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Hello from the Lincoln Project and welcome back, I'm Wran's Dusseldorp. We're now about halfway through the Republican National Convention and it's been upside down this week. We're examining the themes of the RNC to show the reality behind Trump's hollow claims. Joining me today is Lincoln Project senior adviser for Veterans Affairs, Fred Wellman. Fred served in the US Army for 22 years as an aviator and public affairs officer with four combat tours during Operation Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom. He was the spokesman for General David Petraeus and General Martin Dempsey in Iraq before becoming an effective advocate for our veterans.
He's also Ranger qualified, and he's a graduate of both West Point and the Harvard Kennedy School. Fred, I think there's going to be a really good conversation, and I'm grateful to you for taking the time. Great to be here. It's obviously a topic I'm passionate about.
So the four nights of the convention will feature four themes land of promise, land of opportunity, land of heroes and land of greatness. And I've already spoken with Tara set about land of promise and land of opportunity. So today you and I are going to talk about the land of heroes to set the stage. I really want to get into how Trump is using the American values of respecting our armed forces, really to gaslight people into voting for him. And I don't think there's any other way to start this episode than by talking about the Russian bounty scandal for our listeners.
Back in June, New York Times broke the story that Russia was paying the Taliban cash bounties for killing Americans and and coalition soldiers in Afghanistan. Now, most of us only really understand this as an abstraction, but you've actually had a bounty on your head. Yeah. When you were in Iraq. Can you talk about that and maybe help bring the sinister ness of this story to life for people?
You know, my first tour in Iraq or the 1st Airborne Division, Surgeon General Petraeus, everyone in the division had the mission to do civil affairs in our local area. So we ended up a Key West airbase in northern Iraq and a province. And, you know, it's funny story. One day this old man and a boy showed up at our gate and with a note saying that he used to get water and and from the base we were occupying.
And, of course, they weren't anymore. And there was also bullets flying in their village from our own infantry set up arranged pointing at their village, which is bad. Yeah. So I yeah, I made my luckily I had a pilot at the time, spoke Arabic. He had been a former terrorist. We went out midway. Seriously, one thing leads to another. And within two, three months we're building schools. I built a clinic.
Eventually we would build with working with my boss at the Force Aviation Brigade. Twenty four schools to clinics, roads delivered water to 30 villages. It was an impressive operation. Wow. About two, three months into it, my partner in crime, Dr. Mohammed, was a local sheikh, spoke English to me, says, you know, the word's out and I'll just put out a bounty on your head. I think it was twenty five thousand dollars when he told me.
So it puts in perspective now, obviously, you're a soldier, you're in combat. And I think a lot people try to write this off as well. Of course, the enemy is trying to kill you. But I think what they're missing, the point of this and what it did to us as we thought about this and my purpose on which to carry this entire story, every one of them is dead. Bassam was beheaded two thousand four. Dr Mohammed was killed in the clinic I built for him in 2012.
It's a very dangerous place. These are Iraqis, my Iraqi partners. Yeah, every single one of Iraqi partners I work with eventually met their fate because they work for me, which is devastating to think about the bounties, though, is it turns a combat operation into a mercenary operation. And these are looked people are poor, people are dirt poor, especially then right there. There was no work. The unemployment was ridiculous. Now you take an average farmer who was not involved and had no political feelings about the Americans.
Not. But you talk about twenty five thousand dollar bounty and suddenly he becomes a killer. And that's the real issue. Areas missing is it's not the Taliban weren't trying to kill us. Of course they are. But when you add in the extra source of a bit of money, it turns everybody into a killer. And so you find yourself going to these villages. I visited different villages all the time. One of my favorite stories of Bassam, who was murdered, Bassam was a Christian from Mosul and he kept me straight.
So one day we visited a village down in the southern part of our province, hadn't been down there much that was really known as a Baathist area. And the sheikh, what happened? I go to one village to be sheikhs lined up in the next village and the sheikh says, hey, you know, Major, well, we watch our village visit. And I said, Yeah, sure. I said I was tired. Bassam, tell them we'll be there at two o'clock on Thursday.
He says, no, I said, I'm tired. Just put the calendar to look like us because now we don't know who these people are. You know, we tell them two o'clock Thursday, they are waiting for us. We get killed. You go. I said, you know, Bosson, I get that.
But, you know, there, man, a cook, a sheep, you know, because he says. He says in the title of my book, Some Days is Major Wellman, it is better that she gets cold than we get killed. And that's great. And it goes like I did my duty, but I came home and I inadvertently over a beer one night, told my wife that there was a bounty on my head. Was there? Well, guess what?
I went back for two more tours and that bounty still existed. And it just changes dynamics. Now you've got the soldier wandering the soldiers wondering if every person is going to kill them. And you got the family at home wondering, oh, my God, my husband's got a price on his head. It's one thing to be in combat, but another.
So I think the aspect of this, it's not it's no longer just a symmetrical war of ideas.
Correct. Now it's got money. Now it's about, hey, you know, I get I got to look out. People got to feed their families. You know, it's it's just how it is. I get that. And and when you add that money bounty in there and that's the that's the missing point I see in a lot of these conversations, is it turns everyone into someone who's a potential enemy and not just just the people who normally have the guns.
So it's especially horrifying and disheartening to see the United States not only not doing anything. Let's let's be very honest. People say how he hasn't acted. Well, I think it's fifty nine days say fifty nine days since the article came out. That article was confirmed. The information is confirmed by at least five other media outlets using separate sources to include those in the United Kingdom and has not only not done anything, he's actually pushed back on the story, called it a hoax, and looked for the sources.
And meanwhile, we find that a little leak from Poppo because that's how he tries to save his reputation, that he actually talked to his counterpart about it. So we've got a real I mean, think about that. The commander in chief, the United States military cares so little for our lives. He's he's more interested in calling something a hoax than actually doing anything about it.
And as recently as the Jonathan Swan interview, the Axios interview, which was sort of masterful on Swan's part, he said that he was never briefed on the bounties and that if the intelligence had reached his desk, he would have done something. Well, Mr President, it's there. You know, and we know top White House officials were aware as early as early, nineteen or early. Twenty nineteen. White House's National Security Council discussed the bounties at an interagency meeting in March.
