The Death of al-Baghdadi is FULL of Lessons

Will We Learn Any of Them?


The Delta Force mission that ended the life of terrorist leader al-Baghdadi is good news. Credit is due all around for making it happen. Such missions are never easy and always full of risks in every way imaginable. This is one of those moments made for presidential afterglow. Everyone from the president on down can look good, usually justifiably so. Yet, Donald Trump, in his inevitable manner, managed to screw it up. The press conference he held after the mission was cringe-worthy.

His announcement displayed everything wrong with how Donald Trump sees the world. Comparing t with Obama’s bin Laden announcement shows how Trump is so out of his depth.

Let’s review the key points
  • The Photo: It started with the photos released of (supposedly) the Trump team listening in as the mission went down. You might remember a similar photo from the bin Laden mission. In that earlier event, the photo was clearly a candid shot taken as the mission was happening. This was a group focused on the mission and fearful for the lives of troops deployed on their orders. The Trump photo was so staged and stiff that it could have passed for a B Movie poster. Everything about it looked staged. It was off putting, to say the least.
  • Excess Information: Trump’s dramatized, childish description of the operation h excess detail. I bit my tongue throughout as he talked about operational and tactical details that should not have been discussed. Way too much information was given away as to techniques and resources used in this mission. I’m sure our adversaries appreciated the good information.
  • Language: This announcement displayed everything wrong with how Donald Trump sees the world. Comparing this with Obama’s bin Laden announcement shows how Trump is so out of his depth. his session only reinforced that. The dialogue along the lines of “a normal person would have knocked on the door,… but they blew this big beautiful hole in it” was bizarre. And not to forget “he died like a dog.” There were many such odd turns of phrase. Who the hell talks this way?
  • Who Got a Heads Up?  The Russians did, for sure. But pretty well no one else, including the US Congress. This is an unacceptable breach of intergovernmental protocol. This is not the first time he has done something like this. Just a few days ago, the Brits found out we were bailing out on the Kurds when they read the same tweets you and I did. The difference was that they had about one hundred troops on the ground in the middle of all this. Their troops were leftvulnerable and exposed. Then again, Trump did not consult with our own military or congressional leaders, so why expect he would consult with our allies?
  • Consultations (NONE): Trump also noted that he did not consult with Congressional leaders. He failed to do so because the ongoing impeachment inquiry causes him to not trust them. The fact that he does not understand how wrong that is reminds us all how much he is out of his depth.
  • Who got credit? Again, the Russians first. Interesting, since they denied any cooperation or knowledge of the operation. At most, it appears all they did was not interfere with an overflight. From Trump’s remarks, one would have thought they were key partners. Only as a footnote, did he bother to thank the Kurds. It was largely thanks to intelligence support by the Kurds that this mission happened at all. No matter, for Trump they are an afterthought. Turkish strongman Erdogan must be pleased – again.
  • The Inevitable Obama Comparison. You knew this was coming. Trump could not help himself. He had to say this was more important than the bin Laden mission. As he went through the Q&A of the press event, he played up his own role in the decision to go forward with the mission. It was embarrassing to watch Trump try to preen over all this. A commentator said that Trump will whine that he is not getting the credit he is due. He will whine so much that he will wipe out what public relations he might have gained. Sure enough, that is happening.
  • Make no mistake – this was an important victory. But it surely was NOT more important than taking out bin Laden. Additionally, as difficult a mission as this was, it was simpler than the bin Laden mission. In this case, we knew with near certainty where the target was and that he was in a remote, ungoverned area. For the ben Laden mission, Obama had to deal with much less certainty about the target’s location. He also had to approve a major operation deep in the territory of another country, in a major suburban area. The opportunities for disaster were manifest.
Why This is Important but Limited in Effect

This mission was important for several reasons. One, it took out a dangerous man who was causing real harm on many fronts. Two, if further weakened the terrorist organization. Three, it can put fear in the hearts of others (like al Baghdadi’s deputy, killed shortly after this mission).

But there are limits on value gained. Groups like ISIS are loosely organized and diffuse. Losing a leader like this hurts them, but not as much as one would hope. Terrorist groups regenerate themselves with remarkable consistency. This hurts them but it is not a death blow.

Trump’s actions against the Kurds led to the release of hundreds of ISIS fighters from prisons. One of them may be the new ISIS leader. We would like this mission to put fear into the hearts of others, but it does so less often than one would hope. Next “martyr,” step forward, pleas.

Bottom Line

Our forces did a great job, as they most often do. We are reminded again of the value and remarkable competence of special operations forces. We don’t grow troops like this overnight. This is what years of training and lessons learned, often the hard way, looks like. Delta Force, which did this mission, came out of the debacle of trying to free our Iran hostages years ago. Modern special operations forces were born out of that mission. Delta was the first new organization created out of that crucible.

Everyone involved in this mission deserves credit. This includes Trump for authorizing the mission and the rules of engagement. Everything Trump did after the mission took a noble and high-risk operation and turned it into a shabby PR event.

Will this sorry excuse for a president ever be gone?

       Bill Clontz

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