Don’t Be So Quick To Blame Trump’s No-Show At WWI Ceremony On The President Himself

The decision to scrub a presidential airlift mission is up to the White House Military Office, HMX-1 which flies the aircraft, and the Secret Service.

byTyler Rogoway|
U.S. Homeland photo


President Trump is taking a serious shellacking in the media and on social media for the cancelation of a planned trip to Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in Belleau, France to commemorate the 100th anniversary of World War I. The site is located roughly 55 miles outside of Paris. The optics of missing such an important event are undeniably bad and they play into other narratives about the President that are unflattering, but these types of decisions are not usually up to the President. The Secret Service and the White House Military Office who arrange presidential airlift with HMX-1 are the ones that decide to cancel helicopter or ground transportation for the President due to a wide variety of contingencies.  

Some will quickly point out that President Macron and Chancellor Merkel attended the ceremony, but Trump didn't. Moving either of those dignitaries is not the same as moving the President of The United States. Neither is moving White House Chief Of Staff John Kelly or Chairman Joint Chief's Of Staff General Joseph Dunford, both of which attended the ceremony. The massive footprint of the security and administrative apparatus that follows the American President around dwarfs anything else like it on the planet, much of which isn't even visible to the casual onlooker. We can argue the merits of the tactics and procedures that go into these operations, but as it sits today, this is how the POTUS moves about and Trump is no different than Obama in this regard. 

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If HMX-1's Marine One crews and mission planners—literally the best the USMC has to offer—did indeed scrub the mission due to bad weather, how is that controversial? Would losing an aircraft and its occupants be worth the trip to that ceremony? Wouldn't it be reckless if they decided to toss out their training and mission guidelines and pushed for the sortie anyway? The point being here is that if the mission was canceled by those who execute the presidential airlift mission day-in and day-out around the globe, that's called doing their job and keeping their crews and passengers safe, not chickening out. Above all else, it's not a political decision, it's a safety decision. And yes, there are different rules for a major emergency, such as a continuity of government situation, than for a diplomatic flight to a memorial ceremony.

VH-60N 'Marine One' landing in Davos at the World Economic Forum last February. , AP

Usually, a ground transportation option via the Presidential Motorcade (the anatomy of which you can read all about here) is available in the case that Marine One and its accompanying decoy helicopter and staff and press corps airlift aircraft cannot safely make it to the landing zone as planned. But a 55-mile trip is a long way for the sprawling Presidential Motorcade in a foreign country and there are a slew of issues that could slow or even stop such a motorcade from happening even if it was prepared as a contingency option. 

These include everything from mechanical issues with key vehicles in the motorcade to unforeseen route problems to actionable threat intelligence to scheduling issues. Well before a decision to use the motorcade or not is made, routes have to be mapped and inspected in detail with deep coordination with local police. Even objects that could conceal potential threats (mailboxes, trash cans, manhole covers etc.) need to be removed or sealed along the motorcade's proposed path and alternate escape routes have to be figured out as well. And once again, due to the length of this voyage, in particular, we don't even know if there was a motorcade option for certain at this time or why that option wasn't executed if there was. 

The Presidential Motorcade is huge as it is, but it balloons in size to many dozens of vehicles when it heads overseas. , AP

So unless there is any evidence that Trump literally told his aides that he refused to go to the ceremony, whether it be because he didn't want to sit in the car for the extended drive or just didn't feel like it, then maybe wait until all the facts are known before claiming it's his fault or that the military and Secret Service weren't doing their jobs as prescribed. If it turns out he didn't want to go and this is all a cover story, then he deserves to be shamed on a grand scale.

In the end, there are plenty of potential issues to take Trump to task on, we do it here when we see fit as well, but this isn't one of those times—at least not yet—and the idiotic commentary and blind claims regarding Trump's no-show at the event just highlight how many in the media will jump on him for anything, which makes their arguments against his actual policies and direct actions so much less impactful. 

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