The other day The US Airforce dropped a huge bomb on a set of tunnels in Afghanistan inhabited by IS jihadis, 36 of whom were reportedly killed. There were no civilian deaths. Publicly no one regretted the deaths, but many voices criticised the action as trigger-happy and unwisely threatening to the USA’s other enemies. Along with the destruction of a Syrian Airbase earlier last week, the bombing been widely interpreted as a warning to North Korea, which has replied by parading its own weapons and making suitably hysterical threats.
Most British commentary has focused on the incoherence of Trump’s foreign policy while Chinese voices have warned him to be much more cautious.
For myself, I considered the Syrian attack proportionate and perhaps effective as a deterrent, and the big bomb in Afghanistan as no more than a strategic initiative. The aggressors of this world require restraint, and their victims need support; the case for international police action is obvious in such situations. But that’s just the point: if actions like these are to be seen as just, that they must actually be international, that is, of the United Nations preferably, and if that is not possible, of a as large a coalition as can be obtained. The USA made only a token effort to get UN action against Assad, and none at all in the case of the Afghan attack, where they relied on a small existing coalition. In fact, in both instances, the USA seemed to pride itself on acting alone.
That cannot be right. Nobody has elected the USA as the world’s default policeman. When it acts as it has done this week it reinforces the suspicion that it believes it has the right to do as it pleases in any part of the world, by claiming that anything counter to its interest anywhere can be considered an attack on its territory, so that actions on the other side of the globe can be justified as “defensive.” None of this is new, and is certainly not an invention of President Trump. The much-admired President Obama held just as firmly to this policy of defending US borders at a distance. Indeed Mr Trump had promised a welcome departure from unilateral intervention by the USA.
Psalm 60 in the Christian bible confronts a situation in which nations surrounding Israel are crowing over a recent Israeli defeat. The psalmist imagines God rallying his people by reassuring them of his power over all nations. Of two of the nearest of these, God says, “Moab is my washpot and over Edom I have cast my shoe” using the picture of a traveller washing his feet by pouring water over them into a basin, after throwing his shoes into a corner. The nations of Moab and Edom are treated as negligible before the might of God.
The weapon used in Afghanistan this week was called MOAB, that is, Massive Ordnance Air Blast or more popularly, Mother Of All Bombs. It is the most powerful non-nuclear bomb ever used in war. Perhaps President Trump and his generals should listen to the book they frequently claim to cherish, and learn humility before the justice of God, which in secular terms means that humility is always wise, while arrogance is always stupid, sometimes terminally so. This MOAB is also God’s washpot.