WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper sought to douse an international outcry on Monday by ruling out military attacks on cultural sites in Iran if the conflict with Tehran escalates further, despite President Trump’s threat to destroy some of the country’s treasured icons.
Mr. Esper acknowledged that striking cultural sites with no military value would be a war crime, putting him at odds with the president, who insisted such places would be legitimate targets. Mr. Trump’s threats generated condemnation at home and abroad while deeply discomfiting American military leaders who have made a career of upholding the laws of war.
“We will follow the laws of armed conflict,” Mr. Esper said at a news briefing at the Pentagon when asked if cultural sites would be targeted as the president had suggested over the weekend. When a reporter asked if that meant “no” because the laws of war prohibit targeting cultural sites, Mr. Esper agreed. “That’s the laws of armed conflict.”
The furor was a classic controversy of Mr. Trump’s creation, the apparent result of an impulsive threat and his refusal to back down in the face of criticism. When Mr. Trump declared on Saturday that the United States had identified 52 potential targets in Iran if it retaliates for the American drone strike that killed Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, none of those targets qualified as cultural sites, according to an administration official who asked not to be identified correcting the president.
Nonetheless, when Mr. Trump casually said on Twitter that they included sites “very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture,” the resulting uproar only got his back up. Rather than simply say that cultural sites were not actually being targeted, the official said, he decided to double down the next day with reporters flying with him on Air Force One, scoffing at the idea that Iran could “kill our people” while “we’re not allowed to touch their cultural site,” saying, “It doesn’t work that way.”
Donald J. Trump
….hundreds of Iranian protesters. He was already attacking our Embassy, and preparing for additional hits in other locations. Iran has been nothing but problems for many years. Let this serve as a WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have…..
….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. The USA wants no more threats!126K people are talking about this
The comments drew protests from Iran and other American adversaries who said they showed that Mr. Trump is the aggressor — and not just against Iran’s government but against its people, its history and its very nationhood. Even some of America’s allies weighed in, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain breaking with Mr. Trump by issuing a statement through an aide warning against targeting antiquities.
Military leaders were left in the awkward position of trying to reaffirm their commitment to generations of war-fighting rules without angering a volatile commander in chief by contradicting him. Mr. Trump’s remarks unsettled even some of his allies, who considered them an unnecessary distraction at a time when the president should be focusing attention on Iran’s misdeeds rather than promising some of his own.
“We’re not at war with the culture of the Iranian people,” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and one of the president’s staunchest supporters in Congress, said on Monday. “We’re in a conflict with the theology, the ayatollah and his way of doing business.”
Mr. Graham, a retired military lawyer in the Air Force Reserve, said he delivered that message to Mr. Trump in a telephone call on Monday. “I think the president saying ‘we will hit you hard’ is the right message,” he said. “Cultural sites is not hitting them hard; it’s creating more problems. We’re trying to show solidarity with the Iranian people.”
Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Mr. Trump’s threats would only encourage despots of the world to target antiquities themselves.
“America is better than that, and President Trump is flat-out wrong to threaten attacks on historic places of cultural heritage,” said Mr. Reed, a former platoon leader in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. “Destroying some of these culturally significant Iranian sites wouldn’t be seen as just an attack against the regime in Tehran, it could be construed as an attack on history and humanity.”
Iran, home to one of humanity’s most storied ancient civilizations, has 22 cultural sites designated on the World Heritage List by UNESCO, the United Nations cultural organization, including the ruins of Persepolis, the capital of the Achaemenid Empire later conquered by Alexander the Great. Others include Tchogha Zanbil, the remnants of the holy city of the Kingdom of Elam, and a series of Persian gardens that have their roots in the times of Cyrus the Great.
The United States is a signatory to a 1954 international agreement to protect cultural property in armed conflict and has been a leader in condemning rogue nations and groups that destroy antiquities, including the Islamic State’s destruction of sites in Mosul, Iraq, and Palmyra, Syria, and the Taliban’s demolition of the famed Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan in 2001.
Experts said that what Mr. Trump described would likewise violate international law. “We and others accused ISIS of war crimes when they did this,” said Jeh C. Johnson, a former secretary of homeland security under President Barack Obama who previously served as the top lawyer at the Pentagon. “Certainly, in aggravated circumstances, it should be considered a war crime.”
Mr. Johnson and others said there could be situations that are murkier, if the actual cultural value was less clear or it was being used as a military facility. Still, Mr. Johnson said, “my guess is his national security lawyers did not vet that tweet.”
