A former Army general has slammed President Donald Trump for politicizing his Christmas visit to U.S. troops stationed in Iraq, describing his actions as “unheard of.”
Barry McCaffrey—a highly decorated former four-star general—told MSNBC host Yasmin Vossoughian Thursday that while it was good that the president visited soldiers in Iraq, his conduct was “embarrassing” for the U.S.
“It’s a good thing that the president went to Iraq and visited the troops, even better that he brought Melania along,” McCaffrey explained. “It was entirely inappropriate to use that as a point of a political rally.”
At one point during his surprise visit, Trump could be seen signing his trademark red “Make America Great Again” hats, sported by his most enthusiastic supporters all over the country. The White House and military officials have said the hats were brought along by troops and not distributed by the president’s team, but McCaffrey dismissed the suggestion.
“His advance party politicized that event, they passed out those hats for sure,” he said. When asked how unusual it was for such a military visit to become so politicized, the former general said it was “unheard of.”
During his visit, Trump told reporters he had “no plans at all” to pull American troops out of Iraq. The president also suggested the country could be used to launch attacks on ISIS in Syria, warning American forces could attack the group “so fast and so hard” that they “won’t know what the hell happened.”
McCaffrey noted that U.S. troops are deployed to Iraq on “very shaky diplomatic standing,” warning that Trump’s belligerent comments could upset the sensitive political-military balance in the country.
“The whole notion of going to Iraq and not genuflecting in some way, politically, the Iraqis, is simply outrageous,” he said. “And announcing we’re going to use it as the site from which we’ll conduct combat operations in other nations—I mean, it’s just inciting Iraqi sovereignty concerns.”
The president’s visit may have upset another important U.S. ally, McCaffrey added. “He flew back into Ramstein air base to refuel and to head home, made no gestures to the Germans, to Angela Merkel,” he explained. “We’ve got 30,000 troops in Germany. 40% of the Germans want us out of Germany for god’s sake.”
“I hate to see the president do badly in the international arena,” McCaffrey added, and suggested, “Our international stature has been significantly diminished in the past few years.”
The retired general also criticized the president for the way he interacted with the military personnel present. At one point, Trump falsely claimed he was giving troops their first pay rise in years. “The troops all should’ve known it was all complete nonsense,” McCaffrey said, “but they were sort of excited the commander in chief was there and were willing to blow by it.”
Quoting Seinfeld character George Costanza, the former general added, “It’s not a lie if you believe it.”
McCaffrey also had little time for what he called the president’s boasts about how fraught with danger visiting Iraq could be. “The president boasting about the dangers he’d faced, and [John] Bolton was a brave man to go with him. God, he’s talking to special operations soldiers in Iraq, it’s sort of embarrassing,” he added.