WASHINGTON — Former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Veterans Day that President Trump is bypassing a “basic obligation of a commander in chief” by never traveling to visit U.S. troops deployed to overseas combat zones.
In an October interview with the Associated Press, Trump was asked why he hadn’t visited military bases in Iraq or Afghanistan like his predecessors.
“Well, I will do that at some point, but I don’t think it’s overly necessary. I’ve been very busy with everything that’s taking place here,” Trump replied. “We have the greatest economy in the history of our country. I mean, this is the greatest economy we’ve ever had, best unemployment numbers. Many groups are, you know, we’ve never even been close to these numbers. I’m doing a lot of things. I’m doing a lot of things. But it’s something I’d do. And do gladly. Nobody has been better at the military.”
In a required June War Powers Resolution report to Congress, the White House omitted troops levels for Afghanistan, Iraq, the Philippines, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, so the current size of deployments is unclear.
Hagel told CNN there’s “a recognition that when a country has men and women at war who are dying, like we do have people dying still in Afghanistan, and not recognize that by going and by looking and asking questions and being part of that personally rather than just getting reports in the morning or in the afternoon, that’s a misstep.”
“But I think it’s bigger than just a misstep. I think it’s a failure of an obligation — of a basic obligation of a commander in chief,” he added. “He’s commander in chief of our forces and not to go to a war zone where we have men and women dying, that’s just wrong.”
Hagel argued “it does have an effect” on the morale of service members “because, as I said, he is the commander in chief.”
“And men and women who are serving, and it’s the same people who serve all the time because of our volunteer service, they keep going back and keep going back, and not have your commander in chief, your president of the United States, make this a war a high priority sends a signal,” he said. “And I don’t think it’s a good signal.”
Trump did not have any Veterans Day appearances on his schedule today. Vice President Mike Pence was meeting with the prime minister in Japan.