Sunday, October 28, 2007


Rhetorical Question of the Day, or How to MOP up?

Now what would a huge US bomb be aimed at?

The London Times' hawk-columnist Gerald Baker was rubbing his hands with glee, or blood, yesterday as he wrote

Nestled deep in George Bush’s latest $190 billion request to Congress for emergency funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is a tantalising little item that has received scant attention.

The US Department of Defence has asked for an additional $88 million to modify B2 stealth bombers so that they can carry a 30,000 lb bomb called the massive ordnance penetrator (or MOP, in the disarming acronymic vernacular of the military). The MOP is an advanced form of a “bunker buster”, an air-delivered weapon with an explosive capacity to destroy targets deep underground. Explaining the request, the Administration says it is in response to an “urgent operational need from theatre commanders”. What kind of emergency could that be?

Gee, why don't you tell me?

What had provoked Baker into this flurry of rhetorical questions was the story broken by Jonathan Karl of ABC News. And so far ABC News appears to be the only US mainstream media outlet interested, though I expect that to change.

When asked, the Pentagon was coy about the matter, so Karl was forced to call on someone willing to speculate, since reporters are not permitted to think for themselves—

So where would the military use a stealth bomber armed with a 30,000-pound bomb like this? Defense analysts say the most likely target for this bomb would be Iran's flagship nuclear facility in Natanz, which is both heavily fortified and deeply buried.

"You'd use it on Natanz," said John Pike of "And you'd use it on a stealth bomber because you want it to be a surprise. And you put in an emergency funding request because you want to bomb quickly."

But before you head out to the bomb shelter, I think we should consider this—

"It's kind of strange," Pike said. "It sends a signal that you are preparing to bomb Iran, and if you were actually going to bomb Iran I wouldn't think you would want to announce it like that."

My reaction to that comment is a Yes, No and a Maybe. Yes, it sends a signal that you are preparing to bomb Iran. And No, if you were actually going to bomb Iran you wouldn't think at first blush that the Bushies would want to announce it like that. But maybe so. And here's why—

  1. Let us suspend our disbelief and suppose for the moment that the Bush administration really doesn't want to bomb Iran but only to bring as much threat-pressure as possible in order to convince the régime to give up its nuclear development program.
  2. In that case you might publicly announce a military budget item that strongly suggests a plan to bomb Iran and hope somebody notices. (If after some time no one has in fact noticed—which is all too likely, given the state of American journalism—you can always spring a "leak." After all, how can you bring pressure if the presumed target is unaware of the threat?) Furthermore, everyone—reporters, TV talking heads and even the US Congress—think they understand what's going on and feel greatly relieved, not to mention wise. In fact, the Congress may think it's such a spiffy idea that they actually agree to it.

    It seems to me that John Pike is hinting at something along those lines.

  3. But now let's suppose that the Bush administration is only making a show of diplomacy and really does intend to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities. That would be more in character. And after all, Israel has expressed its wishes quite clearly. How would you proceed?
    • PLAN B: Since you have no scruples about lying to Congress and have asserted that it is in your power to take any action necessary to "protect the country," you might simply claim you need the money for, say, hot-air balloons and then proceed with your Stealth-bomber modification.

      In fact, you don't need a line-item really—you can just shift the money around in, say, one of the pre-existing Boeing contracts. Surely they'll play along.

      But wait a minute. If you take that route, there's the very real possibility that somebody somewhere will leak this $88 million project to some fool in the press or Congress. Then you could be hip-deep in do-do because everybody's going to say "They really are planning to bomb Iran and they're trying to sneak around Congress to do it." There might be hearings, and the entire venture could turn quite ugly.

    • PLAN A: So I have a better plan. Why don't we just go ahead and put the MOP modification in the budget but let it be understood as "pressure"? If Congress approves the line-item, they're effectively approving the plan to bomb Iran. And if they don't approve it, we can always fall back to Plan B. As for "warning" Iran of our intentions, the development of the "massive ordnance penetrator" is hardly a state secret. Why else would they be building their nuclear facilities underground? So it's really just a contest between our weapons engineers and Iran's civil engineers. We can take 'em out any time we want to.1

And so, politically speaking, the best tack is to put the Stealth-bomber modification in as a budget item no matter what the true intent. Militarily it is a matter of indifference.

Help from the business community

But how will the Bushites ever get such a budget item approved by those tough-as-nails Democrats? For that they may need a little pressure from Wall Street.

I don't know if the Wall Street Journal has weighed in yet, but Investors Business Daily (IBD) found time out from its market analysis (or perhaps as an adjunct to its market analysis) to editorialize against the Democrats, who are apparently "America's Soft Spot"—

Democrats are balking at a White House request to fund the refitting of B-2 bombers so they can carry bunker buster bombs. It seems they're not interested in dealing with a real threat.

But IBD was able to find one upstanding Democrat in the whole dang military-industrial-congressional complex—

To pretend that Tehran is not a threat, to deny there's a no real war between terrorists and the West, and to cut funding for missile defense in Europe by $139 million is evidence of the Democrats' impotence.

But not every Democrat is ready to lie down. Rep. Norm Dicks, who represents part of the Seattle area, says the bomb is needed to add to our deterrence.

Yes, Dicks' district has ties to Boeing, builder of the B-2 bomber and co-developer of the new bunker buster. But in this case, politics actually has led a lawmaker to make the right decisions.

Yes. Politics and a bit of the lolly.



1I'm assuming that the usual Bush-Cheney-Neocon hubris is still in play. discussed some of the uncertainties in 2004. [back]

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