Cries and whimpers
President Donald Trump announced on Sunday morning that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the bloodthirsty ISIS founder and leader who left a trail of unspeakable barbarity in the Middle East and beyond, is dead after a daring U.S. Special Forces raid on his northwestern Syria hideout ended with him blowing himself to bits by suicide vest.
Was this Trump's Osama bin Laden moment on par with the elimination of al-Qaida's chief during President Barack Obama's administration? No, it was bigger than that, said Trump. "This is the biggest there is. … 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, a caliphate."
In May 2011, Obama spoke for under 10 minutes and kept it simple when describing bin Laden's final moments: "After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body." Trump spoke for more than 45 minutes, vividly. Al-Baghdadi "died like a dog, he died like a coward. He was whimpering, screaming, and crying … he was scared out of his mind," the president said.
Later, during a round of TV interviews, Defense Secretary Mark Esper was asked if he, too, could hear “whimpering and crying” while monitoring the raid on a video hookup. “I don’t have those details. The president probably had the opportunity to talk to the commanders on the ground,” he replied. When Trump was asked how he knew, he said, “I don’t want to talk about it."
But to the discomfort of some national security veterans, Trump shared at length some details about how the mission was carried out.
“Talking about how many aircraft, where the aircraft are flying in, how they’re breaching a building, other technology they can bring to bear, knowledge about the tunnels and the mapping of those tunnels, these are operational details which are only about preening,” Michael Leiter, who led the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center from 2007 to 2011, told Vox.
A hurry-up raid
Trump portrayed the helicopter raid as a policy triumph, thanking Russia, Turkey, Iraq and Syria and, to a lesser extent, Syria's Kurdish forces for the cooperation that made it possible as the U.S. helicopters crossed territory under potentially unfriendly control.
Al-Baghdadi's general whereabouts had been known for months, but The New York Times reports that planning was disrupted by Trump's sudden decision three weeks ago to pull back U.S. forces in Syria. Pentagon officials pressed ahead with a risky night raid before their ability to control troops, spies and reconnaissance aircraft disappeared, the report said.
Esper said he did not know if the United States would have been able to carry out the mission had American troops been completely withdrawn from Syria as Trump originally planned. Still, "it was a brilliantly executed operation," Esper said, "and the president deserves credit for giving it the green light."
For irony fans, here's a Trump tweet from 2012: "When the military informed Obama that they had bin Laden, is there anyone with a brain that would not have said 'Ok, go get him'?"
Outtakes from takeout of terrorist
Trump acknowledged the role played by intelligence agencies in the raid, without apology for frequently disparaging them. "It's really a deserving name, intelligence. I have dealt with some people that aren't very intelligent having to do with intel. But this is the top people," he said.
To illustrate the challenge of surveilling ISIS communications, Trump said, “they use the internet better than almost anybody in the world, perhaps other than Donald Trump."
Trump repeated that he wants to "take the oil" from a northeastern Syrian region where U.S. troops will remain, a plundering that critics have said would violate international law and amount to a war crime.
Trump said he'd like to "make a deal with an ExxonMobil or one of our great companies to go in there and do it properly." Skeptical energy experts told Axios that oil companies aren’t looking for risky places to operate.
In describing al-Baghdadi as "dying like a dog" and his henchmen as "frightened puppies," Trump stayed consistent with his penchant for negative canine expressions, such as “choked like a dog," "fired like a dog” and "lies like a dog."
But he offered praise for a heroic military K-9 wounded in the raid as "a beautiful dog, a talented dog."
Janison: Gabbard not in isolation
The 2020 candidacy of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) bears a certain resemblance to the contrarian 2008 and 2012 races run by former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), writes Newsday's Dan Janison.
Both rebelled against the foreign policy consensus of their respective parties' establishments. Hillary Clinton went after Gabbard recently, alluding to a candidate who was a "favorite of Russians" for echoing Moscow's views on Syria. Gabbard hit back that Clinton was "the queen of warmongers."
Ron Paul, like his son Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, was described as an anti-interventionist or an isolationist, depending on who did the talking. He blamed 9/11 on "blowback" from U.S. Mideast policies and voted against the Iraq War resolution.