Indeed, the president’s advisers ever since have sought to deny that he was actually making a threat even though his initial tweet said the sites — including those of cultural importance — “WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD” if Iran responded to General Suleimani’s killing.
“President Trump didn’t say he’d go after a cultural site,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted the next day on Fox News. “Read what he said very closely.”
But just hours later, Mr. Trump made very clear that he thought cultural sites were in fact legitimate targets. “They’re allowed to kill our people,” he told the reporters on Air Force One as he flew back to Washington from his winter holiday in Florida. “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 site? It doesn’t work that way.”
By Monday, the White House was again denying that Mr. Trump actually made a threat. “He didn’t say he’s targeting cultural sites,” Kellyanne Conway, the president’s counselor, told reporters. “He said that he was openly asking the question why in the world they’re allowed to maim people, put out roadside bombs, kill our people, torture our people.”
THAT AT LEAST SHOULD BE SAFE. HE CLEARLY DID NOT EXPECT TO RUN
HE CLEARLY DID NOT EXPECT TO RUN INTO LOCAL REPORTERS WHO KNEW
INTO LOCAL REPORTERS WHO KNEW EXACTLY WHAT THEY WERE TALKING
EXACTLY WHAT THEY WERE TALKING ABOUT WHO WERE ABSOLUTELY RED IN
ABOUT WHO WERE ABSOLUTELY RED IN ON THIS SUBJECT, WHO KNEW WHAT
ON THIS SUBJECT, WHO KNEW WHAT TO ASK, WHO WOULDN’T BACK DOWN
TO ASK, WHO WOULDN’T BACK DOWN AND WERE READY TO — READY TO
AND WERE READY TO — READY TO ADVANCE THIS STORY EVEN WHEN HE
ADVANCE THIS STORY EVEN WHEN HE WOULD NOT ANSWER.
WOULD NOT ANSWER. WATCH THIS FROM NASHVILLE.
WATCH THIS FROM NASHVILLE. >> THE ANNOUNCEMENT YESTERDAY,
>> THE ANNOUNCEMENT YESTERDAY, ONE OF YOUR MOST TRUSTED SENIOR
ONE OF YOUR MOST TRUSTED SENIOR ADVISERS RESIGNED.
ADVISERS RESIGNED. HE IS ADDING HIS VOICE TO A
HE IS ADDING HIS VOICE TO A NUMBER OF CAREER DIPLOMATS WHO
NUMBER OF CAREER DIPLOMATS WHO EXPRESSED FRUSTRATION OVER WHAT
EXPRESSED FRUSTRATION OVER WHAT THEY SEE AS YOUR FAILURE TO
THEY SEE AS YOUR FAILURE TO STAND UP FOR GOVERNMENT SERVICE
STAND UP FOR GOVERNMENT SERVICE AND FOR SERVANTS LIKE AMBASSADOR
AND FOR SERVANTS LIKE AMBASSADOR YOVANOVITCH CAUGHT UP IN THE
YOVANOVITCH CAUGHT UP IN THE UKRAINE CONTROVERSY.
UKRAINE CONTROVERSY. DID YOU DO ENOUGH TO DEFEND THE
DID YOU DO ENOUGH TO DEFEND THE AMBASSADOR PRIVATELY AND
AMBASSADOR PRIVATELY AND PUBLICALLY AGAINST THE SMEAR
PUBLICALLY AGAINST THE SMEAR CAMPAIGN BEING WAGED AGAINST
CAMPAIGN BEING WAGED AGAINST HER?
HER? AND WILL YOU SPEAK TO THAT NOW?
AND WILL YOU SPEAK TO THAT NOW? >> MAYBE YOU HAVE SOME OF YOUR
>> MAYBE YOU HAVE SOME OF YOUR FACTS WRONG, SO YOU SHOULD BE
FACTS WRONG, SO YOU SHOULD BE CAREFUL ABOUT THINGS YOU ASSERT
CAREFUL ABOUT THINGS YOU ASSERT AS FACTS BEFORE YOU STATE THEM.
AS FACTS BEFORE YOU STATE THEM. >> CAN YOU SPEAK TO MICHAEL
>> CAN YOU SPEAK TO MICHAEL McKINLEY’S RESIGNATION?
McKINLEY’S RESIGNATION? >> I DON’T TALK ABOUT PERSONNEL
>> I DON’T TALK ABOUT PERSONNEL MATTERS.
