President Trump praised the troops for fighting terrorism in a surprise clandestine Christmas visit to Iraq on Wednesday.
The president traveled secretly to the Al Asada air base in Iraq, west of Baghdad, and spoke to about 100 special operations troops and military commanders who were engaged in combat with Islamic state in both Iraq and Syria.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 26, 2018
“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 told reporters who traveled with him to the base, where he landed after dark. “We’ve knocked them out. We’ve knocked them silly.”
But Trump reinforced his apprehension of militarily intervening in future foreign conflicts.
“If they want us to do the fight, they also have to pay a price,” he said. “Sometimes that’s also a monetary price, so we’re not the suckers of the world. We’re no longer the suckers, folks. And people aren’t looking at us as suckers.”
The commander in chief was enthusiastically greeted by servicemen and women. He took selfies with several of the troops and signed red Make America Great Again hats.
First Lady Melania also joined the president for his visit trip, which marks the first time he has seen the American war effort at close range since becoming president.
One of the troops told Trump that he reenlisted in the military after he was elected president.
“He came back into the military because of me,” Trump told reporters. He turned back to the soldier and replied, “I am here because of you.”
Powerful moment – Member of United States Army told the President he came back into the military because of him. And President Trump responded, “And I am here because of you.” I met him after and he gave me the patch from his arm. Incredible. #TrumpTroopsVisit pic.twitter.com/WmQf3b2K8X
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) December 26, 2018
The president, who repeatedly publicly slammed former President George W. Bush’s decision to send troops to invade Iraq in 2003, doubled down on his decision to withdraw troops from Syria, remaining adamant that the days of broad-scale US involvement overseas has ended.
“The United States cannot continue to be the policeman of the world,” he told media who traveled with him. “It’s not fair when the burden is all on us, the United States.”
Trump pledged during the 2016 presidential campaign to remove U.S. troops from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Over 5,000 troops are still currently stationed in Iraq to combat Islamic State. The Pentagon is reportedly working on a plan to withdraw 7,000 of the 14,000 troops still serving in Afghanistan.
“It’s a place I have been talking about for many years, many, many years. I was talking about it as a civilian,” the president said. “It’s time for us to start using our head. We don’t want to be taken advantage of anymore.”
Trump’s withdrawal from Syria comes as U.S. military has eliminated territory controlled by the Islamic State terror group in Syria in Iraq. The president reminded troops that U.S. presence in Syria was never intended to be “open-ended.”
“I made it clear from the beginning that our mission in Syria was to strip ISIS of its military strongholds,” he said.
Trump lamented the amount of security it required for him to get on base, despite the U.S. expending trillions in the Middle East to make it safer 15 years after the American invasion.
“Pretty sad when you spend 7 trillion dollars in the Middle East,” he said, “and going in has to be under this massive cover with planes all over and all of the greatest equipment in the world and you do everything to get in safely.”
The president said he was apprehensive about the safety of the first lady when traveling to the war zone.
“I had concerns about the institution of the presidency. Not for myself personally,” he said. “I had concerns for the First Lady, I will tell you.”