CNN Still Bashing Trump for Iraq Visit, Not Meeting PM; Only Footnotes Obama Similarities

Along with Jim Acosta’s near-daily antics, Wednesday and Thursday served as another example of how far too many at CNN need to be told to get a life. Thursday’s Inside Politics led off with more kvetching about every aspect of President Donald Trump’s surprise visit to U.S. troops in Germany and Iraq, including how he didn’t meet with the Iraqi Prime Minister.

Conveniently, the panel downplayed the broader and positive symbolism of having a President visit troops and footnoted the similarities between Trump and predecessor Barack Obama in not meeting face-to-face with Iraqi leaders.

 

 

Fill-in host Nia-Malika Henderson immediately set the tone, declaring that Trump “parachute[d] into a war zone and [left] with controversy tailing him back to Washington” as he “shook hands and signed MAGA hats” before making troops “proxies in his political battle here at home with Democrats over southern border wall.”

Going to Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr for reaction, Henderson teed her up by giving a nod to those (read: the media) who’ve patted themselves on the back as somehow shaming Trump into going overseas: “We know that this President has obviously been criticized for not visiting troops overseas. He’s finally done that. So, how is this trip and the President's comments playing with the Pentagon?”

Starr reported that “Pentagon officials are happy the President made the trip,” but soon after expressed dismay (click “expand”):

The deeper question, of course, is Mr. Trump's political statements in front of a military audience because the U.S. military is not a political organization. It serves the country. It serves the American people. They have seen the President do this before. You get, you know, the big sigh and the slump at the shoulders. He's doing it again. I think the — his statement there about the U.S. being suckers is pretty interesting that he would make that in front of those troops, many who are veterans of multiple combat deployments, many if whose families have sacrificed greatly. I'm not sure they see themselves as suckers. They are volunteers to defend the country. So, his choice of words may be a bit awkward in front of a military audience, Nia.

Henderson went next to Bloomberg’s Shannon Pettypiece, telling her that “[i]t couldn’t have come to a surprise to this White House that the President turned what would normally, for most Presidents, just be a speech into almost a political rally.”

Pettypiece rehashed the complaints that seemingly endless news outlets offered up in the past 24 hours, stating in part that Trump’s behavior has been “his hallmark sense since the beginning of his presidency.”

Later, diplomatic correspondent Elise Labott blasted Trump for lacking a basic understand of the region, tearing into Trump for failing to properly carry out his duties on the trip as commander-in-chief:

I think the thing we are talking about here is that when the commander in chief goes to talk to the troops for this holiday, it’s really is [sic] important....and a boost to the military, but it's also about the awesome weight of being the commander in chief. Being the commander of all of these troops out there and the sacrifices that they’re making for American democracy, to defend American liberty, but also to help allies around the world and I think, in his political message, it didn't reflect the weight of the office of commander in chief. 

In contrast, congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly appropriately emphasized the importance of any U.S. president visiting soldiers overseas before shifting to objectively outlining the problems facing the administration.

But when it came to how Trump didn’t meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, Labott noted the security concerns and how the Iraqi government looks far more different since those led by longtime cleric Muqtada al-Sadr received the most votes for Parliament. She and New York Times correspondent Michael Shear admitted that Obama had his own issues with the Iraqis (click “expand”):

LABOTT: I must say, though, that President Obama didn’t really go to great lengths to go to Iraq and meet with the leaders there either. He kept a little bit of a distance. But it is important to kind of reach out to this new government, especially when we’re asking them to stand up more and, know, take on more of the burden of defending themselves. 

HENDERSON: And, at some point, apparently there was an invitation to come to the White House and maybe that's something that will happen down the line. 

SHEAR: Yeah, I mean, for all of the reasons that Elise just mentioned. It’s a little bit fraught in terms of both sides and the politics both domestic politics in the United States and then domestic politics in Iraq. Whether or not how that happens and how it happens under what circumstances, you can obviously — American presidents can have a wide range of options. You can bring somebody in for a quickie meeting that happens in a couple of hours and then — and then leaves or you can have all the frills....And as Elise said, Obama had fraught relationships over the years with the allies, both the governments in both Afghanistan and Iraq in terms of the tensions as, you know, inside the countries and about what the direction of the effort was going to be between the United States and their partners and that always is difficult no matter who the President is. 

Henderson then went to commercial break with a soundbite from Bush’s November 27, 2003 visit to Iraq and give thanks to the troops there. Of course, there wasn’t any mention of how the press ripped Bush for that visit, down to expressing doubt about whether the turkey he held in a dining hall was real.

To see the relevant transcript from CNN’s Inside Politics on December 27, click “expand.”

