Donald Trump pronounced the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi on Sunday with all the finesse of Sasha Baron Cohen in Borat and Dictator combined. The blood and gore descriptions of al-Baghdadi’s last whimpers, his death “like a dog” and the exact state of his remaining body parts were taken from the lexicons of bloody tyrants in primitive countries rather than previous Presidents of the United States.
Trump is bound to be criticized for his blood-thirsty style, as well as the fact that he hurried to announce al-Baghdadi’s demise before the Pentagon had signed off on final and incontrovertible DNA proof that the ISIS leader had indeed been killed. On the extremely unlikely chance that al-Baghdadi will emerge somewhere safe and sound, which has happened before, Trump would instantly transform, not into a lame duck but into a dead duck.
Trump also sparked unease in Washington with his effusive praise for what many would describe as “The Coalition of Deplorables”, including Russia, Turkey, Syria and Iraq. He didn’t even blush when citing the assistance rendered by Kurdish forces, despite the American knife still stuck in their backs. And many Democrats were quick to point out that the U.S. commando operation proved the enduring need to maintain the U.S. military presence in north Syria, which Trump has just curtailed.
All of this, however, won’t bother Trump very much. On the assumption that al-Baghdadi won’t pull a Lucifer on him, Trump enjoyed one the best days of his presidency, if not militarily then certainly politically. Trump could finally boast of an achievement that exists in reality and not in his fevered imagination. And given a rare reason to celebrate, Trump went all out with his unique vulgar-bombastic-brutal-bizarre personal style.
Israelis will be at least partially reassured by the killing of al-Baghdadi. The U.S. President’s prestige has plunged in the wake of the U.S. failure to retaliate for the Iranian downing of a U.S. intelligence drone and for Trump’s abrupt decision to withdraw U.S. forces from northern Syria. The killing of al-Baghdadi will convince at least some of Trump’s new critics that he is not a paper tiger after all.
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More pertinently for Trump, the assassination of the world’s public enemy number one will enthuse his right-wing base, which has been hankering for achievements that are more than mere figments of Trump’s imagination. The hoorahs from the base will help to quell, at least temporarily, the growing criticism of Trump among hawkish Republicans, in the wake of his betrayal of the Kurds, and to pacify, for the time being, the less vociferous disapproval voiced by the few Republicans appalled at Trump’s behavior in the aid-for-dirt scandal involving Ukraine.
Trump’s success is also likely to energize efforts to discredit the impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives. Democrats are simply jealous of my colossal achievements and afraid of my impending victory in 2020, Trump will say, so they’re trying to depose me by other means. That will certainly sound familiar to followers of Benjamin Netanyahu.
Trump’s public opinion polls are bound to improve over the next few days, but not to emulate Barack Obama’s meteoric spike in the wake of the May 2011 killing of Osama Bin Laden. Even Obama’s swift rise was short-lived: From an approval rating of 57% in May 2011, Obama spiraled down to 41% by March 2012, when the U.S. underwent an economic slowdown. And what was true for Obama/Bin Laden is doubly true for Trump/al-Baghdadi.
First and foremost because any President from the left, like any Israeli prime minister from the same camp, will invariably enjoy a bigger dividend from military action than one from the right, because he (or she) is able to add new converts to his (or her) loyal base. The same is true with right wing leaders who make peace, see Nixon-China and Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat.
More importantly, and with all due respect - or lack thereof - al-Baghdadi is no Bin Laden, and the ISIS Caliphate, with all due revulsion, was not seared into the consciousness of America like the September 11 terror attacks. Even as he was basking in the glory of his operatives, Trump was preparing the ground for the inevitable comparisons of his kill with Obama’s by insisting that al-Baghdadi was, in fact, a more formidable foe than Bin Laden.
Trump also cited his own pre-2011 recommendation advocacy of Bin Laden’s assassination, as if this was some unique insight by a brilliant military strategist. Trumps even went so far as to repeatedly and effusively praise both generals and soldiers, who he has previously maligned. Under his leadership, apparently, they have found both wisdom and courage.
Al-Baghdadi’s killing, however, is likely to give Trump only a brief respite from the relentless impeachment proceedings in the House. Democrats will reluctantly praise the military action and try to ignore the President’s role in it. But when the fanfare over al-Baghdadi will subside, the fact will remain that the impeachment investigations have already accumulated enough evidence to prove that Trump indeed tried to extort Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky by withholding U.S. military aid.
Thus, the assassination won’t stop the impeachment train, which has already left the station. The hand wrestling between Congress and the White House is bound to resume shortly and the media’s attentions will follow them. Trump has a few days to bask in unusually warm spotlights, but if there’s one thing for sure, it is that within a few days he will explode over Democrats, experts and the lyin’ media not giving him the respect he’s sure he deserves, now more than ever.