President Trump and first lady Melania Trump make surprise visit to Iraq

President Donald Trump and the first lady quietly swept into Iraq Wednesday to pay a holiday visit to US tro...

Posted: Dec 27, 2018 10:33 AM
Updated: Dec 27, 2018 10:33 AM

President Donald Trump and the first lady quietly swept into Iraq Wednesday to pay a holiday visit to US troops, at last making good on the President's promise to travel to one of the war zones he has derided as costly blunders.

After seeing the American war effort at close range for the first time, the President remained adamant that the days of broad-scale US involvement overseas had ended. He used his nighttime appearance at an air base west of Baghdad to reinforce his skeptical view of wading into foreign conflicts.

Continents and regions

Donald Trump

Government and public administration

Government bodies and offices

Iraq

Middle East

Middle East and North Africa

Political Figures - US

Politics

US federal government

White House

Armed forces

Barack Obama

Celebrities

ISIS

Melania Trump

Military

Misc organizations

North America

The Americas

United States

Unrest, conflicts and war

"If they want us to do the fighting, they also have to pay a price," Trump said at the Al Asad Air Base, where he landed after dark with his wife, Melania Trump. "Sometimes that's also a monetary price, so we're not the suckers of the world. We're no longer the suckers, folks. And people aren't looking at us as suckers."

Regardless of whether Trump likes the wars or not, they are now his; the lives of the young men and women stationed abroad subject to his decisions, whims and orders. And as such, the commander in chief was fulfilling what is viewed as an essential duty in paying them a surprise Christmastime visit.

After a secret overnight flight from Washington, the President and Melania Trump touched down onto a pitch-black airstrip, the dicey security situation still restricting Trump to a clandestine visit more than 15 years after the American invasion.

He remained on the ground for about three hours, greeting enthusiastic selfie-taking servicemen and women in their holiday-bedecked dining hall. Dressed in a black overcoat and red tie, Trump posed for pictures and signed autographs for troops in fatigues. Melania Trump stood smiling next to him, wearing a mustard-colored blouse.

Later, the President changed into a green flight jacket to address 100 or so troops, who greeted him warmly.

Trump left behind a slate of troubles in Washington, including a partial government shutdown and an unsteady economy. He's also faced criticism for a series of foreign policy decisions that have left his national security team at odds.

Trump has sought to distance himself from the foreign entanglements he describes as foolhardy mistakes made by his predecessors, including the war in Iraq. He recently ordered the US military to being planning a drawdown of troops in Afghanistan and, citing the destruction of ISIS, a complete withdrawal of 2,000 troops from Syria -- which came against the advice of his military generals and top national security officials.

During a roundtable briefing Wednesday with military and civilian officials inside a tent at the air base in Iraq, Trump defended his decision.

"They said again, recently, 'Can we have more time?' " the President recalled. "I said, 'Nope. You can't have any more time. You've had enough time.' We've knocked them out. We've knocked them silly."

"A lot of people are going to come around to my way of thinking," Trump predicted.

He hasn't stated plans for the 5,000 or so American troops in Iraq who returned to the country in 2014 to battle ISIS. The President was originally scheduled to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi during his stop, but the encounter was canceled.

"There was supposed to be a formal reception and a meeting between Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi and the US President, but a variation of views to organize the meeting led it to be replaced by a telephone conversation," a statement from the prime minister's office read.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said later on Air Force One that the meeting didn't take place because of security and logistical reasons. She said that for security reasons, the White House was able to invite the prime minister only two hours before the scheduled time of the meeting and the Iraqi leader was in a different part of the country and unable to attend.

Sanders also told reporters that the President spoke on the phone with the Iraqi prime minister while Trump was at the base in Iraq. During the call, Trump invited Abdul-Mahdi to visit the White House and the prime minister accepted. Sanders also said Trump and senior military leaders discussed plan for countering ISIS during a briefing at the airbase.

Trump said Wednesday he had no plans to pull troops from Iraq, suggesting the country could be used as a base for potential future missions in Syria.

But he reiterated that the era of heavy US intervention abroad was ending.

"The United States cannot continue to be the policeman of the world," Trump said. "We are spread out all over the world. We are in countries most people haven't even heard about. Frankly, it's ridiculous."

George W. Bush made four trips to Iraq after ordering American troops into the country in 2003, including a stop on Thanksgiving to help serve turkey. Barack Obama visited once. Both men also traveled multiple times to Afghanistan.

Trump's visit comes at a fraught moment for the President and the military. Trump's defense secretary resigned last week after the Syria troop decision, writing in a departure letter the President deserved a military chief more aligned with his worldview. His replacement, a former Boeing executive, has scant foreign policy or military experience.

Trump had faced scrutiny for putting off a visit to the troops. Privately, he wondered whether such a trip would only serve to highlight wars he does not support and wants to end. But in November, after facing criticism for canceled a visit to a military cemetery in France because of rain, Trump announced he would soon travel to a war zone.

On his way back home from Iraq, Trump met with US military leaders aboard Air Force One and then visited with American troops while refueling at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

Like presidents before him, Trump's visit was shrouded in secrecy. He departed the White House quietly on Christmas night and details of his travel were very closely held within the West Wing.

A decade-and-a-half after the start of the US war, which has cost nearly 5,000 American troops their lives, Iraq remains a dangerous place -- a fact not lost on the commander in chief.

"Pretty sad when you spend $7 trillion in the Middle East and going in has to be under this massive cover," he said.

