Hagel: Trump Skipping WWI Event An "Embarrassment"; He "Let Down" Veterans, "Let Down Our Country"


CNN: Former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said that President Donald Trump "let down our veterans" by skipping an event honoring American troops killed in France during World War I, citing weather concerns.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: President Trump facing criticism right now over the decision to skip an event honoring American troops killed in France during World War I, calling off the trip because he could not chopper to it in the rain.

The White House chief of staff, General John Kelly, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, did make that 50-mile trip by car. And other world leaders gathered outside at similar events anyway, marking the 100th anniversary of the end of the great war.

The White House says that they didn't want to disrupt traffic. Worth noting, this was a Saturday.

And here with me is former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the only Vietnam veteran and the first enlisted combat vet to serve in that role. He's also served 12 years as a Republican senator from Nebraska.

I wonder what you think when you see the president skipping a ceremony like this. What's -- what's your reaction about what he should have gone through to go?

CHUCK HAGEL, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, he should have gone through it to it. It was not that big a challenge or a problem. It was an embarrassment. And he let down, I think, our veterans. He let down our country. And I think he sent a very wrong message to the world. World War I was a horrific, terrible war that affected really everybody and certainly affected us. And not to make a little bit of an effort to get to a very important ceremony was wrong. And I'm disappointed and I'm sorry that he didn't do it.

KEILAR: This was a cemetery where almost 2,300 American troops were buried, we should note.

I want to ask you as well about the event that the president did go to the next day honoring the 100th anniversary of World War I and the French president, Emmanuel Macron, had a very pointed message when he spoke. Let's listen to that.


EMMANUEL MACRON, FRENCH PRESIDENT (through translator): Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is betrayal. By saying our interests first, who cares about the others, we erase what a nation holds dearest, what gives it life, what makes it great and what is the most important, it's moral values.


KEILAR: A takedown there of nationalism. Nationalism, obviously, has taken hold in Europe. President Trump espouses it with his America first view. What's your reaction to Macron saying that right in front of the president?

HAGEL: Well, I think Macron was correct. I think his analysis was right. The reasons he said it were right. It's very dangerous when you see a world that is starting to unravel in many ways politically focusing on nationalism, our way, the hell with the rest of the world. We can't live in that kind of a world.

This is a world of seven billion people. We're interconnected. It's a global community underpinned by a global economy. Security, stability in every corner of the world is important for all of us. And when they talk like this and they move toward -- the forces toward this nationalism, it's unraveling, a world order that we built -- America built with our allies after World War II that built coalitions of common interest to people -- to get people together to focus on their common interest. You can't fix everything. But if we don't find common interest to work through our problems, then there's only one recourse. And I think it's very dangerous, this nationalism, and this direction and this unraveling of an important world order that's provided a pretty secure and stable world the last 70 years, especially for the United States.

KEILAR: You say the president should have made that trip on Saturday to this American cemetery in France. It's worth noting that in his almost two years as president, he also has not gone to a war zone, which is customary for a president to do. Is this a misstep?

HAGEL: Well, I don't know if you would call it a misstep politically. I suspect it is. But more than that, to me it's a --

KEILAR: How about morally? How -- it a misstep morally?

HAGEL: It, to me, it's a recognition that when a country has men and women at war who are dying, like we do have people dying still in Afghanistan, and not recognize that by going and by looking and asking questions and being part of that personally rather than just getting reports in the morning or in the afternoon, that's a misstep. But I think it's bigger than just a misstep. I think it's a failure of an obligation -- of a basic obligation of a commander in chief. He's commander in chief of our forces and not to go to a war zone where we have men and women dying, that's just wrong.

KEILAR: What does it do? What's the effect on people who are serving? HAGEL: Well, it has that -- it does have an effect because, as I said,

he is the commander in chief. And men and women who are serving, and it's the same people who serve all the time because of our volunteer service, they keep going back and keep going back, and not have your commander in chief, your president of the United States, make this a war, a high priority, sends a signal. And I don't think it's a good signal.

KEILAR: You were critical of the president ahead of the midterm elections, really going full bore when it came to this idea, unfounded, of an invasion of immigrants from a caravan of undocumented immigrants that was quite far from the border. Now the elections have passed. He's really not talking about it at all as he was before. What do you think about that? The deployment of troops to the border when now he's clearly dialed back the rhetoric after the election.

HAGEL: Well, I think it's obvious and it's very clear that it was a political stunt that he pulled. Abusing our troops. Having our troops down there still. And him continuing to say I may send more. Using our troops as political pawns for his political interest is just wrong. And I think it's pretty clear now that this election is over, we haven't heard much about it since then as to what it was all about.

KEILAR: I want to ask you about North Korea while I have you here because there's a new report that says satellite images show North Korea is moving right ahead with its nuclear program. That there are many hidden bases that it's operating at. Does this square with what the president has said about neutralizing the threat?

HAGEL: No, of course not. I mean this, again, is a fabrication of the president's conversations and whatever he says is reality. Well, it's not reality. Let's start with the beginning.

The North Koreans have just not signed any document working out, laying out what steps they're going to take to denuclearize in North Korea. There's been nothing stated, agreed to, framed, signed, except what President Trump says they've said. But now, if this information is accurate, which I assume it is, we have a whole different story. And it's reality. It's not fantasy.

KEILAR: And it's scary as well.

HAGEL: Yes, it is.

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