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How About ‘I Made a Mistake’?

Terry H. Schwadron

Dec. 29, 2018

A number of politicians, former military officers and just plain critics are taking President Trump to task over bringing political speeches to the troops he visited in his three-hour visit to an American air base in Iraq.

The criticism, of course, is that domestic politics have no place in such remarks to the troops, that doing so badly bends traditions of keeping the military non-partisan. Trump’s response, then is equally boiler-plate. Why wouldn’t he sign a MAGA hat that a soldier brings along, and why shouldn’t he talk about securing America’s southern border rather than engaging with the troops about what they are witnessing in Iraq.

The president is facing accusations that he was playing politics with the military, reported The New York Times.“When that starts happening, it’s like the politicalization of the judicial branch,” said Mark Hertling, a retired three-star Army lieutenant general.

In addition, Trump told the troops that he personally was responsible for getting them at 10% wage hike, the first pay hike in more than 10 years.

Both parts of the statement are false, of course. But the point is, Trump turned an event for the morale of U.S. troops abroad in active combat into a personal campaign stop.

I find it too simple just to say yes, I agree, this sounds like a bad thing. A mistake in judgement, or worse, a decision to step on the very people he had hoped to honor for self-gain.

Instead, what I really find appalling is that the president could not only ignore advice — presuming that he got any advice about not bridging tradition in making this surprise drop-in on the troops — he cannot acknowledge later that he made a mistake.

It is this latter issue that has me reacting. We have seen it over and over. It is bad enough that the president lies to the public about his involvement with Stormy Daniels and others while married, but when caught in the lies by documents and findings in the Michael Cohen criminal case, the president simply changes the subject, and lies about whether he ever had offered the earlier denials. Likewise, he has lied about his dealings with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, in his statements about officials leaving his administration, about all kinds of things happening in his sphere that make him appear less than factual.

Yes, I will admit it. I like a president who can acknowledge that he made a mistake or a misjudgment — or even a hyperbolic misstatement — and walks back the error in public.

The very government shutdown is a good example of saying one thing one day — whether about his precipitous withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iran or about the fact that no new work has yet been done to construct a Wall on the southern border.

We learn through mistakes. Even Trump should be able to acknowledge that. But unlike most of us, he cannot do so.

The political paraphernalia on display, which Trump appeared to encourage during his speech by referencing the caps he had signed, has raised questions at the Defense Department about violations of military protocol by the troops who greeted him. One woman in uniform at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, for instance, welcomed Trump with a “Make America Great Again” flag, according to a photograph posted on Twitter by a Bloomberg News reporter who accompanied Trump on the trip.

A directive from the department prohibits active-duty personnel from engaging in “partisan political activities” and advises that “all military personnel should avoid the inference that their political activities imply or appear to imply Defense Department sponsorship, approval or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign or cause.” Defense Department and Army regulations also prohibit military personnel from showing any political leanings while in uniform, Hertling told The Times.

Nothing ever is Trump’s fault. In his view, it is that Democrats have forced a government showdown, not himself. It is a real limit on acceptance of Trump as leader that he cannot accept criticism — and alter his behavior.


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