The operation that brought the evil reign of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to an end bore the name of an Arizona woman, Kayla Mueller, whom he held in captivity and brutalized until her death in 2015. That name was entirely appropriate, because Donald Trump articulated the strategy that led to this victory shortly after Kayla’s horrific murder.
Al-Baghdadi’s death belies the notion that President Trump’s policy in Syria and broader region is irrational or inconsistent, as his critics often claim. It’s the same strategy that then-candidate Trump laid out in 2015, and has implemented with great success ever since taking office.
Reflecting his plans in a November 2015 interview with CNN, Donald Trump promised to “bomb the s—- out of ISIS” in order to ensure that the region’s vast oil wealth is prevented from funding terror while avoiding the mistakes of the Bush and Obama administrations, both of which got America entangled in bloody wars with unclear strategic objectives.
At the time, ISIS was still near the peak of its historic experiment in tyranny and brutal inhumanity. Al-Baghdadi’s “physical caliphate” still controlled a swath of territory larger than the United Kingdom. The world watched in horror as his fighters posted — with shameless pride — slickly produced videos of their prisoners being beheaded, mutilated, and burned alive. Miss Mueller, an aid worker who was captured and forced to “marry” al-Baghdadi, and several other innocent Americans had already met grisly deaths at the hands of ISIS terrorists.
The need for an American leader to do something was clear, and upon taking office, President Trump set about that task. As part of a shifting alliance of nations and groups within Syria, American air power and special forces mercilessly hounded the terrorist pseudo-state. The edifice of horror and injustice they erected amidst the chaos of the Syrian Civil War was torn down and the caliphate was beaten down until it effectively ceased to exist.
This weekend’s operation dedicated to Kayla Mueller was part of the same strategy. America can and must continue to punish those responsible for the horrendous suffering inflicted on Kayla and countless other victims like her, but that doesn’t necessarily require a large number of boots on the ground.
Those who point to the withdrawal of a small contingent of American troops from northern Syria as evidence of inconsistency and a lack of direction in this administration’s policy fundamentally misunderstand both our mission and the Trump administration’s approach to achieving it.
U.S. troops are not in the region to tie the hands of a NATO ally; nor are they there to bolster Kurdish dreams of an independent state. They certainly are not there to untangle a thousand years of ethnic conflict in the Middle East or bring about regime change in Syria.
Turkey, our NATO ally since 1952, has its own security interests in the area, which is right on its southern border. Kurdish terrorists have killed thousands of Turkish citizens over decades of communist insurgency. Millions of Syrian refugees are in southern Turkey and unable to return to their homes. It is not America’s place to risk our soldiers’ lives to prevent Turkey’s leaders from taking the steps they deem necessary to ensure their citizens’ security — especially not on behalf of Kurdish militias that have extensive links to communism and extreme left-wing groups here in the West.
Some in the American news media, unfortunately, decided to use blatant lies and deceptive descriptions to portray Turkey’s actions as a genocidal campaign against our “Kurdish allies.” In reality, the parties on the ground — whose war this is — have reached new and mutually satisfactory agreements during the ceasefire that President Trump facilitated. Turkey will have a buffer zone on its southern border. The Kurds have withdrawn to positions 20 miles within Syria instead of amassing fighters within spitting distance of Turkish towns.
Meanwhile, American troop levels are being reduced and our soldiers are being redeployed to accomplish a mission that is actually a core interest of U.S. foreign policy: protecting Syrian oil fields in contested areas from falling back into the hands of ISIS or groups like it.
President Trump’s strategy is consistent with the goals and tactics he laid out all the way back in 2015, and it’s working. Al-Baghdadi’s death is merely the latest indication that the strategy continues to pay dividends.
Kayla Mueller’s mother greeted the news by expressing the family’s profound gratitude “to this administration, to the military, and to the special forces that went in.”
We can all be grateful that no more innocents will suffer at Al-Baghdadi’s hands. Nothing can bring Kayla or any of the caliphate’s other victims back, but our continued success can provide solace to those left behind and prevent other families from enduring the same tragedy. That success comes not from dumb luck or reflexive decision-making, but from the steady, consistent American policy in Syria that President Trump has pursued since taking office. Any suggestion to the contrary flies in the face of the facts.
Jan Brewer is the former Governor of Arizona