Twenty twenty. It's been in his presidential daily brief, the PDB in twenty twenty. She doesn't read what she doesn't read. And I think the AP reported that John Bolton told his colleagues that he briefed Trump on the intelligence in March of twenty nineteen. Not this year. Over a year ago. Yeah, that's how long this has been going on. And as we look tonight at the the land of Heroes, is there a theme at the Republican National Convention in the context of celebrating American heroes?
I mean, it's obviously hypocritical that the president was so disinterested in protecting our troops that he claims he never knew about the bounties when it appeared to multiple intelligence documents. But how should we be thinking about the shamelessness of using this this idea that America is the land of heroes to frame the president's re-election campaign?
It's incredibly frustrating. And this is the way it's been, the entire administration. It's always been symbolic. It's always been about the military power, but not the actual caring to be commander in chief. You know, it's funny. There's this there's this great there's this allegorical story about how I think early in the Obama administration, one of his senior advisors asked an admiral for a drink at an event or or the famous story of how back in the Clinton days, you know, they somebody said they didn't want military people around.
But the truth is, this administration has done exactly worse in many ways. There are no military advisors in the White House. You know, President Obama and Biden administration had four directors of veteran military affairs for over a year. They had a new guy for a full four year term who worked right in the West Wing, worked with the military service organizations, work the veterans associations didn't get he didn't even replace that you had joining forces Dr. Biden's amazing campaign in the White House.
I remember having a discussion at the very last event I was ever invited to, which was Veterans Day breakfast, the first year they were in office, which were not in the White House. It was over at the Chamber of Commerce. They didn't show up. Trump didn't show up. They had Szulc in front of the VA secretary. And I remember getting in an argument essentially with one of the White House staffers about joining forces. You know, what are you going to do to replace?
This was a great program. Well, you know, we looked at the metrics and it didn't do anything. It's like, give me a break.
You know, I'm unemployed. Reduced by 50 percent on the Abidin about Obama and Biden administration, homelessness reduced by 50 percent under the Obama and Biden administration. And then the Trump initiative came in and have basically not even bothered to hire somebody to even reach out to our community. And I know it seems like inside baseball, but it matters because it means they're not listening to us. They have no interest in listening to us. So the entire hypocrisy this administration comes down to the fact that they just assume and have.
Always made the assumption that no matter what they do, they'll always have the military, a veteran vote. And unfortunately, a lot of a lot of my peers do feel that way. But you're definitely seeing a change in those numbers as people go, wait a minute, you know, the Gold Star family issue, which know the issue of being a commander in chief, having interest in being commander in chief, issuing orders by tweet. The transgender ban came out in a series of four tweets.
First time only duty had heard it was coming. And it's just outrageous.
Well, it also is a bit complicated for military personnel, I think. And you can speak to this a bit, too. You know, we talk about the the president sort of taking for granted that they're all going to have the military vote. Right. But how can a sitting president claim to support the troops but not confront a foreign leader putting a bounty on soldiers? It's the ultimate duty. Yeah, it's the ultimate duty.
And so military folks have a have a certain code about speaking up publicly, especially when you're active duty. Right. It's so I don't know. I don't know. I don't have the right word for it.
But for the president to stand up and use this idea, basically use the goodwill that American men and women in uniform have in the zeitgeist, knowing full well that they can't speak up politically to oppose the president. It's just revolting and it feels so abuse and at least guys like me to kind of, you know, pick up the pick up the thick of the slack, you know, and that's what we've done. And I've been very vocal for a while now.
And it's and it's tough because, you know, and you want to make it clear, like, I respect I respect the military. I respect the military chain of command. I respect you know, I'm very fortunate. The chief of staff, the Army General McConnell, we were staff officers together in Hawaii back in nineteen ninety eight. I've known a lot of these guys for years. These men who are generals now and women are our generals were actually my peers for stars, for God's sake.
And it kills me that it just breaks my heart. They have to sit in silence and serve for someone who is never even bother to learn our culture, who's never having bothered to respect the moral compass that drives what we do as service members and the sacrifice that one has no empathy. And you see you see that empathy gap and that understanding gap. Everything he does, it's it's it's impossible not to see it. And you have to be willfully ignorant to ignore the fact that he has made no efforts whatsoever to understand us, simply to use us.
OK, before we talk about Gold Star families, let's talk about our friend Ed Barkov, who's been on the podcast. And it was just a few weeks ago and we talked about the bounties. And one of the things he said is that other presidents of both parties, both parties, would have called Putin immediately after they heard about this. In fact, we saw Joe Biden talk about the bounty scandal in his acceptance speech at the DNC, and he got visibly angry as he talked about it.
Can you reflect on the difference between a sitting president ignoring the bounties and Joe Biden's comments? And I was very impressed by Mr. Biden, Maspero and Biden. You know, I've actually had a I've met him a number of times. The year I met him when I was yeah, I met when I was a serving lieutenant colonel in the Army, serving as a public affairs officer in Iraq. He came over on a Senate visit and met him as a senator.
And we disagreed. I mean, I'm not going to pretend like he had an idea, I think, to break Iraq into three parts. I remember saying with that story, you know, that's not possible. Right? I mean, it's a great idea, but we can't do that. And we're not we're not in the government of Iraq. I'm not going to pretend I was like a Biden fan, you know, but by the same point, it's decency.
You saw the visible anger, the anger in his eyes, because as a human and as a leader and most importantly, here's you got to remember, Ron, he's a blue star dad. He sent a son to Iraq in two thousand. I both served. And the feeling of a military family, when you have a son in combat like I did. So I'm a I'm a veteran. My son is a veteran. My son in law still serves in the National Guard.
He spent a year. Here's the here's how sad our situation is with the Forever War. I went into Iraq on day two in two thousand three with the Hunter 1st Airborne Division. My son in law came out of Iraq on day minus two in 2012 at the end of 08. OK, so we have a multigenerational war in my family. Right? So I've sat at home waiting for my son in law to come home. I sat at home on in August, three years ago as my son in law served in Charlottesville with the Virginia National Guard, guarding a dam statue, as you know, at the right.
