Vijay Prashad is the George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and Professor of International Studies at Trinity College. He is the author of twenty books, including The Death of the Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution (LeftWord and University of California Press, 2016) and co-editor of Land of Blue Helmets: The UN in the Arab World (University of California Press, 2016) as well as editor of Letters to Palestine: Writers Respond to War and Occupation. Vijay is the Chief Editor of LeftWord Books (leftword.com) and is a columnist for Frontline and AlterNet as well as a frequent contributor to The Hindu, Himal and Counterpunch.
PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.
AP reports that U.S. forces in Afghanistan on Thursday struck an Islamic State tunnel complex in eastern Afghanistan with what the American army apparently calls the “Mother of All Bombs,” the largest non-nuclear weapon ever used in combat by the U.S. military.
Pentagon officials have said the bomb, known officially as the GBU-43/B or Massive Ordnance Air Blast weapon, unleashes 11 tonnes of explosives. In its 2003 review of the legality of using the bomb, the Pentagon concluded that it could not be called an “indiscriminate killer” under the law of armed conflict. I guess that’s back when they actually were concerned about such laws.
If the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — this is no longer AP, I should say; this is now me — if the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II was to show the world the willingness of the new superpower to use the nuclear weapon, perhaps this is the use of the Mother of All Bombs… this use of the Mother of All Bombs is to show the U.S. will now fight without restraint. And in fact that’s exactly what President Trump said when he spoke at his inauguration, and his visit to the CIA.
DONALD TRUMP: And unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the earth.
We are protected, and we will always be protected. We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement, and most importantly… (applause), we will be protected by God.
We’ve been fighting these wars for longer than any wars we’ve ever fought. We have not used the real abilities that we have. We’ve been restrained. We have to get rid of ISIS. I have to get rid of ISIS. We have no choice.
PAUL JAY: Under the protection of God, America, we’ll use the Mother of All Bombs and fight without restraint. That’s the message Donald wanted to send, and perhaps that’s the message this bomb was meant to deliver in Afghanistan.
Now joining us to discuss this is Vijay Prashad. Vijay is the George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and Professor of International Studies at Trinity College. He’s the author of many books, including The Death of the Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution, and co-editor of Land of Blue Helmets: The United Nations and the Arab World.
Thanks for joining us again, Vijay.
VIJAY PRASHAD: Pleasure. Thank you.
PAUL JAY: So what do you make of this massive bomb dropped on these ISIS tunnels, as we were told?
VIJAY PRASHAD: Well, let’s just say first that there have been two book-ended attacks. One was at one end of Eurasia, when the United States fired 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian air base; and at the other end of the so-called territory of the War on Terror, there was this massive bomb blast in a district that borders Pakistan.
So there have been these two very important demonstration effects by the United States in the very region where they’ve constructed the battlefield of the War on Terror, so I see these two events as quite fundamentally linked.
I think what’s important is that the government of Afghanistan has said that they had not had any knowledge of what has happened, firstly of the bomb blast itself, and then the outcome of the bomb blast.
In other words, it’s going to take some time, Paul, before we know whether this blast was merely in a so-called combat area against what the Pentagon and the White House call the tunnel complex, or whether there were villages and towns nearby which suffered from this very large blast; one of the largest explosions that we’ve seen from aerial bombardment in human history.
PAUL JAY: Now, I’m not a military expert, but it seems to me both of these things, as you say, are linked, and both of these things are more propaganda events than they are military exercises.
You start with the Syrian… attack on the Syrian air base, 59 missiles fired, was it 36 got through? They’re apparently using the base later the same night. They phoned the Russians ahead of time to say it was coming, which means Russian air defenses and radar were all ready for it.
I mean, that looked like an elaborate show to prove that Trump, and Tillerson, on his way to Moscow, were independent and could stand up to Moscow and weren’t afraid of taking on Assad.
And then you have this enormous blast in Afghanistan, which, you know, Trump got such praise for being so forceful. People like Fareed Zakaria say, “Oh, on this day, Trump became President.” So he can blow things up and kill some people; and we should say, we’re not sure how many people died in that Syrian air base attack, but according to the Syrian government, not just the few that were on the base, but according to them there were people killed in villages around the base; and we have no news yet of how many civilians might have been killed in this blast.
