Donald Trump is running a gruesome victory lap today over the killing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, reveling in macabre details about not just Baghdadi but his young children as well. Not only is the president’s description of the scene more reminiscent of a 9-year-old boy avidly recounting a horror film than befitting a U.S. president, we cannot even trust him to be truthful about these details because of his penchant for lying and exaggeration.
Still, the president’s tawdry boasting aside, al-Baghdadi’s death is a good thing. Al-Baghdadi was an evil mastermind responsible for the horrific repression and deaths of thousands, and lived beyond the reach of normal criminal justice. But the operation that killed him was also seriously jeopardized by the incompetence of the very president now taking bloodthirsty credit for it. As it turns out, Trump’s removal of troops from Syria didn’t just betray our Kurdish allies and empower Russian and Turkish interests; it also forced the military to hasten the timeline of the anti-ISIS raid, making it much riskier than it should have been. Per the New York Times:
Armed with that initial tip, the C.I.A. worked closely with Iraqi and Kurdish intelligence officials in Iraq and Syria to identify Mr. al-Baghdadi’s more precise whereabouts and to put spies in place to monitor his periodic movements, allowing American commandos to stage an assault Saturday in which President Trump said Mr. al-Baghdadi died.
But Mr. Trump’s abrupt decision to withdraw American forces from northern Syria disrupted the meticulous planning and forced Pentagon officials to press ahead with a risky, night raid before their ability to control troops and spies and reconnaissance aircraft disappeared, according to military, intelligence and counterterroism officials. Mr. al-Baghdadi’s death, they said, occurred largely in spite of Mr. Trump’s actions.
The officials praised the Kurds, who continued to provide information to the C.I.A. on Mr. al-Baghdadi even after Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw the American troops left the Syrian Kurds to confront a Turkish offensive alone. The Syrian and Iraqi Kurds, one official said, provided more intelligence for the raid than any single country.
What this means is that Trump would have been briefed on the ongoing intelligence and the preparations for the raid. He would have known the importance of Kurdish assistance in bringing Al-Baghdadi to justice. He would have known that the operation was nearing the point where it could be safely and effectively carried out. And he chose to blindside both the U.S. military and the Kurds with a sudden withdrawal announcement anyway. As it turns out, the professionalism of the special forces and our Kurdish allies on the ground apparently led to a successful result—but it was no thanks to the president.
We are certain to learn more details in the coming days as Trump attempts to use the operation to give himself a much-needed positive news cycle and propaganda boost. But for now it appears that even Trump’s successes turn out to be very much in spite of his leadership, not because of it.