The Bulkward,Charlie Sykes
It is seldom that I find myself nostalgic for the days when Sean Spicer would hold forth on crowd sizes and the relative size of biggish public events like inaugurations and funerals.
But I found myself slightly curious about his take on the scenes out of Iraq and Iran over the weekend. Mike Pompeo had assured us that we would see dancing in the streets after the death of master terrorist Qassem Soleimani, but the size of the crowds at his funeral procession -- assuming the pictures are real -- suggests a rather different reaction.
So let's quickly recap: Iran has pulled out of the nuclear deal, the hardliners there have consolidated their support, we've suspended our anti-ISIS efforts in Iraq, the Iraqi parliament seems inclined to kick us out of the country, Trump is threatening to sanction Iraq if they do .... and the president seems to be talking about committing war crimes. Sort of, because as usual, it's unclear what he's actually saying.
Sunday morning, Pompeo assured us that Trump "didn't say he'd go after a cultural site," but later on Air Force One, Trump stood by his threat, which he made explicit: “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”
Let's be clear here. Targeting cultural sites would violate international law, while also being a thuggish thing for America to do. Attacking cultural sites is the sort of thing we associate with the Taliban, or ISIS, not the US military.
Perhaps it's all a bluff and twitter bluster. But it is also worth recalling that Trump explicitly ran on a platform of making War Crimes Great Again.He has made so secret that he is something of a war crimes enthusiast. As Adam Serwer noted:
On the campaign trail, Trump frequently invoked a false story about General John Pershing crushing a Muslim insurgency in the Philippines with bullets dipped in pig’s blood, declaring, “There was no more radical Islamic terror for 35 years!” He vowed to impose torture techniques “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” Trump declared that he would “take out the families” of terrorist suspects, assuring skeptics that the military would not refuse his commands, even though service members have a duty to refuse orders that are manifestly illegal. “If I say do it, they’re going to do it.”
Just last month, he intervened in two war crimes cases, including the case of navy seal Eddie Gallagher, who had been convicted at a court martial for with the corpse of a 17-year-old captive Islamic State fighter.
All of this raises the familiar question: we know that MAGA world would have few qualms about embracing war crimes, but what about other Republicans? So far the GOP seems comfortable with Trump's Iran policy, but how far would they be willing to follow?
Unfortunately, I suspect we know the answer.