Stop the politics and honor the fallen

Pentagon launches review of Niger ambush
Pentagon launches review of Niger ambush

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Pentagon launches review of Niger ambush 02:35

Story highlights

  • John Kirby: Put aside the insensitivity Trump may have shown soldier's widow and focus not on politics, but on her family's pain
  • Kirby says these families deserve our respect, our sympathy, our quiet gratitude. This is our responsibility and Trump's responsibility

CNN National Security Analyst John Kirby is a retired rear admiral in the US Navy who served as a spokesman for both the State and Defense departments in the Obama administration. The views expressed in this commentary are his own.

(CNN)The bickering over President Trump's phone call to the grieving widow of Army Sgt. La David Johnson needs to stop.

Put aside for a moment that Mr. Trump didn't acknowledge for more than a week the deaths of four American soldiers fighting ISIS in Niger. Put aside for a moment that he publicized the fact he would be making calls and sending letters. Put aside, even, that in the midst of one of those calls, he may have made an insensitive remark regarding what Sgt. Johnson knew "he signed up for."
Put all that aside ... just for a moment. And focus on Myeshia Johnson, her family and, most especially, her children. Take one long look at the images of that young woman collapsed across the flag-draped casket of her equally young husband and tell me how in the hell you can justify politicizing this tragedy.
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    There are two bright, beautiful kids right now -- 6-year-old Ah'leeysa and toddler Ladavid Johnson Jr. -- who will never see their father again, never feel his warm embrace, never sit atop his shoulders, never hear him say how much he loves them.
    Ah'leeysa may one day be comforted by memories of her daddy, but it's doubtful little Ladavid Jr. will. And then there is the Johnson's unborn child, who will never know his or her soldier father.
    You can be sure the Army is wrapping its arms around this family, as it will the other three families so devastated by the outcome of this dangerous mission in Niger -- those of Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson and Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright.
    These families deserve our respect, our sympathy, our quiet gratitude. More critically, they deserve the time and space to deal with the unspeakable grief and sorrow they now endure, as well as every ounce of support that can be mustered to help them through it.
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    Those of us left untouched by this kind of loss are in no position to judge or even comprehend how they will best do this. We may stake no claim to representing, advocating or otherwise holding forth about the grieving process. There are experts, clergy and loved ones who can manage this far better than the rest of us.
    But we can and we should, as a nation, endeavor to honor and help comfort the families of the fallen. And that includes our commander in chief. Indeed, he more than any other.
    His job, when required, is to send men and women into harm's way. And should those men and women not survive the mission, his other job is to make sure they return home in a dignified, professional manner to families that will experience not only our gratitude but our unconditional support. President George W. Bush referred to this as being the "Comforter-in-Chief," and it's probably the most important duty any occupier of the Oval Office obeys.
    Mr. Trump has been derelict in that duty today.
    Does it matter whether or not the President said something that offended Mrs. Johnson? Absolutely it does. And if he did, he ought to be man enough to admit it and apologize. As a matter of fact, regardless of what he said, he should still apologize to the members of the Johnson family, who are now, sadly, a Gold Star family. And one of those family members -- Sgt. Johnson's mother -- backed up Democratic Congresswoman Frederica Wilson's claim that the conversation upset Myeisha.
    That should be all the "proof" Mr. Trump needs.
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    Such an apology is likely not forthcoming. So, the next best thing he -- and quite frankly everyone else, including Rep. Wilson -- should do, is stop. Stop making it worse. Stop throwing barbs and rejoinders. Stop turning this into a political fight and focus instead on doing what must be done to honor the sacrifices these four men made.
    If there's one thing -- one damn thing, for goodness sake -- we should all be able to agree on, it's our responsibility to show respect for the families of our fallen troops.
    White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters Wednesday that White House chief of staff John Kelly is "disgusted by the way this has been politicized and that the focus has come on the process and not the fact that American lives were lost."
    Kelly is right, of course. He knows all too well the pain the Johnsons and the Blacks and the Wrights and the Johnsons are feeling right now. Nobody so close to Trump is more credible on the issue.
    Here's hoping he made those same points to his boss.