So so I have I know that visceral feeling of being a parent as you send your child to war. And that's the thing about Biden. Biden. So why is Biden angry? Because he's waited for a son to come home. He's waited for. So son, he's waited for that fateful not my first wife who passed away in 2004 when I was in Desert Storm. We lost two of our I lost two of my men in the air wars.
Terrible. And there was a rule that then the first of all, we didn't have cell phones. We didn't have email then. Right. So they had to wait for the call. And there was a rule that the wives would all it was actually common knowledge. All the spouses of our service members would wait till nine o'clock at. Because after nine, the cash assistance officers were allowed to knock on her door, so if you made it to nine, right, you made it nine o'clock, you were clear for the day.
The funny story that Jenny Sattell was at nine for one night, the damn doorbell rings as she opens the door. I was a pizza delivery guy who misidentified the apartment with the wrong apartment, and he got his ears blown back with this tiny little Irish girl, you know, because you know the hell's wrong.
And the poor guy had no idea what he walked into an ambush.
She was tiny. I mean, she's a fierce little tiny Irish girl. But again, it goes back to circling back to the point you made earlier. Right. Why was bite? Why did you see fear and anger in Biden's eyes? Because he's been in our shoes. He sent us on to war. Trump No one named Trump has ever served the United States military or any military. Right. He avoided Vietnam with bone spurs. He made jokes about the fact that he avoided Vietnam.
So when Trump's have had a chance to serve, they failed. They have not. And in this case, I mean, it's I think it's so interesting at this election, Ron, is we do have this strange circumstance. And, you know, let's be honest, Democrats aren't well known for being national security types. They're not known for serving. You know, there's a lot more veterans, you see, but but never at the presidential level since JFK, I suppose, or Carter, I should say.
Excuse me, Carter was a naval officer. Have we had a service that connection service? But do we have the dichotomy of a Trump who's never served and a Biden family, which gave a son to the military and he died of cancer later, which could very well benefit from that toxic exposures we had downrange? You don't know. But I think that for me, drives so much of this decision for me as a vet. And what I tell my peers in the military community is like, we've really got somebody who understands our community better than most.
He sent us on the war. That's why you saw anger in his eyes, because he's been that guy anxiously waiting even as vice president, not states or senator, waiting for that fateful visit from a cash assistance officer to find out your son was killed. I'm telling you, there's there's no experience like it. It's empathy, Fred. And it's it's a word, I think after this election, every American will know and understand. Well, because I think for the first time, we have a really glaring example of the consequences of electing a man as your commander in chief who isn't capable of empathizing who who who has no respect for human life except his own.
Yeah. And your measure, your worth is measured in what you've done for him. Yeah, not at all lately. And that's where you get into that's where you see these things of what I for I I've been very angry about with this administration. A lot of things, let's be honest, but what I've been angry about is the way they treated her. So a perfect example was recently. I don't know if you saw it, but there was an argument, the Mercedes Schlapp with Brianna Keilar on CNN.
And I don't if you know, Brianna's husband is a serving special forces officer. He's a colonel United States Army. I did none of the action. A friend of mine, ironically, we went to grad school together. So recently they got a little tiff on TV about the voting rights. You know, who knows? Mercedes Schlapp, she's always angry about something. So Mercedes wrote an op ed, A Real Clear Politics, but buried in the op ed attacking McKeyla and her book, she says, oh, by the way, she doesn't mention she's married to a serving Green Beret who served on Obama's National City Council and has written horrible things, is disloyal to President Trump.
Unfortunately, Miss Schlapp had used the wrong guy's name on Twitter, and it wasn't actually Rihanna's husband that wrote those tweets. He has never done that. And by the way, he was a director on Trump's National City Council. So what bothered me about this is this this this adviser to the Trump campaign, someone who's never served in any way, shape or form, felt it was OK to attack the wife of a service member, that service member destroy his career in an attempt to ruin a TV anchor.
And it was OK. It's just OK. Could you imagine the Republican Party we grew up with attacking serving service members who served honorably. He's been or even Afghanistan like nine freakin times. And it was just a casual little just casual toss off three sentences. You know, I just to destroy this guy's career. And I think that really gets to what we see with this administration. They're just more than happy to toss any of us aside. If we don't.
I joke about if you're Game of Thrones fan, you know, you have to bend the knee, right? Yeah. It's not good enough to be good enough. Then you have to be useful. You you have to say how shiny has I got to be fine. I am not a crude friend. I shot his pants are you know, it's not good enough to bend the knee. You have to be over the top and it's just I just never I never believed in my heart.
I would see Republicans and Republican ministration so willingly to use and frankly destroy military service members lives if it isn't, if it's useful to them in their political games. And that's why this administration does without even blinking an eye.
OK, let's talk about Gold Star families, because this convention is not the first time that Trump has used this this gaslighting tactic when it comes to support for the military. As we all remember, in November of twenty nineteen, Trump was giving a speech in commemoration of Veterans Day when he said to every Gold Star family, we will stand by your side forever.
Prior to that, Trump told Gold Star Families that their son would still be alive had Trump then president in 2003 and that soldiers knew what they had signed up for the Adla David Johnson's wife.
I don't know that there's any group of people in America who are talked about as heroes more often than the troops who give their lives to protect our country in the context of celebrating heroes, just what they're doing tonight. How troublesome are Trump's comments toward Gold Star families? Well, he just has never again. You know, the thing about this administration is you have to talk about actions and words, right? They love throwing words out. He loves throwing out all the troops he loves.
He loves humping the flag. It's just, you know, it's all just it's just actions speak louder and the actions are so obvious. You know, the actions from from the attack on his cabinet, you know, Captain Kahn's family. I mean, here's a gentleman who's a captain who stood out, saved his men, was killed by a suicide bomber. His parents are heartbroken. They they they they state their opinion. He can't resist. He can't resist saying something terrible, you know, then you go for David Johnson in twenty seventeen where he calls her up, a widow who's grieving just lost her husband, a young woman.
I mean, I see that's the story. We fail to act. These young men, these nineteen he's twenty year old men and their widows are twenty one. Their caregivers when they're wounded are kids. I have kids younger than many of these spouses are now taking over as caregivers or their gold star wives, their widows at twenty one twenty years old. This is not these. This is a very tough, tough folks and just so casually say, well, you know what?
