Last weekend, President Donald Trump announced that he authorized an operation to kill Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the infamous Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). As U.S. forces approached his location in the Syrian province of Idlib, al-Baghdadi detonated a suicide vest, killing himself and three of his young children.
ISIS is largely considered the successor to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, and its loyalists have carried out numerous acts of terrorism across the world, including the 2015 Paris attacks and the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing. Since ISIS has proven to pose a threat to security in democratic societies, the elimination of its leader should be applauded by Americans.
However, journalist Joby Warrick does not seem to agree. His article published by The Washington Post last Sunday came with a very bizarre headline: “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, austere religious scholar at helm of Islamic State, dies at 48.”
Warrick’s use of the words “austere religious scholar” to describe al-Baghdadi is awfully euphemistic. As I interpret the phrase, an “austere religious scholar” is someone who leads a disciplined lifestyle dedicated to intellectual pursuits regarding their own religion. Al-Baghdadi was certainly committed to his religion, but calling him a “scholar” neglects the fact that he advocated for the murder of thousands of innocent civilians.
On a more serious note, the death of al-Baghdadi gave President Trump a much-needed boost in the Middle East. Weeks after his unpopular order to withdraw U.S. troops from the predominantly Kurdish area in northern Syria, Trump had to demonstrate that he could maintain a tight grasp over American interests in the region.
Critics of Trump’s order argued that withdrawing from the region leaves our Kurdish allies susceptible to aggression from Turkey, but ISIS is also in the picture here. Though the organization’s power has diminished, ISIS controlled a large portion of Kurdish territory in northeastern Syria as recently as 2015. Even in a weakened position and without al-Baghdadi, they remain a threat to recapture some of this territory as long as the war in Syria continues.
Unfortunately, Trump managed to overshadow this victory with his dubious performance in public appearances. When asked to comment on the raid, Trump gave multiple unnecessary details, much to the dismay of White House officials. Though the president was enthusiastic about the operation’s success, there was no reason for his “whimpering, crying and screaming” comments. Perhaps more outrageously, Trump asserted that al-Baghdadi “died like a coward”.
Additionally, the mission Trump authorized was largely conducted in secret. While leaving certain aides and officials in the dark is a common practice during military operations, Trump’s decision to leave White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney in the dark was probably not his best option. Such a high-ranking official within a presidential administration should be in the Situation Room monitoring this type of raid with the president. According to Chris Whipple, who authored a book on the subject, not informing Mulvaney of the raid shows a “total breakdown in White House functions.”
As chaotic as the process was, al-Baghdadi was indeed killed, thus constituting a successful end to Trump’s mission. While we would love to believe that the loss of its leader will plunge ISIS into a state of anarchy, the organization has proven to thrive in the presence of anarchic power vacuums. Still, one thing is certain: Whoever becomes the next “austere religious scholar” of ISIS will continue to wreak havoc on the Western world and do so as long as America’s domestic response is as scattered as it has been these past four days.
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Carson Swick is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.