President Donald Trump took to his favorite public forum, Twitter, and channeled his anger toward Iran January 7 – but these threats violate an international treaty signed by the U.S.
Speaking on behalf of our entire country, Trump threatened to target 52 Iranian sites to represent the 52 American hostages taken by Iran in 1979—some at a “very high level and important to Iran and the Iranian culture,” and hit them “very fast and very hard.”
The president’s response to Iranians’ threats of retaliation after the killing of Iranian Major Gen. Qasem Soleimani sought to deter revenge, but the actions within this statement could be classified as war crimes.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was quick to point this out in a responding tweet, saying, “Targeting cultural sites is a war crime… Whether kicking or screaming, end of U.S. malign presence in West Asia has begun.”
Post-World War II, many countries came together in the wake of mass destruction to protect cultural sites from future warfare and to avoid the scorched-earth methods the world has suffered from in the past. The 1954 Hague Convention signed into law the protection of these sites.
In fact, the U.S. military utilizes several no-strike lists to avoid violation of the mandate and has also used other creative methods to safeguard these areas in the past. For example, playing cards issued by the Pentagon were given to American soldiers with pictures and descriptions of Middle Eastern sites to be avoided.
However, paragraph 5, article 8 of the document withdraws immunity from these sites if they are being used as a safeguard for military activity, weapons or purposes other than cultural display.
If Iran targeted the Statue of Liberty, for example, the president would be the first to bring up the Convention and condemn them for violating it, and rightfully so.
Destroying cultural history and harming citizens extends far beyond the eye-for-an-eye mentality. Dehumanizing war has grave consequences, and as a global power, the U.S. sets an example for conduct in all aspects of governing in free world.
Defense Secretary Mike Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo both publicly denounced the president’s threats and assured the public that the U.S. would only partake in lawful strategies and techniques of war.
With regard to the threat itself, Trump was careless in his execution. He certainly has the time to display his opinions and plans in great detail through his Twitter account without filter. And the truth is, if Iran cared about protecting their cultural sites at all costs, they would not use them as a shield.
If the events detailed in Trump’s threats came to fruition, they might very well be legally justifiable if Iran is in fact using their cultural sites for military purposes. Swift retaliation is often necessary for keeping American citizens safe.
Trump is in the right to threaten anyone who dares attack the U.S., but he must be careful in his wording. A sentence explaining that targeting only sites used illegally would have gone a long way in this situation.
It is important to respect heritage and culture because they are each civilization’s diverse contribution to the world. They serve as a reminder in times of conflict that we are all human and share common intrinsic values. The U.S. must continue to abide by the laws of war and not stoop down to the level of terrorists.
Still, contradictory statements issued by the U.S. government chip away at the strong foundation of this country, which needs to be uniform when addressing foreign conflict.
This is not a time to appear weak and unorganized. Internal conflict, especially between party lines, is expected, but when it comes to the defense of American citizens, the government should issue statements on the same spectrum and not have to publicly apologize for one another.
In the face of war, the U.S. must appear unified.