Before leaving the internal gathering at Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday, President Donald Trump held a hastily scheduled press conference. In it, he was asked about the clear discrepancy between his initial claim that no Americans had been harmed in Iran’s retaliatory strikes against a US base in Iraq and reports of 11 military personnel diagnosed with concussions and an unnamed number of others also being treated in the wake of the attack.
“No, I heard that they had headaches, and a couple of other things, but I would say, and I can report, it’s not very serious,” Trump said dismissively. When pressed about the potential for traumatic brain injury among those concussed, Trump added: “They told me about it numerous days later, you’d have to ask Department of Defense. I don’t consider it very serious relative to other injuries that I’ve seen. I’ve seen what Iran has done with their roadside bombs to our troops. I’ve seen people with no legs and with no arms. I’ve seen people that were horribly, horribly injured in that area, that war. No, I do not consider that to be bad injuries, no.”
Which, well, yeah.
Let’s start with what we know about the injured soldiers. We know that the 11 soldiers initially injured were evacuated from the base in Iraq — eight to Germany and three more to Kuwait. In addition, the Pentagon announced Tuesday that an unspecified number of other troops had been injured in the attack and evacuated to Germany.
“As medical treatment and evaluations in theater continue, additional service members have been identified as having potential injuries,” said CENTCOM spokesman Bill Urban. “These service members — out of an abundance of caution — have been transported to Landstuhl, Germany, for further evaluations and necessary treatment on an outpatient basis. Given the nature of injuries already noted, it is possible additional injuries may be identified in the future.”
Given that the patients are still being evaluated, it’s hard to imagine that Trump has deep insight into their conditions — or prognosis. As CNN’s Barbara Starr notes, the military has made a significant push in recent years to identify and treat traumatic brain injury associated with combat roles, making Trump’s downplaying of the injuries suffered by the troops all the more problematic.
And then there is Trump’s own record of military service — or lack thereof. Although he was of draft age during the Vietnam War, Trump received five deferments to keep him out of the conflict — four for being a student and one for medical reasons. The stated medical reason was bone spurs in his heels; “I had a doctor that gave me a letter — a very strong letter on the heels,” Trump told The New York Times in 2016. (Asked by the Times when his bone spurs healed — and how — Trump was unable to cite any specific moment but he did not say he ever had surgery for the condition.)
“I’ve regretted not serving in many ways,” Trump said in an interview soon after the Times report on his military deferments. “So many of the greatest people I know have served.” At a campaign rally around that same time, Trump accepted a Purple Heart from a veteran; “I always wanted to get the Purple Heart,” he said. “This was much easier.”
So, let’s see here: A President who never served in the military dismisses the injuries of US service members as minor despite there being no medical professionals — in or out of the service — saying that. This will, of course, be regarded by Trump’s base as the media nitpicking him — he said they had headaches, after all! — but that doesn’t change what Trump said in Switzerland on Wednesday. Which is, just to reiterate: Soldiers injured in a missile attack, which was retaliation for Trump’s killing of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani earlier this month, were no big deal.
Trump’s downplaying of the injuries is in service of himself, of course. In the immediate aftermath of the Iran attacks, Trump said this in an address to the nation: “No Americans were harmed in last night’s attack by the Iranian regime. We suffered no casualties. All of our soldiers are safe and only minimal damage was sustained at our military bases.”
Now that the available evidence contradicts that claim, Trump is looking for a way out — without admitting he and his defense officials may have underplayed the effects of the Iranian attack. And so, he dismisses injuries to American soldiers suffered in the attacks as “headaches” and certainly nothing like their fellow servicemen who have had limbs blown off.
This isn’t and shouldn’t be OK. If a Democratic president did this exact thing, Republicans would — rightly — be up in arms. That they aren’t, because Trump said it, tells you everything you need to know about how much the GOP has capitulated to the President.