Nick Turse: Trump Threatens Mass Destruction in Afghanistan

Yves here. While you’ve been preoccupied with the cray-cray in Iraq, Trump has some seriously bad ideas for Afghanistan too.

By Nick Turse a fellow at the Type Media Center and the author most recently of Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead: War and Survival in South Sudan and of the bestselling Kill Anything That Moves. Originally published at TomDispatch

On February 4, 2002, a Predator drone circled over Afghanistan’s Paktia province, near the city of Khost. Below was al-Qaeda’s founder Osama bin Laden — or at least someone in the CIA thought so — and he was marked for death. As Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld put it later, both awkwardly and passively: “A decision was made to fire the Hellfire missile. It was fired.”  That air-to-ground, laser-guided missile — designed to obliterate tanks, bunkers, helicopters, and people — did exactly what it was meant to do. 

As it happened, though (and not for the first time in its history either), the CIA got it wrong. It wasn’t Osama bin Laden on the receiving end of that strike, or a member of al-Qaeda, or even of the Taliban. The dead, local witnesses reported, were civilians out collecting scrap metal, ordinary people going about their daily work just as thousands of Americans had been doing at the World Trade Center only months earlier when terror struck from the skies.

In the years since, those Afghan scrap collectors have been joined by more than 157,000 war dead in that embattled land. That’s a heavy toll, but represents just a fraction of the body count from America’s post-9/11 wars. According to a study by the Costs of War Project of Brown University’s Watson Institute, as many as 801,000 people, combatants and noncombatants alike, have been killed in those conflicts. That’s a staggering number, the equivalent of the Rwandan genocide of 1994. But if President Donald Trump is to be believed, the United States has “plans” that could bury that grim count in staggering numbers of dead. The “method of war” he suggested employing could produce more than 20 times that number in a single country — an estimated 20 million or more Afghans, almost all of them civilians.

It’s a strange fact of our moment that President Trump has claimed to have “plans” (or “a method”) for annihilating millions of innocent people, possibly most of the population of Afghanistan. Yet those comments of his barely made the news, disappearing within days. Even for a president who threatened to unleash “fire and fury” on North Korea and usher in “the end” of Iran, hinting at the possibility of wiping out most of the civilian population of an ally represented something new.

After all, America’s commander-in-chief does have the authority, at his sole discretion, to order the launch of weapons from the vast U.S. nuclear arsenal. So it was no small thing last year when President Trump suggested that he might unleash a “method of war” that would kill at least 54% of the roughly 37 million inhabitants of Afghanistan. 

And yet almost no one — in Washington or Kabul — wanted to touch such presidential comments. The White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department all demurred. So did the chief spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. One high-ranking Afghan official apologized to me for being unable to respond honestly to President Trump’s comments. A current American official expressed worry that reacting to the president’s Afghan threats might provoke a presidential tweet storm against him and refused to comment on the record.

Experts, however, weren’t shy about weighing in on what such “plans,” if real and utilized, would actually mean. Employing such a method (to use the president’s term), they say, would constitute a war crime, a crime against humanity, and possibly a genocide. 

A Trumpian Crime Against Humanity

“Massive Soviet military forces have invaded the small, nonaligned sovereign nation of Afghanistan,” President Jimmy Carter announced on January 4, 1980. “Fifty thousand heavily armed Soviet troops have crossed the border and are now dispersed throughout Afghanistan, attempting to conquer the fiercely independent Muslim people of that country.” Nine years later, the Red Army would finally limp out of that land in the wake of a war that killed an estimated 90,000 Mujahideen fighters, 18,000 Afghan troops, and 14,500 Soviet soldiers. As has been the norm in conflicts since World War I, however, civilians suffered the heaviest toll. Around one million were estimated to have been killed.

In the 18-plus years since U.S. forces invaded that same country in October 2001, the death toll has been far lower. Around 7,300 U.S. military personnel, contractors, and allied foreign forces have died there, as have 64,000 American-allied Afghans, 42,000 opposition fighters, and 43,000 civilians, according to the Costs of War Project. If President Trump is to be believed, however, this body count is low only due to American restraint. 

