Trump’s Christmas visit to the troops was not the PR coup he was hoping for
In the shadow of the government shutdown and news that yet another migrant child had died in U.S. custody, President Donald Trump made his first visit to a war zone on Wednesday.
Along with First Lady Melania Trump, the president, who has been in office for nearly two years now, spent over three hours Iraq, visiting at the al-Asad air base just outside the capital of Baghdad.
. @POTUS Donald J. Trump and @FLOTUS Melania Trump made a surprise visit to U.S. #ServiceMembers at Al Asad Air Base outside #Baghdad, #Iraq. See more: https://t.co/1mWqGVpCT1 pic.twitter.com/aHEGHTBz7l
— U.S. Dept of Defense (@DeptofDefense) December 26, 2018
This could have been a smart PR move, were it not for the fact that the president seems to have miscalculated a few significant factors.
To start with, he failed to coordinate and meet with any Iraqi leaders. Instead, he had a brief phone call with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, who has been invited to visit the White House next month.
Indeed, the president’s “surprise” visit was seen as an insult by Iraqi lawmakers, who saw it as a threat to their sovereignty. Following the president’s visit, a bipartisan statement came out of Iraq’s parliament calling for a vote to kick out U.S. troops.
“Parliament must clearly and urgently express its view about the ongoing American violations of Iraqi sovereignty,” said one lawmaker, Salam al-Shimiri.
President Trump told troops that the United States would keep them in Iraq to keep an eye on Iran (which has very close ties with Iraq) and to possibly use Iraq “as a base if we wanted to do something in Syria.”
What that “something” might be is remains a mystery, given that the president last week went against the advice of his (now departing) Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and announced that the United States would be pulling out of Syria.
President Trump also revealed the location of a Navy Seal team when he posted a tweet that revealed the location of the team (so much for op-sec!):
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 26, 2018
The president, who himself never served in the military (he got out of serving in Vietnam over having bone spurs in his feet, reportedly after his father got a podiatrist to fake that diagnosis), had avoided visiting a war zone up until now.
A White House official told The Washington Post in November that the president has “never been interested in going.”
“He’s afraid of those situations. He’s afraid people want to kill him,” said the source. So one can imagine how bad things must have been for the president to reconsider.
While on the one hand thrilling the troops by finally recognizing their work, he also implied that Americans had been “suckers” up until now (but no longer under his presidency!) and boasted that he’d gotten them a “big pay raise,” claiming that it was their first in a decade.
This of course, was not true. The military gets a pay raise every year, somewhere between 1 and 2.9 percent. Under President Trump, the troops got a 2.4 percent raise in 2018 and will get a 2.6 percent bump in 2019 — both solid numbers. And yet, he felt compelled to exaggerate this for some reason.
“They said, ‘You know, we could make it smaller. We could make it 3 percent. We could make it 2 percent. We could make it 4 percent,’ I said, ‘No. Make it 10 percent. Make it more than 10 percent,’” said the president, noting that it’s been over a decade (well, nearly 16 years, actually, but who’s counting) since the United States started fighting in Iraq.
“It’s been more than 10 years. That’s a long time. And, you know, you really put yourselves out there, and you put your lives out there. So congratulations,” he told troops who probably knew they weren’t going to get a 10 percent raise.