On his first full day as president, Donald Trump traveled to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, spoke in front of a memorial wall, and delivered one of the strangest presidential speeches I’ve ever seen.
Trump attacked journalists, lied about the size of his inaugural crowd, assured those in attendance about how impressed he was with his intellect, reflected on the number of instances in which he appeared on the cover of Time magazine, and speculated about taking Iraqi oil.
But the Washington Post reported this week on something else that happened when the president visited the CIA and “was ushered up to the agency’s drone operations floor.”
Trump urged the CIA to start arming its drones in Syria. “If you can do it in 10 days, get it done,” he said, according to two former officials familiar with the meeting.
Later, when the agency’s head of drone operations explained that the CIA had developed special munitions to limit civilian casualties, the president seemed unimpressed. Watching a previously recorded strike in which the agency held off on firing until the target had wandered away from a house with his family inside, Trump asked, “Why did you wait?” one participant in the meeting recalled.
For those with a moral compass, such a comment is obviously jarring, especially coming from a president. But for those who’ve covered Trump’s public positions, this isn’t too surprising.
In December 2015, near the height of the race for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, then-candidate Trump endorsed torturing detainees – even “if it doesn’t work” in producing valuable intelligence – simply because he saw it as a worthwhile thing to do.
He added soon after, “[T]he other thing is with the terrorists, you have to take out their families. When you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. But they say they don’t care about their lives. You have to take out their families.”
With this in mind, “Why did you wait?” was entirely consistent with what we know about Trump.