“I have plans on Afghanistan that, if I wanted to win that war, Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the Earth. It would be gone,” the president remarked prior to a July 2019 meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. “If we wanted to fight a war in Afghanistan and win it, I could win that war in a week. I just don’t want to kill 10 million people.”  In September, he ramped up the rhetoric — and the death toll — further. “We’ve been very effective in Afghanistan,” he said. “And if we wanted to do a certain method of war, we would win that very quickly, but many, many, really, tens of millions of people would be killed.” 

If America’s commander-in-chief is to be believed, plans and methods are already in place for a mass killing whose death toll could, at a minimum, exceed those of the Holocaust, the Cambodian genocide, the Rwandan genocide, the Vietnam War, the Korean War, the Hundred Years’ War, and the American Revolution combined — and all in a country where the Pentagon believes there are only 40,000 to 80,000 Taliban fighters and fewer than 2,000 Islamic State militants.

President Trump claims he’d prefer not to use such methods, but if he did, say experts, his Senate impeachment trial could theoretically be followed by a more consequential one in front of an international tribunal.  “Of course, any ‘method of war’ that would kill ‘10 million people’ or ‘tens of millions’ of people in a country where the fighting force consists of 40,000 to 80,000 would be a blatant violation of the laws of war and would render President Trump a war criminal,” Daphne Eviatar, director of the Security with Human Rights program at Amnesty International USA, told TomDispatch.

Max Pensky, the co-director of the Institute for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention at the State University of New York at Binghamton, agreed. “Carrying out such a plan would certainly be a war crime because of the context of the armed conflict in Afghanistan,” he said. “And it would absolutely be a crime against humanity.” He noted that it might also constitute a genocide depending on the intent behind it.

The United States has, of course, been a pioneer when it comes to both the conduct and the constraint of warfare. For example, “General Orders No. 100: Instructions for the Government of the Armies of the United States in the Field,” issued by President Abraham Lincoln on April 24, 1863, represents the first modern codification of the laws of war. “The principle has been more and more acknowledged that the unarmed citizen is to be spared in person, property, and honor as much as the exigencies of war will admit,” reads the 157-year-old code. “All wanton violence committed against persons in the invaded country, all destruction of property not commanded by the authorized officer, all robbery, all pillage or sacking, even after taking a place by main force, all rape, wounding, maiming, or killing of such inhabitants, are prohibited under the penalty of death, or such other severe punishment as may seem adequate for the gravity of the offense.”

More recently, however, the United States has set the rules of the road when it comes to borderless assassination. In asserting the right of the military and the CIA to use armed drones to kill people from Pakistan to Yemen, Somalia to Libya, through quasi-secret and opaque processes, while ignoring previous American norms against “targeted killing,” questions about national sovereignty, and existing international law, the U.S. has created a ready framework for other nations to mimic. In October 2019, for example, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hinted that he would assassinate Mazloum Kobani, the head of the Syrian Democratic Forces and a key U.S. ally in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria. “Some countries eliminate terrorists whom they consider as a threat to their national security, wherever they are,” Erdogan said. “Therefore, this means those countries accept that Turkey has the same right.”

Historically, the United States has also pioneered the use of weapons of mass destruction. While a White House spokesperson would not address the question of whether President Trump was alluding to the use of nuclear weapons when he claimed that “Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the Earth,” it’s notable that the United States is the only country to have used such weaponry in an actual war. 

The first nuclear attack, the U.S. strike on Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945, left that city “uniformly and extensively devastated,” according to a study carried out in the wake of the attacks by the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey. “The surprise, the collapse of many buildings, and the conflagration contributed to an unprecedented casualty rate.” Between 60,000 and 80,000 people were killed instantly. The final death toll, including those who later perished from the long-term effects of radiation sickness, was estimated at 135,000 to 150,000. An atomic attack on Nagasaki, carried out three days later, was calculated to have killed another 50,000 to 75,000 people.

Theoretical War Crimes and Real Civilian Deaths

Just days before mentioning the possibility of annihilating tens of millions of Afghans, President Trump took the Taliban to task for killing 12 people, including 10 Afghan civilians and one American soldier, in a car bombing while peace talks with the militant group were underway. At the time, he tweeted: “What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position?” Weeks later, he would clear three military service members of war crimes, one of them convicted of murdering two Afghan civilians, another charged with the murder of an Afghan man.

