Just How Much Credit Does Trump Deserve For the Death of Baghdadi?
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, is dead. Good riddance, may he rest in pieces. He was a man who led an organization that executed people in the most horrific ways and put them on video so the whole world could see, but when Uncle Sam showed up at his front door, he blew himself up, rather than face the music.
President Trump announced the operation that led Baghdadi to kill himself on Sunday following a Saturday tweet where he teased, “ Something very big has just happened!” It did not take long for the chattering classes to start offering up hot takes, which no doubt will continue up until next year’s election. Naturally, the question of just how much credit Trump gets for the raid will dominate a lot of foreign policy discourse for the next twelve months.
If you’re not a partisan hack, the answer should be the same as your reaction to the death of Osama Bin Laden in 2011. You should not be like David Axelrod, who tweeted, “ The elimination of Al-Baghdadi is great news. @realDonaldTrump would have been better served by allowing the announcement to speak for itself rather than engaging in a lengthy victory lap. Less is more is never his thing.” Axelrod is the man who got his boss re-elected in 2012 on the unofficial slogan of, “Bin Laden is dead and General Motors is Alive.”
Trump also runs the risk of looking hypocritical on this if he’s not careful, for he tweeted in October 2012, “Stop congratulating Obama for killing Bin Laden. The Navy Seals killed Bin Laden.”
Sure, 9/11 is burned into the American conscience in a way that made OBL the nation’s most hated enemy since Hitler and the hunt for OBL got Hollywood treatment, whereas Baghdadi to most Americans was a homophone of “bad daddy,” but that’s not particularly relevant to the actual question.
Trump, like Obama, should get credit for ordering the raid, but impassioned supporters of both should be cautious of reading too much into one battlefield decision. While both can claim the respective raids as a resume enhancer, it should not be considered evidence of decisive leadership that is unique to the commander-in-chief. Every Democrat running for president should be asked at the next debate if they would have approved the missions to kill both OBL and Baghdadi, if they answer no, they’re not ready to be president.
Nor should the mission be considered of foreign policy success or competence in the area of foreign affairs. The decision to kill OBL and Baghdadi were battlefield decisions the respective presidents made under their authority as commander-in-chief, not as chief diplomat. Both were a matter of military tactics, not as part of any larger strategy whether that be military, diplomatic, or some combination of the two.
Nor should the raids be considered proof of victory. Obama ran for re-election saying Al-Qaeda was broken and on the run and the raid to kill Bin Laden was their leading piece of evidence. Then Al-Qaeda attacked the diplomatic compound in Benghazi and murdered the U.S. Ambassador to Libya. Trump will almost certainly do the same, claiming he’s beaten ISIS and consider the death of Baghdadi to be proof. He would be wise to learn the lessons his predecessor failed to learn, but the helter-skelter way in which the U.S. withdrew from Syria, but then considering the deployment of Abrams tanks near Syrian oil fields does not inspire confidence.
The world is better off without people like Baghdadi and Bin Laden. Like Obama, Trump should get credit for giving his approval to the mission, but the president and his supporters should not get carried away like Obama and his supporters did in 2012, although the nature of partisan politics says that us unlikely. Ultimately Trump was right in 2012 when he said it was the men in uniform who got the bad guy, the president just let them do their job.