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No, Dropping a MOAB on ISIS in Afghanistan Doesn’t Make Surge 2.0 a Good Idea

Geeze Louise.

FI295FI295The U.S. military dropped the 21,000-pound GBU-43, or MOAB, on a tunnel complex out of which ISIS operated, U.S. Central Command announced today, giving proponents of a renewed surge in Afghanistan new hope that President Trump will follow that course. But another escalation in the war in Afghanistan remains a bad idea—there's very little, if anything, the U.S. can do in its 16th year of war that it couldn't accomplish in the first 15, even if the bombs used are getting bigger.

The GBU-43, called the Massive Ordnance Air Blast, or MOAB, bomb, is the largest non-nuclear bomb in the U.S. arsenal and was developed for the Iraq war (of course it was) but never used there. The action in Afghanistan was the first time the bomb has been used in the battlefield—it was tested in 2003. Its creator, Albert Weimorts, previously designed a 5,000-pound bomb, the GBU-28, for the First Gulf War. Planning for today's strike was in the works for months, and dated back to the Obama administration, according to CBS News.

Donald Trump is the fifth consecutive U.S. president to serve as commander-in-chief while the U.S. military is engaged in Iraq, and the fourth consecutive U.S. president to preside over military operations in Afghanistan.

President Bill Clinton ordered cruise missile strikes on Al-Qaeda bases in Afghanistan in 1998. President George W. Bush sent the U.S. military into Afghanistan in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks by Al-Qaeda.

President Barack Obama campaigned for president in 2008 arguing Afghanistan was a war ignored because of President Bush's decision to invade Iraq a year after invading Afghanistan, and in 2012 he campaigned on bringing the war in Afghanistan to a close.

Yet five years after Obama ran a campaign on the promise that the Afghanistan war was already ending, the U.S. remains there. The Trump administration's decision to drop a MOAB on ISIS in Afghanistan has more symbolic significance than any other. As Jesse Walker noted last month, the nearly 16-year-long Afghanistan war "does sometimes feel like one of those couch-crushing pachyderms we've all quietly agreed not to discuss"—it's a forever war already forgotten.

The attention-grabbing MOAB, nicknamed the "Mother of All Bombs" and described in most headlines today as America's "largest non-nuclear bomb" (it is about an order of magnitude less powerful than the U.S.'s most modest nuclear weapons), certainly catapulted Afghanistan back into the public consciousness, however temporarily.

President Trump has also learned, in the last week, that the best way to legitimize his presidency, which has been battered by months of talk of Russia "hacking" the election, is through military action. CNN's Fareed Zakaria called the U.S. strikes against the Assad government in Syria the moment "Donald Trump became president of the United States."

Trump got a hint of this lesson at his first address to a joint session of Congress. His acknowledgement of the widow of a Navy SEAL killed during a raid on an Al-Qaeda compound in Yemen led staunch Trump critics like CNN's Van Jones to declare Trump "became president of the United States" at that moment.

In that moment, the emerging contours of Trump's escalated war on terror were wiped away. March saw a marked increase in civilian casualties from anti-ISIS coalition strikes, reportedly because the White House had loosened restrictions on when airstrikes were appropriate, but not a marked increase in coverage of the costs of U.S.-led military actions abroad.

The Washington establishment—politicians and media—have in less than the first 100 days illustrated for Donald Trump that perhaps the only thing he can expect to consistently be awarded for is publicized military action—whether it's a raid in Yemen of questionable value that leads to U.S. and civilian casualties, or a strike against a country in which he previously said he was not interested in regime change. "The Resistance" will see Trump as a proto-fascist, Hitler-in-waiting up until the point when he starts exercising military force. Then he's a patriot.

So it's unsurprising that the last week has seen a series of reversals in some of the least muddled tenets Trump expressed on the campaign trail—NATO is no longer obsolete and the U.S. can no longer not afford to act as the world's policeman.

None of this, however, has changed the fundamentals in Afghanistan or elsewhere. Trump's uncritical embrace of NATO, however, does make the difficult choices about Afghanistan easier to avoid, and the status quo of indefinite war easier to maintain.

The U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and, arguably, won the war soon after. "We won the war in 2001," Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer (ret.) told me years ago, on the eve of another NATO summit. "With 500 Americans in three months, the war in Afghanistan was won." And then the U.S. kept fighting.

In 2001, Afghanistan was one of the only "safe havens" for Islamist terrorists on the planet. Now such safe havens exist around the world, mostly in countries recent U.S. military actions have helped to destabilize.