Amnesty’s Daphne Eviatar believes that the president’s “disregard toward the lives of civilians” may have led to less precise American attacks in recent years. “We’ve seen a dramatic rise in civilian casualties from U.S. military operations since Trump took office, including in Afghanistan,” she told TomDispatch.

An October report by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), analyzing the war from July to the end of September 2019, documented the highest number of civilian casualties it had recorded in a single quarter since it began systematically doing so in 2009. During the first nine months of last year, in fact, UNAMA tallied the deaths of 2,563 civilians and the wounding of 5,676 more — the majority by “anti-government” forces, including the Taliban and ISIS. UNAMA found, however, that “pro-government forces,” including the U.S. military, killed 1,149 people and injured 1,199 others in that period, a 26% increase from the corresponding timeframe in 2018. 

Of course, such numbers would be dwarfed were Donald Trump to decide to “win” the Afghan War in the fashion he hinted at twice last year, even as peace talks with the Taliban were underway. Johnny Walsh, a senior expert on Afghanistan at the United States Institute of Peace and a former lead adviser for the State Department on the Afghan peace process, chalked Trump’s purported plans up to a “rhetorical flourish” and doubts they actually exist. “I am not at all aware of any plan to escalate the conflict or use nuclear weapons,” he told TomDispatch.

Whether or not such plans are real, civilian casualties in Afghanistan continue to rise, prompting experts to call for additional scrutiny of U.S. military operations.  “It’s tempting to dismiss some of the President’s more provocative statements,” said Amnesty’s Daphne Eviatar, “but we do need to take very seriously the exponential increase in civilian casualties from U.S. military operations since 2017 and ensure every one is thoroughly and independently investigated, and the results made public, so we can know if they’re the result of an unlawful Trump administration policy or practice.”

As 2020 begins, with America’s Afghan war in its 19th year and “progress” as nonexistent as ever, a beleaguered president continues to mull over just how to end America’s “endless wars” (while seemingly expanding them further). Under the circumstances, who knows what might happen in Afghanistan? Will 2020 be the year of peace or of Armageddon there — or will it simply bring more of the same?  With a president for whom “plans” may be more figurative than literal, all of this and the fate of perhaps 20 million or more Afghans remain among the great “unknown unknowns” of our time.

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  1. VietnamVet

    Donald Trump gets into negotiations and starts off using extreme rhetoric to get things to go his way by scaring the wits out of his opponent. I take his word that he will kill millions of Afghans and now Iranians if they don’t make a deal. A threat is useless if not believed. But his instincts have gone bad. He has no knowledgeable advisors. He was elected on ending the forever wars. But the assassination the highest-ranking Iranian and Iraqi Shiite military leaders at the Baghdad Airport has assured that Americans with no allies left will eventually be forced to leave and give up the Syrian and Iraqi oil fields that he wants so much. An astonishing stupid decision.

    Americans are delusional if not afraid. His orders to nuke Iran will be obeyed by the US Air Force and Navy pilots and submarine commanders according to the strike mission plan. After Iran’s destruction, Israel and Saudi Arabia will be destroyed by Hezbollah and Shiite militias in conventional missile counterattacks. As radioactive dust from Iran spreads across Pakistan, India and China. American and Russian ICBMs will be launched before they are destroyed by the other nation’s First Strike.

    There will be no refuge on Australia’s burning beaches.

    1. Carolinian

      So why is such an unsuitable person president? Because the Dems nominated an equally unsuitable person to run against him (and may do so again). The problem is bigger than Trump. As the article reports, Trump says these things, and now does these things, and nobody is willing to call him out for being a monster if the topic is foreign policy. It’s not just him.

      The country is way overdue for a revival of the antiwar movement. The left, including Sanders, have been far too timid about this. If they are going to confront power then they need to stand up to where power really lives and that’s state violence–not just against people of color at home but all over the world.

      1. T

        Worth recalling that his opponent said we would be at war with Iran within 10 years and had one measurable campaign plan – a no-fly zone in Syria. There must have been more than a few who were buying the Trump claim to end wars.

        The field of anti-war candidates for any office is thin.

