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171102 War From The Cheap Seats

I haven't checked the news yet today, but I think the world continues to spin on its axis. So here we
November 2 · Issue #7 · View online
5 NatSec Things
I haven’t checked the news yet today, but I think the world continues to spin on its axis. So here we are, another edition of this newsletter. Afghanistan’s still in the news, bin Laden really likes to hear about himself, maybe that beret’s not so green, and let’s learn more about the Kurds, huh? 

Today's "So What" But Everyone's Talking About It So I Feel Compelled To Mention It
CIA releases new tranche of materials seized in 2011 bin Laden raid
I’m only putting this here because it’s been bouncing around the feeds in a few iterations. Still, fun when we learn that a dead terrorist liked watching documentaries about himself, including Morgan Spurlock’s Where In The World Is Osama Bin Laden? 
Which is either an existential cry for help, or he was worried that Spurlock actually knew where he was, or he just had a shitty Netflix queue. 
Maybe We Need New Metrics?
John Sopko, the Special Inspector for Afghanistan Reconstruction, has made a career out of copy/paste Afghan progress reports that continue to point out how badly things have gone in the graveyard of nation building. The biggest issue with SIGAR’s efforts is the insistence that white faces need to be on the scene to make sure that what’s being built by brown people for other brown people matches what white people think is workable. 
Since there aren’t nearly enough troops to provide the kind of security an auditor needs to do their job, that means that SIGAR doesn’t get to look at shit all that much. Because after nearly two decades in the country, it’s impossible to find an Afghan who can do quality control to a standard the Noble Order of White Helpfulness deems acceptable. 
I mention the SIGAR because, well, here’s another bit of drivel that goes on about all the “metrics that matter,” which is a bullshit way to approach the progress made in Afghanistan. Granted, the return on investment on the place is only slightly lower than your Uncle Carl’s plans for Audrey’s college fund to be covered by his Beanie Baby collection. But before Audrey ends up working 3rd shift at the Waffle House down at I-40 to cover the gap, there might be some good news.
We're Losing Afghanistan By Every Metric That Matters
The problem with that article is that there has been progress in Afghanistan, but we’ll never see it covered because there’s literally no one capable of measuring the kind of progress made. And whenever the State Department or USAID get on the “everything is awesome” bandwagon it comes across as something Uncle Joe would have been proud of just before he purged them. 

  • Since 2001 there are more girls in school, girls who are learning to code, girls who are learning to be journalists. And not just the girls, but there are more kids in more schools across the country. Not, of course, in the numbers the USG wants us to believe, but they’re there.
  • Since 2001 there have been improved trade relations with neighbors like Iran. Which isn’t the most huggable nugget of truthiness in DC, but its the kind of regional stability that Kabul needs to figure out in order to succeed as a country. 
  • Since 2001 Afghans voted. A couple of times. Sure, this last time the US hijacked the shit out of the office of president what with the whole National Unity Government arrangement, but they voted. 
I know, it’s bullshit that we’re still dumping billions into a country that’s worse off than ever in a lot of ways. And yeah, by all the metrics we usually measure? It’s a loss. So, maybe we rethink the fucking metrics. 
How Taliban are evolving to compete in Afghanistan
Let’s close out today’s bit on Afghanistan with a necessary read on how the Taliban are adapting. Because they’re not the same Taliban we shot up when this thing started. This is not, as it turns out, a good thing. Unless they continue to want to be part of the power structure, and at some point actually make their way to a negotiating table. 
Why The US Is Lucy To Kurdistan's Charlie Brown
In case my reference was too subtle
There’s a lot of things I love about Peanuts. I’m sure by now there’s someone who’s done some revisionist work on Schulz’s characters and now someone else is going to be compelled to point out how Charlie’s assuming she’ll hold the football is a symbol of the patriarchy and her pulling the football away is indicative of women’s struggle for equality, but I digress. 
This GIF and the backstory (she always pulls the football away, even though she says she won’t, and he always believes her) is my small way of summing up this amazing long read on the Kurds and their relationship with the US.
The Kurds Are Right Back Where They Started
What was embarrassing about this read was how little I knew about the Kurds before I started the article. What was awesome was how much info was jammed into the damned thing. Seriously. Save it to whatever app you use for these things (I’m a Pocket fan) and go over it this weekend. Because now, after the Kurds and Iraqis united against ISIL? This is probably going to be happening. 
US and Coalition Troops Could Stand Between Kurds and Iraqis: General
Which is what Maj. Gen. Jarrard said in a video press conference he held with reporters from the Pentagon. He’s not talking about the US taking sides, but acting as some kind of ad hoc UN-like peacekeeping force to work the border crossings to make sure the Iraqis and Kurds just calm the fuck down. He also said this:
In a possible mix up due to the sometimes shaky audio connection between the Pentagon and Baghdad, Jarrard appeared to misspeak when he was asked how many U.S. troops were now in Syria.
“I think it’s a little over 4,000 U.S. troops in Syria right now,” Jarrard said, and then added “I’m sorry, I misspoke there. There are approximately 500 troops in Syria.”
Which is hilarious…I know I get numbers mixed up all the time, like when I’m ordering a sandwich, sometimes I say “eight” when I mean “one.” Or I give the cashier $20 when my bill is $160. Because an 8x difference in number is an easy mistake to make. 
It’s important to understand Kurdistan and the troop number thing better for a couple of reasons: 

