Cultural Sites Are No Crime

 

It should not be surprising that even commenters on Fox News would miss the obvious. President Trump tweeted about having 52 targets to match the 52 American hostages seized and held by the Khomeinist regime at its founding. He included the word “cultural” to describe at least one of the targets. Why is no one seeing the obvious here?

The US military does not develop target lists of international cultural treasures to smash. Who does not get this? President Trump is no LBJ, picking tactical targets. Surely everyone understands this. So, you can go with the obstinate position of someone like Ben Shapiro, certain that President Trump has no coherent foreign policy thoughts, and keep writing off every success as fortuitous and no thanks to The Great Big Ugly Man. On the other hand, you might just think for yourself for a moment.

President Trump took a briefing from Secretary of Defense Esper, General Milley, and Secretary of State Pompeo. We know this because they told us directly, in a short joint statement to the cameras. This was when the US military struck several Hezbollah targets in Iraq. Then Hezbollah attacked our embassy, under IRGC Quds Force orders, hearkening back to the 1979 attack in Iran. Then the leader of the IRGC Quds Force was allowed to fly into Iraq by the Iraqi Hezbollah officer who runs the Baghdad International Airport! That is the claim made by Oliver North on the Jim Bohannon Show on January 3.

So the American military killed him as a terrorist organization leader and as a foreign military officer coordinating attacks on our people.* See al Baghdadi and Admiral Yamamoto. This strike was certainly part of the options and capabilities our real national security experts briefed to President Trump, and it is reasonable to conclude that the “52” plan was also presented as part of the “and then what?”

So, given the particular set of lovelies in the Middle East, what do we all already know about sensitive or cultural sites? If I say “hospital, school, Hamas,” what comes to mind? If I say “Iraq, mosque, weapons” what comes to mind? We all kind of know that there are forces in the region that use the cover of innocent, non-military sites to store weapons, to plan, and even to launch attacks. In part, this tactic is defensive, a shield made of our own ethics, and in part it is offensive, seeking to draw an armed response that their co-belligerents in our society can use to damage European and American domestic public opinion.

A light goes on. President Trump is getting a threefer here: trolling domestic opposition, showing reasonable people he cares more for American lives than foreign buildings, and letting the ayatollahs know he knows they have bad stuff stashed in or under “cultural” sites. The president has to be loving the Democrats’ outraged response, and just wishing the next Democratic presidential primary debate was this week so they couldn’t get their heads on straight in front of the American people.

[UPDATE: 7 January 2020] Consider how Secretary of State Pompeo exposes Andrea Mitchel, who had just come back

Secretary Michael R. Pompeo Remarks to the Press [Excerpt]

PRESS BRIEFING ROOM

WASHINGTON, DC

JANUARY 7, 2020

…In Afghanistan, there was an aspect of that conflict that deserves more attention, and that is the Islamic Republic of Iran’s involvement there. Iran has refused to join the regional and international consensus for peace and is, in fact, today actively working to undermine the peace process by continuing its long global efforts to support militant groups there. Most people know about Iran’s proxy networks in the Arab world, but the regime also has a relationship with the Taliban and related groups, such as the Haqqanis, the Tora Bora, and the Mullah Dadullah group. The Taliban’s entanglement in Iran’s dirty work will only harm the Afghanistan peace process.

…QUESTION: So just to be clear, the Soleimani strike was part of the administration’s maximum pressure campaign, and going forward, the Iranians should understand, as they develop their calculus, that similar actions such as the Soleimani strike could well continue to be a feature of this maximum pressure campaign?

SECRETARY POMPEO: I think the President’s been unambiguous in his – both the remarks he made down in Florida as well as the tweets that he’s put out – about the seriousness with which we take this, the risk attendant that we are deeply aware of, and the preparations we’ve made to prevent those risks, as well as our determination that in the event the Iranians make another bad choice, that the President will respond in a way that he did last week, which was decisive, serious, and messaged Iran about the constraints that we are going to place on that regime so that it doesn’t continue to put American lives at risk.

