Trump hogs all the glory
WASHINGTON — When President Trump informed the world about the raid that killed Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, he as usual placed himself in the forefront. The night before, he tweeted a teaser: “Something very big has just happened!” apparently to whet the news media’s appetite for what was to come.
The next morning, he broke the news in 10-minute brag followed by a 40-minute news conference, in which he described in play-by-play detail the raid he had witnessed via video piped into the White House situation room.
He described to the assembled reporters how al-Baghdadi had died, “after running into a dead-end tunnel, whimpering, screaming and crying all the way,” before “he died like a dog, he died like a coward,” taking three of his children with him to their deaths.
Trump of course lauded the American military and intelligence officials who planned and carried out the raid he had authorized, adding he had first notified cooperating Russians, over whom the attackers flew en route to the ISIS site in northern Syria where the deed occurred.
Trump reported that he did not he notify congressional leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, because “I wanted to be sure this (was) kept secret. I don’t want to have people lost. We were going to notify them last night but we did not do that because Washington leaks like I’ve never seen before. There’s no country in the world that leaks like we do, and Washington is a leaking machine.”
The remark was a gratuitous slap at Speaker Pelosi and other Democrats in Congress, in keeping with Trump’s routine attitude to all outspoken critics of his words and behavior.
At the same time, the president thanked Syrian Kurdish forces for their intelligence assistance in conducting the raids. His remarks came shortly after he had ordered the withdrawal of the American military forces working side-by-side with them, to maintain their presence against Russian intrusion of the safe zone they were holding in northern Syria. The raid and the Kurds’ cooperation in it laid bare the folly of that Trump decision.
The commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Gen. Mazloum Abdi, tweeted: “For five months there has been joint intel cooperation on the ground and accurate monitoring to kill” al-Baghdadi.
Trump has now sought to use the successful raid in Syria to boost his sagging foreign policy in the wake of what Democratic and other political critics have called the betrayal of an ally in arms. It also comes as he struggles to ward off threatened Democratic-led impeachment in the House directed by Pelosi.
The president’s conspicuous attempt to make political hay out of a military achievement on his watch is in sharp contrast the former President Barack Obama’s lower-key commentary upon the capture and killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in 2011.
Obama announced it on the night of the similar Special Forces operation in his brief televised statement from the White House devoid of the grisly details served up by Trump eight years later. The latter made the most of it, describing the video he also watched in real time “as though you were watching a movie” and then took numerous questions.
Trump also sought to diminish the seizing and death of bin Laden, saying “nobody ever heard of Osama bin Laden before the World Trade Center” went down. On the other hand, he insisted, al-Baghdadi was “a man who built a whole, as he would like to call it, a country,” in the Islamic State.
Barack Obama, if anything, was sometimes chided for being too self-effacing. Donald Trump, as we all know now, is narcissism personified. If you have any doubt that he is “the greatest,” just ask him.
Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at juleswitcovercomcast.net.