During President Trump’s address to Congress the entire chamber stood to applaud William Owens’ widow. The applause lasted close to two minutes which prompted the president to comment that Owens must have broken a record. Carryn Owens relaxed into a brief smile before, visibly moved, she took her seat. No one argues that Owens deserved the mention or the applause or that his widow deserved her seat in the box next to the president’s daughter, Ivanka. What critics have noted is the deceptive and manipulative nature of the event.
Before introducing Carryn Owens, President Trump quoted General Mattis as saying that Owens was part of a successful mission, one that recovered important intelligence. President Trump then added that Owens “legacy is etched into eternity.” These are powerful words. Only some of them are true. General Mattis likely never said those words as more than a handful of government officials privy to the mission have told media outlets that no important intelligence was obtained. Indeed, the Pentagon released a 10-year old video that is widely available on the internet as an example of the raid’s “significant intelligence.”
Further, Trump spoke differently only a few hours earlier. On Fox and Friends, President Trump said that the mission was planned before he took office. This is true. He also said that the generals were passionate about the mission. It seems that, out of respect for his generals, President Trump gave the mission the green light. However he did not take any responsibility for its failure. He claimed, “My generals are the most respected that we’ve had in many decades, I believe, and they lost Ryan.”
Hours later, during the address, the president lauded the mission. He nurtured an emotional fervor that built his credibility as Commander-in-Chief but did not appear to soothe or comfort a crying Carryn. He neglected to mention or acknowledge that William Owens father refused to meet with him, nor has he mentioned that he has requested an investigation. He would like to know the reasons behind the decision to green-light the raid that killed his son.
In short, the president told a different story on the podium and a different story to the press. In neither story did he take full responsibility for a failed mission.