MATTERS. >> DID YOU SUPPORT AMBASSADOR —
>> DID YOU SUPPORT AMBASSADOR — THE AMBASSADOR BEING RECALLED
THE AMBASSADOR BEING RECALLED MONTHS BEFORE HER TENURE WAS UP?
MONTHS BEFORE HER TENURE WAS UP? >> I SUPPORTED EVERY MISSION
>> I SUPPORTED EVERY MISSION THAT THE STATE DEPARTMENT HAS
THAT THE STATE DEPARTMENT HAS BEEN ENGAGED IN.
BEEN ENGAGED IN. >> IN MID-FEBRUARY YOU WERE IN
>> IN MID-FEBRUARY YOU WERE IN WARSAW.
WARSAW. DURING YOUR TIME THERE, DID YOU
DURING YOUR TIME THERE, DID YOU MEET WITH GIULIANI?
MEET WITH GIULIANI? >> YOU KNOW, I DON’T TALK ABOUT
>> YOU KNOW, I DON’T TALK ABOUT WHO I MEET WITH.
WHO I MEET WITH. I WENT TO WARSAW FOR A
I WENT TO WARSAW FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE.
PARTICULAR PURPOSE. >> SO YOU’RE NOT GOING TO SAY
>> SO YOU’RE NOT GOING TO SAY WHETHER YOU MET WITH HIM?
WHETHER YOU MET WITH HIM? >> SO WHEN I WAS IN WARSAW, I
>> SO WHEN I WAS IN WARSAW, I HAD A SINGULAR FOCUS.
HAD A SINGULAR FOCUS. MY FOCUS WAS ON THE WORK WE HAVE
MY FOCUS WAS ON THE WORK WE HAVE DONE.
DONE. >> IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU ARE NOT
>> IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU ARE NOT GOING TO SAY.
GOING TO SAY. >> WHEN I WAS IN WARSAW, WE WERE
>> WHEN I WAS IN WARSAW, WE WERE WORKING DILIGENTLY TO ACCOMPLISH
WORKING DILIGENTLY TO ACCOMPLISH THE MISSION.
THE MISSION. >> TEXT MESSAGES SHOW THAT
>> TEXT MESSAGES SHOW THAT DIPLOMATS UNDER YOUR AUTHORITY
DIPLOMATS UNDER YOUR AUTHORITY TOLD THE UKRAINIANS THAT THE
TOLD THE UKRAINIANS THAT THE GOOD RELATIONSHIP WITH PRESIDENT
GOOD RELATIONSHIP WITH PRESIDENT TRUMP WAS ONLY POSSIBLE IF THEY
TRUMP WAS ONLY POSSIBLE IF THEY INVESTIGATED HIS POLITICAL
INVESTIGATED HIS POLITICAL OPPONENTS AND THEORIES ABOUT
OPPONENTS AND THEORIES ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED IN 2016.
WHAT HAPPENED IN 2016. WERE YOU AWARE THAT THIS WAS
WERE YOU AWARE THAT THIS WAS HAPPENING?
HAPPENING? >> AGAIN, YOU HAVE GOT YOUR
>> AGAIN, YOU HAVE GOT YOUR FACTS WRONG.
FACTS WRONG. SOUNDS LIKE YOU ARE WORKING AT
SOUNDS LIKE YOU ARE WORKING AT LEAST IN PART FOR THE DEMOCRATIC
LEAST IN PART FOR THE DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE WHEN YOU
NATIONAL COMMITTEE WHEN YOU PHRASE THAT PREDICATE OF A
PHRASE THAT PREDICATE OF A QUESTION IN THAT WAY.
QUESTION IN THAT WAY. TUS
TUS IT IS UNFORTUNATE.
IT IS UNFORTUNATE. >> THE REPORTER ASKING THOSE
>> THE REPORTER ASKING THOSE QUESTIONS WAS NANCY AMENS, WHICH
QUESTIONS WAS NANCY AMENS, WHICH IS A LOCAL NBC AFFILIATE IN
IS A LOCAL NBC AFFILIATE IN NASHVILLE.
NASHVILLE. WOW DID SHE DO A GOOD JOB THERE.
