Last week President Trump authorized a limited missile strike against the Syrian regime for its use of chemical weapons against civilians. I explicated what I thought was “the message in the missiles” (I stretched to find 10 messages). Yesterday the United States dropped the “mother of all bombs” — the most powerful conventional bomb in the American arsenal — on an Islamic State cave complex in Afghanistan on Thursday. The MOAB is the colloquial name given to the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast.
Here is the New York Times story on the Pentagon’s announcement. It is about as bad as one might expect under the circumstances. The Times seems mystified by the whole thing, taking it as another in an endless series of black marks against President Trump.
Like the military reprisal against the Syrian regime, the MOAB send a message or 10. Herewith, as William F. Buckley used to say, a few observations:
1. The MOAB has been around since 2002, but this is the first time it has been used in combat. It was used to achieve a specific military purpose (see notes 8 & 9 below) with respect to which the Obama administration had previously refrained. When I say “refrained,” I mean “restrained the military.” The era of Obama foreign policy is over.
2. Trump himself expanded on this point at the White House yesterday. He asserted there’s been a “tremendous difference” militarily between the Obama administration and the Trump administration. “If you look at what’s happened over the last eight weeks and compare that to really what’s happened over the last eight years, you’ll see there’s a tremendous difference,” Trump said. “And this was another very successful mission,” he added.
3. Trump elaborated. “Everybody knows exactly what happened. What I do, I authorized my military. We have given them total authorization. That’s what they’re doing.”
4. The MOAB serves as a reminder of other tools in the chest. The MOAB is not our biggest non-nuclear weapon. That is the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, or MOP. The National Interest reminds us that our Air Force also fields the GBU-57A/B Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), which is a massive precision-guided 30,000lb bunker-busting weapon usually dropped from a Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit stealth bomber.
5. The MOAB therefore sent a message to North Korea. It put an exclamation point on the military reprisal against the Syrian regime. It reiterated that the era of Obama foreign policy is over. Trump himself professed agnosticism on this point, but this was the message to North Korea: “I don’t know if this sends a message. It doesn’t make any difference if it does or not. North Korea is a problem. The problem will be taken care of.” What we see here is akin to the rhetorical device of apophasis or praeteritio.
6. Not coincidentally, NBC News reports: “U.S. may launch strike if North Korea reaches for nuclear trigger.” The use of the MOAB in Afghanistan makes the leaks here highly credible.
7. The MOAB sent a message to Iran. I can’t find a citation to support me here, but it’s obvious. What goes for North Korea goes for Iran.
8. The use of the bomb had a specific military purpose. As former intelligence officer and Army veteran Michael Pregent commented explained on FOX News last night, ISIS fighters in Afghanistan are using the massive tunnel complex that Al Qaeda used starting back in 2001 when U.S. forces were deployed to Afghanistan. “They used the same tunnel complex for bin Laden to escape to Pakistan,” Pregent said. “The Haqqani network, a terrorist organization out of Pakistan, uses it to bring in lethal aid. So you have these organizations like Al Qaeda, the Haqqani group, the Taliban and now ISIS using a tunnel complex to kill Americans in the past.” Thomas Spoehr has more to the same effect here.
9. At NRO, David French highlights what he calls “an important and painful point about our almost 16-year long war [in Afghanistan].” This is the point: “Excessive American caution has cost American lives and American limbs, and it has left families and friends of the victims with deep psychological wounds. Those wounds would be grievous enough in the best circumstances, but they’re compounded by the fact that many of the decisions not to shoot, not to use artillery, or not to drop bombs were based on a combination of rules of engagement and military misjudgments that were transparently foolish at the time.” (Please do read the whole thing.)
10. Don’t let me forget to mention that the Obama era in American foreign policy is over.