Prior to November, Donald Trump seemed to have little interest in visiting troops stationed in combat zones, a routine occurrence in a normal presidency. Last month a senior White House official attributed this, partly, to Trump being scared: “He’s afraid of those situations. He’s afraid people are going to kill him.”
On December 26, on the fifth day of a partial government shutdown, days after he announced his intention to withdraw from Syria and Afghanistan, the president decided to cross a trip to visit the troops overseas off his list of presidential experiences. The surprise visit began with Trump in a bomber jacket, welcomed by a soundtrack of “USA! USA!” chants and the gushing patriotism of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA.” “Our presence in Syria was not open-ended and was never intended to be permanent,” Trump said. “We’re no longer the suckers folks.”
But Newsweek reports that we may, indeed, still suck. In the pool report of the trip — which was embargoed to help protect the Trumps’ safety in Iraq — the president asked the chaplain of Seal Team 5, Lieutenant Commander Kyu Lee, to take a picture with him, revealing the presence of the special-ops team at the al-Asad Airbase in western Iraq. When Trump left Iraqi airspace, he posted a video in which he and the First Lady pause for photos with members of Seal Team 5, decked out in full battle gear and night-vision goggles.
As president, it is technically within Trump’s job description to declassify that sort of information, but it does violate protocol designed to keep secret locations of special forces secret. “The deployments of special operation forces, including Navy SEALs are almost always classified events, as to protect those men and women that are on the front lines of every overt and covert conflict the United States is involved in,” a Defense Department official told Newsweek. “Even during special operation demonstrations for congressional delegations or for the president or vice president, personnel either have their faces covered or their face is digitally blurred prior to a release to the general public.”
Of course, this isn’t Trump’s first failure in operational security. In October, the New York Times reported that when Trump calls friends on his personal iPhone — a device he was supposed to ditch for security measures — Russian and Chinese spies eavesdrop to gauge the president’s mood and who might have his ear on policy matters. Other low-tech security risks emerged in the report: Last year, Trump left his cell behind in a golf cart at his course in New Jersey, causing “a scramble” to find it.
Nor is it Trump’s first impromptu revelation of national security interests: In April 2017 phone call, Trump told Rodrigo Duterte, the authoritarian president of the Philippines, that the U.S. had sent two nuclear submarines to the waters off the coast of North Korea. And, in May 2017, hours after the dismissal of James Comey, Trump revealed Israeli intelligence assets to the Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, jeopardizing the Israeli-American intelligence link and leaving Mossad “boiling mad and demanding answers.”