White House press secretary Sean Spicer delivers his first statement in the Brady press briefing room at the White House in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 21, 2017. SHAWN THEW / EPA
SHAWN THEW / EPA

Spicer tries to squelch criticisms of Trump’s failed raid in Yemen

Updated
Two weeks ago in Yemen, the first military raid ordered by Donald Trump went horribly wrong. The plan was to acquire intelligence and equipment at an al Qaeda camp, but the mission quickly went sideways: Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owen, a member of SEAL Team 6, was killed; several other Americans were injured; and by the end of the operation, multiple civilians, including children, were dead.

It’s been described as a mission in which “almost everything went wrong,” a dynamic made more complicated by U.S. military officials suggesting to Reuters that Trump approved the mission “without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate backup preparations.”

Worse, some of the Trump White House’s claims about what transpired have struggled to stand up to scrutiny, and when the president’s Defense Department tried to present evidence of the raid’s value, that went wrong, too.

The consequences of the events continue to reverberate: the New York Times reported yesterday that Yemen “has withdrawn permission for the United States to run Special Operations ground missions against suspected terrorist groups in the country,” which is an important setback for the Trump administration.

Despite all of this, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said last week that the operation was “successful” and “well-executed.” Yesterday, Spicer went even further.
The White House said Wednesday that anyone who questions the success of last week’s deadly U.S.-led raid in Yemen “owes an apology” to the Navy SEAL who was killed there. […]

Spicer said that “anyone who undermines the success of that raid owes an apology and [does] a disservice” to the life of Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens, who was killed in a firefight…. Spicer repeated his declaration that the Jan. 28 strike – which also left an 8-year-old girl and an unknown number of other civilians dead – was a “huge success.”
Wait, it gets much worse.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told NBC News this week after a briefing on the raid, “When you lose a $75 million airplane and, more importantly, an American life is lost … I don’t believe you can call it a success.”

Yesterday, Spicer suggested McCain was among those who should apologize for having done “disservice to the life of Chief Owens.” The senator was not amused.
After Spicer’s chiding, McCain said his appraisal of the mission was not a criticism of the SEALs who took part – and he cited a episode from his own past when he was a POW during the Vietnam War and American soldiers tried to rescue him and others from a prison.

“Unfortunately, the prison had been evacuated. But the brave men who risked their lives in an effort to rescue us prisoners of war were genuine American heroes,” he said. “Because the mission failed did not in any way diminish their courage and willingness to help their fellow Americans who were held captive.

“Mr. Spicer should know that story.”
There are a few key angles to this that are worth keeping in mind. The first is the Trump World’s increasingly dangerous approach to dissent: to hear the White House tell it, to accurately characterize a failed mission is to dishonor the troops. This was a common rhetorical ploy in the Bush/Cheney era, and it’s just as offensive now as it was then. There’s simply no credible way for an administration to equate honest assessments on matters of national security with criticisms of the servicemen and women who do their duty.

Second is the stunning hypocrisy surrounding the partisan circumstances. In Republican circles, the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi was one of the single most important moment of the post-9/11 era, and criticisms of what transpired have been ubiquitous on the right for years. By Spicer’s standards, are those who question the deadly violence in Libya dishonoring the sacrifices of the four Americans who died there?

And finally, Donald Trump has spent a fair amount of time pretending to have opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning, denouncing it repeatedly as a failure. According to the president’s press secretary, it sounds like Trump is now supposed to apologize for having done a disservice to those who died while serving in the war.

Update: Trump turned to Twitter this morning to criticize McCain for telling the truth about the raid in Yemen, saying it “emboldens the enemy!” This just isn’t a healthy attitude for a democracy.


Counter-Terrorism, Donald Trump, War On Terror, White House and Yemen

Spicer tries to squelch criticisms of Trump's failed raid in Yemen

Updated