Trump wins big with Baghdadi death — and intends to milk it
President Donald Trump took a victory lap Sunday over the killing of Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi — and he’s likely just getting warmed up.
“This is the biggest there is,” Trump said at a White House appearance, reaching into his customary arsenal of superlatives after announcing the dramatic raid by special forces into Syria.
The raid was, by US accounts, a remarkable success of intelligence gathering, cooperation with multiple foreign powers in the Syrian war, and ruthless execution by helicopter-borne American soldiers.
But Trump — threatened by a snowballing impeachment threat in Washington and stung by widespread criticism of his overall Syria policy — needs the victory to be his.
So amid a sometimes surprising level of detail in his account of the raid, the president shoehorned in plenty of politics — lines that had less to do with counter-terrorism than they did with Trump’s need to boost Donald Trump.
The Baghdadi victory wasn’t just the “biggest.”
It had to be bigger than the killing in a similarly daring raid in 2011 of Al-Qaeda founder and 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden. Perhaps that’s because bin Laden was killed under Trump’s predecessor, Democratic president Barack Obama.
“Osama bin Laden was big, but Osama bin Laden became big with the World Trade Center. (Baghdadi) is a man who built a whole, as he would like to call it, a country,” Trump said.
– Military credibility –
The 45th president has long struggled, politically speaking, with the mantle of commander-in-chief.
He is dogged by his history of having avoided conscription — along with many other young men of that generation — during the Vietnam War.
And his push to extract the United States from what he calls “stupid” wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan may be popular with many voters, but is seen as dangerously naive by the Washington elite, including much of his own Republican party.
A recent abrupt decision to yank a contingent of US troops from a traditionally Kurdish area of Syria — giving Turkey a green light to attack the same Kurdish forces who had partnered with the US — sparked especially deep anger.
The Baghdadi raid provides Trump with a perfect riposte.