Monday, October 28, 2019

The al-Baghdadi raid succeeded in spite of Trump's actions in Syria and because of help from the Kurds.

That action was months in the making during which the Kurds provided valuable intelligence. I wonder if the Kurds are being as helpful after Trump abandoned them.

Kevin Fitzpatrick has two posts in Vanity Fair that I feature along with more reporting by the NY Times.

WHITE HOUSE GOES FULL “DEAR LEADER” IN PRAISE OF “GENIUS” DONALD TRUMP. The Trump-John Kelly feud takes a turn into sycophancy.

Accused by former White House chief of staff John Kelly of replacing him with a “yes man,” President Donald Trump dispatched a yes woman to rebut him. “I worked with John Kelly, and he was totally unequipped to handle the genius of our great President,” Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement to CNN on Saturday, offering North Korean television a lesson in sycophancy.

The dust-up began when Kelly claimed at a Washington Examiner political summit over the weekend that he’d spoken to Trump before his January departure about the perils of silencing dissent in office. “I said, whatever you do, don’t hire a ‘yes man,’ someone who won’t tell you the truth,” Kelly claimed. “Don’t do that. Because if you do, I believe you will be impeached.” He continued, paraphrasing the conversation: “Don’t hire someone that will just, you know, nod and say, ‘You know, that’s a great idea Mr. President,’ Because you will be impeached.’”

In the months since Mick Mulvaney took over as acting chief of staff, Democrats have launched an official impeachment inquiry into Trump’s efforts to extort Ukraine into opening investigations into Joe Biden and an u founded conspiracy theory that Russia was framed for election hacking in 2016. The irony was apparently lost on Grisham—who has not held a single press briefing since taking over from Sarah Sanders. Grisham issued an almost uncanny “Dear Leader”-style response to Kelly’s claim, proclaiming Trump’s unparalleled greatness.

“I worked with John Kelly, and he was totally unequipped to handle the genius of our great President,” Grisham said in a statement. That president, likewise refused to allow Kelly even the briefest of credit. “John Kelly never said that, he never said anything like that,” Trump replied in his own statement. “If he would have said that, I would have thrown him out of the office. He just wants to come back into the action like everybody else does.”

Kelly—sometimes credited as one of the “adults in the room” when it came to managing Trump—went on to express mild regret at his departure from the White House. “I have an awful lot of, to say the least, second thoughts about leaving,” he added. “It pains me to see what’s going on, because I believe if I was still there or someone like me was there, he would not be kind of, all over the place.”

He concluded of Trump’s recent struggles with the office, “the system that should be in place, clearly — the system of advising, bringing in experts, having these discussions with the president so he can make an informed decision — that clearly is not in place. And I feel bad that I left.”

PRAISING HIMSELF FOR ISIS RAID, TRUMP UNDERMINES HIS OWN VICTORY. A rambling presser announcing the demise of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi saw Trump bowing to Russia, taking shots at Obama and generally squandering any bipartisan goodwill.

The fastest way to burn political capital after a military victory, it seems, is to have Donald Trump announce it. The president spent Sunday morning gleefully recounting the gory details of a U.S. Special Forces raid in Syria that claimed the life of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi—indulging many of his own worst impulses in the process.

Trump presaged the White House announcement Saturday night over Twitter, boasting, “Something very big has just happened!” in a tweet that—according to a Defense Department official quoted by the New York Times—may have been premature, placing Trump’s eagerness for positive news coverage over conclusive identification of Baghdadi’s body. Word of the successful raid had nonetheless leaked to press by Sunday morning. Later, in a press event in the West Wing, Trump described Baghdadi as “a coward” who died “whimpering and crying and screaming all the way.” Only afterward did Trump specify that Baghdadi had died by detonating his own suicide vest, claiming the lives of three children in the process.

