Opinion / Politics

Trump Terminated Baghdadi – Fight is Not Over


On Sunday, October 27th, President Trump announced ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi took his life as US Special Forces closed-in on his location.  Baghdadi died as he lived – a complete coward.  Dying, he killed three of his own children. What does his death mean?  More and less than has been reported.  

First, ISIS is – as the President reported – in retrograde.  That is a function of the President’s resolve.  The so-called “caliphate” was reduced, then crushed in early 2019 – after a run of terror that commenced in 2011. 

Drawn from vestiges of Al Qaida in Iraq, ISIS was filled to the gills with embittered Sunni loyalists of Saddam Hussein.  The terror group took shape when US troops withdrew from Iraq – regime change accomplished but terror afoot.   

Why did we withdraw in 2011? We withdrew pursuant to a 2008 “Status of Forces Agreement,” negotiated by President Bush with Iraq.  It could have been extended, but President Obama found convenient excuses not to extend.  We were out.

The result was an upsurge of terror, producing the need for sudden reengagements in Iraq and Syria.  Ultimately, US and Allied troops shrank the physical “califate” to nothing.  Remnants hid in pockets of northern Iraq and Syria.  Baghdadi was in one of those pockets, and – as the President noted – is now gone.

But is this the end of extremist violence in Syria and Iraq?  Hardly.  While ISIS is without official territory, the ideology animating that terrorist group lives on.  The danger is in not addressing that ideology.   

The challenge now is to speak clearly about why Islamic extremism – a combination of twisted religious convictions, sectarian blood feuds, inter-state rivalries, and the cult of Western resentment – is a dead-end.  It was for Baghdadi and will be for those who continue to pursue it. 

Lasting peace is not the absence of war, but the absence of a desire to make war.  We are not there yet.  Causes of all-or-nothing sectarian, inter-faction, inter-state violence in the Middle East – especially in Syria and Iraq – are long and layered.

Until ideological combatants come to believe that living in peace is worth more than destroying each other’s peace, we are at an impasse.  Other extremist groups will emerge, rebrand and reassert terror – gaining what they describe as victory, but know is just empty retribution.

Terror never leads anywhere useful.  But until those who use it can accept the precept, it will continue.  Today’s victory is salutary.  The President, US Special Forces, US intelligence and Allies deserve credit.  But this is not the end of regional extremism, or the threat it poses to the American Homeland. 

That observation raises a follow-on question:  How should we position ourselves going forward?  The answer is: Stay engaged.  That rankles some, but it is true. 

Among regional allies, we must continue to promote that elusive, intergenerational peace accord – the one President Trump spoke of in 2017, at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.  

Trump’s speech was hailed by 55 Middle Eastern leaders.  Trump said: “Our vision is one of peace, security, and prosperity — in this region, and in the world.”  He then detailed what that would require.

“Our goal is a coalition of nations who share the aim of stamping out extremism and providing our children a hopeful future that does honor to God.”  More, “this historic and unprecedented gathering of leaders — unique in the history of nations — is a symbol to the world of our shared resolve and our mutual respect …”  He closed saying, “I want you to know that the United States is eager to form closer bonds of friendship, security, culture and commerce.”

With another terror leader gone, this would be a good time to advance peace – in Syria, Iraq and across the Middle East.  The President has an emerging Peace Plan.  The slope is steep, time short, and cynicism pervasive, but if not now, when? 

One must also remember history’s shadow. The President aims to eradicate ISIS and engage the Middle East in peace.  That said, battles against entrenched evil seldom end quickly, even with a major leader being taken out.

In February 1943, 16 months before the Allies invaded Normandy, two years before World War II’s end, a leading Wehrmacht General – Gunther Angern – got trapped in the Battle of Stalingrad.  

At 49, a year older than Baghdadi, Angern commanded the Nazi’s 16th Panzer Division.  They racked up a string of brutal successes – until Stalingrad.  

At Stalingrad, his division was reduced by 4,000, then withdrew until encircled.   Rather than face justice, Angern became the first Nazi General to commit suicide.

His war was over, but the larger war continued. The evil he served was not yet extinguished.  That is the lesson of the moment.  We can be glad Baghdadi’s leadership is no more, but remnants of ISIS must still be contained.  The ideology he promoted must still be curtailed. 

That, alas, will take time – and willingness to stay engaged.  Today is a good day to celebrate resolve – President Trump’s delivery of Baghdadi, and what it will take to end Middle Eastern terror.  The fight is not over.

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