WOW DID SHE DO A GOOD JOB THERE. SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO,
SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO, LISTEN, CAN’T ANSWER QUESTIONS
LISTEN, CAN’T ANSWER QUESTIONS FROM LOCAL REPORTERS, NOT WHEN
FROM LOCAL REPORTERS, NOT WHEN EVERYBODY CAN FOLLOW THIS VERY
EVERYBODY CAN FOLLOW THIS VERY STRAIGHTFORWARD STORY.
STRAIGHTFORWARD STORY. SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO
SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO MAY FIND HIMSELF GETTING
MAY FIND HIMSELF GETTING IMPEACHED HERE FOR HOW HE HAS
IMPEACHED HERE FOR HOW HE HAS TRIED TO COVER IT UP SINCE.
TRIED TO COVER IT UP SINCE. MIKE POMPEO TRIED TO HIDE THE
MIKE POMPEO TRIED TO HIDE THE FACT HE WAS ON THE CALL.
FACT HE WAS ON THE CALL. HE APPEARS CLEARLY NOW IN AN
HE APPEARS CLEARLY NOW IN AN INTERVIEW WITH NBC’S AFFILIATE
INTERVIEW WITH NBC’S AFFILIATE IN NASHVILLE TENNESSEE, HE
IN NASHVILLE TENNESSEE, HE APPEARS CLEARLY NOW TO BE TRYING
APPEARS CLEARLY NOW TO BE TRYING TO HIDE SOMETHING ABOUT WHEN AND
TO HIDE SOMETHING ABOUT WHEN AND WHERE HE WAS MEETING WITH RUDY
WHERE HE WAS MEETING WITH RUDY GIULIANI WHEN THE SCHEME WAS
GIULIANI WHEN THE SCHEME WAS BEING HATCHED.
BEING HATCHED. DID YOU IN FACT MEET WITH RUDY
DID YOU IN FACT MEET WITH RUDY GIULIANI IN WARSAW EARLIER THIS
GIULIANI IN WARSAW EARLIER THIS YEAR BEFORE WE ALL KNEW THIS
YEAR BEFORE WE ALL KNEW THIS SCHEME WAS UNDERWAY?
AND EVERYBODY IS TRYING TO GET AS FAR AWAY AS THEY CAN FROM
AS FAR AWAY AS THEY CAN FROM THIS, RIGHT?
THIS, RIGHT? BUT WITH THE FIRST ARRESTS, WITH
BUT WITH THE FIRST ARRESTS, WITH NOT JUST ONE BUT MULTIPLE PHOTOS
NOT JUST ONE BUT MULTIPLE PHOTOS OF THE PRESIDENT AND THE VICE
OF THE PRESIDENT AND THE VICE PRESIDENT WITH THESE MEN WHO
PRESIDENT WITH THESE MEN WHO WERE JUST ARRESTED AND THE
WERE JUST ARRESTED AND THE PRESIDENT’S ELDEST SON WITH
PRESIDENT’S ELDEST SON WITH THESE MEN WHO WERE JUST
THESE MEN WHO WERE JUST ARRESTED, WITH NEWS ABOUT THE
ARRESTED, WITH NEWS ABOUT THE WHITE HOUSE DINNER THAT
WHITE HOUSE DINNER THAT PRESIDENT TRUMP INVITED THESE
PRESIDENT TRUMP INVITED THESE MEN WHO WERE JUST ARRESTED TO
MEN WHO WERE JUST ARRESTED TO JUST LAST YEAR.
JUST LAST YEAR. THAT’S HIM INVITING THEM TO THE
THAT’S HIM INVITING THEM TO THE WHITE HOUSE FOR A MEETING, FOR A
WHITE HOUSE FOR A MEETING, FOR A DINNER MEETING, RIGHT?
DINNER MEETING, RIGHT? I MEAN, THIS IS A DOWNWARD
I MEAN, THIS IS A DOWNWARD SPIRAL AT THIS POINT.
SPIRAL AT THIS POINT. THE HOMELAND SECURITY SECONDARY
THE HOMELAND SECURITY SECONDARY RESIGNED TONIGHT.
RESIGNED TONIGHT. THE ENERGY SECRETARY RECK PERRY
THE ENERGY SECRETARY RECK PERRY IS FACING A SUBPOENA FOR HIS
IS FACING A SUBPOENA FOR HIS INVOLVEMENT IN THIS.
