Trump World Grab-Bag--A Collection

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

My Condolences to the Families of the Niger Four

There is an incredible back-and-forth regarding the four deceased service members who were on a mission in Niger and were killed by an ambush attack from as many as 50 ISIS-linked combatants. Somehow, the story has been diverted from the nature of their mission and the purpose and reasons for their sacrifice, and has become a strange debate on the nature of how we recognize the ultimate sacrifice of our military personnel and the appropriate observances that should be made.

These were, by all accounts, excellent people from differing backgrounds, but united in a desire to exercise their skills with a sense of purpose.  What we know of the expected White House response to their unfortunate end was that a good statement was made regarding their service and the importance of their mission (in Niger, both ISIS and Boko Haram have been known to operate, and Niger is also well-known for uranium). This well-crafted statement was never delivered

“Melania and I are heartbroken at the news that three U.S. service members were killed in Niger on October 4 while providing guidance and assistance to Nigerien security force counter-terror operations. We offer our deepest condolences to the families and friends of these brave American soldiers and patriots. They will remain in our thoughts and prayers.

"We are also praying for the two U.S. service members who were injured in the incident. We wish them a complete and swift recovery.

"The heroic Americans who lost their lives yesterday did so defending our freedom and fighting violent extremism in Niger. Our administration and our entire nation are deeply grateful for their sacrifice, for their service, and for their patriotism.”
What we had instead was a nearly two-week period of silence from the White House regarding the deaths of these service members, despite news reports, until a reporter questioned President Trump about these men in a Rose Garden press conference on Monday.  That was when Trump, apparently unguardedly, spoke offhand about the event.

QUESTION: Why haven't we heard anything from you so far about the soldiers that were killed in Niger? What do you have to say about (OFF-MIKE)? TRUMP: I've written them personal letters. They've been sent, or they're going out tonight, but they were written during the weekend. I will, at some point during the period of time, call the parents and the families, because I have done that traditionally.
I felt very, very badly about that. I always feel badly. It's the toughest -- the toughest calls I have to make are the calls where this happens. Soldiers are killed. It's a very difficult thing. Now, it gets to a point where, you know, you make four or five of them in one day -- it's a very, very tough day. For me, that's by far the toughest.
So the traditional way -- if you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn't make calls. A lot of them didn't make calls. I like to call when it's appropriate, when I think I am able to do it.

The problem with this statement is that as far as we know, Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama did call, or send letters. Often. But it's complicated. Sometimes people could not always be reached, or someone was reached and someone was not, and they felt some way, or whatever other purely human distraction caused a disruption between the intent of the occupant of the White House and the bereaved. Human interactions are often fraught, and those who have suffered losses often do experience a need to understand blame or fault or the reason for the catastrophe that had come into their lives. It isn't always even rational, however necessary that process might be to finding an end to the grieving.


And I don't know what simple human interaction can necessarily be the counter to that. I just don't.

So despite the strongest inclination I have to label Trump as beyond humanity--just fucking failing to know what to say to suffering humans regarding the loss of their dearest loves all by itself isn't unforgiveable. Ask yourself if you would know what to say, or what not to. I would say Trump fucked up not publically acknowledging their deaths in Niger, and the callousness of not speaking Sgt. La David Johnson's name, and speaking without some firm guidelines, was appalling, given the uniquely tragic and difficult situation of both his death (having been left behind for perhaps two days, with a body that would not permit an open casket service) and the lives of his survivors, a young woman with two children and one not yet born.

He created the spotlight on that call. He invited the additional scrutiny by trying to call out what previous presidents did. He made things worse by referencing the deceased son of his Chief of Staff, General John Kelly, who never seemed to want to make the death of his son into a public thing and whose service has been of the nature of holding duty over self.

I think Trump does himself disservice after disservice by talking without thinking, and I can't even imagine how his reference to Sgt Robert Kelly effects his relationship to his COS, because I don't believe they really discussed it.  I don't think Trump is capable of sounding appropriate to all hearers regarding these condolence calls, and maybe his response needs to be less direct.

But, I find I have an interest in what Sen. McCain says about the White House not being forthcoming about what happened in Niger, at all.  We might not be entitled to the President's empathy, after all--but we deserve the truth. 


3 comments:

mikey said...

I have to say, this slavish worship of soldiers, dead, damaged and safe at home - is the most singularly irritating part of the American experience.

These were four highly trained professionals, doing exactly what they wanted to do at the very pinnacle of their careers. They were supported and armed lavishly - young men who started out on this path because they wanted to 'blow shit up' who turned out to be ideally suited for breaking things and hurting people. I don't have a specific problem with them - I completely understand the high keening rush of combat, and the satisfaction of professionalism.

But if they had stayed home they wouldn't be dead. Not at all true of the people killed in Las Vegas at a concert, or any other much more genuine tragedies that affect people who didn't actually volunteer for the privilege...

Vixen Strangely said...

Here's the thing that bugs me--trained to be a weapon in life, and honored/armored to be a shield in death. Trump is the guy who trotted out 2nd LT Robert Kelly to shield him from the claim he wasn't doing enough to acknowledge the dead. But then again, Trump is also the guy who trotted out any Memorial Day cliché to pretend that the national anthem is for them, the fallen, and not for all Americans. The Daily Beast has a recent story of a 70-something guy who pretended to be a Navy Seal who wanted to present a glass Presidential Seal to honor Trump and appeared on, of course, Fox News--this "stolen honor" thing happens because people like medals and uniforms better than they like understanding foreign policy and studying how to go to war, and studying how not to go to war anymore. What you say about comparing warfare to Las Vegas is pretty spot on--you take a look at the people we lose to gun violence right here on US soil, and maybe add into that the people we're losing in the opioid crisis and maybe just for kicks throw in crack and meth, and people are doing themselves in and getting done unto in this country from stupidity, grief, untreated mental illness and bad social policies, at a rate that would eclipse many a war. I wish we made heroes of social workers and teachers and civil servants who tried to fix things here.

I have a lot of thoughts about this from Gen Kelly's address today. I'm still trying to work this into one post, but he has two distinct areas of strongly bad fuckery--martialism, seeing things pretty much only from a military POV, and the misogyny of high expectations that is referring to regard of women as "sacred". There is much I want to stomp into a mudhole and hope new life generates around the death of that kind of stupidity. I only hope I can channel all my mad into intelligible English.

Vixen Strangely said...

Which is doubtful because I just Tweeted POTUS that he can get bent. And I have several origami diagrams I could suggest.