President Trump has not had a good week in Washington, so late on Christmas evening, he decided to take a surprise trip to Iraq, possibly to buy himself half a news cycle which didn’t include the fact that he shut down the government because the Senate wasn’t willing to give him $5 billion to build a wall.
The White House did not announce the trip beforehand, which is not unprecedented for presidential trips to Iraq and Afghanistan, but some eagle-eyed aerospace analysts spotted flight records corresponding to one of the two presidential planes heading for the region earlier on Wednesday.
The idea of a surprise visit is nominally for security reasons, but it certainly works in Trump’s favor here. He gets White House reporters all worked up that there’s no Marine posted at the Oval Office door, and then pops up in Iraq for a photoshoot with the troops.
Speaking of photoshoots, here is a truly terrifying image.
We also got this video, which, holy shit. There’s so much going on here. Dudes in full combat loads with night vision gear on? Check. iMove photo editing? Check. Weird cover of “Proud to Be an American?” Check.
Trump visited Al Asad Air Base in western Iraq for approximately three hours with the First Lady. During the visit, he spoke briefly to troops and reporters, defending his decision to pull troops out of Syria and Afghanistan.
“I think a lot of people are going to come around to my way of thinking. It’s time for us to start using our head,” he said, per Reuters. Per Reuters, he did not announce the U.S. would also be pulling troops out of Iraq (emphasis mine).
The base, in Anbar province, became one of the most important bases for U.S. Marines after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. Since U.S. forces returned to Iraq in 2014, the base has played an important role in the fight against Islamic State because of its location.
Trump said the United States would remain in Iraq, adding, “In fact, we could use this as the base if we wanted to do something in Syria.”
Trump’s also looking to boost his image with the military after abruptly pushing out Defense Secretary James Mattis, a figure beloved by many current and former military members who was widely (deservedly or not) seen as the “adult in the room” when Trump made decisions of life and death.
Mattis may be gone, but at least Trump got some photos in while hanging out in a very Christmas-y cafeteria for a while, which will likely help him feel like a big strong guy again after Mattis basically told him he was an idiot in his resignation letter, adding to the consistent criticism he’s gotten for not even bothering to visit Iraq or Afghanistan for the better part of two years.
The president did not, it appears, get to wear a cool plate carrier like Jared Kushner did when he visited Iraq in 2017. But he’s now en route back to Washington, where he gets to deal with a partial government shutdown that everyone describes as having “no end in sight.” Hope the mini-vacation was fun for him!