But the fact that they have to say — (blast in Afghanistan) — but the fact they have to release to AP and make part of their messaging — “they” being the Pentagon — that they studied this and it doesn’t violate international law for indiscriminate killing, suggests — and, as you say, the fact the Afghan government doesn’t want anything to do with it so far — it suggests perhaps there might be a lot of indiscriminate killing going on here.
VIJAY PRASHAD: Well, you know, as I said, we won’t know that.
But one thing we do know, is that the ISIS sector in Afghanistan in the so-called Khorasan Province — you know this group was set up in 2015; they selected this district, which borders Pakistan, as their base. They initially began with about 30 or 40 recruits. It’s a very small group initially. They set up a radio station called the Voice of the Caliphate, again, with very, very marginal impact inside Afghanistan.
Over the course of these two years since they’ve been in existence — as I said, started in 2015 — the Afghan government, with support from U.S. air power, has quite fundamentally degraded their capacity. There was a major offensive against this ISIS stronghold. It’s not really an ISIS area; it’s just a stronghold that they have. They were quite degraded in the January 2016 offensive led by the Afghan military.
And I should say that the studies have shown that over the last two years, ISIS in Afghanistan has killed 94 people, but 497 ISIS fighters have been killed. So, the ratio shows, as President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan had said last year, that Afghanistan will be the graveyard of ISIS.
Now, of course, he didn’t mean it’ll be the graveyard of ISIS — the ISIS that’s in Iraq or Syria — but that in Afghanistan ISIS will not be able to sustain itself. And ISIS has attempted to sectarianize the fight inside Afghanistan by going after the Hazara Shia community, but even this has not succeeded because the Hazara Shia haven’t reacted to this sectarianism.
In this sense, what I’m saying, Paul, is that ISIS in Afghanistan is a marginal force. The real force fighting the government is the Taliban.
So to have targeted the ISIS section in Afghanistan reveals this was more an exercise of Trump and the Trump White House saying, we’re taking the fight to ISIS, taking it seriously, rather than an honest appraisal that the real threat to the Afghan government comes from the Taliban, and ISIS is really not a force of any threat.
PAUL JAY: Well, that also suggests the way Trump — and one should also look at Bannon, the chief strategist in his ear, although Trump today wants to call himself his own chief strategist, but much of what he’s been saying comes out of Steve Bannon’s mouth — is that this is the beginning of a dirty, bloody, terrible war against Islamic fascism.
There’s no distinguishing in that between the Taliban and an ISIS. This is just this one dark force coming from the East to come get the West. And you bomb the hell out of any of it, and it all looks as if you’re fighting it.
VIJAY PRASHAD: I think this is quite correct. I think that there is idea that the war against Islam is the fundamental war.
I mean, this was revealed not only… not merely by Bannon, who has actually talked about this kind of civilizational conflict in, as you say, very dark terms.
This is not merely Donald Trump, who again is basically been ventriloquizing some of Bannon’s worldview. But this was also out of the mouth of his ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, who one had assumed was from the kind of mainstream right wing of the Republican Party, not the kind of Bannon wing.
Nikki Haley, when she mentioned the issue of fighting terrorists in Syria, in the same breath said of the terrorists, she included Iran. Now this is interesting. In what manner is Iran, inside Syria, part of the camp of terrorists? Well, only if you see all Muslim fighters as terrorists. What other explanation is there to see Iranian fighters inside Syria as in the camp of terrorists, particularly when they know very well that their fight in Mosul against the Islamic State would not be happening without Iranian fighters?
But there is this kind of confused miasma that they’re operating with, in which basically something called Islam, is the generic threat to Western Christendom.
PAUL JAY: I think it’s very important, because the truth of it is, it’s actually not as generic as they suggest it sounds like; Islamic fascism, Islamic this, Islamic that. It’s really Iran that they’re talking about all the time, because when do they include Saudi Arabia in this Islamic fascism? Which in fact is a fascist state, if you want that Islamic fascist state.
I mean, the Saudis are that. Of course, they never get talked about in all of this; and there’s no bigger ally of the Sunni extremist, terrorist, than the Saudis. We all know the funding.
The other piece of this is when you drop a bomb like that in Afghanistan the people are so fed up with war. You’ve had increasing support for the idea that even the Taliban are better than this war that never ends. And the idea that Afghans on the whole would have sympathy for the Taliban is really something.