        1. xkeyscored

          US-flies zones in Syria. There never was any plan for a no-fly zone, that’s purely brand marketing garbage, a deliberate misnomer.

            1. xkeyscored

              But she clearly didn’t mean no fly; she meant the USA flies (and bombs, and shoots down anyone else who dares to fly). “No fly” is a term deliberately chosen to imply fairness and impartiality – it’s the same for everyone. When it’s just more US exceptional gangsterism.

              1. Yves Smith Post author

                You are REALLY straw-manning the original point.

                People who were clued in, most importantly, the military-intel state types looking to send their kids to pricey colleges, understood full well that “no fly zone in Syria” = hot war with Russia.

                1. xkeyscored

                  I am not straw manning T’s points, the thrust of which I fully agree with, merely saying that “no-fly” is a misnomer, and in my opinion, a deliberate misnomer intended to deceive. And not deliberate on T’s part, I’m sure.

      2. neo-realist

        A few days ago, Sanders and Ro Khanna introduced legislation to block funding for a war on Iran, so that’s something Sanders has done to get the ball rolling for an anti-war movement in the mist of running for the Presidency.

        But I would also say that in the absence of reaping the rewards of a reckless Trump foreign policy in the form of massive American casualties or an actual draft, so that MAGA’s and the kids of the middle class have to actually fight, the prospects for massive anti-war action from the critical mass of Americans are slim.

        1. Carolinian

          I think Trump has given the Dems a big opening if they care to exploit it. They can now turn the tables and describe him as a reckless interventionist who doesn’t care about the consequences for the people back home. After all war is not just about the draft. A war with Iran runs major risks of crashing the economy, sending gas prices shooting upward etc. Trump, who once described Rubio as “Adelson’s puppet,” can justly be tagged with the same label. He’s way out on a political limb here despite the spin that exploding bombs will somehow be good for his image.

          1. Brooklin Bridge

            What will be breathtaking, especially given their ostensible lust for impeachment and “serious” trial, is how the Dem establishment tip toes around that vulnerability and gives Trump a total pass. Dem pols don’t argue with military exploits, no matter how craven, only with bringing the troops home.

            Independent voters are another matter. There, thanks to this bat**** insane assasination, and heaven help us what ever is to come from it, Trump is indeed vulnerable though if Biden is his opponent, it may not matter.

      3. Anthony G Stegman

        The United States is long overdue for revolution, not mere revival of an anti-war movement. That is trivial. There needs to be blood on the streets.

      4. HotFlash

        So why is such an unsuitable person president? Because the Dems nominated an equally unsuitable person to run against him (and may do so again).

        No, she was far less suitable. Trump at least talked getting out of wars, Hillary was all gung-ho shoot-em-up. At the time I thought it a choice between lawful evil (HRC) and chaotic neutral (Trump). Well, maybe chaotic chaotic, but D&D doesn’t have that alignment. Anybody remember Jane Hamsher’s Firedog Lake? Folks around there used to say, “If God had wanted us to vote, He would have given us candidates.”

    2. DHG

      There will be ZERO widespread nukes flying, this Earth will be housing humans to time indefinite under the Kingdom of God. What is coming is the Great Tribulation and at any time. All that is left is for the nations to declare they have achieved peace and security then sudden destruction shall be upon them, first with the political destroying all false religions, they will hand power to the UN to see that it is done, this ushers in the Great Tribulation ending in the complete destruction of this wicked system and all adhering to it,.

        1. JBird4049

          Hard to blame him really for believing that considering the real world insanity that we all are seeing more of everyday. The Orange Monkey of Machismo leading the cast of Clueless on the Potomac. Like it says on the old movie advertisements: You’ll Laugh! You’ll Cry! You’ll Scream!

          If you lived through the Cold War, it was hard to escape the feeling of an inescapable doom of an impending hot war. All to last maybe as long as a lazy afternoon picnic using a combined nuclear arsenal that dwarfed in numbers, using bombs that were to current weapons sizes as they are to what the bombs used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been.

          I think that it drove people actually insane and considering the number of times that we know of that the major powers almost destroyed the entire world by mistake, forget the smaller nuclear powers like the French or the Chinese that we know nothing about, or that have successfully covered up, it is hard not to think that Divine Providence was not working overtime to save our posteriors. Actually, society in general was a little disturbed. Just read some of the science fiction written at the time. Dark stuff for a fearful age.