Donald Trump, the "ultimate outsider," presented himself as a figure who could question the status quo. Instead he's solidified it. Where Barack Obama gave George Bush's war on terror the legitimacy of bipartisanship, Trump is now in the same way arguably folding in "anti-establishmentarians" as well.

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  • ThomasD||

    "... giving proponents of a renewed surge in Afghanistan new hope that President Trump will follow that course."

    Would be useful to know just who these people are and exactly where they are making their wishes known.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    "The Resistance" will see Trump as a proto-fascist, Hitler-in-waiting up until the point when he starts exercising military force. Then he's a patriot.

    They really don't get irony, do they?

  • Crusty Juggler aka "Chad"||

    We have the biggest bombs. They're huge. The best. The best huge bombs.

  • Rebel Scum||

    Obaam aadministration

    Getting a little wild with the A's, I see.

  • Eric Bana||

    Hot, wild ass.

  • WC Varones||

    Doesn't ISIS stand for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria? Kind of a long way from Afghanistan, isn't it?

  • Fascist loofa-faced shitgibbon||

    Franchising is the future.

  • MWG||

    The Soviets? Bush? Obama? These people somehow deluded themselves into thinking a surge might work, but ... But it might work for Trump.

  • CatoTheChipper||

    ISIS stands for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. (I know it's really ISIL.) Why Afghanistan?

  • Calidissident||

    Since 2014, ISIS has just called themselves "the Islamic State." They claim to be a global caliphate.

  • Inigo Montoya||

    I suggest they start calling themselves simply "terror change." Since the level of terror and the particular parties and places involved have basically always changed throughout recorded history, they will be covering every eventuality.

    It also gives them the power to label anyone who questions their methods as a "terror change denier."

  • IceTrey||

    Poor al-Qiada no one talks about them any more.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "The U.S. military dropped the 21,000-pound GBU-43, or MOAB, on a tunnel complex out of which ISIS operated, U.S. Central Command announced today, "

    I don't see why this is considered such a big deal.

    The British had a 22,000 lb bomb called "Grand Slam" back in World War II.

    And the U.S had a 15,000 lb bomb called "Daisy Cutter" that it used regularly in Vietnam.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    The pants, they must be shat, man.

  • mtrueman||

    Not surprising that Democracies have the biggest bombs. They also rack up the greatest number of collateral damage casualties.

    Although it's fascinating to know what Van Jonas and the other celebrities think about this, any news coverage from closer to the site of the bombing than Washington, even if they're Afghan sources?

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "Not surprising that Democracies have the biggest bombs"

    Nope.

    The largest bomb ever detonated was the Soviet Tsar bomb.

    The H-bomb was detonated in 1961 with a yield of 50 megatons,

    http://www.atomicheritage.org/history/tsar-bomba

  • mtrueman||

    "The largest bomb ever detonated was the Soviet Tsar bomb."

    Any civilian casualties? Anthony Bevor, a revered historian, documents the events after D day. Like the use of heavier explosives that lead to the Allies inflicting greater damage on the civilian French population than the Nazis. At first this was surprising to me, because killing civilians is something bad people do, but it makes sense on reflection.

  • MikeP2||

    "Not surprising that Democracies have the biggest bombs. They also rack up the greatest number of collateral damage casualties."

    Yeh, the non-democracies don't have nearly the same amount of 'collateral damage casualties'. But that's because they don't consider them collateral, but rather the targets.

  • Uncle Joe||

    "Not surprising that Democracies have the biggest bombs. They also rack up the greatest number of collateral damage casualties."

    Yeah, dictators are well known for never engaging in genocide or anything bad like that. Flawed though our Democratic Republic is, we have the decency to do a little public hand wringing & try to reign in the dogs of war when things get out of hand. If Democracies had no conscience, MLK & Gandhi would have gone to the gulag, Comrade.

    When Totalitarian regimes do it, it's not even safe to whisper about it in private let alone put in the news.

  • mtrueman||

    "MLK & Gandhi would have gone to the gulag, Comrade."

    Both spent time in prison and both ended up dead by gunfire. Your boasting is patriotic but hollow. It's as simple as this: totalitarian regimes aren't afraid to use their troops as canonfodder. Democracies are because the cannonfodder votes.

    Don't mistake collateral damage for genocide or vice versa.

