It has a biblical ring to it: MOAB.
“And lo, it came to pass in the land of Jordan there came from the heavens a mighty roar and smote the children of ISIS ….”
Moab is, of course, the name of an ancient kingdom in what is now the modern Kingdom of Jordan. It also happens to be a city in the state of Utah, renowned for nothing, as far as I can tell, except the spectacular scenery that surrounds it, the biblical naming no accident in the state that contains the largest community of Mormons in the New World.
Now the name has acquired the status of an acronym. The formal title is Mass Ordnance Air Blast, which I suppose, in all its destructive connotations, speaks for itself. The informal version is Mother of All Bombs, which is likewise self-evident.
The American air force has just dropped a MOAB on an ISIS stronghold in eastern Afghanistan, apparently destroying a complex of tunnels largely used by ISIS insurgents, a group formerly known as the Taliban, to infiltrate areas held by US and allied forces. That, at least, is what the Americans are telling us. ISIS has so far refrained from comment.
It is, we are given to understand, the first time that a MOAB has been used, the previous reluctance to do so related to uncertainty about its capacity, as the largest weapon of mass destruction below that of a nuclear device, for inflicting death and destruction.
Will the Americans use it again, either in Afghanistan or Syria, or even North Korea? There is no way of knowing, given the unpredictable nature of the present occupant of the White House, but a weapon first used, no matter how devastating the effect, is presumably no longer ‘off limits’.
I am hard pressed to pronounce any judgement on whether its future use might be justified – beyond the wimpishly ethical assertion that deploying any weapon of mass destruction can be objected to on moral grounds, and a political stance which holds that dropping bombs of any kind, of whatever power, is unlikely to resolve the conflicts to which countries mentioned have been subjected of late, and may well complicate matters further by encouraging sundry acts of retribution.
President Assad of Syria deserves all the opprobrium we can muster for gassing civilians in areas supposedly in the hands of those who oppose his regime – assuming the allegation that he did so proves to be true. But is a response that involves weapons of far greater destructive power, and just as indiscriminate, any more defensible on the moral scale? The point is debatable, of course, and no doubt will be debated ad nauseum.
One argument, mainly from American hard-liners, and directed at squeamish liberals like me, is that a ‘message’ has been sent to Assad, a warning that the use of chemical weapons is unacceptable because it runs contrary to all the universally accepted conventions of warfare. It is a view that carries some weight, but only as a headline-catcher.
Should not the same rules apply to the deployment of ‘new and improved’ bombs that kill and maim thousands, and in the same random way, as the use of gas?
Assad has already killed hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of his own people using conventional weaponry and other familiar methods. If the western powers, and for that matter, the eastern power, are now bent on competing with Assad to inflict the same level of devastation, exactly how will that lead to resolving the crisis? And just how palpable anyway are the wider moral distinctions between gassing people slowly and tearing their bodies apart quickly, other than the relative levels of outrage expressed in the editorial columns of the media?
As the killings go on in Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan, all the participants seem to have wandered into an impenetrable swamp in which tactics and strategy are rendered pointless and morality irrelevant.
The leaders of Russia and America rather than pausing to consider how to emerge from the mire prefer to swap point-scoring insults.
That way neither loses face. Meanwhile, the poor hapless souls who live where the bombs fall and the gas clouds drift lose faces -and much else besides.