As President Donald Trump has continued to ratchet up violent tension with Iran, he’s even threatened to order airstrikes against civilian cultural sites in their country. That would be an apparently brazen violation of international law and constitute a war crime, but that did not deter the president from repeating the threat at least twice. This week, Senate Majority Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) derided the president’s plan to attack cultural sites, allying himself with Defense Secretary Mark Esper on an issue that should not even remotely be in question — but this is Trump that we’re talking about.
On Tuesday — the same day that he announced to his Republican colleagues that he had the votes lined up to kick off Trump’s impeachment trial without even voting on whether or not to hear from witnesses — McConnell told reporters:
‘I want to associate myself with the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State with regard to the appropriateness of cultural sites being targeted. That is not appropriate.’
Again, this question should not be an issue, considering basic laws of war — but, it is anyway. Showing himself as completely incompetently thinking that he had some kind of grasp of laws of war that the majority of everyone else somehow did not have, as recently as Sunday night, Trump told reporters:
‘They’re allowed to kill our people, they’re allowed to torture and maim our people, they’re allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people, and we’re not allowed to touch their cultural sites? It doesn’t work that way.’
Again — the rules of conflict are not dependent on how Donald Trump feels about them. His suggestion otherwise is just ridiculous egomania.
On Monday, Defense Secretary Esper asserted:
‘We will follow the laws of armed conflict.’
That forbids targeting civilian cultural sites just for the heck of it. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has made similar remarks, like when he recently claimed to reporters that “every effort that’s being made will always be conducted inside the international laws of war.” That means no cultural site strikes like Trump seems so hellbent on.
The latest round of hostilities got kickstarted when he abruptly ordered an airstrike killing top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, who was a political leader in the country in addition to his military strategy leadership. The Trump administration has claimed that the strike taking him out was necessary to thwart some kind of incoming major attack against U.S. interests, but high-level sources told New York Times reporter Rukmini Callimachi that the evidence for that claim is “razor thin,” which is not exactly reassuring.
Iran has already promised harsh retaliation against the U.S., and the U.S. has been preparing, with heightened security in major cities amid fears of not just cyberattacks but in-person ones as well. Trump claimed that the Soleimani strike was carried out to stop a war and not start one, but there’s been just about the exact opposite effect — although it’s not as though there’s been any kind of acknowledgement of shortcoming from the president or his associates.