“The US is not seeking a war with Iran”, Mark Esper said Tuesday, four days after assassinating the nation’s top military commander in a brazen drone strike at an international airport. “But we are prepared to finish one”.
The Trump administration has an uncanny penchant for making people empathize (but not necessarily sympathize) with even the most objectively despicable human beings.
There’s something about abject absurdity that unites intelligent people in a shared sense of bewilderment. Everyone understands what Esper is trying to communicate – Qassem Soleimani was a man with American (and all manner of other) blood on his hands. But there’s still something profoundly silly about the contention that incinerating a nation’s top military commander as he stepped out of an airplane is somehow not an action that anyone should construe as warlike.
It’s not that anyone feels sorry for Iran’s leadership, it’s just that you’ll forgive them if they don’t view Donald Trump’s behavior has consistent with a man who isn’t “seeking war”.
It’s the same way that nobody “felt sorry” for the notoriously loathsome Jeff Sessions when he was attorney general, but everyone nevertheless understood how extremely frustrating it must have been for him to wake up each and every morning to the President of the United States openly calling on the Department of Justice to aid and abet a criminal conspiracy by helping Trump obstruct the Mueller probe.
Allow us to drive home the point. Here is the actual video of Esper making the statement cited above:
Again, the fact that we all know what Esper is trying to communicate does not make the situation any less absurd on its face.
And it certainly does not help that, just days after Soleimani’s killing, Don Jr. posted a picture of himself on Instagram wielding an assault rifle decorated with a Crusader cross (and a picture of Hillary Clinton). That, as his father threatened to bomb Iranian cultural sites.
The point is simple: Trump (and his son) are not just undermining what might otherwise be a completely legitimate case for offensive military action, they are torpedoing that case by suggesting America is prepared to embrace the idea of a holy war.
Shortly after Esper’s public remarks, Trump spoke to reporters in the latest installment of “yellow chair chat”. Suffice to say it was a cringeworthy affair.
Asked (again) whether he’s serious about destroying Shia shrines, Trump repeatedly claimed that Iran is “allowed to blow up our people”, a wholly bizarre way to describe IED casualties in Iraq, a country the US invaded.
To be clear, Iran is not “allowed” to blow anyone up, as evidenced by the fact that the number of Shia militia fighters killed in combat with US troops since 2003 is doubtlessly large. But leaving that aside (and forgetting that the vast majority of the deaths for which Soleimani ultimately bears responsibility occurred on the battlefield, a historically injury-prone arena), Trump seems to believe that destroying cultural sites is an effective way to deter an adversary. In fact, it’s a good way to get even more Americans killed and forever tarnish the reputation of the US armed forces.
He then meandered into feigning allegiance to “the law”. “I like to obey the law. But think of it; they kill our people. They blow up our people and then we have to be very gentle with their cultural institutions?”, he said. “But I’m okay with it. It’s okay with me”. (That his cadence was dripping with sarcasm is not exactly comforting.)
That was hardly the end of it.
Trump also claimed the US is “totally prepared” for an Iranian counter strike, insisted that Soleimani was plotting “a big bad attack”, expressed his dismay that Recep Erdogan described the fallen commander as a martyr and, for the coup de covfefe, said that while he’d ideally like to “allow” Iraq to conduct its own affairs, that’s not possible for right now. Leaving would give Iran a foothold, Trump said.
In case you haven’t noticed, Iran already has a “foothold”. In fact, they’ve got a veritable stranglehold, and that isn’t going to change – unless Trump plans on sending in a million soldiers, colonizing the country and claiming it for America.