At the direction of President Donald Trump, U.S. Special Operations forces conducted a daring raid in northern Syria over the weekend which resulted in the death of the leader of the brutal jihadist Islamic State group, an objectively good thing that most people would readily cheer.
There are, however, those who reflexively oppose every move made by President Trump, and those people — such as the former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper — used the opportunity of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s death as an opportunity to criticize Trump and suggest that his actions actually made the terrorist threat posed by ISIS even worse than before.
Clapper: al-Baghdadi’s death could “galvanize” ISIS
Clapper’s remarks came Sunday morning — prior to President Trump’s announcement of the raid — during an appearance on CNN’s State of the Union program with host Jake Tapper. He was asked about what he hoped to hear from the president during his imminent address to the nation.
The former intelligence chief began by noting how “interesting” it would be to hear Trump make mention of the contributions made by the “intelligence community” ahead of the raid and — despite not knowing any details at that time — sought to compare the raid to get al-Baghdadi to the one that killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden during the Obama administration.
He admitted that the death of al-Baghdadi was “quite significant” and carried “huge symbolic meaning,” as that top leader of the Islamic State had been a prime target for quite some time.
“What is going to be interesting is to the extent to which this negatively affects ISIS or does it galvanize ISIS, the remnants of ISIS, which still survives as an ideology and has franchises in other places besides Syria,” Clapper warned.
Keeping pressure on ISIS
Following remarks from former Obama Homeland Security adviser Lisa Monaco and former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI), the conversation shifted back to Clapper, who was asked if he thought U.S. military forces needed to remain in the Middle East to keep pressure on the terror group to ensure it was incapable of rising again on the inspiration of al-Baghdadi’s death.
“ISIS is more than just Baghdadi, as important as he was,” Clapper said. “Somewhere in the neighborhood of 14,000 to 18,000 fighters yet remaining and, of course, the franchises are branches in other places — notably, Afghanistan, where of course we still have forces.”
“ISIS did anticipate losing leadership, so they decentralized and groomed people to assume the role. Now I don’t know that they have anybody who would have the symbolic importance of Bagdadi, but I don’t think we can say at this point that we can stop worrying about ISIS,” he added.
To be sure, there is an element of truth to what Clapper had to say. That said, his warning was framed in such a way as to make it appear as though President Trump is completely ignorant of the obvious possibilities stemming from al-Baghdadi’s death.
The cautionary words from Clapper are also quite rich in irony, given the manner in which the Obama administration in which he served blatantly downplayed the threat posed by the Islamic State during its rise to prominence, at one point referring to it as the “JV squad.”
Meanwhile, even before taking office, Trump has repeatedly named the Islamic State as enemy number one and has focused an abundance of attention on destroying that group’s so-called “caliphate” and combatting it’s ambitions all around the world.