Many women are acquainted with a certain type of boyfriend. He’s generous with gifts, meals and compliments. In public, he’s the picture of devotion. But when you need him, he’s not there. When you have a problem, it’s your fault. Eventually, you have to accept: He’s just not that into you.
For the U.S. military, Donald Trump is that kind of boyfriend. He claims to be their greatest champion. But by now it should be clear he doesn’t really love our men and women in uniform. He’s merely using them.
He’s even open to renting them out. He explained his deployment of troops to Saudi Arabia: “I said, ‘Listen, you’re a very rich country. You want more troops? I’m going to send them to you, but you have to pay us. They’re paying us. They’re already deposited $1 billion in the bank.'”
The drone attack that killed Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani was not really about protecting Americans. The Wall Street Journal reported that after the strike, Trump “told associates he was under pressure to deal with Gen. Soleimani from GOP senators he views as important supporters in his coming impeachment trial in the Senate.” Soldiers who survived a subsequent Iranian missile attack on their base in Iraq now know they could have died to help Trump survive impeachment.
His latest breach of faith is taking funds from our armed forces to build his border wall. The Washington Post reports that he intends to divert $7.2 billion this year. After he did the same thing last year, the Post noted, the Pentagon had to postpone or suspend an array of projects, “including road repairs, a waste treatment plant and school construction projects on military bases.” The children of soldiers bear the burden of the wall that Mexico was supposed to pay for.
When it comes to supporting our troops, Trump is reliably unreliable. It took him nearly three years to make his first visit to Afghanistan — something Barack Obama did three months into his first term. On Veterans Day 2018, Trump didn’t bother visiting Arlington National Cemetery, claiming he was “extremely busy on calls for the country.”
That no-show came after he skipped a ceremony in France honoring Americans killed in World War I. He blamed the rain, though French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel braved the elements to be there.
The signals of disrespect are big and small. During the campaign, Trump mocked John McCain’s credentials as a war hero and insulted a Gold Star family. He sent troops to the southern border just before the 2018 elections — which former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey called “a wasteful deployment of over-stretched Soldiers and Marines.”
He offered a crass account of family members at Dover Air Force base when the bodies of those killed in action are returned: “They’ll break through military barriers, they’ll run to the coffin and jump on the coffin. Crying mothers and wives, crying desperately.” Retired Adm. James Stavridis rebuked him for this violation of their privacy: “It’s inappropriate. That’s why we don’t have cameras in situations like that.”
Trump has no use for the rules that our service personnel have been trained to follow. He proved that in the case of Eddie Gallagher, a Navy SEAL commander court-martialed on charges of murder and attempted murder after being accused by members of his team, who called him “freaking evil” and a “psychopath.”
Gallagher was convicted only of posing with a corpse, but Trump pardoned him and extolled him as a hero. When the Navy moved to demote Gallagher, Trump intervened to protect him.
The president treats accomplished, battle-tested military leaders as if they were caddies at Trump National Doral. During the campaign, he boasted, “I know more about ISIS than the generals do.” After a SEAL was killed during a 2017 aid in Yemen, he blamed military commanders. “This was something they wanted to do,” he said. “And they lost (him).”
But when missions go well, Trump rushes to take credit. After the raid that led to the death of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, he bragged: “I’ve been looking for him for three years.” The Delta Force commandos who risked their lives were turned into supporting players in Trump’s brassy theater of self-glorification.
They should not have been surprised. When Trump looks at the military, he’s not thinking: “What can I do for our troops?” He’s thinking, “What can our troops do for me?”
Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.