President Donald Trump has officially checked-marked a Christmas visit to troops in a war zone. While President Trump has generally been quite supportive of the military, he raised eyebrows by not visiting any troops in an active combat theater. Among other U.S. presidents, both President Bush and Obama visited troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Up until now, Trump’s lack of a visit to an active combat theater caused some backlash among the mainstream media. With 2020 fast approaching, the president may be looking to shore up support among soldiers, a valuable constituency. Currently, support for Trump is about evenly split, with a Military Times poll having found that 44 percent supported the president with 43 percent disapproved.
The visit caught many off guard, but it’s not surprising that Trump decided to keep the journey under wraps. An announced visit might have exposed the president and First Lady Melania Trump to unnecessary risks. President Trump and his wife were joined by National Security Advisor John Bolton and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
They visited the al-Asad airbase west of Baghdad and joined the troops in an on-base restaurant. The visit was to thank the troops in person for defeating the Islamic State.
Some 5,000 American troops remain stationed in Iraq, providing support in the on-going battle against the Islamic State. While ISIS no longer holds any territory, it’s believed that thousands of fighters remain scattered throughout the region. Even though Trump has ordered all American troops to pull out of Syria, he has pledged that the United States will stay in Iraq.
Reportedly, President Trump was met with a standing ovation. Trump also poised for selfies with the troops and signed autographs. Trump only stayed in Iraq for about three hours. Afterwards, Air Force One traveled to Germany to refuel. In Germany, the president and his wife met with American service men and women at Ramstein Air Force Base.
The president was due to meet with Iraq’s prime minister but logistical complications resulted in a phone call instead. President Trump had initially planned to stay at his private golf resort in Florida. However, with the American government shutdown stemming from political battles in Congress, the president has stayed in Washington.
President Trump did raise some eyebrows, however, when he claimed to the troops that he was the first president to give them a pay raise in 10 years. Trump reportedly told the troops: “You protect us. We are always going to protect you. And you just saw that, ’cause you just got one of the biggest pay raises you’ve ever received … You haven’t gotten one in more than 10 years. More than 10 years. And we got you a big one. I got you a big one. I got you a big one.”
This statement doesn’t appear to be quite correct. American troops have regularly received pay raises over the last thirty years. However, the 2.6 percent raise authorized in 2018 was the largest such raise in nine years. Next year, troops will be getting an even more generous 2.9 percent raise. In 2008, 2009, and 2010, however, the troops enjoyed pay raises in excess of 3 percent. In the following years, on the hand, raises weighed in at only 1 and some percent.
The president also told the soldiers that he had pushed for a 10 percent raise. With the United States government running deep deficits, however, it’s unclear if such a large raise is feasible. Both the White House and Congress have been trying to rein in spending. Under President Trump, the deficit has expanded dramatically.