President Trump bragged about his strong election numbers from the military while accusing the media of refusing to report on terror attacks during a visit to MacDill Air Force Base.
“We had a wonderful election, didn’t we? And I saw those numbers, and you like me and I like you, that’s the way it works,” the president said as he kicked off his first speech to members of U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command leadership on Monday.
Trump also took aim at the press, a favorite target, defending his refugee ban by promising to keep out “people who want to destroy us and want to destroy our country while warning of “radical Islamic terrorism” as he once again broke the longstanding presidential convention of avoiding expressly political topics while appearing as commander-in-chief.
“In many cases the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it. They have their reasons and you understand it,” he said after talking about terror attacks around the world.
“We will defeat radical Islamic terrorism and we will not allow it to take root in our country. Not going to allow it. You’ve been seeing what’s been going on the last few days. We need strong programs so that people that love us and want to love our country and will end up loving our country are allowed in, not people who want to destroy us and destroy our country,” he said.
Trump also used his short speech to promise that he will “strongly support NATO,” a key pillar of U.S. military policy that has stood for more than a half-century, while demanding other NATO allies pay more for its upkeep. European allies have been alarmed about how critical Trump has been of NATO, which at one point he called “obsolete.”
“We only ask that they make their full and proper financial contributions to the NATO alliance which many of them have not been doing, many of them have not been even close,” he said.
U.S. Central Command oversaw a recent raid by U.S. special operations forces on an Al Qaida compound in Yemen, the first military operation authorized by Trump — and one that left one American soldier dead, lost a $ 75 million aircraft and reportedly also killed several civilians.
Unnamed military officials told Reuters that Trump approved the operation without sufficient intelligence, ground support, or adequate backup preparations. The President did not mention the raid that those in the audience had direct involvement in during his speech, however, instead promising to load up the Air Force base with “beautiful new planes.”
But Trump returned time and again to a pledge to keep Americans safe.
“As your president I have no higher duty than to protect the American people. Highest duty we have, I said it the other night. Great great Supreme Court nominee, you all saw that. But I said to myself, perhaps the only thing more important to me definitively is the defense of our nation. The Supreme Court’s so important but we have to defend our nation,” he said.
The President gave his speech at the Tampa Bay-area Air Force base after lunching with enlisted men, where he talked up the New England Patriots’ Super Bowl victory, joked that one soldier would be able to out-lift him, and tried to convince multiple soldiers to stay in the armed forces.