At the end, our Iran policy is about protecting and defending the homeland and securing American lives. I know that the efforts that we have taken not only last week with the strike against Soleimani, but the strategy that we’ve employed, has saved American lives. I’m highly confident in that.

…SECRETARY POMPEO: Andrea, yes, ma’am. How are you?

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much. A question about the issue of cultural sites, because the President said on Air Force One coming back, after you had been on the Sunday talk shows, that “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.”

Defense Secretary Esper has made it clear that he would not follow an order to hit a cultural site, would – would be a war crime. I’m wondering whether you would also push back in your advice or in your role. And secondly —

SECRETARY POMPEO: You’re not really wondering, Andrea. You’re not really wondering.

QUESTION: Well, the President is saying this repeatedly —

SECRETARY POMPEO: I was unambiguous on Sunday. It is completely consistent with what the President has said.

QUESTION: No, but the President has —

SECRETARY POMPEO: We will take – every action we take will be consistent with the international rule of law. And you – the American people can rest assured that that’s the case.

QUESTION: But are cultural sites ruled out, sir?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Let me tell you who’s done damage to the Persian culture. It’s not the United States of America; it’s the ayatollah. If you want to look at who has denied religious freedom, if you want to know who has denied – the Persian culture is rich and steeped in history and intellect and they’ve denied the capacity for that culture to continue. If you go back and look at the holidays around Cyrus and Nowruz, they’ve not permitted people to celebrate. They’ve not allowed people that they’ve killed – that Qasem Soleimani killed – they’ve not allowed them to go mourn their family members. The real risk to Persian culture does not come from the United States of America.

QUESTION: Can I ask a —

QUESTION: Sir, could I follow up? And so —

SECRETARY POMPEO: That – there is no mistake about that.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, all. Everybody have a good day.

Secretary Esper bungled the “cultural” question, to the extent that he grants the hostile questioner’s Orange Man Bad premise instead of rejecting it, like Secretary Pompeo, and then answering:

Press Gaggle With Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark A. Milley
JAN. 6, 2020

…SEC. ESPER: By the way, let me – let me elaborate on his answer because I know there’s another question floating around out there. We didn’t put any option on the table that we didn’t believe in and that we – we knew that – that we couldn’t execute.

And with each option we present the pros and cons, the cost and benefits. That’s what we do all the time. That’s my duty, my obligation. That’s his duty and obligation as well.

Q: And you talk about de-escalate with Iran. Well, you just killed one of their two-star generals. They clearly want to take revenge on that. How do you expect them to de-escalate when you kill one of their senior officers?

SEC. ESPER: How – how do you expect us not to respond after they’ve been killing our people for 20 years? Sulimani alone has the blood of hundreds of Americans. He’s wounded thousands of Americans and coalition partners.

So somehow them turning this around, he is a terrorist, a leader of terrorist organization who’s been killing and attacking Americans for 20 some years. And the blood is on his hands. He was planning attacks on American forces.

He was there on the ground with the leader of Kata’ib Hezbollah, met him on the ground at the airplane, welcomed him so they can further coordinate attacks. This whole narrative that’s being turned around is – is – is just – is silly.

GEN. MILLEY: So you’ve got a very long history here of a guy. We know his history. Importantly we knew his future. I’m not going to go into the details of that, and I know that a lot of people are out there – I’ve seen words like, oh, the intel was razor thin. Very, very few people saw that intelligence. He and I saw that intelligence. And I will be happy, when the appropriate time comes in front of the proper committees and anybody else, through history and every – I’ll stand by the intelligence I saw, that – that was compelling, it was imminent, and it was very, very clear in scale, scope.

Did it exactly say who, what, when, where? No. But he was planning, coordinating, and synchronizing significant combat operations against U.S. military forces in the region and it was imminent.

