At last week’s debate, Vice President Pence made it sound as if the Islamic State was triumphant (in control of an area “the size of Pennsylvania”) before Trump “unleashed the American military, and our armed forces destroyed the ISIS caliphate.” He tried to contrast this achievement with President Barack Obama’s supposed weakness. The family of Kayla Mueller, an American killed by the Islamic State, was in the audience. Pence claimed that “when Joe Biden was vice president, we had an opportunity to save Kayla Mueller,” but the White House “hesitated for a month” and by the time the “armed forces finally went in, it was clear she’d been moved two days earlier.”
Neither claim is accurate. Trump inherited the anti-Islamic-State effort from Obama; by the time Trump took office, the Islamic State had already lost half of its caliphate. As for the failed mission to rescue Mueller and other hostages: The Post reported in 2015 that it took the Obama White House less than 48 hours to sign off on a risky but ultimately unsuccessful raid that involved dispatching more than 100 Special Operations troops deep into enemy territory in Syria.
While the Trump administration can rightly claim credit for killing the Islamic State’s leader, the actual movement is far from dead. The Wall Street Journal recently reported: “Islamic State remains flush with cash despite setbacks in the past year, holding financial reserves and a range of revenue streams that U.S. and Western security officials warn could pay for a dangerous resurgence.” Trump’s despicable decision to abandon our Kurdish allies makes it harder to keep the Islamic State in check in Syria.
Meanwhile, the Islamic State chapter in Afghanistan will greatly benefit if Trump carries out his recent promise to pull all U.S. troops out by Christmas. That is even faster than U.S. officials had promised the Taliban in a deal signed in February — and it jettisons any pretense that the U.S. pullout will be “conditions-based.”
The other major beneficiary of a U.S. withdrawal would, of course, be the Taliban — a terrorist movement that, despite U.S. pressure, refuses to break ties with al-Qaeda. The Taliban is understandably delighted that Trump is so eager to abandon America’s allies. "We hope he will win the election and wind up the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan,” a senior Taliban leader told CBS News.
That the Taliban is endorsing Trump shows the falsity of his boasts to be a tough-on-terrorism president. So, too, does Trump’s failure to do more to combat white supremacist violence at home. Indeed, his violent rhetoric has encouraged violence by far-right extremists.
As a veteran of the Clinton White House noted, Trump called the media “the enemy of the people,” and Cesar Sayoc sent pipe bombs to CNN and other targets of Trump’s ire. Trump called Black Lives Matter protesters “Anarchists & Agitators,” and Kyle Rittenhouse allegedly killed two during a protest in Kenosha, Wis. Trump tweeted “LIBERATE MICHIGAN,” and six men were arrested last week for allegedly planning to kidnap the governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer (D). The Post notes that the Twitter account apparently belonging to one of the Michigan plot suspects is full of anti-immigration rants, praise for Trump and calls to prosecute Hillary Clinton.
After the FBI uncovered the alleged plot against Whitmer, Trump took to Twitter to attack the victim (“Governor Whitmer of Michigan has done a terrible job”) and demand that she appease these domestic terrorists: “Governor Whitmer—open up your state, open up your schools, and open up your churches!”
This is par for the course for a president who is quick to condemn “terrorism” whenever a Muslim is arrested but seldom if ever uses that word to describe violent white extremists. Less than two weeks ago, Trump told the Proud Boys — an extremist group with ties to white nationalism — to “stand back and stand by.” The Proud Boys were delighted. After pretending not to know who the Proud Boys are, Trump eventually said through gritted teeth that he condemns them. But he still won’t call out Rittenhouse, who has become a cult figure on the right. The Republican National Convention also showcased a St. Louis couple who were later indicted for pointing guns at protesters.
Trump deserves credit for fighting the Islamic State, but he has little to boast of beyond that on the counter-terrorism front — and much of which he should be ashamed. With domestic terrorism on the rise, Miles Taylor, former chief of staff at Trump’s Department of Homeland Security, is right to note that “the president’s tweets are helping to fuel terror.”