Former President Donald Trump has seen a range of Christmas-time emotions from the U.S. military members, from the highs of a secret Middle East visit with troops in 2018 to the "dejected" woes now of service members struggling with President Joe Biden's failed Afghanistan withdrawal.
"It was beautiful," Trump tells Mike Huckabee of his unannounced visit on Newsmax's one-hour special "Christmas in America," which premieres Wednesday Dec. 15 at 9 p.m. ET. "We saw the troops. The spirit was incredible."
The spirit of those same soldiers at Christmas now is sorrow, Trump added, noting the deaths of U.S. service members in Afghanistan during Biden's deadly withdrawal.
"I think they're very disappointed right now," he said. "I think they're very dejected because of what took place in Afghanistan. Not that we were leaving, because I was leaving. I brought it down to 2,500 soldiers. We were at 20,000. I bought it way down.
"But they're very dejected by the way that we left. It looked like it was a surrender. And there was no reason for it."
Newsmax's "Christmas in America" special focuses in on the American family, children, and recounting what Christmas means to them.
Trump fondly remembers the Christmas he spent with the troops Dec. 25 and 26, leaving in the dead of night like Santa Claus, unannounced, for security reasons, because there was still the longest war in American history going on, after all.
"We went, nobody knew we were going," Trump tells Huckabee. "The press went crazy. They had no idea we were on a plane for many hours.
"I'm watching the news about what a bad guy I am, because I'm not seeing the troops two blocks away from Mar-a-Lago. And then all of a sudden, I landed out there, so they immediately cut that story very quickly, as they have many."
Trump's visit was an impetus for wanting to bring our troops home from Afghanistan, the longest continuous U.S. in history and one Trump had lamented as costly in American soldiers' lives and resources.
"I love our military," Trump tells Huckabee. "Our withdrawal from Afghanistan, the way it was done – I was going to be withdrawing maybe faster than them, but we were going to be [doing it] with strength and dignity. The Taliban hadn't shot any of our soldiers. Not one soldier killed in 18 months.
"We were all set, and then the rigged election took place. It didn't happen that way. So many people killed.
"It's the most embarrassing moment in the history of our country. I don't think we've ever had anything like it. It looked like we surrendered to the Taliban. And gave them $85 billion worth of equipment, the best equipment in the world that now Russia, China, and lots of others have."
Ultimately, it is about the people of our military, even more than the money, Trump noted, hailing his administration's rebuilding the military.
"These are great people, to me they're just great people," Trump tells Huckabee. "We rebuilt the military. Gave a big chunk of that to the Taliban, but that's disgraceful and shouldn't happened."
"But we rebuilt our military completely, and I'm very proud of that. We had some tremendous people working on that, but we spent a lot of money on rebuilding it. We have great equipment, great jets."
Trump recalled how when he took office, there were grandfathers, sons, and grandsons who had all flown the same military plane.
"We had jets that were from the grandfathers that were flying them," Trump tells Huckabee. "We had jets that grandfathers, father, and the son – they all flew the same plane, and needless to say that wouldn't have worked out too well."
Trump also noted how his administration had turned the narrative with the Veterans Affairs from one of "horror" to one of healthy pride.
"We had a 92% approval rating with the vets," Trump said. "No president's ever had anything near that.
"You know, all my life – you've seen it, and pretty much your life, too – I turn on television, I see these stories about the vets, disaster stories. You know, with me you never saw that. We did such a great job for the vets. It was constant in the old days, I say, 10 years ago, 8 years ago, 20 years ago, you'd always hear these horror stories about the VA.
"We took good care of our vets and we took good care of our military."
Trump then came back to lamenting the failed Afghanistan withdrawal under the Biden administration, particularly dejected about the handing over of billions in military equipment to our longtime enemy that was not permitted to reconstitution in Afghanistan.
"We were taking every nail, I told them: Every nail, every bolt, every screw, every plane," Trump said." How would you leave thousands and thousands of brand new trucks? I hear they had 700 trucks – it's not even believable – 700,000 machine guns, and guns, and rifles, 700,000 brand new. Stuff like nobody could believe. Airplanes."
"I said, 'we wouldn't you take over 200 pilots and fly planes out?' And actually, Gen. [Mark] Milley said, 'It's cheaper to leave it, sir, than it is to take it.'
"That's when I realized he wasn't the [brightest] lightbulb," Trump concludes to Huckabee. "So, Russia's watching this, China's watching this, North Korea's watching this, and I think they've never had a lower opinion for our country than they did on the Afghanistan withdrawal, which was so horribly handled."
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