Trump sets new Christmas record: Finally makes first visit to combat troops

President Trump and the First Lady made a secret visit to troops in Iraq late on Christmas night

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published December 26, 2018 1:07PM (EST)


Update: President Trump and the First Lady made a secret visit to troops in Iraq late on Tuesday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted after this report was published on Wednesday.

The day after Christmas, President Donald Trump appeared to be the first modern president to not personally visit military personnel around Christmastime. His surprise visit to  Al Asad Air Base on Wednesday was the president's first visit to troops in an active combat zone since taking office.

The last time a president did not personally visit troops during Christmastime was in 2002, when President George W. Bush refrained from doing so in the run-up to the second Iraq War, according to NBC News. He also did not visit troops for the holiday season during the first year of his presidency in 2001, although he made a point of continuing that tradition during the final six years of his administration (2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008). His successor, President Barack Obama, made a point of visiting military personnel at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, in Kaneohe Bay, every Christmas he was in office (spanning Christmas 2009 to Christmas 2016).

Although Trump did place calls to troops stationed around the world, this is not the same thing as literally meeting with them face-to-face.

This isn't the first time that Trump has aroused controversy over his seemingly insufficient activities on behalf of America's servicemen. He has also been criticized for canceling a planned visit to an American military burial ground in France from World War I (his excuse was the inclement weather) and for not going to Arlington National Cemetery for a Veterans Day visit.

Trump's refusal to visit the World War I burial ground was particularly controversial, with Sir Winston Churchill's grandson tweeting at the time that "they died with their face to the foe and that pathetic inadequate  couldn’t even defy the weather to pay his respects to The Fallen 

Trump's loyalty to his country has been called into question since the beginning of his presidency due to allegations that his presidential campaign colluded with Russian government officials in order to win the 2016 election. It was exacerbated last week when Trump suddenly announced that he was withdrawing US troops from Syria, a decision that seemed to benefit Russian geopolitical interests more than those of the United States — and prompted Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis to resign in protest.

"It's an unfixable situation once it happens," Bill Browder, an American-born British financier who has become a leading international advocate for harsher sanctions against Russia and is wanted by President Vladimir Putin on trumped up charges, told Salon last week. "Basically we've been in a situation when the US didn't enforce the red line in Syria after Assad started using chemical weapons and they created a situation where we had to ask their permission to fly over certain parts of Syria. The troops that we have in Syria are there and established and give us some degree of latitude in that part of the world. The moment we pull out, that's it. We'll have to ask the Russians for permission to do anything in Syria. This is the best Christmas gift that Putin could have ever gotten from Trump."

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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