Trump’s revelry in the gruesome depiction of the ISIS leader’s end was poorly received by members of the press, as was his decision to first thank Russia, then Turkey, Syria and Iraq, for their cooperation in the operation, ahead of U.S. intelligence. The announcement was also complicated by the continued fallout from Trump pulling U.S. forces out of Syria, abandoning America’s Kurdish allies, though Trump sheepishly acknowledged that Kurdish forces provided “information that turned out to be helpful.” [More on that below.] Critics of Trump’s decision have also emphasized that the raid on Baghdadi underscores the argument for a continued U.S. presence battling ISIS in Syria, not the culmination of any objective.

With the House impeachment inquiry deepening and his polling underwater, Trump seemed especially eager to reset the news cycle in his favor. But as usual, he found ways to undermine what might have been a unifying moment. Perhaps most egregious, he made a point of boasting that the death of Baghdadi was more significant than the 2011 raid that killed 9/11 architect Osama bin Laden, as overseen by former president Barack Obama. “This is the biggest one perhaps that we’ve ever captured,” Trump said during the Q&A portion of his conference. “This is the biggest there is. This is the worst ever. Osama bin Laden was big, but Osama bin Laden became big with the World Trade Center. This is a man who built a whole, as he would like to call it, a country.”

Others took offense at Trump’s seemingly first-person account of the raid, which included vivid descriptions of U.S. helicopters entering Syrian airspace and ground forces “blowing a hole through the wall” of Baghdadi’s compound, as if Trump were leading the charge himself. It was “as though you were watching a movie,” Trump gushed of the Situation Room, where he huddled with Vice President Mike Pence, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The White House even helpfully staged a photo of the event, recalling a similar historic image of Obama watching the bin Laden raid.

Trump may yet succeed in temporarily boosting his poll numbers and repairing strained relationships with hawkish Republican lawmakers upset by the Syria withdrawal, though he naturally snubbed Democratic lawmakers by declining to inform speaker Nancy Pelosi or House Intelligence chair Adam Schiff of the raid—allegedly for fear of “leaks.” Instead, the gruesome, meandering affair ended as many Trump spectacles tend to—with loyal toadies like senator Lindsey Graham sent out to sing his praises.

“The president’s determination over time has paid off,” Graham told reporters, ignoring his prior break with the president over Syria. “We don’t give him enough credit for destroying the caliphate … . This is a moment when President Trump’s worst critics should say, ‘Well done, Mr. President.’”

Well, Lindsey “Sycophant” Graham, there’s another side to this.

The Kurds helped with this one - HUGELY!

C.I.A. Got Tip on al-Baghdadi’s Location From Arrest of a Wife and a Courier. President Trump’s abrupt decision to pull forces from northern Syria disrupted planning for the raid and forced the Pentagon to press ahead with a risky night operation, military officials said.

… Trump’s abrupt decision to withdraw American forces from northern Syria disrupted the meticulous planning and forced Pentagon officials to press ahead with a risky, night raid before their ability to control troops and spies and reconnaissance aircraft disappeared, according to military, intelligence and counterterrorism officials. Mr. al-Baghdadi’s death, they said, occurred largely in spite of Mr. Trump’s actions.

The officials praised the Kurds, who continued to provide information to the C.I.A. on Mr. al-Baghdadi even after Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw the American troops left the Syrian Kurds to confront a Turkish offensive alone. The Syrian and Iraqi Kurds, one official said, provided more intelligence for the raid than any single country.

[At the end of the raid] Mr. al-Baghdadi ran into an underground tunnel, with the American commandos in pursuit. Mr. Trump said that the ISIS leader took three children with him, presumably to use as human shields from the American fire. Fearing, apparently correctly, that Mr. al-Baghdadi was wearing a suicide vest, the commandos dispatched a military dog to subdue Mr. al-Baghdadi, Mr. Trump said.

It was then that the Islamic State leader set off the explosives, wounding the dog and killing the three children, Mr. Trump said.

It’s sad that kids get used this way, really! How’s the dog?

(Thanks to Sherry, our Roving Reporter, for pointers to these and related pieces.)

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