He signed up for this as recently as, what, three weeks ago, we lost nine service members off the coast of California in a horrible training accident when their vehicle, their amphibious vehicle sunk off the coast, California. They were lost on Friday. We thought we know that one, at least one died Friday night. They found the bodies, the inside of the restaurant dead on Sunday. Trump didn't say a word. He didn't say a word to.
Finally, we started abusing a bunch of my peers and I started saying things on Twitter. And Tuesday afternoon he put out a single tweet, clearly not written by him because it was a coherent sentence. Talk about how, oh, it's so sad these guys got killed. They just don't care. And so to act like he cares about Gold Star Families is so obvious. It's funny. Timing is everything. Just yesterday, two days ago, I worked with the good fortune to work.
The opposition called Tragedy is a program for survivors taps run by a remarkable woman. Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Bonnie Carroll actually worked on Reagan. You know, and it's a great organization. He takes care of those who have fallen in combat. And and I love to know so many of our Gold Star families for them. And it's it's it's heartbreaking what they do and the people that serve with them do. And so one of them, Amy, as a friend of mine, her brother was killed in 2006.
It's a great story back in May of 2010, Memorial Day of that year, when Vice President Biden and his family visited Arlington National Cemetery and spent time in Section 60 where the global war on terror lost are all buried. He was there to meet the families of the fallen. He met all the families. He listened to their stories. He hugged their kids. He there's a wonderful picture of him leaning over a gravestone, talking to a gold star family, providing empathy, providing understanding of what they've gone through.
And and it's so clear that he actually cares that this is a man who cares. And I go back to my own experience with vice with President Bush. So I'm a young officers got back from Iraq, two thousand three four, I guess, and I got tasked to escort the president. Don't even ask how that happened.
And one of the things that I was with, I had it with Karl Rove all day. That was a good experience.
But so one of the things the president and Mrs. Bush used to do is if they visit a military base, they would have all of our Gold Star families meet them so that we set up all of our Gold Star families for that very first tour in Iraq. Two thousand four. And we set them up in our museum at Fort Campbell, spaced about twenty feet apart. And Mr. and Mrs. Bush, President Bush. Met every family for two and a half hours.
They walked slowly through the museum, meeting every single family and listen to them. Some of them yelled at him. Some of them cast him for sending their husband away for their son to war. We had to rotate the White House. I remember talking I was standing with Karl Rove and the photographers would rotate out because they become so emotionally overcome, they couldn't take pictures anymore. Right, and what about President Mrs. Bush, do they took it, they had the conversations and their brutal conversations and they accepted that they had sent these men and women off to war.
And I had such respect for Mr. Bush for doing that. Right. And I can't imagine a scenario on this God's green earth where Trump and Melania would walk through a military museum talking to the family members of Gold Star Families. That's the empathy we miss. That's the empathy we deserve in a president. And, you know, whatever you want to say about policies and positions, in the end, we have a clear choice, empathy and care for our military or service members in the Biden family and whatever the hell this is in the Trump family.
Yeah. Would you while we're on this topic, would you briefly tell the story of the Johnson story for our listeners? Yeah, in case that's not well known, yeah. As it's important, remind people these stories have been two or three years. So back in October of twenty seventeen, you may remember, we had a Special Forces team that was escorting a local indigenous forces in Africa and they got through a series of ridiculous mishaps were sent essentially into an ambush by local al Qaeda affiliated insurgents.
A horrible firefight broke out where these men had to flee for their lives without air cover, eventually killing all four of them. One was missing for a while before your body was found, was identified. That young man was a young, young black soldier named David Johnson. So flash forward a few days.
They are going to the funeral. Actually, his widow is going to his funeral and President Trump decides to call and wish her well and ended up being a giant scale time because he called and apparently courted this widow and a congresswoman who was with him. Couldn't seem to remember the young man's name. Oh, my God. And actually said at some point, well, you know, that's just that he knew he signed up for essentially kind of writing, saying, oh, he got killed, but gosh darn, that's what you get.
You know, it was just it was so off putting the widow was crying. The congresswoman, you know, of course, got in a pissing match with General Kelly at the time. He was not the adult in the room, by the way, and and ended up being a pretty large a pretty decent scandal. So very early, very early in the Trump administration. And I think it just sent such a signal that that he has no idea what he's doing.
And it also sends a signal to that really disturbed me when when General Kelly, the chief of staff of the White House, stepped into the fight and then of lying about a congresswoman.
You know, I remember every was as this hopefulness that we got General Kelly, we got General Mattis there going to save the day. And what you find is once you step into that administration, all that goes out the window. You serve Trump and you, sir, and you're loyal to Trump. If you don't, you get tossed aside. And it was a horrifying experience. And I think it really set the tone for we all now. We also are a lot of us in the community.
The military committee said, uh, there it is. And this is this is what we feared during the election campaign that we said this is what we're going to get. And, of course, you proved us right.
Let's talk about, Colonel, that we've talked about the hypocrisy of claiming to support troops while doing nothing to stop bounties by a foreign nation and insulting Gold Star families. I want to look at the hypocrisy that has played out in the treatment of a particular service member, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Binmen, who I think most people know now and with the Lincoln Project, made an ad about this when we learned in early July that Lieutenant Colonel Vanaman retired from the military following a campaign of bullying, intimidation and retaliation by a president and his allies after twenty one years of military service, he testified in the impeachment inquiry late last year.
He told lawmakers that he raised alarms inside the Trump administration about the phone call, the famous infamous phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Solinsky. And you remember after he testified, Trump took to Twitter to say that Binmen was very insubordinate and that he was given a horrendous report by his superior. He wasn't known as his direct supervisor. Fiona Hill said he displayed excellent judgment. And John Bolton told MSNBC that he thought binmen merited promotion.
Can you talk about this campaign of bullying led by the commander in chief toward an Army officer and how it impacted Lieutenant Colonel Vance and his family? Because I think you know him. I do.
I've been very fortunate to get to know Alex and his wife, Rachel, who is a force of nature all her own.
Don't don't mess that army life. Just just let me warn you now, just as as so you know, don't mess with the army.
