At yesterday’s White House cabinet meeting, Donald Trump seemed eager, if not desperate, to characterize himself as the world’s fiercest and most effective foe of the ISIS terrorist network.
“I’m the one – meaning it was me and this administration, working with others, including the Kurds – that captured all of these people that we’re talking about right now,” the president said. He added, “I’m the one that did the capturing. I’m the one that knows more about it than you people…. As you know, most of the ISIS fighters that we captured – ‘we.’ We. Not Obama. We. We captured them. Me.”
To be sure, seeing a grown man grovel for credit like this made for a pitiful display, but that was not the only problem with Trump’s pitch.
To the extent that reality still has any meaning, Trump’s policy against ISIS largely mirrors Obama’s policy against ISIS. The Daily Beast reported a couple of years ago that White House officials made a deliberate effort to help “brand” the Trump campaign against ISIS as different from its predecessor, although there are no significant differences between Trump’s strategy and Obama’s.
Complicating matters, as the New York Times reports today, Trump’s new policy in northern Syria has effectively ended the offensive against ISIS, to the militants’ delight.
Now, analysts say that Mr. Trump’s pullout has handed the Islamic State its biggest win in more than four years and greatly improved its prospects. With American forces rushing for the exits, in fact, American officials said last week that they were already losing their ability to collect critical intelligence about the group’s operations on the ground.
“There is no question that ISIS is one of the big winners in what is happening in Syria,” said Lina Khatib, director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Chatham House, a research center in London.
The Times’ article added that when news spread of Trump’s decision, there was “jubilation” among ISIS supporters, and the White House’s policy “has lifted the morale of fighters in affiliates as far away as Libya and Nigeria.”
Trump went to uncomfortable lengths yesterday to demand that everyone associate his administration’s policy toward ISIS with him personally.
Under the circumstances, the president should be careful what he wishes for.