Donald Trump was roundly condemned this weekend for a tweet that said the United States had already targeted “52 Iranian sites…important to Iran & the Iranian culture” — implying he would be willing to commit acts that would violate several international treaties and would likely be considered war crimes — in response to any retaliation by Iran for his ordering the assassination of the head of its Islamic Revolutionary Guards, Major General Qassim Suleimani.
Today, Trump sent his senior White House counselor to face the media to defend his plans.
Kellyanne Conway ignored the fact that the International Criminal Court has already established that the destruction of cultural artifacts is considered a criminal offense with its acceptance of a guilty plea from the leader of an al-Qaeda affiliate in Mali that destroyed ancient religious monuments in Timbuktu.
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Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, the leader of the jihadist group, was sentenced to nine years in prison for the crime.
Conway backpedaled the president’s threats somewhat, claiming — as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did yesterday — that any attacks made by the United States would be aginst lawful targets, according to an account at The Hill.
“Secretary Pompeo said yesterday that we will be within the law, and I think that Iran has many military, strategic military sites that you may cite are also cultural sites,” Conway told White House reporters this morning.
The presidential advisor was later forced to clarify that she was not accusing Iran of disguising military targets as culturally significant.
In addition, Conway denied that Pompeo’s assertion that America would only strike lawful targets conflicted in any way with Trump’s unhinged threats against Iran, despite the president’s clearly specific language in his belligerent tweets.
“He didn’t say he’s targeting cultural sites. 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 … he said that they identified 52 sites,” Conway uniquely interpreted Trump’s social media posts.
She later further expanded her comments to say that the president had “identified those sites and said it may happen if Iran retaliates in a certain way,” without specifying what those ways may be.
In explaining Trump’s choice of a symbolic number of 52 targets, Conway took a gratuitous dig at former President Jimmy Carter to further bolster the current president’s image of strength in facing down Iran.
“I think the president’s putting out the number 52 is significant for those numerologists in Iran who are listening to numbers,” said Conway. “That’s the number of hostages they took 40 years ago when — talk about a weak president — President Jimmy Carter.”
“I wish him the best now, but he was a very weak president when it came to that. They took our hostages and they released them as soon as President Reagan took office, of course,” she added.
Conway fails to mention the rumors of the secret meetings the Reagan campaign purportedly held with Iranian officials offering to allow the shipment of U.S. arms to Iran if the Tehran government waited until after the November election to release American hostages it was holding and aided Reagan’s campaign by continuing to make Carter appear weak.
The unproven October Surprise — as the incident is referred to — is still considered a conspiracy theory by the majority of historians but is far more plausible than most of the conspiracies that Trump himself has been peddling, from the “birther” claims about Obama to his nonsense about windmills causing cancer.
The administration’s continued defense of every brain fart that the president tweets out from his rapidly deteriorating psyche shows how important the checks and balances of the Constitution will be in the weeks ahead.
Unless Republicans get on board to reserve the war-declaring powers granted exclusively to Congress by the Constitution and prevent Trump from unilaterally starting what could easily become a global conflict — the start of World War III, as the trending hashtag on Twitter this weekend suggested — the president may be able to use the conflict with Iran to further distract from his impeachment.
The stakes are now so high that the imperative to remove him from office is stronger than ever.
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Original reporting by Morgan Chalfant at The Hill.