Also, don't let the marine life that that's another story. But yeah, no, I've really been fortunate to get to know Alex recently. It's him as he's he's a he's a Boy Scout. You know, I'm a little bit rough around the edges. Alex is truly the guy you saw a Congress that day, the guy who said that inspiring sentence that has inspired many may end have being my next tattoo, which was, you know, this is America here, right?
Matters. Yes, that is that is that is so Alex. That's really who he is. He he is as good and as honorable man as an Oscar as you'll ever meet. And I don't say that lightly because I know a lot of them. I've been involved in military thirty five years. And I got to tell you, it's it's he is as good a man as you might imagine. And so to see him do his duty and serve his country and stick by the code of honor and responsible, that we are all trained from the.
We become a cadet is is horrifying and it just goes to the larger issue, the politicization of the military, our administration and it goes, as we talked about earlier, is like, what have you done for me today? And so what's really scary and what's what's really horrifying is the campaign. It was a campaign. It didn't end when he was unceremoniously and his brother marched out of the White House. That's fine. But it was also Mark Meadows, this worthless chief of staff, trying to spread stories about him, calling up reporters, trying to dig up dirt on him and his brother.
They've continued his campaign to discredit a devious, evil man who did his duty, who served his country with honor. They can't let it go. And so they've ruined a good career, a man who deserved to be serving. And then the final caveat of the final coda is those disgusting one of them all, which is why my Twitter bio says former junior employee of the army is when Kayleigh McEnany gets before the podium, someone who want to talk about her.
But to say, I don't want to talk about a former junior employee, you got to be kidding me. The National Security Council, I mean, even he was a lieutenant colonel, OK? We aren't we aren't hiring guys, you know. Twenty twenty actually served twenty one years. I did twenty two. Yeah. Lieutenant Colonel isn't exactly. But it's not a junior employee by any means when you get to be a desk officer on the National Security Council in the White House, that's the epitome of the career of someone who specialized.
It's a big deal, is the epitome of a career for what we call a foreign area officer, OK? They serve in embassies and they serve and eventually the National Security Council. So he is this was a man at the top of his career in a very important position. This is a man with writing policy of the United States of America, reference our our allies and our enemies in Russia. So he was no damn junior employee. So to see this person who can't even do a gotcha question without reading out of a book, for God's sake, to say that someone like Colonel Veneman was a junior employee who has the Purple Heart for getting blown up in Iraq, who served his country honorably.
It's just it just goes to everything we say about this administration. Yes. It's just it's meant to put you in your place. The point of that statement, the point of her saying that was to make sure we all know that if you're in uniform, you don't count unless you bend the knee. And I think it really is. So what happened, Alex, is such a perfect book. It just shows exactly how this administration works, the the rottenness to the core and the disrespect for service and how little it means that service means to them.
And it's just horrifying. A good fellow. And and I pray he's going to mean, you know, he's a tough son of a bitch. His wife's tougher. They're going to be fine. You know, they've got a nine year old daughter, got the family support that got a lot of us supporting him, I think is going to be good. But it's just it's just horrifying to see a military career.
And because of the bitterness of an angry, angry man, you know, it's it it seems to me maybe you could talk a little bit about this, Fred, because I'm sure you've you've thought about it a lot. But it seems to me that there's almost given what we know about Donald Trump, that there's almost no way we could expect anything different from him because his entire personality puts him at odds with the ethos of the US military. For Trump, we know this.
Everything is a TV show to everything is is it is a TV show and nothing matters unless you're making him look good on his own TV show. And the US military is the polar opposite of of that kind of value structure, can you talk like there there was bound to be a clash here when because the commander in chief fundamentally does not comprehend, cannot comprehend the ethical structure of the armed services, correct? Yeah. And and I think that was the hope that everybody had that Mattis got hired.
Right. He'd be the adult, the room to provide a buffer. We saw that worked out. You know, I'm not you know, it didn't, you know, and now you've got Secretary Asper, who, you know, is just a speed bump. I think we see where is the culmination of all that Lafayette Square. To me, the incident, Lafayette Square says so much and that whole day says so much about the way that Trump has bent the military to, as will the attorney general.
The United States on camera marched out and told them to clear that square no matter how much they lie about it. It was on camera. We all saw him walk out there two hours later, peaceful protesters who clergy are being, you know, attacked while the military stands there going, what is happening? This is the famous Bible photo op, the Bible photo op.
And then a lot of people who are not military insiders don't realize it later that night, what for me ended up causing a lot of grief because I don't imagine it. But I used to be an aviator. I was I was actually a helicopter pilot for most of my career. I did not mention yeah, I was a scout helicopter pilot and then I was a Blackhawk helicopter pilot in Iraq. And and a lot of you realize but that night they sent National Guard helicopters in to what we call dust.
The crowds they used, they used a medevac helicopter.
Because the thing about this for a second, these medevac helicopter, a helicopter with red crosses inside, hovered over the crowds in DC to disperse crowds by the order of they're not sure who yet because they're still investigating it. They still don't know. They haven't publicly said who ordered it. There's an investigation. There's always an investigation. And so at some point, someone ordered. And think about an ambulance. An air ambulance to hover dangerously, extremely, dangerously low altitude inside of a city which we'd never do to hover over crowds, doesn't just like we would do in Iraq.
We did that in Iraq to disperse rioters who were shooting at our troops. You don't do that over peaceful Americans. You just had to be out after curfew. And so the bending of the military to the Trump ism is right there for everyone to see. And a lot of a lot of people who didn't you know, they focus on the day's events, Lafayette Square. But many of us who served understood the real impact was seeing a helicopter with red crosses in the side of it, dusting out American citizens inside our nation's capitol.
What a horrifying sight. And I think in a lot of ways, maybe, just maybe, General Milley at that point realized this was back because, you know, generally the chairman of the Joint Chiefs ended up apologizing for his participation in the Lafayette Square debacle in a speech a week later, which is interesting. You still got a job, but it just goes right. That whole day goes to. Exactly. It's the culmination. And then you saw it again at West Point.
His speech at West Point graduate from West Point. I've been to a few graduations. Right. We didn't have military equipment at graduation, but no, the Trump graduation. First, he called cadets back from leave to have to go to Tulisa quarantine because covid. Then he has a speech on the parade ground and they got these freakin tanks and armored vehicles lined up. I mean, it's West Point. They had to ship those in. I mean, think about for a second they shipped military vehicles to West Point so they could have a pretty parade, you know, so he could look like a tough guy in front of his military equipment.
