The announcement that U.S. commandos targeted and killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, founder and leader of ISIS, was welcome news, of course. Removal of the terrorist leader, plus retrieval of documents and plans, calls for congratulations.
That Donald Trump would make it a star turn for himself was, well, expected. It’s a legitimate accomplishment, by others, but on his watch. So good for us, and good for him.
He even managed to thank others for their efforts, starting with Russia, Syria and Iraq, but including Syrian Kurds, as well as the same Deep State intelligence officers he has been spending years trashing.
I wanted badly to think this was strictly a good thing. But the failure to recognize the outstanding strategic questions, the apparent lack of communications with Congress, the jarring notes of the statement itself all fostered skepticism.
So, yes, the announcement left me wondering about the president’s overreach, the dripping ironies of the timing of the announcement when distraction is most needed from impeachment efforts and while U.S. policy in the region defies any logical explanation.
Among the inconsistencies:
- Trump has announced he is pulling any remaining American troops out of Syria – and shortly Iraq – only to step on his own toes in the days following the withdrawals by announcing that troops and tanks would be dispatched to protect oil fields rather than people. In the meantime, he refuses to acknowledge that he has abandoned those same Syrian Kurds who have been our allies to invading Turkish armies that are clearing a 20-mile strip of Syria, killing or chasing Kurds away.
- Trump did acknowledge that intelligence officers had found al-Baghdadi some time ago – there was a dispute as to whether this was two weeks, as Trump said, or five months, as intelligence sources said. Further, Trump acknowledged that the raid was delayed a month while the Turkish incursion launched – at Trump’s OK. It takes some chutzpah for Trump to take credit for this commando raid when it was Trump’s actions that had delayed it.
- In making the announcement, Trump once again claimed that he, and only he, as commander in chief, had defeated ISIS, again. By listening to him, Trump has defeated ISIS so many times now that it is difficult to count them all. Meanwhile, what American commandos eliminated yesterday was the ISIS leader, not its dispersed leadership through smaller, metastasized international cells. Despite Trump’s claims, ISIS will be back. There are more than 100 ISIS fighters at large from Kurdish prisons that had to be abandoned when the Kurds turned to face the Turks.
- To my ear, Trump’s descriptions throughout his announcement were unduly demeaning, well beyond declaring someone a military enemy. Al-Baghdadi died “like a dog,” was “a sick, vicious puppy,” and died whimpering in a tunnel. Quite apart from the question of lacking any empathy for a death, even a necessary one, Trump’s language was incendiary. Think of how his words will be heard over and over in ISIS refugee camps and by Islamist revolutionaries looking for an excuse to rise anew. The smart move would have been a touch of humility – a gene missing from the Trump DNA.
- The recon information needed to find al-Baghdadi came from exactly those same intelligence agencies that Trump regularly trashes for having found questionable, potentially impeachable offenses that Trump himself committed. Not others, Trump. Not other countries, Trump. It is beyond jarring to hear Trump suddenly find this particular incident to be the result of exemplary work from the same Deep State he abhors.
Along the way, there were sharp elbows for former President Barack Obama for not having killed al-Baghdadi earlier (where has Trump been for three years?), and an insistence that this death was somehow bigger and better than that of Osama bin Laden.
Even in a clear victory, Trump manages to press divides that will not make policies clearer or leave our country safer.