Al-Baghdadi and Trump’s Syrian Chessboard
The Al-Baghdadi assassination and related events demonstrate that Trump is not flying blind in Syria.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s many critics insist he has no idea what he is doing in Syria. The assassination of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi over the weekend by US Special Forces showed this criticism is misplaced. Trump has a very good idea of what he is doing in Syria, not only regarding ISIS, but regarding the diverse competing actors on the ground.
Regarding ISIS, the obvious lesson of the Baghdadi raid is that Trump’s critics’ claim that his withdrawal of US forces from Syria’s border with Turkey meant that he was going to allow ISIS to regenerate was utterly baseless.
Trump fundamentally changed the US’s counter-terror fighting doctrine, particularly as it relates to psychological warfare against jihadists.
The raid did more than that. Baghdadi’s assassination, and Trump’s discussion of the mass murderer’s death showed that Trump has not merely maintained faith with the fight against ISIS and its allied jihadist groups. He has fundamentally changed the US’s counter-terror fighting doctrine, particularly as it relates to psychological warfare against jihadists.
Following the September 11 attacks, the Bush administration initiated a public diplomacy campaign in the Arab-Islamic world. Rather than attack and undermine the jihadist doctrine that insists that it is the religious duty of Muslims to fight with the aim of conquering the non-Muslim world and to establish a global Islamic empire or caliphate, the Bush strategy was to ignore the jihad in the hopes of appeasing its adherents. The basic line of the Bush administration’s public diplomacy campaign was to embrace the mantra that Islam is peace, and assert that the US loves Islam because the US seeks peace.
Along these lines, in 2005, then secretary of state Condoleezza Rice prohibited the State Department, FBI and US intelligence agencies from using “controversial” terms like “radical Islam,” “jihad” and “radical Islam” in official documents.
The Obama administration took the Bush administration’s obsequious approach to strategic communications several steps further. President Barack Obama and his advisors went out of their way to express sympathy for the “Islamic world.”