INVOLVEMENT IN THIS. THE SECRETARY OF STATE APPEARS
THE SECRETARY OF STATE APPEARS TO BE AT RISK OF IMPEACHMENT
TO BE AT RISK OF IMPEACHMENT HIMSELF AS HE IS MULTIPLY
HIMSELF AS HE IS MULTIPLY IMPLICATED IN THE PRESIDENT’S
IMPLICATED IN THE PRESIDENT’S SCHEME THAT NOW APPEARS TO HAVE
SCHEME THAT NOW APPEARS TO HAVE TURNED ROUNDLY AGAINST HIM,
TURNED ROUNDLY AGAINST HIM, INCLUDING THE RESIGNATION IN
INCLUDING THE RESIGNATION IN PROTEST OF HIS NUMBER TWO LAST
PROTEST OF HIS NUMBER TWO LAST NIGHT.
NIGHT. BUCKLE UP.
When asked about the whistleblower complaint on Sept. 22, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he didn’t know anything about the call. Yet reports yesterday showed Pompeo listened in on the July 25th call. Aired on 10/01/19.
Kirstjen Nielsen is the latest one out of the president’s spiraling cabinet who expressed his cruelty but wouldn’t go as far as he wanted.
There’s no reason to mourn Kirstjen Nielsen’s departure from the Department of Homeland Security. She was an immigration hard-liner working aggressively to carry out President Trump’s restrictionist agenda. She spearheaded efforts to crack down on migrants and asylum seekers. She requested military assistance at the border. She limited the number of people who can legally present for asylum at ports of entry. And she vastly increased the number of immigrants in detention.
She also carried out the president’s “zero tolerance” policy, resulting in the separation of thousands of families at our border with Mexico. Many parents are still searching for their children.
But there were limits to Nielsen’s embrace of Trump’s immigration policies. She pushed back on his demands to break the law to stop migrants from entering the country, according to The Times, and repeatedly reminded the president of “the limitations imposed on her department by federal laws, court settlements and international obligations.”
In almost any other administration, this would be unremarkable. It simply means Nielsen took her job and its legal obligations seriously — what we would expect from any civil servant. But Trump is unusual among modern presidents for his routine elevation of people who lack that basic sense of public ethics. If regular pressure to break the law was part of Nielsen’s decision to leave the administration, then her departure illustrates how any belief in the public good, no matter how slight, is incompatible with working for this president, even if you share his views.
This was evident from previous resignations and firings. Rex Tillerson, Trump’s first secretary of state, seemed to share the president’s skepticism of the department, carrying out an agenda meant to shrink its influence. But when Trump wanted to break the law — which, Tillerson said in an interview after leaving the administration, was “often” — Tillerson would push back, unwilling to completely subordinate himself to the president’s will. “I would have to say to him, ‘Mr. President, I understand what you want to do, but you can’t do it that way. It violates the law.’”
The president’s first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, faced similar pressures after he recused himself from any investigations related to the prospect of Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election. Sessions took that step after The Washington Post revealed his meetings with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, during the campaign — the kind of contact he had denied during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Trump was furious, which grew into rage after the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, appointed Robert Mueller special counsel. Trump reportedly berated Sessions in the Oval Office — which the attorney general called his “most humiliating experience in decades of public life” — and complained that the recusal was “unfair.”
Trump wanted Sessions to derail the Russia investigation and protect him from scrutiny, essentially making himself above the law. And he spent much of 2018 pressuring the attorney general to do just that, either attacking him in public or cajoling him in private. Sessions, who shared Trump’s politics but not his complete contempt for the rule of law, wouldn’t budge.
The overall pattern is clear. Trump wants to act with impunity, breaking the law if he needs or even just wants to. His appointees, who share his goals but not his methods, resist. He scolds and attacks them until they resign, replacing them with loyalists who may actually bend to his will.
Rex Tillerson was replaced by Mike Pompeo, then serving as director of the C.I.A. Unlike Tillerson, who attempted to contain Trump’s worst instincts, Pompeo has been willing to say or do nearly anything to stay in Trump’s favor. It’s why he would echo the president’s widely criticized flattery of Kim Jong-un and the North Korean government.
Trump says that Kevin McAleenan, until now the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, will take over for Nielsen as acting secretary of Homeland Security. Like Nielsen, McAleenan backs the president’s harsh border policies. He defended border patrol agents after they used tear gas on hundreds of migrants, including women and children, who tried to enter the United States near Tijuana, Mexico. Some attorneys say it’s unclear if Trump can elevate McAleenan, since the laws regarding succession point to under secretary for management Claire Grady as next-in-line as acting director.