Whatever moral authority the United States had to justify the killing of Iran’s top general must not be squandered by President Donald Trump.
Threatening to destroy Iranian cultural sites and flout laws of armed conflict, as Trump did repeatedly in recent days, severely undermines that authority. It also increases tension at a time when the U.S. must be committed to de-escalation and preventing war with Iran.
Bullying threats do not project strength or power. Instead, they raise questions about Trump’s values, strategy and the advice he’s receiving — or absorbing — as the Iran crisis unfolds.
International support is needed for any Middle East strategy to succeed. The United States also needs to play a long game in Iran, in hopes of eventual regime change and better relations with its large and educated populace. Upholding international standards of conduct is also needed for the safety of U.S. troops overseas. None of those important goals are achieved with illegal behavior.
It may turn out that the drone strike that killed Iran’s Major General Qassim Suleimani last Friday in Baghdad was justifiable and shrewd.
But the test of leadership isn’t whether Trump can pull a trigger. The test is how well he plans for and manages the consequences. Voters will decide in November whether Trump is doing a better job in Iran as promised — by abandoning a multilateral nuclear treaty and killing Suleimani — and fulfilling a signature campaign promise to end the endless wars in the Middle East and bring troops home.
Congressional pressure might not rein in the president’s rhetoric, but it should force the administration to better explain its Iran position.
Democrats in Congress are rightly proposing a War Powers Resolution, stating that the president does not have authorization for war with Iran. This is unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled Senate, but the deliberations are necessary. The administration must also declassify the document notifying Congress of the Suleimani attack, so representatives can ascertain its legality.
In the meantime, the State Department and Pentagon — if not the White House — should affirm that the U.S. military will not target cultural sites in violation of law and treaties. The value of these sites transcends borders, conflicts and politicians.
As the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization stated Monday, these heritage sites are universal “vectors of peace and dialogue between peoples, which the international community has a duty to protect and preserve for future generations.”
Destroying such sites is immoral. Threatening to do so is not being strong and tough. Rather, it is being frighteningly petty and shortsighted. America is better than that.