President Donald Trump repeatedly 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, five US soldiers 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 military stronger than ever, called for an expensive (and recently cancelled) military parade in the capital, and lambasted NFL playersfor allegedly disrespecting the troops by kneeling during the national anthem.
In short, Trump has often talked the talk when it comes to the military – barring controversial comments about Sen. John McCain’s time as a POW in Vietnam as well as widely criticized 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 all the way back to World War II visited troops in war zones, including George W. Bush and Barack Obama. And both Bush and 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 invasion of Iraq in 2003. By the end of his time in office, Bush made four trips to Iraq and two to Afghanistan.
Comparatively, Obama visited troops in Iraq in 2008 while he was still a senator and made another visit within his first three months as president. Ultimately, Obama made four trips to Afghanistan as president.
The war in Afghanistan is over 17 years old and there’s no end in sight
Trump promised to ramp down America’s involvement in the war on terror as a presidential candidate. But the realities of the presidency have thus far made it difficult for him to do so and he’s even increased 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 roughly 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, as commander-in-chief some might say Trump has a duty 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 on Wednesday told reporters Trump should honor the sacrifices service members make 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.”
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 sometime in the not-so-distant future. But Trump addressed the topic in a recent interview with the Associated Press, stating he didn’t think a visit to US troops in a combat zone is “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.”