…Q: For both of you if possible. The president has twice now, not hypothetical, said he is willing to strike cultural sites. Truly cultural sights not with weapons that makes them military targets. [This qualifying sentence is a lie, which Esper should have challenged.] So straight-up could you both say whether you are willing to target cultural sites?

SEC. ESPER: We will follow the laws of armed conflict.

Q: And that means no because targeting a cultural sight is a war crime?

SEC. ESPER: That’s – that’s the laws of armed conflict. [If the other guy hasn’t turned the cultural site into a shield for legitimate targets.]

Secretary Esper seemed a bit flustered at this point in the press gaggle. He had just had to deal with a subordinate command on the ground leaking or improperly circulating an unsigned memo advising the Iraqi government of full American military withdrawal. This was immediately in the usual suspects’ hands, as they quizzed the Secretary of Defense who had never seen or approved even a draft withdrawal statement. After that green-on-green bureaucratic friendly-fire incident, he was just a bit off message. He should have said something like:

“We have briefed the President on a number of contingency targets, and every one of them is a legitimate target, consistent with the laws of armed conflict as recognized in US law and treaties. The president has never asked me for any illegitimate targets. So, what I am telling you now is consistent with what President Trump has actually said, not what you say he said.”

However, what he did say reinforces that the Department of Defense is not ginning up illegitimate target sets. President Trump didn’t latch on to “culture” out of the blue; he got it from a briefing. Both Pompeo and Esper insist they comply with applicable laws. So, we are back to targets being briefed that included warnings about cultural sites. They should recommend a short phase that the president can use to clarify without giving away target identifications. Perhaps a tweet like this:

NO MORE HIDING BEHIND CULTURAL TREASURES. We know what is in, under, next door.


*It is worth noting that a strategic moment was largely unremarked, although the Washington Post and RT got the story [emphasis and comment added]:

The funeral procession for Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani began Saturday in Baghdad, where he was killed a day earlier by a U.S. drone strike. The next stops for Soleimani’s body were the Iraqi cities of Najaf and Karbala, sites that are holy for Shiite Muslims. Soleimani’s burial was scheduled for Tuesday in Kerman, his hometown in southeastern Iran, state media in Iran reported….

“In Najaf’s dusty warrens, Iran has bankrolled schools and charities, built elaborate mosques and nurtured links with religious scholars in a bid to undermine the local clergy, who have long been fiercely independent,” they wrote. “Clerics tied to Iran are promoting its particular brand of state-sponsored Shiite theology in the city’s seminaries and have been maneuvering to install one of their own as Iraq’s ‘marja,’ or supreme religious authority, Iraqi political operatives say.

That position is currently held by 89-year-old Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq’s most influential Shiite cleric who has opposed some of Iran’s core teachings around religious oversight of state affairs. [The full truth is that Sistani has the most senior voice, period, and has denounced the Khomenist regime for corrupting the faith. So, the Washington Post is lying by omission here.]

In November, during the height of protests against Iraq’s political establishment — including its links to Iran — protesters set fire to the Iranian Consulate in Najaf. [In other words, Iraqi Shiite faithful are rejecting the well-financed bully boys from Iran.]

So, this immediate response shows the level of penetration of Iraqi society by Iranians, who these same Iraqi Shiites fought to the death in the Iran-Iraq War. The Iranian regime exploited the most sacred sites in the Shia faith to advance their political objectives in the wake of the killing of their top general. It is the fecklessness of Bush the Second and Obama that allowed this bad turn of events after we ousted Saddam Hussein, a secular dictator who aligned himself with Sunni extremists after Desert Storm.

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  1. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    Here, Secretary Esper gets his feet firmly back under him:
    https://youtu.be/_ZqO0S3ee-Q

    Press Briefing by Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper
    JAN. 7, 2020

    […]

    STAFF:  Barbara?

    Q:  Two points to follow up on, if I may.

    You have talked about Iran needs to de-escalate.  My first question is does the U.S. have any obligation to de-escalate or is that solely in Iran’s court?

