Trump administration officials are desperately trying to pretend that Donald Trump is not planning to order the military to bomb Iranian cultural sites after Trump threatened over the weekend to do just that. It’s in writing, though. Trump tweeted that, if Iran strikes Americans, the U.S. has “targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, though, insisted Sunday on Fox News, “As for these critiques, President Trump didn’t say he’d go after a cultural site. Read what he said very closely.”
Okay … he said that sites, including “some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture … WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD.” Trump also said to reporters on Sunday, “They’re allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people. And we’re not allowed to touch their cultural site? It doesn’t work that way.”
The Geneva Conventions say, “Making the clearly-recognized historic monuments, works of art or places of worship which constitute the cultural or spiritual heritage of peoples … the object of attack” is a war crime. And the U.S. War Crimes Act makes officials who commit this war crime by targeting Iranian cultural sites liable for war crimes themselves.
That’s probably why two very brave “senior U.S. officials” went anonymously to CNN to claim that of course the U.S. wouldn’t target Iranian cultural sites. “Nothing rallies people like the deliberate destruction of beloved cultural sites. Whether ISIS’s destruction of religious monuments or the burning of the Leuven Library in WWI, history shows targeting locations giving civilization meaning is not only immoral but self-defeating,” one said. (As if “immoral and self-defeating” isn’t Donald Trump’s middle name.) “Consistent with laws and norms of armed conflict, we would respect Iranian culture,” the other said.
Since unnamed officials also say that Trump was presented with the option of assassinating Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani only as an outlandish, obviously unpalatable choice intended to make other options seem more reasonable, and that everyone was surprised when Trump went for it, this is not comforting.
The bottom line is that Donald Trump is having an international temper tantrum, and no one in his administration is willing or able to stop him.