Donald Trump & The Troops: It’s Complicated

President Trump left Washington for an unannounced trip to visit the troops in Iraq Wednesday, leaving a world of problems behind at home. The government is partially shut down, advisors were working to reassure the market that Trump would not interfere with the independence of the Federal Reserve, another migrant child died in government custody, and the criticism following the President’s decision to pull out of Syria has not abated.

While there, the President championed his controversial decision to withdraw about 2,000 US military personnel from Syria, effectively ending the nation’s military presence there. “We’re no longer the suckers, folks,” he said. “Our presence in Syria was not open-ended and was never intended to be permanent. Eight years ago, we went there for three months and we never left.”

Of course, this President can do nothing without causing trouble. His presence set off a firestorm of controversy with local politicians who saw his visit as a “violation” of diplomatic norms and Iraq’s sovereignty. The President also signed MAGA hats for his fans in the military, many of whom showed up with campaign signage. Those soldiers who asked for an autograph could run afoul of Department of Defense guidelines for political activities. Those guidelines state:

“Active duty personnel may not engage in partisan political activities and all military personnel should avoid the inference that their political activities imply or appear to imply DoD sponsorship, approval, or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign, or cause.”

Trump’s history with the military is complicated, to say the least. Prior to the President’s sudden Mideast excursion, he was facing criticism for not yet visiting the troops, despite being nearly two years into his term.

The President blew off a visit to an American military cemetery when visiting France in November due to rain even as other world leaders paid their respects at memorials and cemeteries outside of Paris during a weekend to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.

He also couldn’t be bothered to visit Arlington National Cemetery or Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Veterans Day, despite both being nearby. Even when he used the troops as a campaign prop to drum up fear over a so-called “migrant caravan,” he did not visit the men and women he deployed to the southern border.

President Trump has a history of insulting the people who put their lives on the line for our freedom. This week he questioned the competence of two widely-respected military men, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Brett McGurk, the U.S. special envoy for the coalition to defeat ISIS, both of whom resigned over the President’s policy in Syria.

Additionally, Trump mocked retired Admiral William McRaven, who oversaw the team that killed Osama bin Laden, saying they should have done it sooner. Last year, he allegedly told the widow of fallen Sgt. La David Johnson her husband “knew what he signed up for” after mispronouncing his name during a condolence call.

All of this follows a presidential campaign where Trump insulted a gold star family, declared celebrated former prisoner of war John McCain “not a war hero” because he was captured, and claimed he “knew more than the generals.” Famously, he once compared the threat of contracting STDs to serving in Vietnam with radio shock jock Howard Stern, joking that he was “getting the Congressional Medal of Honor, in actuality.”

Trump’s military experience includes dodging the draft in Vietnam, getting four deferments for “bone spurs.” A recent New York Times report alleged that the bogus diagnosis came as a favor from a doctor to Fred Trump, Donald Trump’s father.

An October Military Times poll showed 44 percent of troops had a favorable view of Trump’s presidency compared to 43 percent who disapproved. That’s a far slip from the 9-point margin of support he enjoyed in an October 2017 poll.