12 times Trump provoked a backlash with the US military and veterans in 2018

Donald Trump american flag huggingJoe Radle/Getty Images

  • President Donald Trump often claims he's been better for the military and veterans than his predecessors.
  • While he has boosted the defense budget and given troops the largest pay raise in nearly a decade, he has also strirred controversy throughout his role as commander in chief.
  • From a foiled parade to stigmatizing comments about combat veterans, Trump has faced consistent criticism for his treatment of the troops.

President Donald Trump has often praised himself for how much he loves "his military."

From increasing the US defense budget to calling for a showy military parade to rival any other, Trump presents himself as a champion of the armed forces and veterans.

But his showmanship has sometimes irked the very group he aims to praise.

From his continued threats to use troops to build a border wall to his public spats with widely respected military heroes, here are 12 ways the president provoked controversy with the military and veterans in 2018.

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1. "I want a parade like the one in France."

1. "I want a parade like the one in France."

In February, The Washington Post reported that Trump had ordered the Pentagon to begin planning a parade to rival France's Bastille Day celebration, which he and Melania Trump attended in July 2017.

But by August, the estimated cost of the parade ballooned to $92 million, and the president cancelled the effort.

2. Trump falsely claimed he gave service members their first pay raise in a decade.

2. Trump falsely claimed he gave service members their first pay raise in a decade.

He didn't.

Military pay has increased every year since 1975, save one. The 2.6% increase effective January 1, 2019, will be the largest raise since 2010, when service members saw a 3.4% bump in their basic pay, according to Military Times.

3. The president tweeted a controversial Memorial Day message ... to himself.

3. The president tweeted a controversial Memorial Day message ... to himself.

"Happy Memorial Day!" Trump tweeted. "Those who died for our great country would be very happy and proud at how well our country is doing today. Best economy in decades, lowest unemployment numbers for Blacks and Hispanics EVER (& women in 18years), rebuilding our Military and so much more. Nice!"

He faced backlash for the tweet, which seemed more a celebration of himself than a remembrance of those who have died in combat.

It would have served him better to stick with his 2017 Memorial Day message, which said, "Today we remember the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in serving. Thank you, God bless your families & God bless the USA!"

4. Trump made comments in an interview that suggested he was not familiar with the true purpose of NATO.

4. Trump made comments in an interview that suggested he was not familiar with the true purpose of NATO.

In an interview with Fox News' Tucker Carlson on July 14, Carlson hypothetically asked the president why the US should defend Montenegro, which gained NATO membership in 2017.

"I've asked the same question," Trump said. "Montenegro is a tiny country with very strong people. They're very aggressive people. They may get aggressive, and, congratulations, you're in World War Three."

But that's not how NATO works. The alliance is defensive in nature — as in, member states are bound by Article 5 to defend each other against an aggressor, not to support offensive actions.

Trump also mischaracterized Montenegro as aggressive, an unusual comment that one retired general characterized as a Russian talking point. The Montenegrin military has only about 2,000 troops, and according to NATO, supported the alliance's mission in Afghanistan for at least seven years before being accepted as a member state.

5. Trump added to a list of offenses against Sen. John McCain by prematurely raising the flag on the White House following McCain's death.

5. Trump added to a list of offenses against Sen. John McCain by prematurely raising the flag on the White House following McCain's death.

After the death of Sen. John McCain, the flag was lowered to half-staff before being raised two days later.

Although this was done in accordance with US Flag Code, which states that flags should be flown at half-staff on the day of death and the following day for members of Congress, the flag's raising still caused controversy.

Despite the code, it had become customary for presidents to issue a proclamation directing flags to remain at half-staff until the day of internment. Because Trump extended such courtesy to former first lady Barbara Bush, his failure to do so for McCain — a naval aviator who lived with physical impairments suffered during five years as a POW in Vietnam — sparked outrage, and prompted prominent veterans organizations to get involved.

Many saw this as a jab at McCain, who remained critical of the president and said he did not want Trump at his funeral.

Many saw this as a jab at McCain, who remained critical of the president and said he did not want Trump at his funeral.

It was not Trump's first assault on the late senator, who was widely respected in the military and veteran communities. Trump had previously insulted McCain's service, during which he was captured and held as a prisoner of war for over five years in Vietnam.

McCain did not let up on his criticism. After Trump congratulated Russian President Vladimir Putin on a phone call after Russia's elections, McCain said in a statement: "“An American president does not lead the Free World by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections."

6. "When they throw rocks ... I say 'consider it a rifle'": Trump made a comment that suggested troops at the border could use deadly force in response to rock-throwers.

6. "When they throw rocks ... I say 'consider it a rifle'": Trump made a comment that suggested troops at the border could use deadly force in response to rock-throwers.

Trump suggested that troops deployed to the US-Mexico border should consider rocks thrown by migrants to be the equivalent of rifles.

