Monday, June 7, 2021

Literary Corner: Unpleasant

Ryan and Bill Owens, via NBC News.

The Endless Wars, So Bad

By Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States of America

These were the endless wars, so bad, so bad. I’d visit soldiers
at Walter Reed Hospital, where the doctors are truly fantastic
what they can do, but I’d see these young people that were just
blown to pieces, and it’s so sad. I’d be at Dover where these
magnificent machines would come in, the big cargo planes,
and that door would open up and there’d be a coffin in the back.
And the military, the soldiers, would take that coffin and walk it
off the plane. And I’d be with the parents an hour before and we’d
be talking, and I’d say to the general in-charge, “General,
the parents seemed to be okay,” and he’d say, “No, they’re not, sir.
They’re not okay.” I said, “General, I’m having a great conversation.”
And the mothers oftentimes would say, “Oh, my son was such a great
football player. Sir, he had an arm that was so powerful. He was
so strong and he could throw a ball so far. He was such a good player,”
or other things. They’d tell me these stories. They just were so in love
with telling the stories about their son or their daughter, in some cases,
their daughter. And then, I’d look at the general. I’d say, “Well,
it’s amazing the way they can handle it.” And then, the plane
would come in and the general would say, “Sir, it’s not going to
be good.” And that door would open up, that big back door, right,
would open up from this incredible, powerful machine that can lift up
Army tanks like it’s nothing. And it would open up, and there’d be one
or two or three or four coffins, and I’d see the same people that were
talking to me so jubilant about their child, how great the child was,
would start screaming, screaming. Screams like I’ve never heard before.

It was the most terrible thing to watch. And the general in charge would say,
“Sir, you’re going to see things that you maybe will not have seen.”
“Like what, General?” He said, “Mothers and wives, and even fathers sometimes,
breaking through the military ranks and jumping on top of the coffin.” And
I got to see that one time where a mother, she was devastated. She jumped
on, and these incredible, extremely fit soldiers are taking that coffin, 
and would jump onto the coffin, and they wouldn’t do a thing, they would
just keep walking. And the mother was on the coffin, and this is
for Afghanistan and for Iraq, and for these other places, where so
many mistakes were made, where we shouldn’t be, and we can’t do that.

In the real world, Trump has traveled to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware exactly four times ― fewer than half as many times as his vice president ― and avoided going at all for nearly two years after getting berated for his incompetence by the father of a slain Navy SEAL, according to a former White House aide who spoke on condition of anonymity. (S.V. Date, HuffPost, September 2020)

That father was Bill Owens, whose son, 36-year-old Chief Petty Office Ryan Owens, was killed in a joint US-UAE raid on the village of Yakla in western Yemen, where US intelligence believed some higher-ups in the Al Qa'eda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) were congregating, perhaps in the planning of some important action. Trump decided on doing it at dinner, on 25 January 2017, during his first meeting with his national security team (including Pence, Mattis, Flynn, Dunford, Pompeo, Bannon, and Kushner.

Mattis and Flynn were enthusiastic about the plan, which was officially a "sensitive site exploitation" but secretly furnished with a "kill-or-capture" order for any high-value AQAP personnel the SEALs might encounter, a format fraught with military, legal, and political risks the Obama administration had almost never been willing to take (the big exception being the raid that killed Osama bin Laden), and even more so in collusion with an ally of uncertain quality like the Emiratis. Bannon and Kushner didn't like it, under the idea that the plan was an Obama discard, but Flynn, claiming intelligence from UAE that the AQAP leader himself, Qasim al-Rimi, might be there, convinced the new president:

Flynn said that capturing or killing al-Rimi would distinguish the president from Obama right out of the box, the sources said. Trump would be a risk taker where Obama was a hesitant and endless deliberator, Flynn said. And the president would be honor[ing] the Gulf allies who were operating in Yemen. Multiple sources say that Flynn labeled the first week raid a "game changer."

Which turned out to be the case, though not in a way Flynn expected. The Qa'eda people seem to have found out about the plan in advance, and met the SEALs with land mines and fierce resistance, even armed women, and Ryan Owens was mortally wounded after just five minutes of firefight. Two Marine Corps Osprey aircraft were dispatched from the Gulf of Yemen, but one of them crashed, and had to be destroyed to prevent the enemy from getting a chance to study it. The team managed to kill 14 Qa'eda fighters, including two purported leaders, but Qasim al-Rimi wasn't one of them, and they acquired zero useful intelligence. In addition to the death of Owens, five US servicemen were injured, and the fighting killed at least 16 civilians, including ten kids under 13. It was, as Donald Trump might say, a disaster.

Bill Owens, meanwhile, recently appeared in a VoteVets ad urging Americans to vote against Trump. “Just five days into his presidency, Trump ordered Ryan’s SEAL team into Yemen. Not from the Situation Room with all the intelligence assembled, but sitting across a dinner table from Steve Bannon,” Owens says in the ad. “There was no vital interest at play. Just Donald Trump playing big-man-going-to-war.”

Which didn't stop him from capitalizing on it at his first address to a joint session of Congress that March:

He brought in Owen’s widow, Carryn, and said “Ryan is looking down right now, you know that, and he’s very happy, because I think he just broke a record,” referring to the applause in the chamber.

But that was his last attendance at a "dignified transfer" of remains at Dover Air Force Base until January 2019, when he showed up to meet with the families of two servicemen, a DOD civilian, and a contractor killed in a suicide bombing in Syria, and stayed for the ceremony honoring the contractor, Scott Wirtz:

"I think it is the toughest thing I have to do. When I'm going to meet relatives of some of our great, great heroes that have fallen, I think it might be the toughest thing I have to do as president," Trump said. 

We can't speak for the "my son had an arm that was so powerful" phase, which is private, but nobody jumped on Wirtz's coffin. The concept appeared, though, in his literary work, as early as October 2019:

They “scream, like I’ve never seen anything before,” he recounted last month. “They’ll break through military barriers. They’ll run to the coffin and jump on top of the coffin. Crying mothers and wives. Crying desperately.”

And at a cabinet meeting that month,

I go out to Dover and I have to — I meet parents.  It’s not a pleasant thing; it’s the most unpleasant thing I do.  Most unpleasant thing I do. 

And in November 2019, he met with the families of two chief warrant officers who died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan, on an unscheduled appearance, and attended the dignified transfer of their remains in the company of Melania Trump, Mark Milley, some White House Aides, and the actor Jon Voight, to whom he had just presented the National Medal of the Arts.

“He treats it like a tourist stop,” [retired officer and Lincoln Project participant Fred] Wellman said. “‘Hey, Jon Voight, I get to greet dead guys. Want to come?’ He might as well be in his sweaty golf clothes when he swings by Dover.”

And then finally, in January 2020, transferring the remains of two soldiers killed in Afghanistan's Nangarhar province, in an event for the first time open to the press, something did happen:

The silence was broken suddenly and unexpectedly. A woman burst out from a tent at Dover Air Force Base where families waited for a ceremony marking the return of their loved ones' remains to U.S. soil.

Screaming and running toward a massive gray C-17 transport plane, the woman made it part way up the ramp toward the cargo hold, her footsteps reverberating on the metal ramp as relatives and a service member tried to catch her and hold her back.

It was impossible to make out what she was saying as she wailed and struggled. Was she saying the name of one of the fallen soldiers? One word was unmistakable: "No." Photographers averted their cameras as suffering that is often out of sight spilled out onto the tarmac. (Tamara Keith/NPR)

Didn't change his mind about anything, of course, but did give him some material for a poem.

No comments:

Post a Comment