Wineke: President’s bluster betrays our values

A generic photo of Trump
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MADISON, Wis. — Just for the sake of argument, let’s accept the idea that the assassination of Iran’s top military leader by the American government was a good idea.

Gen. Qassam Soleimani was responsible for innumerable civilian deaths at the hands of his various paramilitary forces and was, by all accounts, a genuinely evil person.

We may disagree among ourselves that blowing him up on the streets of Baghdad, Iraq was a good idea or not. But the president ordered the hit and our top military leaders signed off on the idea.

Soleimani deserved to die. His death will almost certainly lead to retribution that will cost the lives of men and women who do not deserve to die, but that’s a different question.

Here’s what is not open to question: President Donald Trump has no business threatening to commit war crimes in Iran.

But he did that twice. He did it Saturday and he doubled down on Sunday as he warned that any retaliation by Iran might mean the destruction of that nation’s cultural and religious sites.

“They’re allowed to kill our people,” Trump whined. “They’re allowed to torture and maim our people. And we’re not allowed to touch their cultural sites? It doesn’t work that way.”

Well, yes it does.

When you talk about cultural sites in the Middle East you’re talking about sites that have been held sacred for hundreds, often for thousands, of years. We don’t threaten them just because a temporary leader wants to appear tough.

Nor should an American leader get too outraged at the thought of killing and maiming, since that’s what our country did in Iraq not too many years ago. Or have we forgotten the photographs of Iraqi men being tortured in prison at our hands?

The president admitted as much when, in a television interview a few years ago, he defended the tactics of Russian President Vladimir Putin when Putin was accused of murdering his opponents, insisting that America also has dirty hands in that regard.

But, just in case we had any friends left in the area, Trump also used the weekend to threaten Iraq.

Iraq’s Parliament has called for an end to the stationing of American troops in that country, mostly because they kind of object to us blowing up foreign leaders on Baghdad streets. The action is not binding but it does suggest the Iraqis still aren’t dancing in the streets in thanksgiving for our occupation.

That is apparently fine with Trump so long as Iraq sends us tons of money in return.

“We will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before,” he said. “It’ll make Iran sanctions seem somewhat tame…We’re not leaving until they pay us for it.”

This is the face of America in 2020. You and I are part of it.