Nearly every day lately, President Trump has found a new way to show us how little regard he has for the sacrifices of our nation’s military.
The latest came the very morning that the nation was commemorating Veterans Day, when the commander in chief made a radical and illegal proposal:
Forget for a moment that Trump and the Republicans have been pushing, without evidence, conspiracy theories of massive election fraud. Trump’s off-the-wall proposal to “go with” the election night totals would throw out a great number of military and overseas ballots, which are required by Florida law to be counted if they arrive by Friday, so long as they were postmarked by Nov. 6.
This comes after Trump on Saturday skipped a ceremony at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in France, where there are headstones for 2,289 U.S. troops, many of whom were killed in the bloody 1918 Battle of Belleau Wood. The names of more than 1,000 others who were never found are inscribed on a wall there.
The reason Trump decided not to show? Rain. As my colleague Max Boot wrote over the weekend:
The White House explained that bad weather grounded the helicopters that Trump and his entourage were planning to take. Yet somehow bad weather did not prevent French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel or Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau from attending outdoor ceremonies commemorating the end of World War I that afternoon. Somehow bad weather did not stop Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and retired general John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, from attending the very ceremony that Trump could not make.
Meanwhile, now that the election is over, Trump is no longer talking about the supposed “invasion” of this country by a migrant caravan. But 5,600 U.S. troops are still having to live with the effects of the stunt he pulled, when he rushed them to the border to perform the vital mission of — well, that still isn’t exactly clear.
It is far from certain when, where or even if the destitute, footsore migrants will arrive. And yet the New York Times reported:
Instead of football with their families on this Veterans Day weekend, soldiers with the 19th Engineer Battalion, fresh from Fort Knox, Ky., were painstakingly webbing concertina wire on the banks of the Rio Grande, just beneath the McAllen-Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge.
Nearby, troops from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State were making sure a sick call tent was properly set up next to their aid station. And a few miles away, Staff Sgt. Juan Mendoza was directing traffic as his engineer support company from Fort Bragg, N.C., unloaded military vehicles.
Come Thanksgiving, they most likely will still be here.
Two thousand miles away, at the Pentagon, officials privately derided the deployment as an expensive waste of time and resources, and a morale killer to boot.
Leading up to the midterm vote on Tuesday, the military announced that the border mission would be called Operation Faithful Patriot. But Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Election Day told officials to drop the name, and the Pentagon sent out a terse news release a day later saying the operation was now simply to be known as border support. The term “faithful patriot,” officials said, had political overtones.
Though he is nearly two years into his presidency, Trump has yet to visit U.S. troops in a combat zone, something his four most recent predecessors all did. Last month, Trump, who has spent more than 100 days of his presidency golfing, told the Associated Press that he believed such a trip is not “overly necessary. I’ve been very busy with everything that’s taking place here.”
All of this perhaps should not be surprising, given how Trump as a candidate mocked the suffering of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in a North Vietnamese prison and attacked a Gold Star family.
Yet he often pounds his chest and claims “nobody has been better at the military.”
Just last Friday, as he was leaving for Europe, Trump told reporters: “I’ll never forgive [Barack Obama] for what he did to our U.S. military. It was depleted, and I had to fix it. What he did to our military made this country very unsafe for you and you and you.” Military spending did indeed take cuts while Obama was president, but he shares the blame for that with the Republican Congress, which imposed automatic curbs, known as sequestration, as part of a deficit-reduction package.
The president has also claimed that he gave the military its first pay raise in a decade or more. That is a flat-out lie. Military personnel get a raise every year. While this year’s pay boost of 2.4 percent is the largest in eight years, increases in 2008, 2009 and 2010 were all 3.4 percent or greater.
The U.S. military deserves better than a commander in chief who treats it as a prop. Rather than throwing a big parade, the president should make sure the rights and needs of those who put everything on the line are respected and honored.