    My second question, you have said several times in the past couple of days that you will follow international law on potential war crimes.  I think the — let me set that aside; I think everyone would expect you to do exactly that.  My question is not hypothetical.  The president is out there with his position.  If you get an order, would you resign from office rather than violate the law?

    SEC. ESPER:  Barbara, I’m not going to get into some hypothetical that you’re portraying here.  I am fully confident that the president is not going to — the commander in chief will not give us an illegal order.  And — and as I said, the United States military will, as it always has, obey the laws of armed conflict.

    Q:  And escalation?  Does the U.S. have any responsibility or obligation to also de-escalate, or is that, in your view, solely in Iran’s court?

    SEC. ESPER:  Well, we have not — we’re not the ones that have escalated this over the past, arguably, 40 years, and certainly over the past several months.  It’s been Iran, through its proxies, had — has consistently escalated this in terms of the size, scale, scope of — of their attacks.

    So we reached the point where we had to act in self-defense.  We had to take appropriate action.

    So at this point, as I’ve said a few times now, the ball is in their court.  What they do next will determine what happens in the subsequent moves.

    […]

    Q:  Thank you.

    Mr. Secretary, can — can you please explain to us how the killing of one of Iran’s top generals would contribute to the case of the de-escalation?

    You’re asking Iran to de-escalate now.  Would the U.S. respond in such a manner if one of your top generals was killed in a third country?

    SEC. ESPER:  Well, let’s take a look at history. [Loads magazine, releases slide, flips from safe to auto.]

    Soleimani was a terrorist leader of a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization.  He’s been conducting terrorist activities against us and our coalition partners for over 20 years.  He has the blood of hundreds of Americans, soldiers, on his hands, and wounded thousands more.  And then we could talk about all the mayhem he’s caused with — against the Syrian people, the people of Lebanon, even his own people in Iran.  He is responsible, and the Quds Force, for — for the killing of Iranian people.

    So this sense that somehow taking somebody who — oh, by the way, over the last few months had planned, orchestrated and/or resourced attacks against the United States that resulted in the killing of American and the siege of our embassy in Baghdad, and was in Baghdad to coordinate additional attacks — to somehow suggest that he wasn’t a legitimate target, I think, is fanciful.

    He was clearly on the battlefield.  He was conducting, preparing, planning military operations.  He was a legitimate target, and it was — his time was due.

    []

    Q:  Can you give a little bit of a preview of what you’re going to tell Congress tomorrow?  This — in terms of how much detail will you be give — willing to give members that you haven’t thus far told the — the public in terms of the size — size, scope and imminence?

    You — you are aware of how skeptical people are of the imminent threat issue.  You were there in 2003 when you heard all that.  So what — temper our expectations.  What we — what are you prepared to disclose in Congress tomorrow?

    SEC. ESPER:  Well, look, first of all, much of my messaging to Congress will be the same as what I’m delivering to you all here, in terms of my views on the policy, the — this — the — the broader regional situation and the history.

    Obviously, with members of Congress we can go into a — a classified — we will be in a classified setting and be able to share more.  But the exquisite intelligence that we’re talking about that led to the decision to — that was, I should say, one of the factors that led to the decision to strike at Soleimani is — is — is only shared with a handful of members, the so-called Gang of Eight.  And so they are getting that briefing this afternoon, and — and — and they will have access to that, but most members will not have access to that.

    So, Mike Lee is being far less than honest. “The Senator from Mumbai” is posing, possibly to shake out more H-1B visas to suppress the wages of Americans trying to get out of under college debt. I might even become a Kevin McCarthy fan.

     

    • #91
  2. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):

    Q: Thank you.

    Mr. Secretary, can — can you please explain to us how the killing of one of Iran’s top generals would contribute to the case of the de-escalation?

    You’re asking Iran to de-escalate now. Would the U.S. respond in such a manner if one of your top generals was killed in a third country?

