Trump hawks down; Or the significance of ‘what he signed up for’


What goes around, Americans are fond of saying, comes around.

So it is with the recent tragic events in Niger, which have been called President Donald J. Trump’s Benghazi, Trumpghazi and Trump’s “Black Hawk Down,” after military operations that went terribly wrong in the administrations of President Barack Obama and President Bill Clinton respectively.

About the only thing everyone agrees on is that four U.S. soldiers were ambushed and killed in Niger on Oct. 4. They were Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, Sgt. La David Johnson and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright. These soldiers were part of some 800 to 1,000 American Special Operations forces that have been advising and assisting the Nigeriens in counterterrorism measures since at least President George W. Bush’s administration. (The program was expanded by Obama, so this isn’t a Democratic versus Republican thing.)

But here’s where everything gets murky. What exactly was the mission? Who ambushed the soldiers? Why was there an hour lag time for the French, the former colonial power in Niger, to provide air cover? And why wasn’t Sgt. La David Johnson’s body discovered for two days?

The fog of war – or of “advising and assisting,” as every student of the Vietnam War knows – is such that the truth of what happened isn’t immediately apparent. What is apparent is that Trump handled the situation’s aftermath with less than Alexandrian leadership, first by not commenting on it for more than a week and ultimately by saying he did not “specifically” authorize it. (Dude, you are the president. You are responsible for everything that happens in your administration.)

Then he got involved in a typically Trumpian tone deaf controversy with Sgt. La David Johnson’s widow, in which he consoled her by saying that this was what her husband “signed up for. But I guess it still hurts.”

First off, I’m sure that no one who joins the military signs up to wind up dead. Sure, it has to be in the back of your mind. But if it were what you signed up for no one would go.

Also, you guess it still hurts? Ya think?

Not surprisingly, Johnson’s widow, Myeshia, was distraught by the less than consoling condolence call, as was family friend, Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson, listening in on speaker phone. Mrs. Johnson said the president struggled to remember her husband’s name. This has led to a back-and-forth on Twitter and in the press that has pitted Trump against the two women in a he said, they said.

Look, let’s say for the sake of argument that Mrs. Johnson was overwhelmed with grief and less than receptive and that Wilson politicized the conversation. The gracious, bigger person would say, “I know it was a terrible moment. I just want Mrs. Johnson to know how grateful the American people are for her husband’s service and sacrifice. He must’ve loved her very much and I hope she can live on now in the memory of that love.”

But hey, that’s not Trump. Instead he’s gone on and on about what a great memory he has, how he went to an Ivy League school, how he used her husband’s name, how nice and intelligent he is – some of it expressed in the third person.

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in defending her boss that the chapeau-loving Wilson is “all hat and no cattle.”

I’d call Trump “all parade and no battle.”