Trump talks tough about the military, but he hasn't visited a war zone where US troops are fighting — unlike his predecessors

  • President Donald Trump repeatedly portrays himself as a gung-ho supporter of the US military, but a year and a half into his tenure the president has yet to visit American troops in a war zone.
  • The vast majority of Trump’s commander-in-chief predecessors dating back to World War II visited troops in war zones.
  • Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama met with US troops in combat zones soon into their first terms.

President Donald Trump portrays himself as a gung-ho supporter of the US military, but over a year and a half into his tenure the president has yet to visit American troops in a war zone.

Since Trump took office, American troops have been killed everywhere from Somalia and Niger to Yemen and Iraq. In 2018 alone, eight US troops have been killed in Afghanistan.

But Trump has yet to visit Afghanistan, Iraq, or Syria, among other places where US troops are putting their lives on the line to execute his orders.

This is arguably out-of-step for a president who’s filled his Cabinet with generals, boasted about making the US military stronger than ever, called for an expensive (and recently canceled) military parade in the US capital, and accused NFL players of disrespecting the troops by kneeling during the national anthem before games.

In short, Trump has often talked the talk when it comes to the military – barring his comments disparaging Sen. John McCain’s time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and some widely criticised attacks against Gold Star families – but will he walk the walk?

Trump’s predecessors often visited US troops in war zones overseas

The vast majority of Trump’s predecessors dating back to World War II visited troops in war zones. Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama met with US troops in combat zones soon into their first terms.

Bush, for example, met with ground troops in Baghdad within 10 months of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. While in office, Bush made four trips to Iraq and two to Afghanistan.

Obama visited troops in Iraq in 2008 while he was still a senator and made another visit within his first three months as president. He made four trips to Afghanistan as president.

The war in Afghanistan is over 17 years old and there’s no end in sight

As a presidential candidate, Trump promised to wind down America’s involvement in the so-called war on terror. But the realities of the presidency have thus far made it difficult for him to do so, and he’s even increased the US troop presence in some cases. Last year, Trump sent several thousand more troops to Afghanistan, for example.

Presidential visits to troops stationed in harm’s way boost morale. The war in Afghanistan just had its 17th anniversary, and the nearly 15,000 US troops stationed there could benefit from seeing the president at a time when many Americans have seemingly forgotten about the conflict.

Moreover, some might say Trump has a duty as commander in chief to visit those he orders into harm’s way. Sen. Jack Reed, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, definitely seems to feel this way.

Reed in October told reporters Trump should honour service members’ sacrifices by visiting troops stationed in combat zones. “I think it should be done,” Reed said. “It’s not just to get an idea what is going on, but to personally thank the men and women of the United States who are exposing themselves to great dangers for the country.”

‘I’ve been very busy’

The White House did not immediately respond to a query from Business Insider as to whether the president had any plans to make such a trip anytime soon. But Trump addressed the topic in a recent interview with the Associated Press, saying he didn’t think a visit to US troops in a combat zone was “overly necessary.”

“I will do that at some point, but I don’t think it’s overly necessary,” Trump said. “I’ve been very busy with everything that’s taking place here … I’m doing a lot of things. But it’s something I’d do. And do gladly.”

“Nobody has been better at the military,” Trump added. “I have done more for the military than any president in many, many years.”

‘I think it’s bigger than just a misstep – I think it’s a failure of an obligation’

Former Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel on Monday slammed Trump for not visiting troops in a war zone this far into his presidency.

Hagel told CNN by not making such a visit Trump was not giving “recognition” to the fact US troops were fighting and dying in multiple countries, including Afghanistan.

“I think it’s bigger than just a misstep – I think it’s a failure of an obligation, of a basic obligation of a commander in chief,” Hagel said. “He’s commander in chief of our forces, and not to go to a war zone where we have men and women dying, that’s just wrong.”

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