U.S. President Donald Trump delivers his first address to a joint session of Congress from the floor of the House of Representatives iin Washington, U.S.,...

Trump puts deadly Yemen mission back in the spotlight

Donald Trump’s congressional address featured a deeply emotional moment, when the president honored the wife of a fallen American serviceman killed in Yemen a month earlier. The story behind the story, however, shouldn’t be overlooked.
While speaking about the need to increase funding for veterans during his joint address to Congress, Trump took a moment to pay tribute to his guest, the wife of slain Navy SEAL William Owens. Owens was killed in a raid on Yemen on Jan. 25, five days into the new administration.

“We are blessed to be joined tonight by Carryn Owens, the widow of a U.S. Navy Special Operator, Senior Chief William ‘Ryan’ Owens,” Trump said. “Ryan died as he lived: a warrior, and a hero – battling against terrorism and securing our nation.” Trump said Owens’ “legacy is etched into eternity.”
The president went on to say that he’d spoken to Defense Secretary James Mattis “who reconfirmed that, and I quote, ‘Ryan was a part of a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemies.’”

There’s no denying the emotional weight of the moment. It was powerful and basic human decency demands that our hearts go out to Owens’ loved ones. I understand why so many pundits were eager to seize on this portion of the president’s remarks as the most important of the evening.

The Rachel Maddow Show, 2/28/17, 11:18 PM ET

Trump tries to duck responsibility for Yemen mission

Rachel Maddow and an MSNBC panel discuss Donald Trump’s remarks on a U.S. military raid in Yemen that left one Navy SEAL dead.
Rachel Maddow and an MSNBC panel discuss Donald Trump’s remarks on a U.S. military raid in Yemen that left one Navy SEAL dead.
There is, however, more to this story. If this were simply a matter of an American serviceman making the ultimate sacrifice on a battlefield, and then having his memory and family honored during a national address, it would be a fairly straightforward story.

But it’s not.

There are, for example, important questions surrounding the mission itself. As regular readers know, U.S. military officials have told Reuters that Trump approved the raid – the first operation he approved as president – “without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate backup preparations.” He green-lit the mission over dinner at the White House residence, and while the raid was underway, Trump did not go to the Situation Room and did not monitor the developments in real time.

Soon after, Trump aides tried to argue that the mission was the Obama administration’s idea, making claims that later turned out to be false.

In an interview with Fox News that aired yesterday, Trump went further, desperately trying to avoid any responsibility at all for the mission that he approved. Asked about the deadly operation in Yemen, the president said:
“Well this was a mission that was started before I got here. This was something that was, you know, just, they wanted to do. They came to see me they explained what they wanted to do, the generals, who are very respected. My generals are the most respected that we’ve had in many decades I believe and they lost Ryan.”
And as far as the success of the mission is concerned, NBC News reported this week that the mission yielded practically nothing of value.

The result is an image of a president who launched a mission without an extensive review, who then tried to shun responsibility for the results while making dubious claims about the raid’s value, all before using the deadly incident in a speech.

I don’t doubt that Trump has extended his sincere support to Owens’ family, but that doesn’t erase the president’s attempts to shirk responsibility for the mission, his claims that appear to be untrue, and the questions as to why he approved this raid in the first place.

As Rachel noted during last night’s coverage, “That may have been a transcendent moment [in Trump’s speech], but it is light-years away from him trying to say, ‘This was the generals, this wasn’t me, this was Obama’s fault,’ which is how he has dealt with that death thus far.”