  1. The Kurds are still key to regional stability, and by “regional stability” I mean “oil”
  2. Lying about troop numbers is the military’s new favorite thing
Transparency about how many are doing what in harm’s way? That seems like something we need to keep around. Also, the oil.
This Is Only Here Because Of The Photo This Is Only Here Because Of The Photo
Some Other Lesser Things
Feeling like I’m taking more of your time today than necessary, but since I’ve set this up as “5 NatSec Things,” got a few more from the inbox I want to throw your way.
Confusion Over Steering Put USS McCain on Deadly Collision Course
Everything I know about the Navy I learned from a combination of that Village People song, Top Gun, and reading The Hunt for Red October. So I’m not what you’d call naval material. Still, whenever super expensive US warships run into other ships and it’s not wartime and people die as a result, I get curious. 
This is a readable piece on what happened to the McCain and what investigators called an avoidable accident. Series of unfortunate events that includes a leadership failure, a lack of job knowledge, and some temp workers. Good lesson in how things can go really wrong really fast. 
The Army Desperately Wants A Pint Sized Tank With A Big Gun, Here's What We Know
Am I the only one who’s puzzled by the WarZone section of The Drive website? It’s staffed with some super awesome NatSec tech voices (not kidding…read ‘em), but I always feel like I’m wading through an overlong car ad to get to it. 
Oh…right…my point: read this if you’re not sure how the Army manages to fuck up nearly every major weapons system acquisition it does, particularly weapon systems that look anything like a tank. Because they need a tank that can support airborne infantry, which means something other than an Abrams, but that can kill big shit, and still survive. Fuck yeah, physics!
So what happens? They keep adding shit to the damn thing until it’s too heavy to go where they need it, too slow to get out of the way, and not able to defend itself that well. Super awesome. 
Army chief dispels rumors, misconceptions about SFAB berets, tabs
Mentioned this recently in another edition, but apparently that beret that the SF guys thought was olive drab? It’s brown, because it turns out that Gen. Milley’s not a complete moron, and a long tabber himself, he wants to make damn sure no one thinks they’re a Green Beret just because they’re part of an SFAB. So that thing’s gonna be brown. 
Like It? Tell A Friend!
Unless your friend’s illiterate, in which case sending them a link to a newsletter will be both insulting and silly. However, if you’re here, and you keep on reading, chances are you know someone else who might like this. If you’re looking for a t-shirt or whatever I’m supposed to do to grow my mailing list, well - that’s not gonna happen. At least not today. 
I believe the newsletter’s a way to build something solid, something that you as the audience feel passionately about. I started this thing because it’s the kind of commentary I’d like to read. Which, operating under the assumption that I’m not alone in the universe, means other people might like it too.
You are those people, and the rest of the Cheap Seats tribe is out there. How’s about we work on finding them, yeah? And as always, thanks for reading!
Your War Editor

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