  • Uncle Joe||

    Democracies have been guilty of abusing their military when the political will backs it up. On the other hand, totalitarians tend to realize that abusing their army can end in a coup. Letting them commit war crimes isn't frowned upon the way it is here. My claim isn't based on 'Patriotism', it's based on facts. I'm in no way blinded to our imperfections, but it doesn't compare to Russian troops killing civilians with impunity in Chechnya, Serbs raping women in Bosnia, Saddam gassing the Kurds & Shia... take your love of authoritarianism elsewhere.

  • mtrueman||

    I'm talking about collateral damage. I'm not talking about genocide, rape, or gassing. Here's what I said:

    "They also rack up the greatest number of collateral damage casualties."

    Don't mistake collateral damage for genocide, rape, gassing or vice versa.

  • Longtobefree||

    Yep, daisy cutter, or "instant LZ".
    Of course, more than daisies got cut - - - - - -

  • NoVaNick||

    Funny how nobody is talking about the Muslim ban anymore now that Trump is bombing Muslims.

  • NoVaNick||

    I don't think Hillary would have dropped the giant phallic symbol MOAB, the penis envy jokes would be too easy.

  • Azathoth!!||

    You guys have just decided to seal yourselves in to your weird little bubble, haven't you?

  • ThomasD||

    'Libertarians' need safe spaces too.

  • SamHell||

    Are you gonna be a MOAB, when it's your turn to die?

  • Gaear Grimsrud||

    "The Washington establishment—politicians and media—have in less than the first 100 days illustrated for Donald Trump that perhaps the only thing he can expect to consistently be awarded for is publicized military action"
    A teachable moment.

  • MikeP2||

    oh no! we bombed ISIS!

    clean your pants out Nick and untwist those panties while you're down there. Only time will tell if Trump is going to get us into more overseas adventures, but ridding the world of a few Syrian planes and a group of third world terrorists hiding in a cave in the middle of nowhere is not necessarily the start of anything.

    Cooler heads have made a strong case that these actions are political messages for the Norks and if a very low casualty use of military hardware allows us to force Lil Kim to the negotiating table the world will have a very nice net-positive. China is clearly on-board with it and for the first time in my lifetime, actively aligning with the US to get NK under control. The last 8 years of Obama and EU "soft-power" has done nothing to help the world conflict zones in Libya, Syria, Sudan, Ethiopia, Iraq, Crimea, or Ukraine, so trying something a little more forceful may be a necessary step.

  • mtrueman||

    "The last 8 years of Obama and EU "soft-power" has done nothing to help the world conflict zones in Libya, Syria, Sudan, Ethiopia, Iraq, Crimea, or Ukraine, so trying something a little more forceful may be a necessary step."

    They're saving that for when Chicago becomes a "world conflict zone."

  • Longtobefree||

    US casualties = zero. The main difference between bombs and surges.

    For reference, see Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Estimated US casualties in invading the home islands were over half a million men in the first 90 days, not including naval losses.

  • Uncle Joe||

    The bombs on Nagasaki & Hiroshima by themselves would hardly have been enough to force Japanese surrender. We'd been carpet bombing Japanese cities for months before that, but the Japanese were not even close to surrendering.

    We had to make the long slog through the Pacific in order to be in the position of invading Japan before they even started thinking about accepting total defeat. The Soviet entry into the war with Japan seems to have played at least as much a factor in the Japanese finally accepting an unconditional surrender.

    WWII is a terrible comparison to the fight against Islamic extremists. Japan was an actual nation with a unified government that could order it's soldiers to stand down. I doubt forcing Al Bagdadi to sign a peace treaty would result in terrorists around the world giving up violence any more than this oversized firecracker would..

  • SamHell||

    That thing is way bigger than it needs to be, I think mini nukes would be a more cost effective way to kill people.

  • ThomasD||

    Facetious or not much of the discussion about this device is grossly erroneous.

    The MOAB has about an 11 ton TNT equivalent yield. The smallest tac nuke ever tested (Davy Crockett) is estimated to have had a yield from 10 - 20 tons (variable yield, field settable.) Modern tac nuke yields are generally expressed in kilotons.

    A kiloton being a thousand tons.

    And that appears to be where the confusion lies. People hear the association as the 'largest non-nuke' but miss the orders of magnitude difference between them.

  • Uncle Joe||

    The MOAB was made of off the shelf explosives & guidance systems. If cost is the only concern, a nuclear device with the same yield would be much more expensive simply based on the cost of weapons grade Plutonium, let alone the need for a more sophisticated detonation system.

    Aside from the problems with fallout & lingering radioactivity, we'd be renouncing any moral authority to condemn the likes of Assad for using chemical weapons. To say our alliances with western nations would be strained, is an understatement.

    You sir, are an idiot.

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