So Donald Trump in a rally yesterday took the politically…unusual step of accusing American service men and women of theft in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Iraq, crooked as hell,” Trump told a crowd in Greensboro, North Carolina. “How about bringing baskets of money – millions and millions of dollars – and handing it out? I wanna know, who are the soldiers that had that job? Because I think they’re living very well right now, whoever they may be.”
This isn’t the first time he’s gone down this road, either.
“They were going through Afghanistan paying off, I want to know who were the soldiers that are carrying cash of 50 million dollars? Cash! How stupid are we?” he said at a September rally. “I wouldn’t be surprised those soldiers, I wouldn’t be surprised if the cash didn’t get there, I have to be honest.”
His spokewoman, the impeccably-named Hope Hicks (turn out to vote), said that he was referring to Iraqi soldiers stealing the money, a rare case of cover-your-ass by the campaign, because this seems to be the one area in which he fears to tread. Accusing our boys and girls of being thieves? That’s suicide. But he clearly didn’t mean Iraqis. One, they weren’t given the bags full of money, and two, well:
“More than 100 enlisted military personnel have been convicted of stealing funds, bribery, and contract rigging while deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, crimes the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity valued at $52 million in a 2015 report.”
So, yeah- Trump was right. Maybe exaggerating, certainly a wild conspiratorialist, imagining these veterans living large and laughing at us simps, but still, this did happen. And more so, it points to the insanity of these wars, the incredible waste of money (and of course lives, and honor, and any possibility of even weak regional stability, but let’s stick with money). We spent close to two trillion dollars in Iraq, a lot of it to crooked contractors who inflated prices building a simulacrum of safe areas in the Green Zone. We rented out war priorities to mercenaries. We relentlessly bribed leaders who could turn on us the next day without more bribes.
And that’s why this is the third rail. We can talk about the war in Iraq being a “mistake”, and most of the country is in agreement, but getting into why it was a mistake is dangerous ground. We never talk about the outsourcing of fighting, and we never talk about how the war was driven by money, but paid for in blood. (Here I don’t mean that Bush went to war to make money for his friends, but it was an inevitable outcome of bad intentions). It was cheap and tacky and cruel, and there is no doubt that its cheap and tacky and cruel nature influenced people who were there, these little pieces flung around with bags of money. Why can’t they have a taste? Everyone else is.
To look at why there was so much corruption is to understand that everywhere our economic system touches becomes just as corrupt. So we gasp when someone insinuates such a thing about the military, whom we’ve mostly all agreed to never criticize. That’s partly understandable, of course, but also dangerous. Not just because it excuses when they do something wrong, but to admit that the military, our boys and girls in uniform, can be corrupted is to look at the whole system in a bare and unflattering hanging-bulb light.
So it is weird that Donald Trump, who never met a lie he didn’t like, and vigorously defend even when every fact in opposition is thrust in his face, accidentally stumbles on to a truth. It’s even more telling that this is the one in which he immediately backtracks.