No plans to withdraw, Trump tells troops in Iraq

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump greet members of the military at a hanger rally at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, on Dec. 26, 2018. (Andrew Harnik/AP photo via Courthouse News)

WASHINGTON – A week after deciding to pull troops out of Syria, President Donald Trump said Wednesday in Iraq that he has “no plans” to do so there.

Trump made the comment during a surprise visit Wednesday to military forces stationed in Iraq — his first such meeting with U.S. troops in harm’s way after nearly two years in office.

Defending his recent decision to pull out of Syria, Trump remarked that “the United States cannot continue to be the policeman of the world.” He noted that bases in Iraq can still be relied upon if the U.S. needs to take military action in Syria after the withdrawal.

“I will say this, if you take ISIS and if we see something happening with ISIS that we don’t like, we can hit them so fast and so hard, they won’t really know what the hell happened,” Trump said during a press briefing at Al Asad Air Base in Iraq.

Though Trump flew in unannounced, under the cover of night, he told reporters that the White House had set the trip up “three or four weeks ago.”  Such secrecy is typical of presidential travel, but Trump has faced increasing criticism as he approaches the midpoint mark of his term without having visited troops overseas. He previously remarked that such a visit would not be “overly necessary,” and his 29-hour visit Wednesday coincided with a report by The New York Times that raised new questions about how Trump avoided military enlistment during the Vietnam War with a diagnosis of bone spurs.

Trump said Wednesday that earlier trips had been planned but canceled “for security reasons.”

Addressing troops at the base, Trump touched on both his military-strategy goals and domestic policy, including his desire to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“The dignity and glory of the American warrior is recorded on the fields of battle and in acts of valor that will live for all time,” Trump said. “You’re going to be remembered for all of time. And under my administration, we’re winning now. We’re not playing to lose slowly, like they’ve been doing for 19 years. We’re fighting in areas where we shouldn’t be fighting and spending hundreds of billions of dollars doing it.”

Trump arrived back at at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, on Air Force One at 5:12 a.m.

The Associated Press reported Thursday that Trump’s surprise visit spurred Iraqi lawmakers to call for the final withdrawal of American troops from the country, with one lawmaker referring to the continued presence of military force a violation of Iraqi sovereignty.