Earlier this month, following an Iranian missile strike, Donald Trump assured the public that “no Americans were harmed” in the attack. As regular readers know, a week later, the administration clarified that 11 U.S. servicemembers had been transported to two hospitals for treatment for brain injuries.
Soon after, that number was revised, climbing from 11 to 34. The tally was then revised again, from 34 to 50. As the New York Times reported, it's now climbed once more, from 50 to 64.
The Defense Department said on Thursday that 64 troops had sustained traumatic brain injuries after the Iranian ballistic missile strikes on Ayn Al Asad Air Base in Iraq this month, up 14 from an earlier announcement this week.
The number, which has steadily increased since the Jan. 8 attack, is a clear indicator of the lasting and unseen effects so common in America's long wars, made strikingly prevalent by the roadside bombs scattered in Iraq and Afghanistan that killed and maimed thousands of troops.
An NBC News report noted earlier this week that Jonathan Hoffman, the Pentagon's chief spokesperson, explained that a lot of TBI symptoms develop late and manifest themselves over time. Or put another way, the number of injured servicemen and women keeps rising, not because there was an attempt to deceive, but because officials are still hearing from troops whose symptoms were not immediately apparent.
Speaking to reporters yesterday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the Pentagon takes these types of brain injuries "very seriously." His boss appears to have a different perspective.
Indeed, after Trump’s “no Americans were harmed” assertion was proven false, a reporter recently pressed the president for some kind of explanation. The Republican told reporters that he’d heard that some of the servicemen and women had experienced “headaches,” but he didn’t “consider them very serious injuries.”
The Veterans of Foreign Wars denounced Trump’s dismissive attitude toward the troops’ brain injuries and called for a presidential apology. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America soon followed with a similar message of its own.
To date, Trump has expressed no regrets for his reaction.
New York’s Eric Levitz, meanwhile, did a nice job this week summarizing the larger political context, wondering what the public might expect to see under different partisan circumstances.
The president may have dismissed American troops’ potentially incurable brain injuries as mere “headaches” out of a narcissistic refusal to concede that his Iran policy had had any ill effects. But, to the extent that Trump’s willful ignorance about the seriousness of concussions has kept him from igniting another cycle of needless violence, it is probably for the best.
On the other hand, it is hard not to think about what would have happened to Barack Obama, had he dismissed the wounds of U.S. soldiers as not “very serious injuries, relative to other injuries that I’ve seen,” or to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, had she referred to a potential Iranian attack on U.S. installations in the Middle East as “a little noise.”
That strikes me as more than fair.
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