No matter how high up the food chain you get, you can't avoid holiday travel. While everyone was distracted with holiday festivities, President Donald Trump flew to Iraq over Christmas for a holiday visit with American troops — his first trip to visit a combat zone while in office. But while visiting the troops on Wednesday, Dec. 26, the president took the opportunity to share some souvenirs when Trump signed MAGA swag while visiting the troops. How fitting.
Late on Christmas day, Trump and first lady Melania Trump left the White House and traveled to Iraq to make a surprise visit to troops on the ground at Al Asad Air Base. Visiting the troops is a time-honored presidential tradition, and the president had previously taken some heat for not visiting the troops during his nearly two years in office. However, Trump's own visit was controversial. Video obtained by CNN showed Trump, with Melania by his side, stopping to sign some of those famous red "Make America Great Again" hats from his 2016 campaign for the troops. The video shows the president thanking the troops while signing the old campaign swag and handing it back, before continuing on.
Signing swag doesn't seem like a huge deal on the surface, but under Pentagon policy, it's apparently not quite kosher: as CNN's Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr pointed out, it may violate the military's rules about political activity. Per Department of Defense (DOD) standards of conduct, troops are not allowed to partake in "partisan political activity." Elite Daily reached out to the DOD and the White House for comment, but did not immediately hear back.
The guidelines read,
Active duty personnel may not engage in partisan political activities and all military personnel should avoid the inference that their political activities imply or appear to imply DoD sponsorship, approval, or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign, or cause.
On the other hand, per the guidelines, active-duty troops are permitted to express personal political opinions and attend political events — when not in uniform.
While signing the hats isn't a specific endorsement or sponsorship, as the DOD guidelines point out, it only has to "appear" that way. Retired Rear Adm. John Kirby told CNN that because the red hats are a campaign item with a campaign slogan "it's completely inappropriate" for the troops to ask for autographs on the hats. Signing MAGA swag during a military visit is not exactly a good look for Trump himself, either.
Presidents visiting troops in combat zones is a time-honored tradition of the office, but it's not usually this controversial. In the past, presidents have taken trips to visit combat zones like Iraq and Afghanistan to spread some cheer, commend them for their work, or talk about the future. Per The New York Times, President George W. Bush visited Baghdad in 2003 to serve Thanksgiving turkeys to the soldiers. President Barack Obama also made a trip to Baghdad a few months after he took office in 2009.
However, Trump's visit is controversial for other reasons, as it came during a government shutdown brought on by the president's demands for $5 billion in funds for his border security proposal, which includes building the border wall, according to The New York Times. With the border wall fresh on his mind during his trip, Trump brought up how the U.S. "need[s] a wall" and even managed to slip in some shade for the Democrats during his remarks to the troops, according to The Hill. Trump told the troops in Iraq,
We need a wall. So when you say, 'How long is it going to take?' When are they going to say that we need border security? When are the Democrats going to say it? Don't forget, the Democrats all agreed that you need a wall, until I wanted it. Once I wanted it, they didn't agree.
Well, I'm sure the troops appreciated the visit. At least Trump always has that Sharpie pen handy.