News & Politics

Trump on Geneva Convention: We Need to Change Our Laws

Donald Trump, left, and Ted Cruz react during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

When asked about his previous support for what qualifies as war crimes under the Geneva Convention in the Miami debate Thursday night, Republican front-runner Donald Trump argued that “we” need to change “our laws” to effectively fight terrorism. Ted Cruz responded by putting forth a policy the president of the United States can change — our military’s rules of engagement.

Here’s Trump when asked about targeting non-combatant civilians:

Now, we have to obey the laws — have to obey the laws. But we have to expand those laws…We better expand our laws or we’re being a bunch of suckers, and they are laughing at us. They are laughing at us, believe me.

Trump has a point when it comes to fighting too fair. Terrorists cut off people’s heads, and do not care about the difference between innocent civilians and enemy combatants (in their view, there is no difference). But it’s not very easy to alter the conventions of international law — even for a president of the United States. These are conventions of warfare established over centuries, and no executive order will be able to alter or abolish them.

Furthermore, following such rules is exactly one of the main differences between us and them. As Cruz declared in response, “we’ve never targeted innocent civilians and we’re not going to start now.”

Cruz did present a way in which an American president can actually alter the way we fight terror, however. In prosecuting the war against the Islamic State (ISIS), President Obama has been reluctant to attack the group’s oil supply without warning and as ruthlessly as he should. As Cruz declared:

We have right now our troops engaged in combat but President Obama has rules of engagement that are so strict that their arms are tied behind their back. They’re not able to fight. They’re not able to defend themselves. They’re not able to kill the enemy. And I have got to tell you, Hugh [Hewitt], I think that is wrong. It is immoral. And I give my word to every soldier, sailor, and airman, and marine, and every wife and husband, every son and daughter, every mother and father, that will end in January 2017.

Cruz is talking about something very different than changing international law, and his proposal would enable the United States to more effectively fight ISIS, without violating the Geneva Convention. Sounds like someone did his homework.