          Many of us who remember the Cold War and the sense of dread that came to visit for 45 years are probably having that old time feeling knocking on the front door. Joy.

    3. djb

      His instincts have gone bad? So, in your estimation he had good instincts to begin with, but now they’re bad?

      There are millions like you. People upon whom it is slowly dawning that their president, whom they have supported, might actually be as dangerous as all those “stupid liberals” have been saying.

      Better late than never, but please wake up faster.

      1. JBird4049

        I don’t think VietnamVet was ever a supporter of President Trump (If I’m wrong, my apologies!) I just have to ask just how would Hillary Clinton be better? As Secretary of State she was quoted as saying in regards to Muammar Gaddafi’s murder, “We came, we saw, he died.” as a joke. Our country destroyed his country so deeply that it now has slave markets.

        I will grant that this exact insanity of assassinating an Iranian general with diplomatic immunity on Iraqi soil she would have avoided and the atrocity that is ICE as well; the neoliberal policies, the growing police state, the increasingly bellicose acts of undeclared wars against multiple states, the illegal assassinations and dronings all would have probably continued.

        2016 was a choice of poisons with both having a chance to kill you. Half chose one poison and half the other.

        1. The Rev Kev

          Under Hillary, she would have signed the Trans Pacific partnership so you could have kissed the rest of your industries away. The First Husband would have been pleased to to see the work of his NAFTA agreement completed.

      2. VietnamVet

        I voted for Dr. Jill Stein in 2016. First time in my life I didn’t vote for a Democrat or a Republican. Donald Trump was a racist, misogynist, populist, know-nothing, anti-science, and anti-war candidate. Being against the wars and for the people were the good basic instincts that got him elected. A retired Federal Biologist there was no way in hell that I would ever vote for him. A veteran of the First Cold War there is no way in hell that I will vote for Joe Biden who helped to restart it in 2014.

        I’ve been against the Democrats impeachment because their purpose is to negate the 2016 election. I’ve changed my mind. Donald Trump has lost it. The assassination of the leaders of the former Shiite militia ally in Iraq is so amazingly stupid that he, VP Mike Pence and Secretary Mike Pompeo need to be removed before they can start WWIII. Not likely. So, each morning when I wake up until January 20, 2021, I’ll say to myself; “Well, at least, I’m still here”.

  2. Eustache de Saint Pierre

    I suppose that if anyone is prone to megalomania Trump would fit the bill & I also imagine that the estimated 1.7 billion followers of Islam around the planet, would not take too kindly to his version of blowing up the whole barrel.

  3. The Rev Kev

    According to my map, Afghanistan borders two nuclear countries – Pakistan & China and has a third nuclear power in the neighbourhood – India. Anybody know the direction of any prevailing winds for that region that would be carrying nuclear dust from nuclear strikes?

      1. The Rev Kev

        Thanks for that link. I guess that the authorities in western China will be telling their farmers to throw out any milk from animals like American farmers had to after Chernobyl.

  4. Geo

    “What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position?” – Trump

    Self reflection is a trait us Americans, in our sense of exceptionalism, lack to a staggering degree. Trump, in a way, is that reflection of our nation (our “Id”?) His question here is basically the same we use to justify all our military adventures. Why are those people so barbaric? Maybe our civilized bombs will fix that? It’s the same old “kill the savage, save the man” mentality we used to justify the massacre of Native Americans. The ones we don’t kill we train to fight like us and then act surprised when those fighting forces turn out to be monsters we end up having to fight a few years later.

    If we had any sense we’d be asking ourselves, ”What kind of people are we to kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen our bargaining position?” But, it’s always “the others” who are the bad guys who do bad things and we’re the good guys who sometimes have to do difficult things and make some mistakes. Maybe that’s why “anti-heroes” have become so popular in entertainment?

    I’m just ranting… this stuff upsets me so much. Knowing the suffering caused in my name, with my tax dollars. In my opinion, that makes me responsible yet there’s so little I can do to stop it. I’ve never voted for a pro-war candidate. I protested the wars, wrote letters opposing them. Spent years and all my savings to make a film about the detrimental impact of our wars. Volunteered for advocacy groups. And yet, here we are digging in deeper every day. To the people on the other side of our bombs my personal efforts mean nothing. It’s truly depressing to be hurting so many people.

