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In Bracing Terms, Trump Invokes War’s Human Toll to Defend His Policies

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Others see little introspection on Mr. Trump’s part.

“Having a draft dodger come and lecture us about what service to the country means or hard it is to lose troops in combat is hypocrisy at its worst,” said Representative Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, a former Marine who served four tours in Iraq. “It’s disgusting. Fake piety is worse than none at all,” added Mr. Moulton, who was briefly a Democratic candidate for president. “He’s saying what he believes is politically popular.”

Peter D. Feaver, a scholar of civil-military relations at Duke University who served on the National Security Council under President George W. Bush, said that Mr. Trump may be haunted by his exemption from Vietnam service after a diagnosis of bone spurs that some evidence suggests was unfounded.

“Some presidents struggle with whether they have the moral authority to cause other people to risk their lives,” Mr. Feaver said.

Mr. Trump’s past two predecessors, Mr. Bush and Barack Obama, each regularly visited Walter Reed to meet with service members wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Bush was a pilot in the Air National Guard during the Vietnam War, but Mr. Obama, like his successor, did not serve in the military.

But Mr. Bush never visited Dover, despite the thousands of troops killed under his watch, although he met privately with the families of hundreds of lost soldiers in other locations. His White House, determined to maintain support for the Iraq war, resisted pressure to allow cameras to film the return of bodies there.

In late 2009, as he weighed whether to send more troops into Afghanistan, Mr. Obama paid an unannounced midnight visit to Dover to greet a plane returning several Americans who had been killed there. The White House allowed a photographer to capture the scene, prompting conservatives to accuse Mr. Obama of exploiting a sacred ritual.

Mr. Trump has also allowed cameras to photograph him at Dover, but families must also agree to any coverage by the news media.

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