On her MSNBC program last night, Rachel Maddow returned to her thesis that the real story is never about what Donald Trump says, but what he does, and right now Trump is talking nonsense to divert our attention from unanswered questions about four Special Forces soldiers killed in Niger two weeks ago.
After an opening segment in which Maddow covered Trump’s heartless words to the widow of Sergeant La David Johnson, she came back from the commercial break to remind viewers that Trump has always misbehaved the most when he wants to turn our attention away from a bad news cycle.
She recalled the moment in early March when Trump tweeted a ridiculous accusation that Barack Obama had ordered wiretapping of Trump Tower. The Department of Justice quietly admitted in September that no such order ever came from the White House.
But that was not the point of Trump’s tweets. Then as now, “this is not just distraction, it’s diversion of a political line of inquiry.”
“The reason we’re all talking about this is because the president brought it up without being asked,” Maddow pointed out.
During the Monday press conference in which Trump began tossing out countercharges that Obama had failed to call the families of dead soldiers — another spurious claim — he did not actually answer the question he was asked.
“Why haven’t we heard anything from you about the soldiers who were killed in Niger?” A reporter asked. “And what do you have to say about that?”
As Maddow notes, that question is still unanswered while we talk about Trump’s callous treatment of a military widow.
Being president, getting elected president, staying president, doesn’t just require strength and remarkable personal characteristics. It also requires innate political intelligence or at least instinct. And something about what happened in Niger has caused this president, apparently instinctually, to divert the conversation from what happened to those soldiers — from even acknowledging publicly the deaths of those soldiers and what happened to them. He will not talk about it.
“Why were they underarmed and underarmored in a place where they were potentially subject to a massive, heavily-armed ISIS ambush?” Maddow asks. Not only was their intelligence faulty, but the men were riding in unarmored trucks. They reportedly had a surveillance drone in the air, but it was not armed.
There are so many questions about this debacle. Why were French forces unable to support or rescue the unit? Why were private contractors apparently necessary to pull them out of the ambush?
Most distressing of all: “Do we know how it is that Sergeant Johnson became separated from those other soldiers? Do we know if he was initially taken alive?”
Was his casket closed because of something horrible captors did to him? How Johnson he get left behind, and why did it take 48 hours to find him?
“What was the mission? Was it worth it to have them there?” Maddow asked. This may be the most important question of all, since few Americans even knew that troops were operating in the West African nation.
Then there is the bizarre way in which the White House failed to respond to the incident. As POLITICO reported yesterday, “staffers at the National Security Council drafted and circulated a statement of condolence” almost immediately, yet Trump declined to sign off on it.
There is something about what happened in Niger, that this president has instinctually diverted the conversation from, to the point that he will not even issue an already-prepared statement somebody else has written for him on the matter. He would rather have a national conversation about his own callousness and mistakes… He would rather talk about that than talk about what happened in Niger. That makes me really want to know what happened in Niger.
Maddow did not offer possible answers, but one early hypothesis is that Trump does not want to acknowledge that ISIS offshoots like the Islamic State in Greater Sahara pose an increasing threat at the same time his administration is trying to claim all the credit for the campaign against ISIS in Syria. While thousands of fighters remain on that battlefield, the Islamic State is currently losing their capital Raqqa to a coalition offensive that began under Obama.
Another possibility, however, is that Trump learned nothing from his previous debacle in Yemen. A US Navy SEAL was killed just days into the new administration after Trump “approved his first covert counterterrorism operation without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate backup preparations,” making decisions over a dinner table rather than inside the Situation Room. The botched raid produced no actionable intelligence.
Here is the segment. Watch:
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