Speed Reads

Trump in Iraq

Trump's secret visit to Iraq was muddled by a few security and legal issues

President Trump's politically astute post-Christmas visit to Iraq was typically unusual, and that includes operational security. Trump highlighted the dangers of a president traveling to a conflict zone, telling reporters he "had concerns about the institution of the presidency — not for myself personally" — and noted that he flew in and out of Iraq "in the darkened plane with all the windows closed with no light anywhere — pitch black." Still, hours before White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders revealed that Trump was in Iraq, several amateur European plane spotters had divined that the president was heading to the Middle East and shared that information — including a photo of Air Force One flying over England — on social media.

Along with Sanders and first lady Melania Trump, Trump was accompanied by social media director Dan Scavino, senior adviser Stephen Miller, National Security Adviser John Bolton, and the first lady's chief of staff and press secretary. Outgoing Defense Secretary James Mattis, who resigned over Trump's withdrawal from Syria, was not on the trip, nor were any Cabinet members or lawmakers. In a video Trump posted to Twitter right after leaving Iraq, his press team perhaps inadvertently revealed that SEAL Team Five is in Iraq and showed the faces of the special-ops unit, Newsweek notes.

"The real names, faces, and identities, of personnel involved in special operations or activities are usually a closely held secret in a combat zone," former U.S. Navy intelligence specialist Malcolm Nance told Newsweek, and "revealing them casually" like this "would prove a propaganda boom if any of this personnel are detained by a hostile government or captured by a terrorist group." A Pentagon official added that "even during special operation demonstrations for congressional delegations or for the president or vice president, personnel either have their faces covered or their face is digitally blurred prior to a release to the general public."

CNN's Barbara Starr also pointed out the legal and optical issues with Trump signing red MAGA and "Trump 2020" hats the White House says service members brought with them to the hush-hush presidential visit. You can watch that below. Peter Weber