It is difficult to contemplate the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi without a feeling that some sort of justice has dispensed, albeit far from ideal.
Trump said the dictator of a once-sprawling caliphate was left “whimpering and crying and screaming all the way” to his cowardly demise, scarpering down a tunnel. Then he detonated his suicide vest, taking a few others with him, possibly members of his own family.
Trump’s performance was hardly dignified itself, but he was arguably fair to call the man an animal. Baghdadi was, after all, the most-wanted human rights criminal in the world, responsible for the murder, torture, rape and oppression of tens – even hundreds – of thousands of people.
The high profile cases of western aid workers and journalists were rightly mentioned – but Isis committed such acts on an industrial scale. And Isis was his creation as much as anyone’s – the medieval caliphate with its gift for using cyberspace for propaganda was ruled by him. He sanctioned the beheadings broadcast live on the web. The world will be a better place without him.
And yet we know, don’t we, that the world will not be a safer place without him. Given the circumstances, it doesn’t sound like it was possible to capture him and put him on trial for his crimes, which would have been far the better outcome. If America and the west believe in universal human rights, as Isis did not, then we could have set a new example to the world, demonstrating our superior, civilised standards. Instead, now the armed jihadists have another martyr.
The point is: The Islamists are not going to disappear or give up just because Baghdadi is gone. Indeed the very same vainglorious Donald Trump who took obscene personal credit for his death has put Isis back in business by his withdrawal of American forces from Syria and giving Erdogan the green light to beat the hell out of America’s Kurdish allies. Now hundreds of hardened, trained, ruthless and cruel Isis fighters have been let loose in the region, at liberty to attack US forces and their allies wherever they find them, and to take fresh terror campaigns into Europe.
It is worth asking, then – is America at war with Isis or not? Does it want to defeat Islamist terror, or not? Why kill the leader but let his troops go free? Why thank the Kurds for their assistance in this targeted operation, yet betray them in their own homeland?
For Trump, it is all about Trump. In his sometimes bizarre press conference, he took excessive credit for the success of the operation, and lost no opportunity to put it in a favourable light compared to his predecessors. It was George W Bush’s fault in the first place, supposedly, that Isis has gotten going because Bush ignored Trump’s advice not to go into Iraq.
The death of Baghdadi is also supposed to be a bigger more prestigious deal than the assassination of Osama bin Laden in 2011 which was approved by Barack Obama. The truth of course is that neither Bush nor Obama eliminated the hydra of militant Islamist terror and aggression, and neither will Trump. Close down one organisation – the Taliban, Al-Qaeda – and a new one springs up; and sometimes the old ones go dormant and come back, “franchising” their terror brand to volunteers anywhere on earth.
There was no such perspective for causation in Trump’s windy bragging. The president even found the time to mention how successful his 12 books have been, to praise “a canine”, and, in return for their permission granted to America to act, to thank Putin and Erdogan. Yet Turkey and Russia are even now carving Syria up and persecuting the Kurds for their own amusement.
At such a moment, it is a reminder that Trump never rises to the occasion; the scale of even the most momentous of events will never be permitted to overshadow that vast ego if his.
Depressingly, we also know that Trump will milk the death of Baghdadi for all it is worth, all the way to polling day: A great day for his country, Trump said, though he meant a great day for Trump. The war on terror is not over – let alone won.
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