Just so we’re clear about this, it would, of course, be a war crime:
WASHINGTON — President Trump on Sunday evening doubled down on his claim that he would target Iranian cultural sites if Iran retaliated for the targeted killing of one of its top generals, and threatened “very big sanctions” on Iraq if American troops are forced to leave the country.
Aboard Air Force One on his way back from his holiday trip to Florida, Mr. Trump reiterated to reporters the spirit of a Twitter post on Saturday, when he said the United States government had identified 52 sites for retaliation against Iran if there were a response to Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani’s death. Some, he tweeted, were of “cultural” significance.”
Unless you’re a teenager and only started following the news in the past six months or so, you’ll probably remember the genuine horror and outrage as ISIS waged a war on historic and cultural sites in Iraq and Syria at the height of their power. Some of the most valuable cultural sites in the middle east were deliberately bulldozed and blown up by those barbarians in their weird attempt to make a point:
“The so-called Islamic State (ISIS) released a video that shocked the world last month by showing the fiery destruction of the Temple of Baalshamin, one of the best-preserved ruins at the Syrian site of Palmyra. Last weekend, explosions were reported at another Palmyra temple, dedicated to the ancient god Baal; a United Nation agency says satellite images show that larger temple has largely been destroyed.
The destruction is part of a propaganda campaign that includes videos of militants rampaging through Iraq’s Mosul Museum with pickaxes and sledgehammers, and the dynamiting of centuries-old Christian and Muslim shrines.”
So, when President Trump threatens to blow up historic and cultural sites, he’s threatening to adopt a tactic favoured by the worst people in the world.
Aside from the sheer unthinking stupidity of this move – we’ll come to that in a second – what an absolute waste of military resources it would be. You can just imagine some military officer in the pentagon, who’s seen lives lost in order to get a decent intelligence fix on the location of some key Iranian military installation, getting the order to switch his missile lock onto the Golestan palace. Trump was alive, like most of us, on 9/11. He of all people should know that when you strike an architectural avatar of a civilisation, you’ll unify a country against you better than just about anything else you can do. If the Supreme Ayatollah, or whatever he calls himself, wanted an advert for the evils of the great satan, he couldn’t have scripted a better one.
The Golastan Palace, Tehran
Let’s assume, for a moment, the unlikely event of a full-scale war with the Iranians. For all the talk about how the Iranians are ready for war, such a military conflict would only have one winner. The problem for the Americans has never been, Vietnam aside, actually winning wars. The problem has always been winning the peace. If you want to paint the Iranian regime as oppressive monsters, and your coming as a liberation, it’s probably not a good idea for the occupying army to have been responsible for the destruction of the most important cultural sites in the country. Imagine the reaction, for a moment, if the Americans sent in forces to Ireland to keep the peace, and they blew up the GPO.
Trump is surrounded by people who know all of this, of course, so the chances of the Americans ever actually carrying out this dumbass plan are about twenty gazillion to one. Still, it fits a pattern of this particular President making a brave and interesting decision, and then messing it up with stupid, bellicose bragging.
The decision to actually eliminate Suleimani, carried out, the Pentagon says, “on the direction of the President” is of an entirely different order, which is not to say it was the right decision. It was, however, a very clear and defensible strategic decision. No profile of the deceased Iranian general has done anything to dispute Trump’s claim that Suleimani was the most vital cog in the Iranian terrorist machine. The regime has been actively spreading misery throughout the middle east, most notably in the proxy war in Yemen, where tens of thousands are starving in a famine as a direct result of Iranian aggression. Demonstrating to the Iranians that the Americans are able to pinpoint target their leadership also has the added benefit of perhaps making the Ayatollahs think twice before sending young Iranians to die for the cause, since their own lives might now be at risk. It’s also a useful reminder to the bad guys that the CIA is still a formidable enemy – it’s now hard to think of a major military enemy of the United States in the region since Bin Laden who is still alive.
Now of course, it can be reasonably pointed out that there are two sides to the war in Yemen, and the US has been notably and unfortunately less willing to chastise its Saudi ally than its Iranian enemy. Equally, it’s fair to say that for many Shia Muslims, facing slaughter by ISIS, Suleimani was not seen as a terrorist at all, but a hero. There’s always a risk when you poke a wasp’s nest, so let’s hope the Americans have a plan, for once, for what happens next.
Trump has regularly been criticised for being a softy when it comes to brutal regimes – his friendliness to the North Koreans being a prime example. In recent days, some of those critics have switched to painting him as a bloodthirsty warmonger because of his decision to order this particular assassination. It is perhaps time to recognise that his administration’s policy is more straightforward than that, and that analysing it by modern standards is foolish.
The President won office on an “America First” platform, one that bears more resemblance to the foreign policy of Otto Von Bismarck than to any modern democracy. It’s reasonable to infer from his actions that in that mould, Trump doesn’t really care about whether the North Koreans or the Iranians eviscerate their own people, or whether the Chinese run concentration camps. If he can get a good deal for America, he’ll take it. If someone is a threat to America, goodnight. It’s basic nationalism 101.
All of which makes this particular episode of twitter bragging even stupider. If one person in the world should know the unifying value of national cultural monuments, it should be the nationalist in chief. Pursuing Americas interest through nationalism is one thing. Waving your penis around in public like this is quite another.