Trump ducks responsibility for Yemen raid

Carryn Owens, wife of Navy SEAL William "Ryan" Owens, was recognized by President Trump at Tuesday’s address.
Carryn Owens, wife of Navy SEAL William "Ryan" Owens, was recognized by President Trump at Tuesday’s address.(Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

The most powerful moment in President Trump’s speech to Congress came after he introduced Carryn Owens, the wife of US Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens, who was killed in a covert mission in Yemen.

“Ryan’s legacy is etched into eternity . . . we will never forget him,” said Trump. With that homage to a fallen hero, Trump “became president of the United States . . . period,” said liberal CNN commentator Van Jones during post-speech analysis.

Not entirely. Even in a moment defined by patriotism and pathos, Trump still ducked full responsibility as commander in chief. Instead, the president sought cover behind Jim Mattis, his secretary of defense. Mattis, he told his audience, had reconfirmed that Owens “was a part of a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemies.” Shouldn’t Trump be able to vouch for that himself?


It was an echo of Trump comments broadcast during an earlier Fox News interview when he said the Yemen mission was started “before I got here.” It was, said Trump, something his generals “wanted to do . . . and they lost Ryan.”

“They” — not the president who authorized the mission.

“They” — not the president who excoriated Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration for security lapses that led to the deaths of four Americans in the 2012 attack on the US diplomatic compound in Benghazi while she was secretary of state. On the first night of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Patricia Smith, the mother of one of the Benghazi victims, said, “I blame Hillary Clinton personally for the death of my son — personally,” adding, “Hillary for prison. She deserves to be in stripes.”

Owens, who was killed in a special forces raid in January, was the first US serviceman to die in combat under the Trump presidency. His father, William Owens, is demanding an investigation into the mission in which his son died.

The father also told the Miami Herald he refused an invitation to meet with Trump when the president traveled to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware when Ryan Owens’s remains were returned home. At least 16 Al Qaeda militants were killed during the mission. But a Marine helicopter was lost and at least 14 civilians were also killed, including children.


“The government owes my son an investigation,” the elder Owens told the Herald. “Don’t hide behind my son’s death to prevent an investigation.”

Trump shouldn’t hide behind his generals, either. When he accepts full buck-stops-here responsibility, that, not a well-delivered speech, will be a true reset.

Grieving parents and spouses were a big part of Trump’s presentation to Congress. Along with Carryn Owens, they included relatives of victims of violence perpetrated by immigrants who were in this country illegally. They are part of Trump’s ongoing effort to divide the country, no matter what he may say about wanting to bring it together.

Of course, we should all feel compassion for those parents and spouses who lost precious loved ones. Yet at the same time, who can forget Trump’s lack of compassion for Khizr Khan, the Gold Star father who spoke at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia?

We can mourn the deaths of those victims cited by Trump without demonizing all immigrants. We can hail Ryan Owens’s service to his country, and still question how and why that Yemen raid went down.

We can feel Carryn Owens’s pain and still wonder how America’s commander in chief can say the raid was something his generals wanted and “they lost Ryan.”


Mr. President, you gave the order. As commander in chief, you should acknowledge that. And as a country, we — not “they” — lost Ryan.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.