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Trump Made a Mess of His Trip to Visit Troops in Iraq

The president lied to service members, offended Iraqis and may have revealed the location of a special operations unit

Donald Trump, Melania Trump. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump pose for a photograph as they visit members of the military at a dining hall at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, . In a surprise trip to Iraq, President Donald Trump on Wednesday defended his decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria where they have been helping battle Islamic State militantsTrump Iraq - 26 Dec 2018

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump pose for a photograph as they visit members of the military at a dining hall at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq.

Andrew Harnik/AP/REX/Shutterstock

President Donald Trump had been scheduled to close out 2018 with a 16-day vacation at Mar-a-Lago, up from the 11 days he spent at the “Winter White House” to bring home his first year in office. But prior to Christmas, the president decided to shut down the government because Congress won’t fund a border wall. The display of obstinance involved sticking around Washington for the holidays. “It’s a disgrace what’s happening in this country,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Christmas morning. “But other than that, I wish everybody a merry Christmas.”

On Christmas night, however, Trump and Melania took off for a surprise trip to Iraq, where the president visited with the active duty service members in a combat zone for the first time since taking office. Accompanying the trip was the requisite hype video, this one set to Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.”

This being Trump, the trip overseas wasn’t without a small flurry of controversies. Newsweek even pointed out that the hype video may have revealed the location of SEAL Team Five, a covert operations unit. In the video, Trump appears to be shaking hands with members of the unit, and a pool report notes that he took a picture with U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Kyu Lee, who identified himself as the unit’s chaplain.

“Operational security is the most important aspect of personnel deployments,” former intelligence specialist Malcolm Nance told Newsweek. “The real names, faces, and identities, of personnel involved in special operations or activities, are usually a closely held secret in a combat zone. Revealing them casually, through an unusual media exposure even if it’s the commander in chief, would prove a propaganda boom if any of this personnel are detained by a hostile government or captured by a terrorist group. There would be no denying who you are and what you do.”

The video ends with some shots of Trump in a bomber jacket speaking to an assemblage of troops. This, too, wound up being problematic. Marred by partisan rhetoric and lies, the address was almost indistinguishable from one one he might give at a campaign rallies. “The Democrats don’t want to let us have strong borders,” the president griped. He then trailed off, talking about how the troops he was addressing are “modern-day warriors,” before musing that the best way to get the wall would be to tell Democrats that he doesn’t want it. “I figured out the solution,” he said. “First Lady, tell Nancy Pelosi I don’t want the wall.”

Trump also told the troops, falsely, that they hadn’t received a pay raise in 10 years before he took office (they’ve received one each of the last 10 years) and that he’d secured for them a pay raise of “more than 10 percent” (service members will see a 2.6 percent pay bump in 2019, up from 2.4 percent in 2018). “We had plenty of people that came up,” began the president, “they said, ‘You know, we can make it smaller. We can make it 3 percent. We can make it 2 percent. We can make it 4 percent.’ I said, ‘No. Make it 10 percent. Make it more than 10 percent.’”

Several of the troops present were shown toting Trump merchandise, including “Make America Great Again” hats and “Trump 2020” patches. The president spent time signing a lot of these items, which may have violated military rules. Department of Defense guidelines state that “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.”

“It is, in fact, a campaign slogan, that is a campaign item, and it is completely inappropriate for the troops to do this,” Retired Rear Admiral John Kirby said on CNN.

Trump managed to piss off the Iraqis, as well. The nation’s lawmakers called the trip an infringement on its independence, as Trump failed to stop by Baghdad or meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi. “Trump’s visit is a flagrant and clear violation of diplomatic norms and shows his disdain and hostility in his dealings with the Iraqi government,” read a statement from Iraqi parliament’s Bina bloc. Sabah al Saadi, the leader of the opposing Islah bloc, called a session of parliament “to discuss this blatant violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and to stop these aggressive actions by Trump who should know his limits: The U.S. occupation of Iraq is over,” according to Reuters.

Trump reportedly was not willing to meet with Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi anywhere other than a military base.

Prior to making the trip, the president had been criticized for failing to visit a combat zone despite being in office for nearly two years. In November, the Washington Post reported that Trump was worried about his safety. “He’s never been interested in going,” a White House official told the Post, citing conversations with Trump. “He’s afraid of those situations. He’s afraid people want to kill him.”

Trump confirmed to reporters this week that safety was one of his concerns in traveling to Iraq. “I had concerns for the institution of the presidency because — not for myself, personally,” he said. “I had concerns for the first lady, I will tell you. But if you would have seen what we had to go through, with the darkened plane, with all windows closed, with no lights on whatsoever, anywhere — pitch black. I’ve never seen it. I’ve been in many airplanes — all types and shapes and sizes. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

The president is out of harm’s way for now. After a quick trip to Germany to refuel, he tweeted early Thursday morning that he had returned from overseas and that “we have incredible people representing our Country.” Seven minutes later, he resumed his standard attacks on Democrats while reminding followers that he is holding the paychecks of federal workers hostage over a border wall that isn’t going to be funded anytime soon.

“Have the Democrats finally realized that we desperately need Border Security and a Wall on the Southern Border,” Trump wrote. “Need to stop Drugs, Human Trafficking,Gang Members & Criminals from coming into our Country. Do the Dems realize that most of the people not getting paid are Democrats?”

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