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Politics & Policy

The Condolence Controversy

It might be the stupidest and most unworthy controversy of the year, and that’s saying something. Feeling defensive at a press conference on Monday over questions about his silence about the deaths of four U.S. Special Forces soldiers in Niger, Trump hit Obama for not calling families of the fallen. This, of course, made the condolence calls an even more bitter, partisan food fight and a Democratic congresswoman present during Trump’s call to the widow of one of the soldiers killed in Niger reported that he insensitively said the solider “knew what he signed up for.”

A couple of things:

One, although it appears to be correct that Obama didn’t call all the families of the fallen, it doesn’t mean it was right for Trump to use that point as a bludgeon. Here is a relevant portion of the Washington Post fact check:

Still, in early 2011, the family of one fallen soldier, Sgt. Sean Collins, told Fox News they had requested a call from Obama and were told his schedule was too packed for a conversation. (Note: At that point, about 1,000 troops had been killed in Iraq or Afghanistan under Obama’s watch. So far in 2017, 25 troops have been killed in those countries.)

Generally, former Obama aides said, the president wrote letters or made base visits in which he met with families. “I remember he did on occasion make calls and met Gold Star families at the White House and on his base visits,” said Benjamin Rhodes, a national security aide to Obama.

Two, it might be that there was good reason that Trump was delayed in reaching out to these families. If so, this is all Trump had to say on Monday. From the Washington Post again:

The White House has not explained why Trump took so long to comment publicly about the Niger ambush, but officials said Tuesday that he was regularly briefed on the incident during that period. They declined to provide details.

The White House did not receive detailed information from the Defense Department about the four dead soldiers until Oct. 12, and that information was not fully verified by the White House Military Office until Monday, according to a senior White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to comment on the internal process.

At that point, the official said, Trump was cleared to reach out to the four families — both in letters that were mailed Tuesday and in personal phone calls to family members that day.

Three, Trump’s “knew what he signed up for” statement seems horrible in isolation, but it’s hard to know what to make of it except in context and listening to the conservation. Even the Democrat congresswoman says that Trump said “it hurts anyway.” On the other hand, the family confirms that it was upset by Trump’s call.

Now, Trump is engaged in a fight over what he really said. Is it too much to ask that everyone back off this one and not to add to anyone’s distress and leave condolence calls — if nothing else — out of our poisonous political debate?


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