Tue, Oct 29, 2019 - Page 7 News List

Win over IS gives Trump a boost


In the Situation Room of the White House in Washington on Saturday, US President Donald Trump, center, US Vice President Mike Pence, second left, US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, third right, and US national security personnel watch a live video feed of US Special Operations forces closing in on Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Photo: Reuters

The killing of Islamic State (IS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi gave US President Donald Trump a national security triumph and also a political victory at a precarious time in his presidency.

Facing an impeachment inquiry and policy criticism from within his own party, Trump announced the news on Sunday, at first with solemnity for the mission in Syria and praise for the personnel of the US and its allies who carried it out.

As the minutes passed, he began using graphic language, while dispensing criticism of his political foes, at home and abroad, and turning the triumph into a moment, more than anything, about Trump himself.

Despite the flourishes, the president’s White House reveal of al-Baghdadi’s death gave him a destined-for-history image to place alongside former US president Barack Obama’s announcement of the killing of Osama Bin Laden. It also offered him a reprieve from the escalating impeachment inquiry and a ready-made line for this re-election campaign.

“The al-Baghdadi raid is a gold star for the Trump presidency. It was a lifeline to him because his poll numbers are tumbling and people think he’s made significant foreign-policy mistakes in the Middle East,” said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University. “Just when he is massively hemorrhaging, he is able to claim a foreign policy win. Impeachment will swirl around him, but this is concrete.”

The timing for Trump was fortuitous. His poll numbers have slipped since the initiation of the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into the request Trump made of Ukraine to investigate a political foe. Moreover, the raid comes against the backdrop of some of the most pointed criticism from his own party over his decision to pull most US troops out of Syria.

“This allows him to say we can still succeed in Syria in light of all that has happened there in recent weeks because of his policy change,” said Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Haass said that because of the opaque nature of the Islamic State, al-Baghdadi’s death was “not a transformational event” that would forever cripple the militant network.

However, he underscored that for the nation and for Trump, “it was a good day, because it sends the message that no enemy of the United States is safe.”

In a national address that he had teased on Saturday night, Trump described the nighttime airborne raid US American special operations forces in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province and said they flew over heavily militarized territory controlled by multiple nations and forces.

He adopted the role of narrator, at one point marveling at the clarity of the video taken during the raid.

Presidents are often measured by how they handle such important national moments, the words they use becoming part of the permanent tableau of their time in office.

Trump offered a commentary on the images that he just watched, but this time he was not reacting to cable news talking heads, but rather video he viewed in the Situation Room as the raid was carried out, narrating gruesome details about the militant leader’s death.

“He ignited his vest, killing himself and the three children. His body was mutilated by the blast,” Trump said. “The thug who tried so hard to intimidate others spent his last moments in utter fear, in total panic and dread, terrified of the American forces bearing down on him.”

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