Op-ed: The mother of all games

Only a few people know what a “GBU-43/B” is. A bunch more will figure it out if we use the official designation: “Massive Ordnance Air Blast,” or “MOAB.” Now you get it: It’s informally referred to as the “Mother of All Bombs,” and that designation is nothing but great PR for the military.

 

It’s called that, as we all know by now, because it’s the biggest conventional weapon in the U.S. armed forces arsenal. News anchors couldn’t say “Mother of All Bombs” often enough as they breathlessly described how, for the first time ever in combat, a lumbering American plane dropped one onto an ISIS network of caves in Afghanistan. KABLOOEY!

More breathlessness: The blast was a mile wide. According to DOD spokespeople, it killed nearly a hundred ISIS fighters and no civilians. More importantly (unless you were one of the nearly a hundred dead ISIS fighters), it obliterated an entire network of caves they were using as an intricate staging area.

President Donald Trump wouldn’t say if he had personally authorized the use of the behemoth, but he has certainly discovered of late that being president means you can mess around with a lot of toys. Just a few days ago, he lobbed a bunch of cruise missiles at Syria. The strategic effect of that attack is debatable, but there is no debating that the Syrian bombardment slowed down his precipitous slide into the solid waste of ridicule. Now he looked more like a commander in chief, so he followed up by dropping that huge Mother.

Clearly, he was trying to send a message — and not just “Whee, look at all my playthings!” He also dispatched a naval battle armada, the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier strike group, to the waters off Korea. That’s a show of force intended to intimidate North Korea into standing down from any planned nuclear testing.

Pyongyang’s defiant response was predictable, but there was no nuclear test. There was a parade that displayed some ominous ICBM hardware, but then there was a missile test that failed miserably. Still, with such volatile leaders on both sides, there’s a worldwide fear that the situation could spin wildly and catastrophically out of control.

What if Kim Jong Un, the vicious North Korean twerp dictator, decides to call unstable Donald Trump’s bluff? What if China, Trump’s new BFF country, won’t or can’t intercede? Then what?

There is only one possibility short of nuclear war. Instead of dropping another Mom bomb, certain people in the administration strongly feel that the president could drop Steve Bannon on North Korea. Right now, Mr. Ultranationalist is in a White House blood feud with Jared “Nepot” Kushner and the other forces of comparative moderation who would like to jettison Bannon and his extremist influence.

Much is being made about how Trump is changing his act, how he’s acting like stability is not an alien impulse. There is all kinds of pundit pontification about how POTUS has seen the light and that he is growing into the job. Perhaps. Another way of looking at it is that this is a man who has so little comprehension of the issues or historical context that he’s simply following the advice of the last person who whispered in his ear.

At the moment, that would be the relatively sane ones: literal relatives Jared and Ivanka, the kids leading the so-called adults, those who have some experience in this geopolitical arena. Allied with them is Rex Tillerson, who is getting on-the-job training, attempting to figure out how his secretary of state job is different from his life as an oil-company executive. It’s a tough learning curve.

Most critically, Donald Trump must comprehend that he’s playing a high-stakes game. If he loses, it could be the mother of all catastrophes.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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