The American-led invasion in 2003 toppled Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, but for several years afterward US troops engaged in extended fighting across the country, battling an insurgency and later sectarian violence. At their peak, US troop levels in Iraq stood near 166,000. After the combat mission ended in 2010, some troops remained behind to help stabilize the country.

Thousands more returned four years later to battle ISIS. Iraq formally declared victory against the terror group a year ago, but US troops have remained to help stabilize regions of the country and train Iraqi soldiers.

Trump criticized his predecessor, Obama, for withdrawing troops too quickly from Iraq, claiming it allowed for ISIS' rise. Obama's administration was unable to strike a deal with the Iraqi government to allow for a residual US force to maintain stability in the country. But in bringing troops home and declaring a formal end to the Iraq War, Obama fulfilled a pledge to voters to end a war that began under Bush.

Trump now finds himself eager to make good on his own promises to wind down US involvement overseas. That's what has driven his recent decisions to take US troops out of Syria and Afghanistan.

But those decisions have been unpopular among even his own national security team, including Defense Secretary James Mattis, who resigned last week. He was followed out the exit by Brett McGurk, the US special envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition who Trump claims not to know.

They and other officials warned Trump that leaving the region now would allow for ISIS, or another terror group, to regain a foothold. But the President was insistent that the time had come for US personnel to come home.

This story has been updated.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1490496

Reported Deaths: 20500
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion2039162521
Lake1001941500
Allen923541011
Hamilton72207547
St. Joseph64053755
Elkhart48903625
Vanderburgh47506523
Tippecanoe43182336
Johnson37906521
Hendricks35984459
Porter34277466
Madison28722537
Clark25552325
Vigo25251344
LaPorte23269307
Monroe22751244
Howard21818377
Delaware21391366
Hancock18487220
Bartholomew17860213
Kosciusko17769201
Warrick16642213
Wayne16062300
Floyd15640257
Grant15143296
Morgan14245231
Boone13388136
Noble11656140
Dearborn11560112
Henry11546201
Shelby11483150
Marshall11258167
Dubois11123152
Jackson10425104
Cass10121142
DeKalb10101129
Lawrence10082220
Huntington10016139
Gibson9415125
Montgomery9153141
Knox8942124
Harrison8874112
Whitley861871
Steuben8488104
Jasper8192114
Clinton810295
Putnam806199
Miami8032133
Jefferson7773124
Wabash7726139
Ripley7118112
Adams6595101
Daviess6455127
Scott638586
White613282
Greene5999112
Clay597573
Wells5902120
Decatur5885119
Jennings586278
Fayette5735121
Posey543448
LaGrange524197
Randolph5027129
Washington494368
Owen491499
Fountain472479
Spencer446556
Starke438686
Sullivan437465
Fulton431891
Orange420882
Jay409764
Rush403937
Carroll377549
Perry376755
Franklin375850
Vermillion352062
Parke319238
Pike316245
Tipton313774
Blackford271755
Pulaski270874
Newton231561
Brown226754
Benton215721
Crawford215131
Switzerland194214
Martin186722
Warren174821
Union165519
Ohio122616
Unassigned0739

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 2439205

Reported Deaths: 31245
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin2637212065
Cuyahoga2582743018
Hamilton1696091714
Montgomery1126771604
Summit1074271391
Lucas909371160
Butler80397942
Stark754911400
Lorain63313792
Warren51040475
Mahoning50162915
Lake47051605
Clermont44631429
Delaware39611212
Trumbull38910755
Medina37850419
Licking37593408
Fairfield34482334
Greene32823422
Portage31698360
Clark30769445
Richland28751423
Wood28217297
Allen24942395
Miami23274395
Muskingum22683245
Columbiana22370403
Wayne21565356
Tuscarawas19096427
Erie18282222
Ashtabula18102342
Marion17861232
Scioto17031207
Ross16556252
Pickaway15812178
Hancock15561228
Geauga15320223
Lawrence14172186
Union1359984
Huron13584182
Belmont13554247
Jefferson13090258
Sandusky12933199
Athens12126106
Knox11721198
Seneca11631200
Darke10950198
Ashland10916178
Washington10729168
Auglaize10364142
Crawford10062175
Shelby9961157
Brown9610140
Fulton9453150
Guernsey9304117
Highland9215148
Defiance9209135
Logan9114142
Clinton8950127
Mercer8816111
Madison8730106
Preble8145162
Williams8014135
Putnam7863135
Ottawa7752121
Champaign7696112
Jackson7510117
Perry725998
Coshocton7137136
Morrow706382
Fayette678287
Pike632586
Hardin6311128
Gallia605891
Adams5913124
Van Wert5877121
Henry577093
Hocking5634104
Carroll4877100
Wyandot487590
Holmes4787161
Paulding409064
Meigs380473
Monroe303368
Noble285051
Harrison284461
Morgan280348
Vinton245145
Unassigned08
Fort Wayne
Mostly Cloudy
17° wxIcon
Hi: 22° Lo: 13°
Feels Like: 10°
Angola
Partly Cloudy
15° wxIcon
Hi: 20° Lo: 10°
Feels Like: 15°
Huntington
Mostly Cloudy
11° wxIcon
Hi: 22° Lo: 12°
Feels Like: 11°
Decatur
Mostly Cloudy
17° wxIcon
Hi: 23° Lo: 14°
Feels Like: 10°
Van Wert
Partly Cloudy
13° wxIcon
Hi: 22° Lo: 14°
Feels Like: 13°
The colder air is expected to linger into the weekend and there is a small chance of light snow.
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events