Retired Gen. Allen says Trump turned troop visit into 'political rally'

Michael Isikoff
Chief Investigative Correspondent
President Trump, retired Marine Corps Gen. John Allen (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images; Darko Bandic/AP)

A former top U.S. military commander criticized President Trump for turning his visit to an Iraqi air base into a “political rally” that improperly used U.S. troops for partisan purposes.

“We didn’t need a political rally,” said retired Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, who served as President Barack Obama’s special envoy to the coalition against the Islamic State terror group, during an interview for  the Yahoo News podcast “Skullduggery.” Allen, a former deputy and acting chief of the U.S. Central Command, added that while Obama and President George W. Bush were “very quick to visit the troops” and “spoke about the troops all the time,” Trump’s first visit to see U.S. soldiers as president had been a “long time coming.”

But, he hastily added, “We need the troops to be motivated by the president of the United States, their commander in chief, and not find themselves being drawn into cheering over political statements about whether the Democrats did do something or not do something, or whether he was getting funding for something or not getting funding for something.”

In his comments, Allen joined other former U.S. military officers who have criticized Trump’s day-after-Christmas visit to Al Asad Air Base in Iraq.  During the trip, Trump signed “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) hats and a “Trump 2020″ patch, and then condemned Democrats for failing to provide funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. “The Democrats don’t want to let us have strong borders,” he said. The president also claimed that he had gotten the troops a 10 percent pay raise — far more than 2.6 percent they actually got — and falsely said it was the first raise they had gotten in 10 years. In fact, U.S. military troops have gotten a raise every year for the past decade.

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Trump defended his conduct in a tweet and denounced the media reports about his visit as “Fake News” for initially suggesting that he had distributed the MAGA hats he signed for the troops.

“If these brave young people ask me to sign their hat, I will sign,” he wrote. “Can you imagine my saying NO? We brought or gave NO hats as the Fake News first reported.”


But Allen, who once served as a top commander at the same Iraqi air base during the Iraq War, said Trump’s conduct during the visit violated understandings basic to civilian control of the military.

“Our military is the greatest military on the planet because of civilian control over the military, and inherent in that is that the civilian control will not politicize our military,” Allen said. “Come to  theater; tell [the troops] how brave they are. And share their danger and tell them they’ve done so much to protect their country.

“Don’t come to the war zone and attempt to politicize the troops by drawing them into a political rally.”

Allen also sharply criticized Trump’s decision to abruptly pull 2,000 U.S. troops out of Syria, saying they had played a vital role in rolling back in the Islamic State group — gains that could be reversed once they leave, threatening Kurdish allies and the liberated population.

U.S. troops “should be there because the situation demands it,” he said. “I fear, frankly, for their survival if we pull out too fast.” Asked whose survival was at stake, he replied: Local U.S. allies and “the population that was just liberated. I fear for them if we depart too quickly.”

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