Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

This Whole Gold Star Mess

Trump does not appear to understand military service

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly speaks during a White House briefing Oct. 19 in Washington, D.C. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly speaks during a White House briefing Oct. 19 in Washington, D.C. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The other day a friend of mine went to visit her husband’s grave in Arlington. While she sat there in Section 60 and sipped her coffee, she saw two Chevy Suburbans pull up. Out of one got General John Kelly, the White House chief, who then walked among the graves.

“I really wondered and worried about what had driven him from the White House to a mid-afternoon drop in to visit his son,” she told me. “ At that level people are so highly scheduled that a cemetery run would be a big disruption.”

I am just heartsick about this whole thing.

The other day a friend of mine went to visit her husband’s grave in Arlington. While she sat there in Section 60 and sipped her coffee, she saw two Chevy Suburbans pull up. Out of one got General John Kelly, the White House chief, who then walked among the graves.

“I really wondered and worried about what had driven him from the White House to a mid-afternoon drop in to visit his son,” she told me. “ At that level people are so highly scheduled that a cemetery run would be a big disruption.”

I am just heartsick about this whole thing.

I think General John Kelly spoke from the heart at the White House on Thursday. But I was surprised and disappointed that his empathy didn’t extend to the newly widowed wife who got the president’s call of condolence while riding in a car with the congresswoman, a family friend. Imagine losing your spouse — and then finding yourself in the middle of a dogfight with the White House. A few words in that direction would have gone a long way.

And none of this would have been necessary had Trump been able to back down and say, “Look, I misspoke, I was trying to sympathize in that phone call and did it awkwardly.”

But Trump appears incapable of apology. And that reminds me that Kelly is a good man putting his talent, experience, and sense of duty to work for a bad man, a narcissistic grifter. Remember, this isn’t the first time Trump has had a controversial encounter with a Gold Star family. Nor is it the first time he appears to misunderstand military service — remember his mocking John McCain for being a POW? And he was the one who injected politics into the situation by saying that Obama hadn’t called all bereaved families.

It is heartbreaking to have someone like Trump as a commander-in-chief. He degrades everything he touches.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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