Among those who criticized the president for his remarks were David Lapan, a Marine veteran and former spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, and Michael Hayden, retired Air Force general and former director of both the CIA and the National Security Agency.

The president later clarified the statement, saying he was referencing violence against Mexican police, but that he did not expect troops to to shoot migrants.

The president later clarified the statement, saying he was referencing violence against Mexican police, but that he did not expect troops to to shoot migrants.

The president walked back the comment, saying he wanted to prevent US troops from being injured.

"What I don't want is these people throwing rocks ... What they did to the Mexican military is a disgrace," Trump said. "They hit them with rocks. Some were very seriously injured, and they were throwing rocks in their face. They do that with us, they're going to be arrested, there are going to be problems," he later said. "I didn't say shoot."

7. "He was a sick puppy:" Discussing a mass shooting that took place November 7, Trump drew an unsettling connection between veterans and violence.

7. "He was a sick puppy:" Discussing a mass shooting that took place November 7, Trump drew an unsettling connection between veterans and violence.

Ian David Long opened fire in a crowded bar in Thousand Oaks, California on November 7, killing 12.

During the ongoing investigation, Long's military service — he was a Marine who deployed once to Afghanistan — fell under scrutiny, particularly when neighbors suggested that the shooter had displayed symptoms of post-traumatic stress. No evidence has emerged that Long was ever diagnosed with the condition.

In a press gaggle following the shooting, Trump perpetuated stigma surrounding veterans who go to war, saying when "they come back, they're never the same."

8. Trump was criticized for skipping a ceremony commemorating the centennial of World War I's end.

8. Trump was criticized for skipping a ceremony commemorating the centennial of World War I's end.

The president later defended the decision to skip the ceremony, saying that it would have disrupted traffic near Paris.

He later gave a speech in the rain during a ceremony at Suresnes, where he made reference to the weather.

9. The same weekend, Trump broke from tradition when he did not visit Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day — something former President Barack Obama did every year of his presidency.

9. The same weekend, Trump broke from tradition when he did not visit Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day — something former President Barack Obama did every year of his presidency.

Trump told Fox News' Chris Wallace that he did not visit the cemetery because he was "very busy" taking phone calls.

Referring to a Veterans Day visit, Trump said "I should've done that," before adding that he did not think it would be necessary after he made a speech at a ceremony in France to honor the centennial of the armistice that ended World War I.

Although Trump has stirred controversy for perceived slights against the military and veterans, including denouncing late Sen. John McCain and his criticism of gold-star families, Trump told Wallace "nobody has been better at the military."

10. "Wouldn't it have been nice if we had gotten Osama bin Laden a lot sooner than that, wouldn't it have been nice?"

10. "Wouldn't it have been nice if we had gotten Osama bin Laden a lot sooner than that, wouldn't it have been nice?"

In an interview with Fox News, Trump blasted retired US Navy SEAL Adm. Bill McRaven, who oversaw the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

McRaven's public criticism of the president includes an op-ed in The Washington Post, in which he called on Trump to revoke his security clearance as Trump took this unprecedented step against his critics. More recently, McRaven voiced concern about the president's labeling of the media as the "enemy of the people."

Trump used typical rhetoric to criticize the retired admiral, saying McRaven is a "Hillary Clinton backer and an Obama backer." He went on to suggest that the admiral was partially responsible for failing to capture Bin Laden sooner.

Trump's critique of McRaven, who is a legend among the military, sparked a response from Robert O'Neill, the Navy SEAL who came forward to take credit for killing bin Laden on the 2011 raid.

O'Neill tweeted that McRaven was "born" to lead the mission, and asserted it was a bipartisan effort.

11. Trump has twice threatened to use the military to build a wall along the US-Mexico border, earning him criticism for using 'his military' to play politics.

11. Trump has twice threatened to use the military to build a wall along the US-Mexico border, earning him criticism for using 'his military' to play politics.

It's hard to argue that "nobody has been better at the military" while facing scrutiny for questionable uses of the armed forces.

The president has threatened to use the military to build the proposed border wall twice — once after signing a spending bill that only allocated $1.6 billion to pay for the wall, and again Tuesday morning.

Trump seems comfortable using the military as a tool with which to threaten Congress, but this habit has unsettled many veterans, some of whom have taken to the pages of the New York Times and other outlets to caution against a continued politicization of the military.

12. Trump has also neglected to visit US troops fighting overseas, another break from tradition set by predecessors.

12. Trump has also neglected to visit US troops fighting overseas, another break from tradition set by predecessors.

Citing White House aides, the New York Times reported that the president has avoided visiting troops because he believes a visit would lend legitimacy to operations he does not support.

A former White House official told the Washington Post that Trump was afraid to visit combat zones.

In an interview with Fox News, Trump said he would probably visit deployed troops at some point, but would not discuss specifics for security reasons. Former presidents have visited deployed troops fairly early in their tenure.

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