    SEC. ESPER: Well, let’s take a look at history. [Loads magazine, releases slide, flips from safe to auto.]

    Soleimani was a terrorist leader of a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization. He’s been conducting terrorist activities against us and our coalition partners for over 20 years. He has the blood of hundreds of Americans, soldiers, on his hands, and wounded thousands more. And then we could talk about all the mayhem he’s caused with — against the Syrian people, the people of Lebanon, even his own people in Iran. He is responsible, and the Quds Force, for — for the killing of Iranian people.

    So this sense that somehow taking somebody who — oh, by the way, over the last few months had planned, orchestrated and/or resourced attacks against the United States that resulted in the killing of American and the siege of our embassy in Baghdad, and was in Baghdad to coordinate additional attacks — to somehow suggest that he wasn’t a legitimate target, I think, is fanciful.

    He was clearly on the battlefield. He was conducting, preparing, planning military operations. He was a legitimate target, and it was — his time was due.

    That doesn’t answer either question.

    Re why he was there and why he was taken out:

    Iraq’s prime minister revealed that he was due to be meeting the Iranian commander to discuss moves being made to ease the confrontation between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia…

    Adil Abdul-Mahdi was quite clear: “I was supposed to meet him in the morning the day he was killed, he came to deliver a message from Iran in response to the message we had delivered from the Saudis to Iran.”  

    And this:

    Former US diplomat in Iraq Barbara Leaf said…she was generally uncomfortable with the prospect of the Saudis allegedly trying to discuss an accommodation with the Iranians in the wake of the sophisticated attack on the Saudi Aramco facility on Sept. 14 that the United States has attributed to Iran….

    “When I heard this from the Iraqis … what concerned me at the time is that the Saudis were [allegedly] entering into these sort of proximity talks/message passing … outside of the US security umbrella,” Leaf continued. She noted that the talks would have occurred after the Donald Trump administration was seen refraining from a military response to the Sept. 14 drone and cruise missile attacks on the Saudi oil facility, and that the Iranians would feel the Saudis were coming to the talks because the Trump administration refrained from responding.

    Possible?

     

    • #92
  3. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    TBA (View Comment):

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Zafar (View Comment):

    Can you imagine? First door Christmas ornaments, second door spare Cossacks, third door Papal Reactor, fourth door relics….

    You don’t want to know about the fifth door.

    Or the green door.

    We already have the Cossacks. Maybe spare cassocks?

    • #93
  4. cirby Inactive
    cirby
    @cirby

    Zafar (View Comment):

    Re why he was there and why he was taken out:

    Iraq’s prime minister revealed that he was due to be meeting the Iranian commander to discuss moves being made to ease the confrontation between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia…

    Adil Abdul-Mahdi was quite clear: “I was supposed to meet him in the morning the day he was killed, he came to deliver a message from Iran in response to the message we had delivered from the Saudis to Iran.”

    You mean the Iraqi PM who is currently on the way out, partly because because he sold his soul to the Iranians?

    The more-important appointment that day was between Soleimani and the five other terrorist leaders who were actually in the caravan with him when he went to a very important meeting with Allah.

    If Soleimani was actually supposed to be meeting with the Iraqi PM, he would have flown in during the daytime, in public, instead of sneaking in late at night under the cover of darkness.

    • #94
  5. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge
    Fake John/Jane Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    Of course you are right.  Trump is evil.  I notice that the terrorist supported / sponsored by Iran avoid any site of any cultural significance whatsoever.  They are truly superior, holy beings.  

    • #95
  6. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Fake John/Jane Galt (View Comment):
    Of course you are right. Trump is evil.

    I don’t think he’s particularly evil, but I also don’t think that’s relevant when assessing why Soleimani was killed and whether that was a good idea.

    (The second quote above [from here] sort of indicates that it might have been a good idea, albeit for reasons of realpolitik.)

    Tulsi Gabbard disagrees.

    • #96
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