Is Niger Going To Be Trump’s “Benghazi”?
The trouble with having a fragile ego is that you can’t leave bad enough alone. Most of the time, if one is attacked, the best solution, as the famous guy once said, is to “turn the other cheek.” If you feel mortally wounded by any slight, real or imagined, and you fight back unnecessarily, you cause a minor snub to become a battle royale. One example is Donald Trump’s attack on the Gold Star family last year—instead of letting it go, as just another speech at a low-ratings political convention. Military.com discussed this.
Now the current furor over Donald Trump’s perceived disrespect for a fallen soldier, and for the soldier’s wife—who is pregnant, yet! He made her cry, which is what set off Rep. Frederica Wilson. The adult response, considering the widow’s great loss, would be to honor and respect her. Simply say, “oh, I’m sorry if it sounded that way, it’s not what I intended, please accept my sincere apologies.”
Instead of ending the matter with a simple self-deprecating gesture, Trump turned it into a multi-week debacle, attacking the widow, who doesn’t even want to speak to him now, according to the conservative Chicago Tribune. Remember that we’re talking about a grieving widow, who is searching for answers that never come, and trying to comprehend her loss. Giving Trump maximum benefit of the doubt, his words might have been misconstrued in that circumstance.
Except. . .
The call was actually placed to a master sergeant. The widow was probably touched, and asked that the call be put on speaker phone, so that all could hear it. Remember that she asked Trump if she could put him on speaker phone. He agreed. And he knew his words would be heard by others. Unluckily for him, one of the people in the car was family friend, Rep. Wilson.
Wilson said Trump sounded insincere and disrespectful. That really fired up Trump, who then attacked Wilson, saying she’s “wacky,” and worse.
Again, turning an awkward minor social situation into a major political battle.
Reporters first asked Trump about the attack in Niger because the administration had said nothing to the public. And then, we found, he had not contacted the families. Instead of saying, “we need to do that,” Trump attacked former presidents—incorrectly—saying he was the best ever, and nobody ever contacted widows except him.
Someday, he will find, in a game of “Donald J. Trump against the entire world” the world will eventually win.
Aside from the social gaffe, the episode has brought attention to Niger. Most people had no idea we had troops there. Even key senators say they did not know we were in Niger. So one of the reasons the reporter asked Trump about it was that it seemed like a relatively secret mission.
In fact, Rep. Wilson is now vocally comparing the Niger ambush of four Americans to the 2012 Benghazi ambush in Libya, in which four Americans died. Why are we there? What are we trying to accomplish? Trump, after all, campaigned on ending such undefined foreign adventures.
PolitiFact notes that Trump has doubled the troop level in Niger. The story has many more details.
Sen. John McCain has also asked for more information about the Niger attack. But McCain thinks getting information may require a subpoena of the administration, according to The Hill.
And lack of information has made it hard to compare Niger and Benghazi. The claim is that in both cases,
–four Americans died.
–They were both in semi-secret actions.
–In both situations, there was inadequate preparation, intelligence, outfitting, and defense.
In addition, in Niger,
–American air power was not used.
–The Americans did not have armored vehicles.
–Mercenaries finally arrived—after 30 minutes.
–The mercenaries were not authorized to intervene
–They collected the living and dead, but left Johnson behind.
–Johnson’s beacon was active, so he was alive when left behind.
The fact-finding site, Snopes, gives the claims about Niger/Benghazi a “mixed” rating. It is true that the troops were driving in basic pickup trucks, for instance. Also, it is apparently true that this was an intelligence failure. The lack of armored equipment and security backup was due to a claim that it was “considered unlikely” that troops would need such support, since there were no known extremists in the area.
Meanwhile, the right-leaning Washington Times reports that the brother of one of the soldiers says we should not equate Niger and Benghazi, since this was war, and that was a diplomatic compound. However, he also noted the complication that many people did not know we were in Niger, or that there was an American war there.
Meanwhile, the left-leaning Slate says it’s unwise to compare Niger with Benghazi, noting that after 33 different and separate congressional hearings, the right was not able to find evidence of blame on the Obama Administration, so it’s unlikely that hearings would find any Trump blame.
Back to the widow debacle, Trump sent John Kelly to speak to the public, apparently thinking Kelly would be more suave in answering questions. Indeed he did, recounting the loss of his own son. However, in the speech, Kelly noted that he gave Trump the “talking point” that was his undoing. While trying to mimic Kelly’s words, Trump came off sounding insincere. It also suggested lack of empathy by Trump, who could not come up with words of his own. And, of course, Kelly incongruously attacked Rep. Wilson for listening to a phone call she could not avoid, being in a car with a speaker phone.
Sadly, Kelly was brought into the petty battle with Rep. Wilson. Kelly—incomprehensibly—claimed that Rep. Wilson was a “showboat” who also had taken credit for attaining money for a new FBI building in Florida. While it would be normal for a representative or senator to claim credit for bringing money back to the district, a video of the event, surprisingly, shows nothing of the kind. Wilson gave all credit to others. Kelly and his credibility were unnecessarily tarnished.
The point of this article is to point out that there are times when “discretion is the better part of valor.” In other words, “let it go.”
If Trump had not attacked the grieving widow, the story would have ended that day. He could have even forgiven himself by saying he didn’t think he said that, but he could understand how a grieving widow might be sensitive to how things were said. Instead, he brought out the battleaxe and mace to attack both women. And so, the story continues.
More importantly, the furor gave credence to comparisons of Niger with Benghazi, which could have been avoided.
But most important of all, this episode again shows that Donald J. Trump is fragile, and most of all, predictable. He usually relies on one source. (He often tries to defend himself, saying, “that’s what I was told.”) He jumps to conclusions. He overreacts. This must be a lesson to Vladimir Putin and others that Trump can be “had.”
Filed in: Commentary Tagged in: John Kelly Niger phone call troops trump widow