It's just so you know, we have this reaction, obviously, that this is this is so horrific that no other president would even dream of doing something like this. But can you talk a little bit about the consequences of this type of can we call it abuse of the military, abuse of power? What are the consequences both to the to the military, to the structure of our American institutions? What what are the what are the long term implications of this kind of use of the military?
It's it's so corrosive. I mean, the one of the things that we all a lot of the military is very proud of, the fact that in poll after poll, year after year, the most respected American institution is not if military like the next post office.
Ironically, the post office to which we're going to talk about it. We'll talk about that. Ironically, the two top ones are the post off the army and now they're working to get a of how issues collide. But so the military is one of our most respected. And that matters. That matters because it's an all first of all, it's an all volunteer force. You have to volunteer to go to Mars. So if the military isn't, trust it.
Look, if America's mothers and fathers can't believe that they're going to get their children and that's the way we talk about this sacred trust, there's a sacred trust that we're going to take America's children, our sons and daughters, my sons and daughters ought to be honest. And we're going to take care. We're going to bring them into a very dangerous business. We're going to train them. We're going to equip them. We're going to use them in a manner that befits their service to the nation.
Right. And that is why the military is respected institution. They stay out of politics. They serve the constitution. They swore an oath to the Constitution, not the president. Contrary how much Trump wants you to believe it, the oath is to the Constitution. And he has managed in three and a half years to bend that. And you see it, you see these troubling things. Lafayette Square, the helicopter incident that the parades, the flyover for his little political campaigns.
You know, it's it's this bending of the military to his political will. They're going to have to bend at some point. And I won't get into military cuts as far as generals going like this, because that's a whole nother topic. But having said that, at what point does that trust our United States military begin to frickin fade? And at what point does that mean our sons and daughters will not join? And then we've got a real problem, because the thing we talk about a lot in the military is under this administration, there's so many things have gone wrong.
We haven't talked about the moldy housing issues that have gone ignored. We haven't talked about the cuts to our health care, OK, kicking military families out of the things they've done inside the military completely belie truth or anything they're saying about sports. But some, like 70 percent of new service members come from military families. Now, it's a generational business like me. I'm the son of a war to Marine Wellman's have served in the United States military and even the predecessor United States military since the French and Indian War.
We are not. We only missed Vietnam. So my son was an eighty second airborne. My son in law is in the Virginia National Guard. The military is a family business. So at what point does the politicization and the abuse of the military mean that next generation says, you know what? No. Right. I was talking to a friend of mine. She's a Green Beret wife. They had moldy housing at one of their bases. And the doctors believe the mold in that house, the black mold, gave their youngest son asthma, lung issues.
And now he so he's not qualified to serve now. So his father was a Green Beret. His grandpa was a Green Beret. So they. The Green Berets, Lhasa's, Green Berets, and he dreamed of being Green Beret, and now because this ridiculous issue with military housing being moldy and being ignored, we've got a young man who never served. So how many are like that, Ron? How many are seeing what's going on and say, you know what?
So we say it today. Today's issues are 10 years from now. Recruiting problem. Right. So the issues we're dealing with in the military today, what Trump is doing, everything else, it'll go away when he leaves office. It really isn't that simple. The damage he does now. And I got to tell you, the damage he'll do in a second term, I can't we will not have I know a United States military in the form it is now in 10 years.
This generational this is part of the conversation that I think demands more air time because we spend so much time. Right. Rightfully being outraged about about every single scandal. Right. But we don't spend enough time talking about the long term consequences, because even when he's gone, this stuff is going to have a ripple effect.
That's my fear that that's exactly what I talk about it quite a bit. You see it in little I see it because I'm hypersensitive, because I'm assertive. But I'll see it in the way the way a public affairs officer treats the press. Right. There's one guy I've been very harsh on who's a lieutenant colonel, United States Army, who is like bashing a reporter on Twitter is like time out. It's so inappropriate. It's we serve the American people.
It's not the other way around. Right. So this insidiousness, that's the insidious Trump ism that's creeping into the ranks, that goes unpunished is my eye. That's what keeps guys like me who are veterans advocates and passionate about. And by the way, the father of a service member, that's what keeps us right, is what is the long term impact and how do we get rid of that and what is the price we pay for the next administration where they are in the next one?
The next one? Yeah, it's a second term. The idea of a second term as commander in chief keeps me up at night.
Yeah. The idea of a second term for a lot of other reasons, including this one, is just I mean, the military implications alone are should be terrifying. It's it is. It is. It will set a cold shoulder inspired me. You think about if he has to if he doesn't even have to pretend to care anymore. Oh my God knows what could happen. OK, you're just full of cheer today.
Yeah. On a positive note, how was the play? It was like, OK, let's say, OK, let's go to the the United States Postal Service a lot.
The last thing we're going to talk about today because of the impact of the changes at the USPS on veterans, because we've done a lot on this topic with regard to voting and the slowdown in mail and the and and sort of the the length of time it's going to take for ballots to be delivered. But I want to talk today about the implications for veterans, because the VA fills about 80 percent of veteran prescriptions by mail. Correct. That's for folks to wrap your head around this.
That's one hundred and twenty million prescriptions per year. You know, do these deliveries arrive daily to about three hundred and thirty thousand veterans across the country? Daily, daily? Every day, veterans are reporting much longer wait times already on their medications. And thirty one Democratic senators wrote a letter to Postmaster General Dejoy calling him, calling on him to assess how the mail delays impact. That's what's your reaction to the administration allowing veterans who need medication to be collateral damage in a move essentially to steal an election?
That's it. You know, I I've been very fortunate. I've been involved in this issue very early. I mean, the wonderful thing about being a longtime veterans advocate is you have a lot of folks who know you and one of my friends who works at VA sent me a note one day. I said, hey, have you heard that we're getting reports here at VA that some veterans are having their prescriptions delayed two to three weeks. I said that's a really big thing.
