradicating poppy through urban hipness

So what about this idea I had this morning:

Poppy-growing in Afghanistan is a huge problem, on the rise after the ousting of the Taliban, who were quite effective at keeping it checked. Now, the Taliban capitalise on the poppy, just like a proud line of warlords before them, selling it off to drug-peddlers and buying weapons to fight NATO.

A lot of half-committed politicians have since then suggested that we buy the opium off the farmers instead of burning as we do now and alienating the Afghans further. But of course that won't work, because no western government so far has been willing to use millions and millions to buy poppies and burning them.

The solution could be the good old market. Why not stimulate the Afghan farmer to grow sorghum, wheat, corn, whatever, paying huge overprice, matching and even exceeding the poppy price pound by pound (which isn't really that much in the first stage of heroin production, one could add). Now, the neat trick here would be selling these crops (in the form of flour, half-and-whole processed products) to the politically and socially conscious western middle-class as "Afghan anti-drug goods", like you are able to further ecological and social welfare by buying Max Havelaar products and such.

This would take a hefty first investment and protection of the farmers for a while. Furthermore the customer demographic might not be that large to buy off all the products, but it would at least be a more productive way of countering the drug problem in Afghanistan.

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Don't mention the war

The election is on in Denmark once again. Last time it happened was in 2005 and I was blogging a bit back then as well. Makes you feel experienced and a bit old to have been in the "blogosphere" that long.

Now, all signs point to this election also being almost void of serious discussions or real interest in the utility of force from a Danish perspective. Since then the Danes have withdrawn from Iraq (save for a helicopter detachment) and are manning up in Afghanistan, casualties have risen and more and more people know young men who have been off for 6 months. It will change Danish strategic culture, no doubt, but as with all changes of culture it will be silent and we won't know until we have moved into yet another phase. However, I think it would suit politicians of all colours and creeds to engage with the question (as always it is only veteran, old male politicians that take on or are assigned positions as defence spokespersons).

A good quote that came tome me just as I had finished writing this above. Robert Kagan on EU's use of military power:
"The incapacity to respond to threats leads not only to tolerance. It can also lead to denial".

That was the old culture, let's see if politicians can forge the new one actively.

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Cheney's Law

Cheney's Law, a PBS documentary available online, looks at the effort to expand the US presidential powers during wartime. Looks very interesting.

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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."