The many Americans concerned about the future of the country under President Donald Trump likely found little reassurance in his first television interview, which aired on ABC Wednesday night. The hour-long exchange with reporter David Muir touched on a wide range of topics, from the president’s insistence that torturing people for information is both effective and acceptable to lengthy complaints about how the new commander in chief believes he has been treated by the news media.
But buried in the discussion of the size of the crowd at his inauguration, bogus claims of voter fraud and the president’s insistence that only Fox News covers him fairly, was a particularly chilling moment in which Trump expressed his complete contempt not just for people who oppose him on policy grounds, but for the international norms and rules of conduct that have helped keep the world in a state of relative peace for decades.
Muir brought up a comment Trump had made when speaking at the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency earlier this week. He began by falsely claiming that he had been against the invasion of Iraq, and then went on to complain that the United States had not materially profited from the effective takeover of a foreign country.
“The old expression, ‘to the victor belong the spoils’ -- you remember. I always used to say, ‘Keep the oil.’” He later added the cryptic, “Maybe you’ll have another chance. But the fact is, should have kept the oil.”
Other than the veiled suggestion that the United States might take another bite at the Iraq apple under a Trump administration, the comment was not new. Trump has repeatedly said that he believes U.S. forces should have seized the country’s oil fields. However, it was the first time that he has said so as president, lending more seriousness to his advocacy of what is, beyond question, a war crime.
Plundering an occupied country has been recognized as a violation of the laws of war since at least 1907. And article 33 of the fourth Geneva Convention dispenses with the idea that the U.S. can simply take ownership of Iraq’s oil fields in exactly three words: “Pillage is prohibited.”
Muir pointed that out, and Trump’s response was strikingly blunt and visceral.
DAVID MUIR: You've heard the critics who say that would break all international law, taking the oil. But I wanna get to the words ... that you ...
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Wait, wait, can you believe that? Who are the critics who say that? Fools.
DAVID MUIR: Let, let me ...
PRESIDENT TRUMP: I don't call them critics. I call them fools.
Trumps critics, in this case, are not fools. They are simply people who can read. And at this point, Trump must know that he is advocating a literal violation of international law. To all appearances, he just doesn’t care, and he appears to be increasingly impatient with the suggestion that his judgement about what is acceptable and what is beyond the pale may be terribly wrong.
And because he is now entrusted with nuclear weapon launch codes, the power of the national security surveillance state, and the most powerful military the world has ever known, that should really worry everyone.