I mean, let's say let's just worst case scenario, you're on antidepressants because you've had suicidal ideation in the past two, three weeks. That means you weaned off your drugs. Yes. Things get ugly fast. That's right. So I tweeted it out. I said, hey, who's here in this? By the way, I a friend tells me this and it blew up. I mean, I had I think there's fifty thousand likes this tweet alone.
Over a thousand two thousand responses. People saying, yeah, me too. And and a reporter. I was great. Abby Bennett, a little radio outlet called Connecting Vets, picked it up and she did some research. And the story has blown up since then. And I'm I'm I'm proud that Lincoln Project was part of that. But it is a giant issue. And I'm getting pummeled with veterans saying, yeah, my stuff's late. This is serious.
I think what bothered me and what they're trying to get away with, Ron, you get this is what Dejoy was doing in his little conversation. The Nevada senator forgive me, I forgot her name. I'm not caffeine, but she hit him pretty hard on the issue of the veterans. But what they're trying to say, hey, we assure that all this will be delivered. We can do Christmas. We can certainly do that. We could certainly do the election.
But they're all carefully avoiding timeliness. Look, yeah, you may get your prescription, but three weeks late. Is a death sentence. It's not going to cut it. It's not going to cut it. Timeliness matters. So they're trying to gaslighted us again by saying, hey, look, Christmas goes from four to frickin months. My grandma emailed me, my gosh, my sister in law, I love her to death. She sends out Christmas presents probably next week.
OK, know, I'm going to get some Santa for my sister in law and that's her jam. So to compare Christmas to the time is of a veteran's prescription. Arriving on time is complete gaslighting. Timeliness is what matters. Yeah, a package of medicines sitting in a post office, a hot truck for four days. Insulin goes bad. A lot of these medicines, the bad time. And so so they're are gaslighting us. They're telling us it's OK that they got plenty of volume.
It's not the volume they have to handle. It's the time is they have to handle. And that's what really angers me is and somebody said to me, while, you know, veterans are the ones your absolute right veterans are not the only one. But let's just think about seven year old Vietnam veteran who's diabetic and has antidepressants. You taste because he's had some tough times, did two tours in Vietnam. Like many of us, I have PTSD.
I've been very open about my mental health status. You know what? I can't wait three weeks because these fools decided to cut the sorting machines and cut over time and play silly games to try and save this horrible human beings election chances. And that's what we're seeing. And I think I think I think the reason this issue's blown up so much is because for a long time we did talk about the Postal Service delays. It's not a new issue, but dismantling sorting machines may not enough over time.
But when you say, OK, John Smith of the Ranger battalions from Vietnam is not getting his medicine anymore because of these guys decided it wasn't important to deliver the mail on time every day. Now we get it. And so I was heartened to see the senator stepping up. And I've been very hard and Willke secretary will get the VA and DOD because I don't see them doing a damn thing about it. They're saying publicly through their spokesman, their political appointee spokesman, that we haven't looked into the issue.
And that's a lie because they told the disabled American veterans the day that they're reporting that twenty five percent of veterans prescriptions are delayed. They've reported publicly that they're using alternative shipping means UPS and FedEx to make sure that they get there on time. What does that mean for cost? A letter. A letter is fifty cents upsets. So now they're burning the limited budget. We have to take care of veterans to do a workaround from their own government. Yeah, yeah, right.
We don't have the money to fund the Postal Service. So instead we're going to pay private companies to write what?
We're going to burn the VA's budget to do a workaround. And so it's all gaslighting. But again, once again, who's paying the price? Who's paying the price? Military family members, military service members and veterans. And then to go up on that stage at the convention and say, yeah, it's just we love the truth. It's it's just it's so disgusting. It's impossible to reconcile the claim that Trump supports the troops when you look at at the brazen disregard for veterans health care.
Right. And just just ignore it. Look, the VA has never been perfect, okay? Let's not let's not pretend it wasn't perfect on our it was part of Bush. It's about did a lot of good things. He appointed his last his last point was a Republican, for God's sake. So they've they've made a lot of effort to improve this thing. And all that went out the freaking window under Trump with a series of temporaries, a series of act.
He's got a deputy secretary. Now, Willke doesn't only goes on Fox News and on, you know, they're talking to cover and doing their jobs. And again, who's taking care of veterans? I'm telling you right now, it's not this administration. And to stand on stage and play patriotic music and drag out their cute superfans. Right. Which is fine. And to say they do look actions, words, there's a lot of words in this administration, not a lot of action.
It's frustrated. So I want to mention one other point on this topic before we move on, which is that on Saturday, the US House of Representatives voted to provide twenty five billion dollars in funding to the US and to block the changes, slowing down the service. Now, Mitch McConnell called the bill a stunt and said the Senate won't pass it after the White House threatened a veto. I don't know that there's anything to say about this because it's all just so obvious.
Trump and Senate Republicans taking veterans votes for granted in this election. I just I just want it's not just that, you know, there's eighteen point six well, about eighteen point four million veterans surviving United States right now. We're losing you know, I don't know. You guys realize we lose about thirty thousand veterans a month right now from war to accretes war two in their 90s, like Bob Dole's is upper 90s. You know, so we we're losing the seniors at a rapid pace, you know?
And so our Vietnam generations in their 60s and 70s now, so is law. It's an older generation is obviously a big target for the GOP, you know, and that's they're killing, OK, you know, and so to say that we had the support and I love them and then then to do and after four and a half years, they're seeing people are seeing the results and they do take us for granted. And, you know, obviously, we're we're a patriotic group.
We run conservative is the nature of the business. Being a service member, being a being a veteran, I was always a conservative. But at a certain point you have to say, here's what I'm seeing with my own two eyes. You know, my prescription is late. My friend got killed in combat and they could even bother writing a letter that was obviously signed by the president. You know, it's just it's to a point now where either you it's the classic situation.
This administration, you hear the words or don't believe what you see with your own two eyes.
You know, as folks are are tuning in to watch this debacle tonight. Can you talk about what has enabled Trump to talk about support for the military while at the same time behaving like they're disposable?
Well, I think what the what the Senate doing and Mitch McConnell in there obviously don't care about us at all. They try to roll out. Well, we've we've raised their pay. Well, let's be very clear. The pay raise he likes to tout as the biggest is not the biggest in history. It's not even close. It's that's a complete lie, by the way. They like to tout pulling us out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Again, there's the old saying a blind scroll gets a knot every now and then to, you know, a broken clock is the right time once a day.
