Former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Monday that President Donald Trump’s decision to not attend a ceremony at an American burial ground in France because of rain “let down our country.”
“He should’ve gone through it to go. It was not that big a challenge or problem. It was an embarrassment,” Hagel, who served in the Obama administration, told CNN’s Brianna Keilar on “CNN Right Now.”
“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,” he said.
Trump, who was in Paris to commemorate the centennial of the end of World War I with other world leaders, has faced criticism for not attending the Saturday trip to the cemetery. Officially, the reason for scrapping the journey to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial came down to safety: the President’s Marine One helicopter cannot fly in low cloud cover, a decision that is made by military and security officials and not the President.
But there did not appear to be a backup plan and the President did not make any statements of regret at not being able to visit the cemetery. The White House defended the President’s decision not to travel by car, saying such a trip would have required closures to Parisian roadways on short notice.
“World War I was a horrific, terrible war that affected really everybody – certainly affected us,” Hagel said. “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.”
On Sunday, Trump visited the Suresnes American Cemetery and Memorial, where more than 1,500 American soldiers are buried.
Hagel also called out Trump for having not yet visited American troops in a combat zone, calling it a “misstep.”
“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,” he told Keilar.
“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,” Hagel said.
CNN’s Kevin Liptak and Kaitlan Collins contributed to this report.