Surprise — President Donald Trump actually didn’t break tradition.
People were quick to criticize Trump for presumably being the first president since 2002 not to meet with American troops on Christmas but that was before his surprise trip to an active combat zone came to light.
The president and first lady Melania Trump left late Christmas day to fly overnight in Air Force One to visit American service members in Iraq.
The couple made the surprise visit to Al Asad Air Base near Baghdad on Wednesday.
President Trump and the First Lady traveled to Iraq late on Christmas night to visit with our troops and Senior Military leadership to thank them for their service, their success, and their sacrifice and to wish them a Merry Christmas. pic.twitter.com/s2hntnRwpw
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) December 26, 2018
As IJR Blue reported, President Trump’s apparent failure to visit service members was in keeping with him not visiting any U.S. troops in the war zone since taking office — however, this Iraq trip does mark the first time Trump has visited an active combat zone.
Some quickly criticized President Trump – and were called out for it:
Trump and Melania were in Iraq visiting American troops on Christmas.
Will NBC News apologize & retract this partisan lie that received thousands of RTs?
Will NBC News also report that Michelle Obama never visited American troops in a war zone like Melania just did? https://t.co/qngqILCDbK
— Benny (@bennyjohnson) December 26, 2018
Amid attempts to smear him for not visiting with members of America's armed forces during Christmas, President Trump and First Lady Melania arrive in Iraq to meet with troops. pic.twitter.com/t7pvhYKBgD
— Kyle Morris (@RealKyleMorris) December 26, 2018
The surprise visit was captured in photos as service members gathered around the president and first lady on Wednesday to take pictures.
Check out the photos from his visit below:
Additionally, the president, accompanied by National Security Adviser John Bolton, met with political and military leaders during his visit to Iraq.
Check out the photos below:
President Trump delivered a speech at the base in Iraq, telling reporters he has no intentions to pull U.S. troops from Iraq, according to Bloomberg.
“If we see something happening with ISIS that we don’t like, we can hit them so fast and so hard they really won’t know what the hell happened,” Trump said, Bloomberg reported. “We’ve knocked them silly.”
Asked by the press pool if he had concerns about the trip to Iraq, Pres Trump said absolutely. He spoke of concerns about the institution of the presidency, and for the safety of the First Lady, citing precautions such as making the visit at night. pic.twitter.com/XeYijIkmgd
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) December 26, 2018
“It’s time for us to start using our head,” Trump told reporters in Iraq, according to Bloomberg. “We don’t want to be taken advantage of anymore by countries that use us” and our military.
President Trump’s Christmas visit to American troops in Iraq comes a week after the president announced the withdrawal of American troops from Syria. Additionally, this follows Secretary of Defense James Mattis’ resignation announcement, IJR News reported.
Walking into the base dining facility filled with tables with green and red cloth and Christmas decorations, the president and first lady were greeted by over 100 service members, where they were able to talk, and President Trump signed several Make America Great Again hats.
“It’s a place I have been talking about for many years, many many years,” President Trump told reporters, according to a White House pool report. “I was talking about it as a civilian.”
“I want to come and pay my respects most importantly to the great soldiers, great troopers we have here,” he added.
According to the White House, a scheduled in-person meeting during the trip with Iraq’s prime minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi was canceled. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later clarified that the invitation to the prime minister was extended just two hours before the meeting and he was unable to attend.
The president sat down with U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Douglas Silliman, LTG Paul LaCamera, John Bolton, and other officials for a briefing while at the base.
“The United States cannot continue to be the policeman of the world,” President Trump told reporters. “It’s not fair when the burden is all on us, the United States.”
“We don’t want to be taken advantage of any more by countries that use us and use our incredible military to protect them. They don’t pay for it, and they’re going to have to.”
Watch the video below:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 26, 2018
President Trump also revealed that he will be “going to the wall” along the U.S.-Mexico border for a “ground breaking,” prior to the State of the Union.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with additional details.