CNN’s Inside Politics
December 27, 2018
12:01 p.m. Eastern

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: But first, the President parachutes into a war zone and leaves with controversy tailing him back to Washington. The President in Iraq at Al Assad Air Base for his first visit to troops deployed overseas. The commander in chief shook hands and signed MAGA hats. Later in Germany at another base, he took selfies with troops and the sight of an American President boosting the morale on the frontlines, certainly good look for any White House, but this morning the talk in Washington is about the President using those troops as proxies in his political battle here at home with Democrats over southern border wall.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We want to have strong borders in the United States. The Democrats don't want to let us have strong borders, only for one reason. You know why? Because I want it. [SCREEN WIPE] That's what you are fighting for. When you think about it, you are fighting for borders in other countries and they don’t want to fight. The Democrats for the border of our country. 

HENDERSON: The President arrives in Iraq amid a Pentagon shake-up spurred by deep disagreements over whether to stay or leave Syria and drawdown the fighting force in Afghanistan. With allies looking for reassurances they won't be abandoned, the President pointedly defined his foreign policy doctrine: Pay us and we’ll protect you. 

TRUMP: If they want us to do the fighting, they also have to pay a price and sometimes that's also a monetary 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.

HENDERSON: CNN’s Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon. Barbara, thanks for joining us. We know that this President has obviously been criticized for not visiting troops overseas. He’s finally done that. So, how is this trip and the President's comments playing with the Pentagon? 

BARBARA STARR: Well, look, I think Pentagon officials are happy the President made the trip. He, you know, at the holiday time, he took the time finally to visit troops. It's good news for the troops. It’s good news for military families. The deeper question, of course, is Mr. Trump's political statements in front of a military audience because the U.S. military is not a political organization. It serves the country. It serves the American people. They have seen the President do this before. You get, you know, the big sigh and the slump at the shoulders. He's doing it again. I think the — his statement there about the U.S. being suckers is pretty interesting that he would make that in front of those troops, many who are veterans of multiple combat deployments, many if whose families have sacrificed greatly. I'm not sure they see themselves as suckers. They are volunteers to defend the country. So, his choice of words may be a bit awkward in front of a military audience, Nia.

HENDERSON: Barbara Starr, thanks for that report. Here with me to share their reporting and their insights, we’ve got Shannon Pettypiece with Bloomberg, Michael Shear with The New York Times, CNN’s Elise Labott, and CNN’s Phil Mattingly. Let's start with the trip, Shannon. I want to go to you. It couldn't have come to a surprise to this White House that the President turned what would normally, for most Presidents, just be a speech into almost a political rally. 

SHANNON PETTYPIECE: Well, it’s sort of become his hallmark sense since the beginning of his presidency, as Barbara mentioned. You remember when he visited the CIA and in front of the wall of stars, took the opportunity to brag about his electoral victory. I mean, this is his operating procedure. Everything comes back to him and it's about him. He took the opportunity to talk about all the great equipment that he acts like he personally has supplied to the military, once again bringing politics into this, never missing an opportunity to attack Nancy Pelosi. He knows the cameras are on and I think he sees not just an audience of troops or talking to an audience of intelligence officials, but talking to the camera and talking to the domestic audience. 

HENDERSON: Right and talking to his base particularly because that’s what he likes to do, obviously. He talked about Syria. Here’s how he described the decision to pull out of Syria. 

TRUMP: I said let's get out and they said sir, can we have six more months. I said yeah, you’ve six more months and then they said again recently could we have more time. I said nope, you can't have any more time. You’ve got enough time. We knocked them out. We’ve knocked them silly. 

HENDERSON: Michael, obviously some disagreement there. The President's assessment of where ISIS is versus where military leaders are in terms of where ISIS is. 

MICHAEL SEHAR: Well, and what I thought was interesting about that explanation, the President was trying to go to pains to portray the decision to pull out of Syria as a kind of deliberative one in which there was a long and lengthy kind of back and forth between the military officials and the President and, ultimately, he’s the President, he’s the commander in chief. He has the ability to do this. What I think our reporting has shown here at CNN and other — at The Times and other organizations is that it was anything but deliberate and that he was — he — he was going not — not — he pulled out not after a process that would have led to a rational conclusion, but rather just as a gut instinct that really did set off the military allies, lawmakers, everybody and obviously led to Mattis's resignations as well. What struck me was the way that cast it in a way that perhaps isn’t accurate. 

HENDERSON: And Elise, he also seemed to suggest that they could stay — Americans could stay in Iraq and if there needed to be any sort of fighting in Syria or attacks in Syria on ISIS that Iraq would be a fine place for the troops to be. 

