During his pre-Super Bowl interview with Face the Nation host Margaret Brennan, President Trump said he wants to leave troops and an “unbelievable and expensive military base” in Iraq to keep an eye on the regime in Iran—even as the president continues to tout pulling U.S. troops out of the region as a top priority.
“Being in Iraq was a mistake. Okay,” Trump told the CBS News host. “Being in Iraq—it was a big mistake to go—one of the greatest mistakes going into the Middle East that our country has ever made. One of the greatest mistakes that we’ve ever made… but when it was chosen—well, we spent a fortune on building this incredible base. We might as well keep it. And one of the reasons I want to keep it is because I want to be looking a little bit at Iran because Iran is a real problem.”
When Brennan responded with an abrupt “whoa, that's news,” asking if Trump wanted to keep “troops in Iraq because you want to be able to strike in Iran,” the president then pivoted.
“No, because I want to be able to watch Iran,” he said, according to a transcript of the Super Bowl Sunday interview. “All I want to do is be able to watch. We have an unbelievable and expensive military base built in Iraq. It's perfectly situated for looking at all over different parts of the troubled Middle East rather than pulling up. And this is what a lot of people don't understand. We're going to keep watching and we're going to keep seeing and if there's trouble, if somebody is looking to do nuclear weapons or other things, we're going to know it before they do.”
On Friday afternoon, when a senior Trump administration official briefed reporters on details of what the president was set to focus on in his upcoming State of the Union address, one of the themes discussed was efforts to withdraw from the “endless foreign wars” that Trump inherited (and at times escalated) during his administration.
The Trump era has been riddled with examples of the president often appearing to be of two minds on foreign intervention and war.
He repeatedly talked about extracting U.S. involvement all together from the bloodshed in Syria, only to order multiple strikes against the Assad regime and reportedly ordered his former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis to assassinate the Syrian dictator—a rage-fueled directive Mattis simply disregarded.
In 2017, President Trump escalated significantly American involvement in Afghanistan, without a coherent plan for victory. And yet in 2019, he’s still telling Margaret Brennan things like, “We want to bring our people back home. If you look at Afghanistan we're going in very soon we'll be going into our 19th year spending 50 billion dollars a year. Now if you go back and look at any of my campaign speeches or rallies, I talked about it all the time.”
Elsewhere in the Super Bowl Sunday interview, the president reiterated that he personally fired Mattis. “I wasn't happy with his service. I told him give me a letter,” the president claimed.
When Brennan responded that initial public statements claimed Gen. Mattis “resigned,” Trump fired back: “He resigned because I asked him to resign. He resigned because I was very nice to him.”
Trump added: “But I gave him big budgets and he didn't do well in Afghanistan. I was not happy with the job he was doing in Afghanistan. And if you look at Syria what's happened, I went to Iraq recently, if you look at Syria, what's happened in Syria in the last few weeks, you would see that things are going down that were not going down. That things are happening that are very good. So I was not happy with him, but I wish him well.”