On December 26th, Donald Trump made his first visit to Iraq as the President of the United States. The trip took place about a week after Trump’s decision to withdraw 5,200 U.S. troops from Syria against the judgment of his national security advisors. It also came as a result of increasing criticism that Trump has not spent enough time with the military since he began his presidency.
After an 11-hour flight, Trump reached Iraq with the first lady Melania Trump and national security advisor John Bolton. His first destination was the al-Asad airbase in the Western part of the country. During a three-hour visit there, he greeted leaders of the U.S. military. He also arranged to meet with Iraq’s prime minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi but the meeting was canceled at the last minute.
“@FLOTUS Melania and I were honored to visit our incredible troops at Al Asad Air Base in Iraq,” Trump tweeted. “GOD BLESS THE U.S.A.!”
When reporters asked Trump if he harbored any security concerns about the trip, he replied: “I had concerns about the institution of the presidency. Not for myself personally. I had concerns for the first lady, I will tell you. But if you would have seen what we had to go through in the darkened plane with all windows closed with no light anywhere. Pitch black. I’ve been on many airplanes. All types and shapes and sizes. So did I have a concern? Yes, I had a concern.”
Also posted online was a video clip just over one minute, showing Trump in a green jacket greeting soldiers and signing autographs along with the first lady. In his 20-minute speech to address all military personnel in the country, Trump claimed that he made the right decision to withdraw troops from Syria although he had no plans to do the same with U.S. military in Iraq.
“We’re no longer the suckers, folks,” he reportedly said during the speech. “We’re respected again as a nation.”
“I made it clear from the beginning that our mission in Syria was to strip Isis of its military strongholds. Eight years ago, we went there for three months and we never left. Now, we’re doing it right and we’re going to finish it off,” he continued.
Some criticized how he had corrupted the neutrality of the troops by making overly partisan remarks about his foreign policy platform. The video clip showing him sign the “Make America Great Again” hats for soldiers also invited controversy.
Charles Blanchard, former general counsel for the Army and the Air Force, was among those who found fault with Trump’s over-politicization of the visit.
“As long as the message from the president is how wonderful it is that they are doing a service for the country, that’s great,” said Blanchard. “But when it turns into a political rally, what do people see? They see enthusiastic soldiers clapping and yelling for a partisan message.”
As usual, Trump refused to be apologetic. On Thursday, he again resorted to his “fake news” rhetoric and argued that liberal media were intentionally picking fights with him.
“CNN & others within the Fake News Universe were going wild about my signing MAGA hats for our military in Iraq and Germany,” he tweeted. “If these brave young people ask me to sign their hat, I will sign. Can you imagine my saying NO? We brought or gave NO hats as the Fake News first reported!”
Featured image via Saul Loeb/AFP