President Donald Trump claimed a major accomplishment in taking out Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State. However, lost in the avalanche of media coverage, has been the fact that after years of blasting former President Barack Obama’s policies on Syria—which were, in fact, awful—Trump has doubled down on Obama’s worst policy missteps.
Since early 2018, Trump promised three times he would withdraw troops from Syria and end U.S. involvement on the ground. Three times he has failed to follow through.
Many of the president’s supporters were in a celebratory mood last weekend when Trump ordered the raid that took out Baghdadi. While the mission was a tactical success, it’s not likely to have any strategic benefit. That should surprise no one, as we’ve seen these types of operations fail to accomplish anything of lasting value for decades.
In December 2003, the Bush administration captured Saddam Hussein (he was eventually hanged three years later), and in 2006 killed Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The former did nothing to quell the Sunni insurgency Hussein inspired, and AQI continued its barbaric ways. In 2011, the Obama administration killed Osama bin Laden to much fanfare, and in 2019 the Trump administration killed Al Qaeda’s heir-apparent, Hamza bin Laden.
Each of these operations represented a tactical success, and yet none had any impact on Al Qaeda’s existence. In fact, after Zarqawi’s death, something worse arose: Baghdadi took control of AQI and reformed it into ISIS.