Back in May, Ron Paul called Gabbard "by far the best" Democratic candidate, but he said he disagreed with her "liberal" economic policies. In 2016, she supported Bernie Sanders.
John Kelly, the former White House chief of staff, is the latest member of the club of retired military brass that Trump once called "my generals" to feel his wrath. Earlier this month, former Defense Secretary James Mattis was "the world's most overrated general." This past weekend, it was Kelly's turn.
Speaking more bluntly than at any time since leaving the White House, Kelly said he had warned Trump on his way out that if the president chose a "yes man" for chief of staff, it would lead to his impeachment.
“Someone has got to be a guide that tells [the president] that you either have the authority or you don’t, or Mr. President, don’t do it,” Kelly said at a conference hosted by the conservative Washington Examiner. “Don’t hire someone that will just nod and say, ‘That’s a great idea Mr. President.’ Because you will be impeached.” But Kelly was succeeded by let-Trump-be-Trump Mick Mulvaney.
Trump denied Kelly's story in a 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,” he said. But it was White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham's belittling comment that stunned the most. “I worked with John Kelly, and he was totally unequipped to handle the genius of our great President,” Grisham told CNN.
Does this smell fishy?
In the week that has passed since Trump gave up on grabbing the prize of hosting next year's G-7 summit at one of his golf resorts, new signs and allegations are appearing of thumbprints on the scales.
Under instruction from Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, the Treasury Department ignored its own guidelines so that Michael Milken, who went to prison in 1990s Wall Street scandals, and his partners could get a tax break for a pair of Nevada developments, The New York Times reported.
Milken is a longtime Mnuchin friend. Mnuchin also has lobbied for Trump to pardon Milken for his past crimes with the support of Jared Kushner and Rudy Giuliani.
Meanwhile, a company in which Trump’s younger brother Robert has a financial stake received a $33 million contract from the U.S. Marshals Service earlier this year. Two losing bidders protested and one filed a complaint alleging possible favoritism in the bidding process, according to The Washington Post.
Also, a new book by a former aide to ex-Defense Secretary James Mattis said Trump directed the Pentagon boss to "screw Amazon" in the competition for a $10 billion cloud computing contract, according to an excerpt in Task & Purpose, a military-focused news site.
Trump hates Amazon chief Jeff Bezos because he also owns The Washington Post, but Mattis told his own staff: "We're not going to do that. This will be done by the book, both legally and ethically," wrote Guy Snodgrass. The decision was still pending when Mattis quit. Last week, the contract was awarded to Microsoft.
What else is happening:
- After Trump thanked Russia for its help in the al-Baghdadi operation, Russian officials and media voiced skepticism on whether the terrorist leader was really eliminated, the Daily Beast reported.
- Rep. Lee Zeldin's national profile has risen with his role as an outspoken Trump defender. Three years ago, the Republican from Shirley worried about being too closely tied to Trump, but now he acts and sounds more like the president and has stepped to the right. See Tom Brune's story for Newsday.
- Trump's stonewall against House investigating committees has been breached as more present and former officials, some with civil service protections, defy administration orders not to cooperate. See Figueroa's story for Newsday.
- As the president lashed out at key impeachment witness William Taylor as a "never Trumper" last week, a reporter noted that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo named him the top diplomat in Ukraine. "Everybody makes mistakes," Trump said. But Pompeo indicated to a Kansas college newspaper that he maintains his confidence in Taylor and they are in "full accord" on how to deal with Ukraine.
- Three retired military officers who served with Taylor, a West Point graduate, defended him as a "man of honor," "public servant" and "role model" in interviews with CNN.
- Republican lawmakers have used the congressional impeachment inquiry to gather information on a CIA employee who filed a whistleblower complaint and have repeatedly raised the name of a person they suspect, The Washington Post reported.
- The Trump administration has acquired just 16% of the private land in Texas it needs to build the president’s border barrier, casting doubt on his promise to complete nearly 500 miles of new fencing by the end of 2020, The Washington Post reported.
- Trump attended World Series Game 5 at Washington’s Nationals Park, which erupted into boos when he was shown on the big video screen. Some in the crowd chanted, “Lock him up!”