I think one of the frustrations I have in a lot of my peers have is a lot of us are tired of the forever war. The idea, the idea that we're still on the same authorizes authorization of the use of military force. AMF from 9/11 today in twenty twenty. OK, that's because the Senate and Congress refuse to do their job. OK, they're not doing oversight. They just said, hey, look, you guys fight a war over here, stay out, fight a war.
We love you guys, but just do it over there. Right? And so you have this complicit Congress that is failing to update the basic the basic tenet of this war, the reason we're at war and then but and they just keep throwing money at it and hoping the best. You've got. General officers, I love to I have a lot of friends are general officers now. And no job is going to say, you know what? We lost that war effort.
Right now, let's go home. It's not who we are. We're never going to lose. So allow someone the civilian leadership says, you know what, this is it worth it anymore, right? Why do we win the revolution? Because you bled the British dry. We didn't have to beat them militarily. Eventually we did it Yorktown because the French join us, but we let them dry. They couldn't afford the war anymore. And so we are fighting these endless wars.
And so, yeah, Trump wants to pull the troops out. Oh, great. That's a thing. But for the wrong reasons. Once again, they talk about pulling out five thousand troops in time for the election. OK, is there a handoff plan? Is the Afghanistan government ready to take over? Was Iraq's government ready? Take over is pulling out of Germany. Why are we pulling out of Germany? There's there's no good military reason, except he really doesn't like Andrea because she's mean to him.
You know, it's the only reason is he wants to be able to say that on a stage. That's right.
Right. And so now he can say, I pulled us out of Afghanistan. Yeah, great. But if it falls into chaos, we've got the same situation. We have to go back. We had to go back to Iraq. We're going to go back to Afghanistan again because we do have a duty to what people you know, the old when the old Pottery Barn joke back in 2003 and if you broke, he got to be broken. You fix it.
Right. And so we broke it. And so I think that's the frustration like get sucked in that they go, yeah, we want to get out with I have people attack me like Fred. Why are you mad? You've been saying for three years we see the endless forever wars, the multigenerational orchard isn't.
Yeah, but the right way. I'm still angry to the core about the way we treat the Kurds in Syria. We literally left people, thousands people just to die. People who had bled with us. People had fought that. I know Kurds. I fought with Kurds. I served Kurds. I served a Kurdish village in my sector back in 2003. Their brave, honorable people who are just trying to survive. And we just walked away because now we're done.
And so I think he gets away with it because he does things like that. He did increase the budget. He did pull us out of Iraq. But again, I think if you understand the nuance of what's going on here, it's all just it's just pantomime. It's it's Kabuki theater. It's not real. And so I think he gets away a lot of ways. And so, like he'll say, yes, he loves the troops, look at them, hug the flag, loves the flag, you know, so it's fun being a person.
It isn't a big fan. Sometimes I get some great messages.
Yeah. So, Fred, before we wrap up for today, is there anything else you'd like to leave with our listeners who may be genuinely on the fence about who to vote for, especially those who may not come from a military background? I think we go back to what we talked about earlier in the program.
Right. So what's the choice we face? We face Trump, the Republicans who have been the party of national security. They have that's the that's part of their modus operandi, their defense hawks, which is why I was Republican so long. I was a defense hawk. In many ways. I still am. So that's where we belong. That's how it's been. Our home. It's been the military is home. The Republican Party has been the home for veterans and military for four generations, let's be honest.
But now we face a choice with an unusual one because the Bidens are not your typical Democratic nominee. Right. Again, as I mentioned earlier, there are Blue Star family. They they sent us on to war. They know how that feels to have a son serve and then to lose them. Later, they they ran joining Mrs. Dr. Biden excuse me, ran the joining forces for which was a remarkable program, which I got to tell you, I don't know if I have tweets about it.
I hope I don't have. But I was not I was a skeptic of that program. I fact, I actually counsel my clients in 2011 not to join because I thought it was just smoke and mirrors to get them re-elected. And then it kept going and it kept going and it went for six years or five or six years. And I end up working it, being invited to events. And and, you know, no one ever asked me when I show up at the White House for joining forces, no one ever asked me who I voted for.
OK, and so we face a very clear choice in this election, and if you're a military member, a family member, a veteran, we were just, you know, a patriotic American who loves the troops, which so many, especially our Republican friends, are so passionate about the service to our nation that our uniformed services do just take a second in that voting booth and say, I've got this gentleman who's never served, who has disrespect.
The military has used them inappropriately, has abused his power as a commander in chief versus this gentleman, his family, who actually have given their children to the nation and have honored their service through work publicly and privately and shown something. I think I think if I just wish people who would step in that void with just a few would say, you know what, since this is a partnership for me as a military support machine, I'm going to choose this family.
I'm going to choose this military Bluestar service to the nation family over this other gentleman who hasn't. And I think if we get that, if we come to if you're if you're a single issue voter or even a multi issue voter and you're on the fence, know that people like me who have served and have kids serving really desperately want them to have a commander in chief who cares about their life like it's our own child. Yeah. And that's the difference.
The difference between Trump and Biden is so very clear. Biden will treat our service members no matter what decision or policy goes on. You will always treat our children like his own. And I can I can say without doubt that we've never seen Trump treat the service members like they're his own children, and we will see less of it in the second term. So that's my hope. I hope just a few people say, you know what, I'm going to give this guy a chance because I care about our service members.
And the Bidens have proven time and time and again in a lifetime of service that they do, too.
That's what I hope for. Fred, thank you so much for taking the time today. Thank you. And thanks to all of you at home for listening. You can find more information about our movement at Lincoln Project US. If you have advice or questions about the podcast, please email us at podcast at Lincoln Project US. And even if we don't respond, we hope you know that we read every email we get and we appreciate hearing from you. If you haven't yet, make sure you subscribe to us wherever you get your podcasts and rate and review the show.
This helps us to stay up in the rankings, which enables more voters to find the show and join our movement to defeat Trump and Trump ism for the Lincoln Project. I'm Ron Suslow. I'll see you in the next episode.