I made a film there, and I was there in 2002, the spring of 2002; a film called Return to Kandahar. People despised the Taliban. They were so fed up with having lived under the Taliban, even in villages we were in Kandahar. The Americans have successfully turned that situation, of people despising the Taliban, to even willing to accept a certain amount of Taliban power just to get the damned war over and get the Americans out.
VIJAY PRASHAD: I think you’re right. I mean, look, firstly the Taliban came to power between 1994 and 1996, largely based on the idea that the warlords and their murderous infighting from the late 1980s until 1996 showed that they were not capable of providing stability.
And then, yes, the Taliban came to power, and in the short period of five years people began to despise them. Despise the kind of harsh reality of their so-called stability. And now we’re back to 1994-96 where, yes, a great number of people say, I would prefer the stability of the Taliban to this kind of murderous bloodletting.
And let me just remind people of one thing. I have said a second ago that the ISIS in Afghanistan, the so-called Khorasan Division, has located itself in the eastern section on the border with Pakistan. Many of the people in ISIS that are inside Afghanistan are Pakistanis who came from the Pakistan Taliban.
So there is going to be a great deal of anger in Waziristan and other places which are the borders of Pakistani Taliban, and we’re going to see some of the spillover of this is going to be renewed attacks inside Pakistan. Because people… they will want to take revenge on somebody.
PAUL JAY: And then you go to American domestic politics. This fervor, this love of the bombing of Syria from leading Democrats, Republicans, neocons, supposed liberal media like The Rachel Maddow Show; now you’re going to expect to have the same thing about this Mother of All Bombs.
There is a real bloodlust emerging at the level of the official political stratum. It’s a reflection of them being out of ideas. They have no solutions for the problems facing people. The military-industrial complex is just thirsting for this kind of expansion. They’re going to get $54 billion from this president; now he’s starting to drop… I don’t know what that bomb cost. I don’t think we saw a number on it, but it must be millions and millions of dollars for the single bomb.
It’s a very dangerous situation, and people should be careful about the terrible chauvinism being aroused the name of fighting a terrorist threat, that to some extent doesn’t exist in terms of a threat to the United States, that’s for sure.
VIJAY PRASHAD: Well, there was no threat to the United States from this group, not at this point, and I don’t think even the General in the area, Nicholson, had at no point said that there is a threat from this group to the United States.
I mean, just to draw further into your statement about so-called rallying around the flag of the liberal media, there is a curious dynamic to this. When George W. Bush was the President, there was a great deal of disparagement of his agenda in the first few months of his presidency. When 9/11 hit, and he began his war against Afghanistan, at that point the liberal intelligentsia suddenly said he has become “presidential.” That was the very word they used.
The “presidential-ness” only soured when reports came out about torture, black sites, et cetera. Once again we see this term presidential come out. It’s a stunning thing that the word “presidential” is now related to bombing, that if you bomb, you are presidential. If you don’t bomb, you’re not.
And the other thing that’s interesting in this, is the kind of comparison with Obama. You see, in a way, people are saying, well, Obama’s foreign policy was leading from behind. Of course, this is news to the victims of the drone strikes. But I think there is a difference between Obama’s form of aerial bombardment and Trump’s form of aerial bombardment.
There is a kind of I would even go so far as to say, a racist assumption that the United States is the doctor, and it must provide doses of medication through bombing around the planet to maintain order. And whereas Obama was in a sense a homeopath who gave homeopathic doses of bombing, Trump is an allopath. He comes in with massive scale bombing which we’ve seen now with this Mother of All Bombs. The difference between Obama and Trump should not be measured in terms of one being slow to use American force and the other one being fast. But it’s in the dosages that they have decided to write out in their prescriptions.
And I fear that this President is going to escalate this kind of bombing; hes going to be a little more indiscriminate. And all this is going to do at the other end is create what the CIA called in its after-action document, after overthrowing the Iranian government; they coined the term “blowback”.
The blowback from this is going to be quite significant; and I don’t think they’re taking a long-term historical view on the outcomes of their bombings.
Just as Obama, with his homeopathic drone strikes, didn’t take a long-term view of the value, the utility of so-called going after high value targets through drone strikes; neither the high value target were policy, nor this massive attack, is going to have the so-called desired effect, which is the defeat of what they call the terrorists.
PAUL JAY: And terrorists that their policy created in the first place. Thanks for joining us, Vijay.
VIJAY PRASHAD: Thanks a lot.