  5. timbers

    It appears none of Trumps advisors are even mentioning withdrawal and declare the wars over, as an option. If they did talk of the option of withdrawal, how could one not choose that over the insanity of all the other options?

    Why would anyone even talk about killing millions when all you have to do to win is withdraw?

    Incredible but true.

  6. xkeyscored

    I think Turse is misrepresenting Trump. “And if we wanted to do a certain method of war, we would win that very quickly, but many, many, really, tens of millions of people would be killed” sounds to me like a statement of fact, assuming a perverse idea of ‘winning.’ The world has known this since 1945.
    Of course, for a US president to state the facts so clearly and overtly is more Trump’s style than previous presidents’, and moves the threat from implicit to blatant, but the threat itself is nothing new. Trump is an unashamed thug, who doesn’t disguise his motives and actions with humanitarian rhetoric. So far, though, he has not unleashed a nuclear attack on any country. Unlike a previous POTUS.

  7. New Wafer Army

    America terrifies me. The mix of righteous exceptionalism, unreflective naivety, magical thinking and bellicosity combined with institutional cruelty means that societal change will not take place. I think that as America continues to crumble from within (Bernie will not be elected, forget about it) violent escapades abroad and delusional thinking at home (space force! lol) will continue to see the US slide into a proto-fascistic dystopia for the many with a super wealthy übermensch ruling class.

    2020: the year Judge Dredd becomes reality.

    1. JBird4049

      Let’s hope that Dredd is not confirmed for office. Most Americans are not as stupidly naive as many are wont to believe, but we are constantly buried under an ever refreshed pile of flaming bull**** from the entire establishment deemed acceptable by the establishment itself. Add that many would be reformers or just decent and sane politicians and activists are constantly being bribed, subverted or threaten. In the past, sometimes a American version of palata o plomo, silver or lead, take the money or get a bullet has been done. Or just murdered.

      One only needs to see the Abolitionist Movement, post Reconstruction South, the Union Movement, Suffragettes, Anti-lynching Movement (some of the anti lynching advocates were lynched), the anti communists Red Scare, Civil Rights, Gay Rights, even to some degree Women’s Liberation. All received violent, brutal, even lethal repression often by powerful corporations and all parts of all levels of government. It must be said that bribery or financing of Trojan Horse or tame, house broken leadership was probably the preferred method. See Gloria Steinem or much of the unions’ leadership for decades.

      I think that this is a reason for the Black Misleadership Class. The campaign for civil rights and such things like the Poor People’s Campaign just faded away. Seeing the various black leaders either getting dead or long prison sentences, being bought off with a permanent spot at the feeding trough must have been seen as a good deal.

      So the American ruling elites gets wealthy from its corrupt exploitation of the Earth while the citizens are crushed, they hope, into inoffensive, useful docility. We’ll see.

  8. David

    Nick Turse is a good journalist and has written an excellent book on Vietnam. But here I’m inclined to say he’s just being silly. What Trump actually said, at a Press Conference in Australia was:

    “We’ve been very effective in Afghanistan. And if we wanted to do a certain method of war, we would win that very quickly. But many, many — really, tens of millions of people would be killed. And we think it’s unnecessary.”

    In other words he’s repeating what he said a few minutes earlier – that the US is the most powerful state in the world – but that it does’t need to use its most destructive weapons to win in Afghanistan. That’s arguably factually untrue, and you may dislike everything from Trump’s strategic judgement to his syntax, but it isn’t a threat. In any event a threat of the use of nuclear weapons would be meaningless in the context, not to mention fatal for such neighbouring countries as Pakistan.

    Oh, and legally the distinction is not between soldiers and civilians but between combatants and non-combatants. Civilians may be combatants, and these days often are.

    1. Frank Miata

      Dear Sir:
      Thanks for lowering the level of hysteria around Trump’s comments. The reality to disturbing enough.

    2. The Historian

      Is Trump then talking out of both sides of his mouth? He obviously has no problem with destroying 52 cultural (yes, I know, he also said strategic) sites in Iran.

