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Welcome to Friday, hope you’ve got a great weekend ahead of you.
Thinking today about how there are no new ideas when it comes to anything.
Whether that’s movies, books, or national security.
In today’s newsletter:
👮 Police shooting Kevlar rope
💊 Afghanistan’s still got a drug problem
🍲 USMC’s looking for Beijing’s cabbage recipe
👶 Baby on board not a ban on flight time
🧭️ How to get to Russia, from…Russia?
From the ‘gram
Yup, there’s an Instagram.
It has things like this in it.
Quote of the Day
“I am pleased with the results of Operation Buck Rogers. We are paving the way to do things like counting deer, finding lost Marines, in a way that is faster, cheaper and safer.” — Maj. Julio Gonzalez, the regional ASCO and the ATC training and readiness officer with Marine Corps Installations West, MCB Camp Pendleton, on an initiative to hunt Marines and deer using UAVs at Camp Pendleton. The smarter of those two groups? Doesn’t eat crayons.
Video of the Day
This is the promo video for “BolaWrap” which sounds like a band-aid for a hemorrhagic disease in Africa or a new Chipotle item but is in fact just a terrible non-lethal option for cops.
New ideas are dead, long live new ideas
The latest NATO summit in London was instructive in a couple of ways:
We learned that Donald Trump isn't alone in thinking the organization's obsolete
We learned that world leaders are just like us: assholes stuck in a real-life Mean Girls, picking on the fat kid because he's the easiest target
It's the latter that should have been the more enlightening of those revelations, because the days of the American President being the de facto leader of NATO in all things has passed us by while we were busy worrying what color that dress was, if Greta really is a time traveler, or if Trump was seriously going to make an offer on Greenland.
And that's if we weren't too distracted by the impeachment proceedings that might mean we'll have to drop the "Vice" from Pence's title and he'll have us all referring to his wife as "The First Mother" as we genuflect in the Cathedral of Marlon Bundo.
Here's a fun aside: Pence isn’t the first president to refer to his wife in maternal terms, according to a historian of first ladies.
Abraham Lincoln called Mary "Mother" (or Molly), and Calvin Coolidge referred to wife Grace as "Mamma." More recently, Gerald Ford referred to Betty as "Mother" (after they had children) and Ronald Reagan called Nancy "Mommy."
Because the world's getting weirder, and international relations are spiraling at a rate we haven't seen since the fall of the Soviet Union.
No new ideas. For anyone.
We reboot foreign policy like it's the Charlie's Angels franchise and unless you've cloned a young Farrah Fawcett it's not going to be the same thing. And that's a bad thing.
The United States and its allies keep trying to reboot the Cold War.
To turn insurgencies into the monolith that was the Russian Evil Empire.
Meanwhile, in the confusion, that empire and its once-close cousin in Beijing is rising again, Phoenix-like.
And I mean the Simon Phoenix from Demolition Man, not the birdlike creature of myth.
Because I don't like birds and I think Wesley Snipes is awesome.
So the West keeps trying the same things, but in new places, like the war on drugs.
The other forever war
Which the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR), John Sopko, described in November as a "total failure."
And that's even with "wonderful seizures" by the DEA and their Afghan counterparts.
"The Afghans with the cooperation of the DEA have actually seized more drugs in Afghanistan than I believe we in the United States have seized on the Mexican border."
The rest of Sopko's speech is pretty much the same copy/paste boilerplate SIGAR's office publishes on a regular basis:
Nothing's gone right
Everything is terrible
How hard it is to do their job
Because the SIGAR has no new ideas, either. So instead of leveraging Afghan skillsets and emerging technologies for data collection, Sopko's office still relies on grossly expensive military support to protect their inspections.
And rather than citing any successes, the SIGAR continues to bang the same drum, that all the things are awful.
Mo' money, mo' problems
The World Bank is playing a different tune in the graveyard of reasonable interventions, one where they're worried that the aid dollars will go away once a peace deal is done in Afghanistan.
This is a very real possibility, as the West sees a peace deal with the Taliban as an excuse to shut off the aid faucet.
Except the Bank estimates that Afghanistan would still need around $7 billion/year for the foreseeable future.
The World Bank's country director, Henry Kerali, sees that as a real problem.
“A sudden and substantial reduction in civilian grants would risk a reversal of the gains that have been achieved, driving increased hardship and poverty. While Afghanistan is not expected to be reliant on grants forever, the pace of decline in grant support needs to reflect current realities.”
That's because the country is nowhere near self-sustaining, with about 50% of the country's budget going to maintaining the country's security forces.
Withdrawal of foreign forces in the wake of a peace deal wouldn't mean those 300,000 members would be reduced. In fact, that number is likely to increase, as former Taliban fighters could be integrated into Afghan forces.
Even with all the foreign money keeping the country afloat, more than half of Afghans live below the poverty line. And an underemployed population that sees a sudden influx of former insurgents that suddenly don't have jobs at all?
Guess how that turns out.
It's not that Kerali's wrong: foreign funds quite literally keep the lights on in the country.
