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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2400

Trump’s MOAB Strategy: is it a shoal of red herrings?

Hemantha Abeywardena writes from London…

By dropping a MOAB – Massive Ordnance Air Blast – bomb, a perfect acronym for mother of all bombs, in Afghanistan against IS out of the blue, the United States left its real motive for the sudden move in the foggy aftermath of the blast - to be interpreted, by both friends and foes alike.

The bomb, largest non-nuclear device ever to have used in combat, created a lot of heat, light, sound and smoke, while forming an indelible crate of diameter 800m in the rugged terrain of East Afghanistan; it was said to have claimed 90 lives of IS militants, while decimating a network of tunnels by the blast.

The news of the blast came about at a time, when the tension between the US and North Korea was slowly reaching the peak, at a mutually- hostile pace. Since the US had already positioned a naval attack force, comprising an aircraft carrier in the Korean peninsula, military analysts refuse to treat the dropping of an MOAB as a mere coincidence.
During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly rebuked the US generals for giving away military plans in TV interviews for PR purposes. Not only did he criticize the trend, but also promised to eliminate the trend once and for all.

Mr Trump went on to say that he wanted the enemies of the US to be left in a guessing game. In short, he wanted to attack them when they least expect it.

The recent attack by Tomahawks on Syria, in this context, is perfectly understandable; it took President Assad, President Putin and everyone who thought they were building a warm relationship, by complete surprise.
Of course, at present the focus is on the stand-off between the US and North Korea over missile tests; there is no let-up in the steady building of a potential conflict between the two , something that has left the regional power, China, in a hapless lurch, while reducing itself to a mere spectator.

This is a perfect time for President Trump to strike elsewhere while rekindling his ambitious, avowed element of surprise in taking on the enemy. In this context, if he enters the Iranian theatre when no one expects it at this time, there will be no surprise among the Trump watchers about the move.

The other significant development in President Trump’s approach, when it comes to military conflicts, is his self-reliance: he doesn’t seem to be keen on consulting the allies of the US, about a collective strategy; nor does he rely on the NATO for a backup force in the event of failing to go it alone. The administration appears to be determined to inform the allies, only at the eleventh hour, something that the former demonstrated clearly during the Syrian conflict two weeks ago.

When it comes to nuclear threats, the United States is suspicious about the activities of two countries – North Korea and Iran. Since both countries rely on underground facilities to conduct tests and enhance weapon programmes, if any, the US cannot rely on Tomahawks or conventional bombings to take them out.

Since it cannot use nuclear arms either, it has to rely on the bombs in the calibre of MOAB to achieve its goal, despite the risks involving the transportation of them to the desired area by a conventional plane. The MOAB dropped in Afghanistan, for instance, was said to have transported by MC-130 Combat, Talon aircraft.

Despite the rhetoric and the military assets at its disposal, it’s highly unlikely that the US would launch a pre-emptive attack on the nuclear facilities of North Korea, without taking on board the legitimate concerns of Japan and South Korea, which are completely vulnerable, in the event of North Korea launching retaliatory attacks.

The dilemma for the politicians directly involved in this case, including President Trump, is the risk of getting things wrong while entering the realm of unknowns, because they are all elected politicians. A single misstep could spell doom for their political careers, if they just act on a whim.

The risks for the unelected leaders are even greater, though. They, for instance, take the loyalty of the subjects for granted, which could go up in smoke in a real conflict. Both Col Gaddafi and Sadaam Hussein overestimated this factor when their respective regimes were threatened – much to their shock in the final hours.

Since his election, President Trump kept on telling the world that the world was a mess. His supporters expected him to make it less messy, when they elected him. If he still has that goal in his sight, he can’t afford to act on impulse, as he did in the Syrian conflict.

President Trump, however, can show the global community a shoal of red herring, if it is part of his element of surprise. His MOAB strategy is something that has to be analysed in this context.

- Asian Tribune -

Trump’s MOAB Strategy: is it a shoal of red herrings?
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