      And as far as “civilians may be combatants”, yes that has always been the excuse for killing civilians. Kill them all and let God decide? I’d say if so many civilians are really combatants, then perhaps we shouldn’t be fighting there?

    3. PlutoniumKun

      Yes – this annoys me. Turse is an excellent journalist usually (his Vietnam book is excellent), but Trump is bad enough without everyone joining into the derangement syndrome. I don’t see anything in Trumps comments that aren’t his usual Twitter gibbering. The only real story here is that much of the US media doesn’t see ‘US politician threatens mass murder and genocide’ as something worthy of comment. Just imagine if an Iranian or Russian politician had said something even vaguely similar.

    4. Winston Smith

      The very notion that you can casually equate killing 10 million people with “winning” is certainly disturbing. The old excuse “that’s just Trump talking” or “that is not what he meant” is a stark reminder of how corrupted public discourse has become.

  9. Brooklin Bridge

    I doubt the conflagration will start by something as obvious as a nuclear attack on Afganistan.

    That said, I also doubt Trump a great strategist who wields unpredictability as a finely honed sword rather than an an average businessman (purely by inheritance) with an uncontrollably oversized ego that succeeds by lizard instincts kept afloat and immune to rule of law largely by external fortune for which he can claim little or no credit. Without his father on one hand, and without the precarious and extraordinary contemporary vacuum of public weal in government on the other, a nobody.

    Granted he can in a flash of candor strip the little bush of his little leaves, but can his unpredictability avoid a progressive entanglement in world affairs in which the least spark means total conflagration? it’s not at all clear how much “control” is involved.

    Too much of the not enough for me. No impluse control, overly fragile ego, running and being run by a gargantuan and increasingly corrupt military in a tinderbox of our own making. Too clever by half, still not enough, and by diabolical fluke of history the status of emperor to bully it through until it doesn’t. In the most out sized powerful country in the world, the potential global harm from one fit of pique that can’t be undone is unspeakable. Or perhaps more likely, a series of blunders (such as his supra-constitutional assassination or act of war by international law) that cumulatively back Trump into a corner in which only a holocaust will prove once and for all, at the sanguine expense of millions (or far more), that you don’t mess with trump.

    And that ignores the tidal wave (not yet visible) of damage he is inflicting on what’s left of international law and order.

  10. Synoia

    All wanton violence committed against persons in the invaded country, all destruction of property not commanded by the authorized officer, all robbery, all pillage or sacking, even after taking a place by main force, all rape, wounding, maiming, or killing of such inhabitants, are prohibited under the penalty of death, or such other severe punishment as may seem adequate for the gravity of the offense.

    Nice idea. Marched through Georgia much?

    I’d note southerners today refer to the US Civil War as “The war of Yankee aggression.”

    1. JBird4049

      Making Georgia howl was about destroying property especially the railroads and factories with Sherman’s army happily living off all the farms that they destroyed, which then could no longer support the Southern armies. It was not about rape, murder, or stealing the silverware and somehow I do not think that the slaves had much to worry about.

  11. Ford Prefect

    Trump doesn’t have to go nuclear. He can use GBU-43/B or large B-52 raids to destroy villages and towns to win hearts and minds.Its a big rugged country, but most of the people are concentrated in the exposed valley bottoms. If there is drought and vegetation, napalm would also work to start large wildfires.

    None of these tactics helped win the Vietnam War, but reality and past experience don’t seem to be a factor in US foreign policy decision-making so everything is on the table.

  12. Anthony G Stegman

    Trump is a punk. A gangster wanna be. He doesn’t have the guts to launch a full scale war against Iran (or North Korea for that matter). Most of what comes out of his very twisted and ugly mouth is bluster. All the same, China and Russia will be wise to put their nuclear forces on high alert.

    1. xkeyscored

      That long overcoat The Don often wears reminds me of US gangsters of old. I keep imagining him flipping it open to reveal one of those old-style machine guns (tommy guns?), and turning it on the fake news press or whoever.

  13. RBHoughton

    Why is no-one mentioning the economic consequences of peace? Its my belief America cannot contemplate an end to wars or even a reduction in the supply of arms and ammunition because it would remove the biggest reason for the Fed to fund markets.

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