Trump trumps himself with Iran tweet

It's today's look at war from the cheap seats.

Hope your weekend was awesome. Changing things up a bit…the daily newsletter is moving to paid subscriptions after today. There will be a weekly long-form deep dive into a national security issue each week, so if you’re not a paid subscriber, you’ll still see that.

Check that out this weekend. So if you like this daily read, show me the money.

Here’s today’s natsectacular things:

🚀 Iranian rocket has a “work accident”
✌ US talking to the Houthis
☑️ There’s an election coming in Afghanistan
🎌 Japan and Korea still can’t get along
💊 Peace proving to be a bitter pill for Colombia’s FARC


Trump’s tweets are better than your tweets

For the third time this year, an Iranian rocket has failed to launch, this time during final prep before trying to send the rocket skyward. Sharp-eyed researcher Dave Schmerler, who pays attention to such things, tweeted out that things appeared to have gone poorly.

Dave seems like a good dude, with access to commercial satellite imagery.

But when you’re getting more likes than the Tweeter-In-Chief, best up your game.

Because the next day this happened.

Yeah that’s a…much better picture.

With what looks like a camera flash in the middle.

And shadow of whoever took the picture in the SCIF around the gantry. Which confirms what a US defense official told CNBC, that the picture had been used in an intelligence briefing for the president.

Look, when your Aunt Cindy posts flash pics from her front row seat at Thunder Down Under, you’re glad the shot’s obscured. But your Aunt Cindy doesn’t have access to a briefing this classified. Because no matter how good her brownies are, your Aunt Cindy’s not the leader of the free world.

This is a problem because it shows the world how good US assets are. Sure, there’s something to be said for letting people look behind the curtain once in a while to show them how good you are at what you do. You do that through leaks or off-the-record releases to news outlets.

Not with a tweet.


The Taliban are so electable right now

In the middle of trying to put together a peace deal, it’s an election year in Afghanistan. For a president. That’s supposed to happen at the end of the month, and the only person who thinks that’s going to happen?

Ashraf Ghani.

You know who doesn’t?

The 16 people running against him. And the Americans, who in public are pro-democracy and pro-peace, but in private are worried that one’s going to make the other impossible.

Ghani believes that a vote gives his government legitimacy, while the international community is concerned that it will be the same shitshow (only worse) that happened five years ago.

Meet the new election, same as the old election

For those of you just joining us at home, 2014 was when they put together the National Unity Government, which was kind of like watching your Uncle Hal and Aunt Gloria that Thanksgiving when she'd just found out he was banging his 20 year old secretary and was ready to divorce his ass.

What I mean to say is that it's been uncomfortable, and not at all functional as a governing mechanism.

It was also pretty extortionate, as it was a then-Secretary of State Kerry showing up and telling Dr. Abdullah that if he didn't go along with the deal, the bank was closed.

Since Afghanistan can't function with either US government money or military support, Abdullah went along with it.

Basically an Adam Sandler movie, but without Rob Schneider.

And since Ghani got to be president he was pretty happy with it, too.

The concern this time around is that any government involving the Taliban will be some kind of caretaker/interim arrangement, which bodes ill for all concerned. Because what the country needs to hold a peace deal together is a legitimate government.

Also in Afghanistan

  • The Taliban would love to get a piece of Kunduz, and have launched major attacks on the northern city several times over the last few years.

    This most recent attack is timed to coincide with what seems to be a particularly weighty round of negotiations with the Taliban, showing the world that that they're coming to the table with AKs in hand, not their hats. Or their turbans.

  • At Wednesday's Pentagon news briefing, when asked if the US was open to a literal nuclear option in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said:

    "We reserve the right to keep all options on the table. But, look, clearly we have a plan going forward. The key to resolve this conflict is a political agreement. We're on that path right now. We're hopeful that we can reach some type of conclusion that would result in a political agreement that can get us on the right trajectory."

    That’s how you tell the world that you’re not going to make a country glow in the dark today, but tomorrow, who knows? Because when all options are on the table, you only mean the bad ones.

  • The world's first sentient walrus has been pushed to one side as National Security Adviser John Bolton’s opposition to a peace deal with the Taliban has fallen out of favor with a president that wants to be seen as a diplomat.

    Since he fumbled any deal with North Korea, what Trump would like to see from his legacy would be some kind of deal with the once-and-future rulers of Afghanistan.


Shot of the Day

Of course we trust you. Just…not with guns. And yeah, we’ll be wearing the body armor.

Who’s ready for peace? Looking at you, Yemen!

Like it's done in Afghanistan, the United States has been reaching out to parties directly in the fight in Yemen, instead of going through regular government channels.

This time it's the Tehran-backed Houthis, who are opposing the Riyadh-backed government in Yemen, that the White House is trying to get to the table in Oman. For "secret" talks.

And then it gets complicated, because nominally the largest regional ally for Riyadh in this fight is the UAE. Except they've been withdrawing troops, and then backed what I guess would be a military coup against the Saudi-backed government in Aden.

The enemy of my enemy will probably still sell me oil

To review, then, the US is trying to get a regional ally to deal with an Iranian backed insurgency while one of its other regional partners is trying to destabilize the government there.

What makes this messier is that ending US support for the Saudi role in the conflict has enjoyed rare bi-partisan in a US Congress, worrying regional partners about continued US support in the region.


Duterte about to live in interesting times

Rodrigo Duterte, world’s most famous ex-gay and guy who’s not afraid to go full Seagal to curb his nation’s drug problem, figured now was a good a time as any to make nice with both Beijing and the nationalist forces in the Philippines and told Chinese president Xi he had feelings about China’s tomfoolery in the South China Sea.

“He (President Duterte) said that the arbitral award is final, binding and not subject to appeal. In response, President Xi reiterated his government’s position of not recognizing the arbitral ruling as well as not budging from its position.”

That’s from Duterte’s presidential spokesman, and is in reference to a 2016 ruling at the Hague that made pretty much all Chinese claims in the South China Sea illegitimate.

Nothing about this should come as a surprise, and I suspect that Duterte’s response is to crack down on some more “drug dealers” to show he’s actually the HMFIC, even though he had his ass handed to him by the Chinese.


This new season of Narcos looks badass

Colombia’s settling(ish) things with the FARC is one of the few counterinsurgency success stories that doesn’t involve a long march, blankets, and people being stashed on a reservation. And for the most part a 2016 agreement has held, with almost 90% of the 13,060 ex-combatants behaving as they should.

Except for around 2,500 rebels who have now said they’ll take up arms again, prompting Colombian President Ivan Duque to offer a $1 million bounty for the FARC’s top peace negotiator.

So that’s going well.

Not that the FARC’s disarmament has put an end to hostilities, as the more radical ELN has filled the void in the country. Which, might be part of why the FARC is trying rise again.

Complicating things even more? FARC holdouts keep finding ways to hide out in neighboring Venezuela, which regional opponents and the United States have been using as a way to make life even harder for Venezuela’s president Maduro.