To hear Donald Trump tell it, he loves the military in ways few presidents ever have. Trump’s evidence is abundant: he has military flags in the Oval Office; he’s lobbied for a massive military parade; he’s increased military spending; and he likes talking about his support for the military.
But the New York Times had a great piece today looking at the issue in a way the president won’t appreciate.
He canceled a trip to a cemetery in France where American soldiers from World War I are buried. He did not go to the observance at Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day. He has not visited American troops in Iraq or Afghanistan.
And shortly after becoming commander in chief, President Trump asked so few questions in a briefing at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., that top military commanders cut the number of prepared PowerPoint slides to three from 18, said two officials with knowledge of the visit.
The commanders had slotted two hours for the meeting, but it lasted less than one.
Rhetorically, Mr. Trump has embraced the United States’ 1.3 million active-duty troops as “my military” and “my generals” and has posted on Twitter that under his leadership, the American armed forces will be “the finest that our Country has ever had.” But top Defense Department officials say that Mr. Trump has not fully grasped the role of the troops he commands, nor the responsibility that he has to lead them and protect them from politics.
There were hints along these lines before Trump took office. Ahead of the 2016 election, the then-Republican candidate mocked prisoners of war – he likes soldiers “who weren’t captured” – lied about his financial support for veterans’ charities, claimed more than once that he understood counter-terrorism better than American generals, and publicly feuded with a Gold Star family.
But as president, the problem has become more acute.
Indeed, Trump hasn’t just been careless in his deployments, he’s even tried to avoid responsibility after approving failed missions. Soon after taking office, Trump authorized a mission in Yemen, which claimed the life of Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens, and when pressed for answers on what transpired, the president said the buck stopped somewhere else.
“This was something that was, you know, just, they wanted to do,” the president said, referring to U.S. generals. “They came to see me they explained what they wanted to do, the generals … and they lost Ryan.”
The Associated Press asked Trump last month why he hasn’t yet visited a military base in a combat zone like in Iraq and Afghanistan. The president said he would eventually, though he didn’t see it as “overly necessary.”
Trump added, “I’ve been very busy with everything that’s taking place here…. I’m doing a lot of things. I’m doing a lot of things.”
The New York Times’ report went on to note, “One reason he has not visited troops in war zones, according to his aides, is that he does not really want American troops there in the first place. To visit, they said, would validate missions he does not truly believe in.”
This is not the perspective of a president who fully appreciates what it means to be commander in chief.
Col. David Lapan, a retired Marine who served in the Trump administration in 2017 as a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, told the Times, “There was the belief that over time, he would better understand, but I don’t know that that’s the case. I don’t think that he understands the proper use and role of the military and what we can, and can’t, do.”
Presumably, Trump could take the time to learn, but there’s a lot of television to watch and he’s “doing a lot of things.”