President Donald Trump kicked off his Thanksgiving holiday Thursday by delivering a message of gratitude to American troops currently serving abroad in a video conference call with representatives from various branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. But some were apparently more put off than pleased by the president's public Thanksgiving message to U.S. service members. In an interview with CNN, retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling criticized the president's remarks to the troops, calling them "somewhat insulting."
"First of all, I'm thankful for the fact that he did address the soldiers," retired Lt. Gen. Hertling, who currently works as a military analyst for CNN, said in an appearance on the cable news network Thursday. "But the message I heard and some of the things he said would not have rung very well with me had I been a deployed soldier." According to CNN, Hertling's military career spanned 37 years and includes every level from Platoon to Field Army. Hertling retired from the Armed Forces in early 2013.
In a video conference call that reportedly lasted just under eight minutes, President Trump thanked U.S. troops for "having the tremendous courage to defend us and to defend freedom" before moving on to criticizing the military strategies of previous administrations. "We're really winning. We know how to win," Trump, who made the call from his Mar-a-Lago resort, told the troops. "But we have to let you win. They weren't letting you win before. They were letting you play even. We're letting you win."
Hertling, however, pushed back on the president's claim that American troops weren't "winning" before he came into the White House. "We have been winning," Hertling said on CNN. "You're talking to soldiers and military personnel around the world who have been in this fight for 17 years, and to suddenly be told they're winning now when they weren't winning before is somewhat insulting."
Trump also told troops that the "fight against ISIS" was "coming our way," before launching into additional criticism of past administrations without directly naming his predecessors. "They say we've made more progress against ISIS than they did in years of the previous administration," Trump said during the call. "And that's because I'm letting you do your job... Believe me, everybody in this country is watching, and they're seeing positive results for a change, instead of the neutral and negative reports." The president also emphasized how proud the country was of the troops.
Before wrapping up the call, the president noted he was working to pass "big, fat, beautiful tax cuts" and that the U.S. economy was now "doing great." "So you're fighting for something real. You're fighting for something good," the president said. "A lot of things have happened with our country over the last very short period of time, and they're really good, they're really good."
But Hertling also questioned Trump's decision to discuss changes in the economy and the stock market during his Thanksgiving call with U.S. service members abroad. "The comments about the economy and where the economy is growing, deployed soldiers don't want to hear about that, they want to hear, 'hey thanks,'" Hertling said.
While Hertling didn't appear completely impressed with the president's Thanksgiving message to troops, he opted to focus more on the positive aspects of the call. "So again, trying to be positive, I'm glad the president at least took some time to say thank you to the troops around the world, and he's going to a Coast Guard station today, but the rest of the message may have been a little off-kilter," Hertling said.