The problem is the international community keeps pumping money into places like Afghanistan to achieve short-term goals.
While the Bank's approach differs from that of agencies like USAID, the problem is much the same: rather than working toward long-term multi-year achievements, the political realities of various donor nations mean that real change will likely never come to places that rely on foreign powers to exist.
Which, granted, is kind of the point: keep them dependent, and therefore compliant.
Less-lethal just means less-dumb
Meanwhile, in the United States, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) is fielding the "BolaWrap", a less-lethal option in their arsenal that launches a weighted Kevlar cord at its target.
In theory, the device wraps up someone's legs and/or arms, and makes it possible for officers to restrain someone who may be holding a knife, for example.
But looking at the video provided by the company (see above), it only seems to be effective when the intended target is standing nearly still.
Add to that when it's discharged, it sounds like a gunshot.
So someone with mental health issues just heard a gun go off and find their legs entangled in a Kevlar rope.
I think I see the flaw.
Because the paradigm hasn't changed.
You're not changing how you deal with a knife-wielding suspect.
You're still relying on some version of "Stop or I'll shoot," rather than training responding officers in approaches that might de-escalate the situation.
Like this cop in Thailand in 2017.
That's a new approach, not just a reboot of law enforcement tactics that only serve to make things worse.
And it would serve to stop the perpetuation of police-related violence that continues to plague American cities.
Not some Christopher Nolan wet dream where the bad guide falls down wrapped in some Bat cable.
Beijing, can we get that soup recipe off ya?
And when the West has a new idea?
It's because the East got there first.
I mean, unless we're talking fortune cookies, which came from Japan in the first place, seems like most of the better ideas America has for its military, someone else thought of first.
Which is probably OK, unless you're talking about making cabbage soup.
“Since [the standoff], we have begun to take measures to seal and control the areas around the Huangyan Island,” Maj. Gen. Zhang Zhaozhong, of China’s People’s Liberation Army, said in a television interview in May, using the Chinese term for Scarborough. (That there are three different names for the same set of uninhabitable rocks tells you much of what you need to know about the region.) He described a “cabbage strategy,” which entails surrounding a contested area with so many boats — fishermen, fishing administration ships, marine surveillance ships, navy warships — that “the island is thus wrapped layer by layer like a cabbage.”
What does no less of a personage than Gen. David H. Berger, commandant of the United States Marine Corps, think of all this?
"How can the United States integrate and leverage the authorities of the Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and interagency to develop its own “cabbage strategy,” complicating Beijing’s decision cycle?"
Which could translate into the Corps going to war in a mix of ships that could include commercial vessels and small carriers for UAVs, versus manned fighter aircraft.
So the next war's going to be...coleslaw.
Who's the lead dog, anyway?
If ever there was a time then the United States and its allies dictated the pace of world events, that time has passed.
What's left in the wake of the halcyon days of nuclear threats and proxy wars is new nuclear threats and other proxy wars.
Except now instead of it being about two great powers, it's about three.
Or four, if you count New Delhi.
Which is wise, given India's resurgence in recent years as a global player.
But from how the West fights its war, funds its allies, and arrests its populations, there are no new ideas.
And when there is a change, it's a reaction to someone else's pivot.
Two pivots do not make leadership.
They make soup.
Tehran raised fuel prices by 300% in November, sparking protests and resulting in the worst unrest Iran has seen since the revolution 40 years ago. More than 200 people have died protesting the increase, which the Iranian government said was a measure to counter fuel smuggling. Can't wait for the Argot sequel that's just a long convoy of fuel trucks crossing into Iraq.
It's not often that we think of eggnog as a national security issue, but in keeping with the holiday season that's soon to be upon us, in 1826 your racist uncle's favorite Christmas beverage was to blame for a riot at West Point that resulted in a few furniture-related concussions and a pistol being fired at an officer. Proving once again that if you confine the army to quarters, they will find a way to break things and shoot shit.
When Lt. Col. Jammie Jamieson, the first female pilot to fly the Air Force's F-22 Raptor and a member of the Air Force Women's Initiative Team was pregnant, the USAF wouldn't let her fly a Cirrus SR-20 that she could rent for as many hours as she wanted to at the local civilian airport. Not Lt. Col. Jamieson is spearheading a policy review that doesn't treat pregnancy as a bar to flight time. Which is good news since storks fly and that's how babies get here. I refuse to believe otherwise because Mom is a saint and Dad is a gentleman.
Since large German penal institutions went out of vogue sometime in 1945, Berlin's trying to ship Syrian and Afghan criminals back to their home countries. But while Germans support the idea of extradition, complicating matters is the lack of a German point of contact in Syria. It sounds like an opportunity for Amazon, so long as you remember to punch holes in the carton.
Got a migrant problem? Then you can a) build a wall, or b) turn it into a side hustle like the Russian dude who "smuggled" migrants from Russia to Finland. Except for both points of the crossing were in Russia, and according to the Russian this guy "really got into the character for his role, going as far as making and installing fake border posts in a forest." That's commitment right there, and more real than any wall Trump's built yet.