The Mother of All Bombs was a big hit on Fox News on Friday morning. After the Pentagon released aerial footage of the blast created by the huge, never-before-used bomb delivered to what it said was a web of tunnels being used by ISIS fighters in Afghanistan, Fox promptly set the footage to a suitably jingoistic bit of music and played it on air to the delight of its morning show hosts.
“That is what freedom looks like,” gushed Ainsley Earhardt. “That’s the red, white and blue.”
“One of my favorite things in 16 years here at Fox News is watching bombs drop on bad guys,” chimed in Geraldo Rivera.
But for all the attention given to the decision to use the Massive Ordnance Air Blast weapon, which reportedly killed three dozen terrorist fighters, the attack in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province represents only a new tactic in an existing conflict. What it stole attention from was reports of potentially major shifts in U.S. policy in two other parts of the world: North Korea and Syria.
On Thursday night, NBC News reported that the United States is prepared to launch an attack on North Korea to prevent the Kim Jong-un regime from going forward with the test of a nuclear weapon. Citing two unidentified “intelligence officials,” NBC reported that the U.S. has placed two Navy destroyers armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles on standby near North Korea and has prepared heavy bombers in Guam for possible attacks on the isolated nation.
The US has consistently condemned North Korea’s past nuclear weapons tests, responding by tightening already crippling economic sanctions against the Kim regime. However, taking pre-emptive military action in advance of another test would be a massive and unexpected escalation that could place South Korea, a U.S. ally, at risk of retaliation from the North. Seoul, a city of 14 million people, is less than 30 miles from parts of the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas.
The Pentagon disputed the NBC report, calling it wrong and “very dangerous.” But given the rhetoric coming from President Trump over the past week, calling North Korea a “menace” and promising to “deal with” the country, there was plenty of reason to wonder — not least of all in Pyongyang.
North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them! U.S.A.— President Trump (@POTUS) April 11, 2017
The North Korean government warned that it is ready to go to war if the U.S. attacks, and said that it is now considering a first strike itself.
Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi, according to the state news service Xinhua, spoke openly of the possibility of war resulting from the exchange of heated words.
“We urge all sides to no longer engage in mutual provocation and threats, whether through words or deeds, and don’t push the situation to the point where it can’t be turned around and gets out of hand,” he said. “No matter who it is, if they let war break out on the peninsula, they must shoulder that historical culpability and pay the corresponding price for this.”
At the same time, Bloomberg reports that Trump’s national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, is pushing colleagues on the National Security Council to reconsider their reluctance to put a substantial U.S. troop presence on the ground in Syria, where a civil war has been raging for six years.
The U.S. has had a small presence in the country for several years, primarily special operations troops to help train allied fighters and to guide airstrikes. More recently, a Marine artillery unit was dispatched to the fight. Adding thousands of troops, though, would completely change the character of U.S. involvement in a brutal war in which another major world power, Russia, is already deeply involved. Nominally, American troops would be fighting ISIS, not the regime of Bashar al-Assad, which Russia supports. However, after U.S. officials called for Assad’s removal from power, it’s hard to see how dispatching a major ground force to his country would be seen as anything but an act of war, putting pressure on Assad’s protectors, Russia and Iran, to respond.
While neither the posturing in North Korea nor the debate over Syria can be easily turned into a Toby Keith video, either one of them by itself is a bigger deal than a bomb with a catchy name being dropped in a war we’ve been fighting, in one form or another, for more than 15 years.