WASHINGTON – A week after deciding to pull troops out of Syria, President Donald Trump said Wednesday in Iraq that he has “no plans” to do so there.
Trump made the comment during a surprise visit Wednesday to military forces stationed in Iraq — his first such meeting with U.S. troops in harm’s way after nearly two years in office.
Defending his recent decision to pull out of Syria, Trump remarked that “the United States cannot continue to be the policeman of the world.” He noted that bases in Iraq can still be relied upon if the U.S. needs to take military action in Syria after the withdrawal.
“I will say this, if you take ISIS and if we see something happening with ISIS that we don’t like, we can hit them so fast and so hard, they won’t really know what the hell happened,” Trump said during a press briefing at Al Asad Air Base in Iraq.
Though Trump flew in unannounced, under the cover of night, he told reporters that the White House had set the trip up “three or four weeks ago.” Such secrecy is typical of presidential travel, but Trump has faced increasing criticism as he approaches the midpoint mark of his term without having visited troops overseas. He previously remarked that such a visit would not be “overly necessary,” and his 29-hour visit Wednesday coincided with a report by The New York Times that raised new questions about how Trump avoided military enlistment during the Vietnam War with a diagnosis of bone spurs.
Trump said Wednesday that earlier trips had been planned but canceled “for security reasons.”
Addressing troops at the base, Trump touched on both his military-strategy goals and domestic policy, including his desire to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“The dignity and glory of the American warrior is recorded on the fields of battle and in acts of valor that will live for all time,” Trump said. “You’re going to be remembered for all of time. And under my administration, we’re winning now. We’re not playing to lose slowly, like they’ve been doing for 19 years. We’re fighting in areas where we shouldn’t be fighting and spending hundreds of billions of dollars doing it.”
Trump arrived back at at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, on Air Force One at 5:12 a.m.
The Associated Press reported Thursday that Trump’s surprise visit spurred Iraqi lawmakers to call for the final withdrawal of American troops from the country, with one lawmaker referring to the continued presence of military force a violation of Iraqi sovereignty.
Trump drew cheers when he told troops he won them their first raise in 10 years — a boast that turned out to be wrong on multiple counts.
“You just got one of the biggest pay raises you ever received,” Trump said. “Unless you don’t want it. Does anybody here? Is anybody here willing to give up the big pay raise you just got? I don’t see too many hands. Ah, OK. don’t give it up. It’s great. You know what? Nobody deserves it more. 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.”
In fact, however, it was wrong to claim that there had been no pay increase for service members in more than 10 years. The raise this year is also not as large as Trump claimed.
U.S. military members have received a pay raise every year for decades. In the past 10 years, moreover, servicemembers have received several raises larger than what they are getting now: 2.4 percent this year and 2.6 percent in 2019. In 2008, 2009 and 2010, for example, servicemembers all saw raises of 3.4 percent or more.
Congressionally mandated budget caps caused pay increases to shrink during the following years: for the next six years beginning in 2011, pay raises hovered at between 1 and 2 percent.
Trump did, with help from Congress, reverse that trend in 2017 when service members got a 2.1 percent raise.
Trump has made this inaccurate claim before about there not having been raises for 10 years. He told graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy in May: “We just got you a big pay raise. First time in 10 years.”
Fueling his dishonest boast on Wednesday, Trump added: “You had plenty of people, they came up, they said, you know we could make it smaller. We could make it 3 percent, we could make it 2 percent, we could make it 4 percent. I said, ‘No, make it 10 percent — make it more than 10 percent.’”