ELISE LABOTT: I just think he doesn't really understand the situation with ISIS or the situation in Iraq because he’s sitting in a place where ISIS originated on that border between Syria and Iraq. The Iraqi government is still in kind of shambles. They haven't been seated yet after being elected in May. They haven’t formed a government yet and it's not just as easy as, you know launching an attack from Iraq into Syria into ISIS. If ISIS is allowed to reconstitute in Syria, you have a vacuum in Iraq that could certainly see — an ISIS reconstitute or something dangerous. I think the thing we are talking about here is that when the commander in chief goes to talk to the troops for this holiday, it’s really is [sic] important as Barbara said and a boost to the military, but it's also about the awesome weight of being the commander in chief. Being the commander of all of these troops out there and the sacrifices that they’re making for American democracy, to defend American liberty, but also to help allies around the world and I think, in his political message, it didn't reflect the weight of the office of commander in chief. 

HENDERSON: And at least one Democrat criticized of a President for what he said to troops there. 

DEMOCRATIC CONGRESSMAN JIMMY PANETTA (CA): This President is kind of a one-speed President. He only one thing and that’s basically holding these types political rallies and, unfortunately, that's what we saw yesterday there in Iraq. 

HENDERSON: And what's your sense, Phil, obviously he’s a Democrat. He has criticsm for the President. How Republicans feel about this trip? 

PHIL MATTINGLY: Broadly they agree they want these not to be political rallies. I think that’s — but I should also note that and this should be bipartisan and everything should be prefaced with the fact he was there and that matters. It matters to troops that are deployed. It mattes to their families, just like USO tours matter, just as anybody who’s paying attention to people that are deployed, particularly when the country, on its face, seems to forget that there are multiple wars going on. That we have troops deployed in various places throughout the countries, all of whom are inside danger zones. So, the fact that he was there matters. The fact he went matters. I want to just jump off of Elise’s point because I actually think this is a really interesting one and it’s both decision to pull out of Syria and the ‘well, we can just pop back in and do air strikes if we want to,’ What that seems to miss is kind of the geopolitical overtones and what leaving Syria means, what creating the vacuum, not just that ISIS could fill, but what it means for Iran, what it means for Bashar al-Assad, what it means for Russia, but also inside Iraq and you hit on the stability issue here. This is not Haider al-Abadi — is not the prime minister anymore. The willingness to have U.S. troops in Iraq, it's not the same that it used to be, given the structure of the government, given the current makeup of parliament whenever it decides to come into play and given the current Prime Minister and I think as long as those things are still very much in flux and very much kind of open to question, that’s where there’s a potential for problems.

HENDERSON: And the President had a phone call with the prime minister there. There was no meeting. There was some sort of back and forth about why the meeting did not happen, Elise. 

LABOTT: Well, the Iraqis are saying it’s a difference — point of view over the trip itself. The Iraqis are saying that the President gave them very little notice. Supposedly that's probably because they didn't want any leaks about the trip, which often happens. The security of the President is very important. The White House, you know, said that there was not enough time. There’s all different reasons, but you know, they did talk. This is a government that being close to the U.S. President isn’t necessarily an asset and, as Phil said, you have Muqtada al-Sadr, that fiery cleric who had the number one votes in Parliament. He’s someone who wanted U.S. troops out long ago, so the appearance of an Iraqi prime minister coming to a base to meet with a U.S. President, not a very popular idea. I must say, though, that President Obama didn’t really go to great lengths to go to Iraq and meet with the leaders there either. He kept a little bit of a distance. But it is important to kind of reach out to this new government, especially when we’re asking them to stand up more and, know, take on more of the burden of defending themselves. 

HENDERSON: And, at some point, apparently there was an invitation to come to the White House and maybe that's something that will happen down the line. 

SHEAR: Yeah, I mean, for all of the reasons that Elise just mentioned. It’s a little bit fraught in terms of both sides and the politics both domestic politics in the United States and then domestic politics in Iraq. Whether or not how that happens and how it happens under what circumstances, you can obviously — American presidents can have a wide range of options. You can bring somebody in for a quickie meeting that happens in a couple of hours and then — and then leaves or you can have all the frills. 

HENDERSON: It's not mandatory. 

SHEAR: Right and as Elise said, Obama had fraught relationships over the years with the allies, both the governments in both Afghanistan and Iraq in terms of the tensions as, you know, inside the countries and about what the direction of the effort was going to be between the United States and their partners and that always is difficult no matter who the President is. 

HENDERSON: Yeah. Well, we’ll have to leave it there and before we go to break, we’ll have a flash back of another President who visited serving Iraq over the holidays. 

GEORGE W. BUSH [ON 11/27/03]: I was just looking for a warm meal somewhere. Thanks for inviting me to dinner. [SCREEN WIPE] I bring a message on behalf of America. We thank you for your service. We’re proud of you and America stands solidly behind you.

NB Daily Foreign Policy Middle East Iraq Military CNN Inside Politics Barbara Starr Elise Labott Nia-Malika Henderson Michael Shear Donald Trump Barack Obama
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