More than 5,000 U.S. troops are deployed in Iraq.
Trump, accompanied by First Lady Melania Trump, used the visit to say he had “no plans at all” to pull U.S. forces out of Iraq and to defend his decision to bring troops home from Syria. Soon-to-be-former Secretary of Defense James Mattis resigned over that decision, which took Mattis and others by surprise.
“I think a lot of people are going to come around to my way of thinking,” Trump said in addressing soldiers at the Al-Asad Air Base west of Baghdad. “It’s time for us to start using our head.”
Trump said Iraq still can be used as a base to stage attacks on ISIS, boasting the U.S. can attack “so fast and so hard” that the terrorist group “won’t know what the hell happened.”
Trump also defended his government shutdown over his beloved border wall, telling soldiers, “Nancy [Pelosi] is calling the shots; the American public is demanding a wall.” Trump previously had said he would take credit for shutting down the government if he did not get the money he was demanding for his wall.
Trump did not meet with Prime Minister of Iraq during his visit; it got canceled, according to CNN, suggesting it was a photo op for consumption by a U.S. audience.
“President Trump and the first lady traveled to Iraq late on Christmas night to visit with our troops and Senior Military leadership to thank them for their service, their success, and their sacrifice and to wish them a Merry Christmas,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders explained of the visit.
Trump tweeted video, complete with “God Bless the USA” soundtrack: