In the wake of the U.S. airstrike that took out Iran’s top military leader, President Donald Trump repeatedly threatened that his administration could target “very high level & important” Iranian locations, should Tehran choose to viciously retaliate. Trump said he’d even target Iranian cultural sites, a move that would constitute a war crime.
It wasn’t immediately clear which dozens of potential targets he was talking about. However, some of the president’s favorite cable-news personalities have seemed eager to recommend new locations for him to blow up. They’ve been telling Trump through the TV for days.
Fox & Friends Weekend anchor Pete Hegseth, a top outside adviser to the president, has been his biggest on-air cheerleader for action in Iran, repeatedly taking to Fox to praise the president’s strike and threaten a number of other targets.
“Maybe your second general is next if you continue to try to kill Americans,” Hegseth told Fox Business Network host Stuart Varney. “We are the top dog. You respond to us, not the other way around.”
“Do they want their economic sites, their military sites, political sites and/or cultural sites targeted?” he said several days later on Fox News. “How about their oil and gas? If they don’t have energy, they have absolutely nothing.”
Hegseth further suggested that Trump would be wise to bomb Iranian cultural sites—as the president threatened to do via Twitter—declaring on-air: “I don’t care about Iranian cultural sites and I’ll tell you why: If they could... they would destroy every single one of our cultural sites and build a mosque on top of it.”
And while Fox News host and frequent adviser to Trump Sean Hannity has asserted that the U.S. wouldn’t use ground troops in a military confrontation with Iran, he suggested some other options the country could take.
“The president proved something with the caliphate in Syria when he wiped them out. He took off the rules of engagement of Obama and bomb the living hell out of them. Can that be done with Iran?” he said.
Moments later, he answered his own question: “I would imagine that those refineries and maybe even those nuclear sites that are buried deep underground could be potential targets.”
Other Fox News hosts and guests have suggested other military actions against Iran should be taken imminently.
One expert suggested the U.S. should go on a cyber offensive if intelligence officials believe there could be another attack, saying, “We don’t need to wait for something bad to happen for us to react.”
During a Fox & Friends interview, Rep. Michael Waltz (R-FL) attempted to justify Trump’s claim that he would strike 52 Iranian targets, including cultural sites, by suggesting a new strike could just be against the Iranian capital.
“That could be Tehran, that could be their capital, that could be a number of things,” he said. “The bottom line is he’s getting inside their calculus. And finally we have them afraid of what we’re going to do, not the other way around. They better think long and hard before taking their next action, that’s how deterrence works.”
During his show earlier this week, Fox Business Network host and informal Trump adviser Lou Dobbs dismissed Nancy Pelosi’s call for a congressional war powers resolution to limit the president’s actions in Iran without congressional authorization, saying she was trying to “constrain the president’s powers to strike targets in Iran.”
Other prominent Trump allies and confidants have also floated alternative targets, even suggesting that the fact the president spared them shows his temperament and mercy.
Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney who appears regularly on Fox, insisted to The Daily Beast on Monday that Trump’s order to kill Soleimani and others was actually “measured” and restrained, especially compared to military options the president could have taken, such as targeting targeting the Iranian navy.
And in the run-up to Thursday’s strike, President Trump did what he normally does: getting riled up while absorbing hours upon hours of Fox News, much of which broadcast scenes of an Iranian-backed militia storming the U.S. embassy in Iraq. When it comes to the president’s favorite Fox News and Fox Business stars, including Hegseth and Hannity, Trump will often seek their private counsel on domestic and foreign policy and other political considerations when they’re off the air.
Numerous sources in and out of the administration say that Trump continues to keep a line open to Hegseth, and highly values his advice and on-and-off-air perspectives on policy-making. “The president loves Pete,” said a former senior White House official. “[Pete] has an influence that a lot of people in the administration do not.”
For several months last year, Hegseth was instrumental in personally lobbying the president to pardon accused or convicted American war criminals, a highly controversial and widely condemned move on which Trump ultimately followed through. Furthermore, Hegseth has also talked to the president about the case of a former Blackwater mercenary convicted of murder in one of the most infamous atrocities of the Iraq war. Trump is still quietly considering issuing a pardon to save this man from a life sentence, as The Daily Beast reported earlier this month.
And now, Hegseth has become one of the single greatest cheerleaders of the president’s decision to kill Soleimani, saying on Fox: “You want your leader to reluctantly be strong, and that’s exactly what the president did here. Kudos to him.”