Wagging the Dog
The dropping of the “Mother of All Bombs” on an obscure target in Afghanistan brings back memories of movies. The first was the really bad Charlie Sheen 1991 send-off of Top Gun, Hot Shots. “Topper Harley” drops a bomb on Sadaam Hussein “ the mother of all targets.” But the actions of Trump World this week brings to mind another fine film of the 1990’s, Wag the Dog with Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro. This story, filmed in the middle of the Clinton sex scandal, stars De Niro as the political operative for the President, colluding with film producer Hoffman to create a war in Albania to distract the public from the President’s sexual activities with a Girl Scout.
In 1998 Al Qaeda launched terrorist bombings against the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Clinton retaliated with missile attacks on Al Qaeda sites in Afghanistan and Sudan. Critics claimed that Clinton was “wagging the dog” to distract from his ongoing political problems as the Senate proceeded with impeachment.
This past week we had three military actions. While some may see all of these actions as justifiable, they also may be seen as “wagging the dog.” The first was the missile attack on the airfield in Syria in response to Syrian chemical weapons use. Fifty-nine cruise missiles were launched at a previously warned airfield in Syria, at an approximate cost of $800,000/missile (Newsweek ). That’s a total of over $47 million in missiles that did a minimal amount of damage: the Syrian’s launched a conventional bombing mission from that airfield the next day.
The second was the transferring of the Carl Vinson Carrier strike group from Singapore to near North Korea, in an attempt to intimidate Kim Jong-un to stop testing ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads. The concern: with the well documented paranoia of Kim, he may well react to this intimidation by responding with the self-same missiles and nuclear weapons, and of course, we have now given him a primary target. He can’t reach the continental US with a missile (yet) but he certainly could take a stab at the Vinson Group in nearby seas. (Reuters)
The third was what triggered the flashback to the drug fueled Charlie Sheen and Hot Shots. The US dropped the GBU-43/B, a 30’ long by 3’ wide 11 ton bomb also known as the “MOAB”, the Mother of All Bombs. The bomb is estimated to cost $15 million. It was dropped on a ISIS cave complex in Afghanistan, reportedly killing 36 ISIS soldiers (at a cost of $416,666 a piece) and perhaps collapsing the tunnel complex. While it’s use this week was against ISIS, many commentators suggest that it was to send a message to others, including Assad in Syria and Kim in North Korea.
The net effect, we spent $62 million plus the cost of moving the Carl Vinson Strike Group, to essentially kill a few Syrians and ISIS soldiers and damage some planes and buildings.
It seems that this could have been done with a lot less dramatics and at a far smaller cost. But it certainly “Wagged the Dog”. We weren’t talking about the advances in the Russian connection investigation, we weren’t talking about the over $21 million the President has spent going to his Mira Lago Resort, we weren’t talking about the signing of a law which allows states to withhold federal money from Planned Parenthood. We were watching videos of missiles taking off, carriers moving, and giant phallic bombs.
President Trump will have to act in foreign policy. I hope that he can find a way to do so through diplomacy as well as explosions and death. But discussions, even between the old friends Putin and Tillerson, won’t distract from the internal problems Trump faces. Blowing stuff up “wags the dog.”