is an Irish freelance writer based in Dublin. Her work has appeared in Salon, The Nation, Rethinking Russia, teleSUR, RBTH, The Calvert Journal and others. Follow her on Twitter @DanielleRyanJ
During self-congratulatory remarks about his “deal of the century” to solve the Israel-Palestine conflict, Donald Trump threw in another boast; he claimed US forces defeated “100 percent” of the Islamic State caliphate. Have they?
“Thanks to the courage of US forces, the ISIS territorial caliphate — 100 percent — not 95 percent, not 99 or any other percent — 100 percent of their caliphate, ISIS, is destroyed,” he said.
The irony is not lost that Trump made the comment while announcing details of what appears to be a dead-on-arrival Middle East peace deal, which he insists amounts to an “historic breakthrough,” despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. Such dramatic and exaggerated language is, after all, typical of Trump’s ‘best president ever’ brand.
Of course, it makes sense to boast about your deal-making skills only if both sides of a conflict have actually agreed to the deal. Likewise, with a problem like Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS), it would seem prudent to hold off on triumphant declarations of success until they can be fully backed up by reality on the ground.
While it is true that IS has lost its territorial caliphate, the group, experts say, is still very much active — and regaining strength. It was only weeks ago that the Pentagon was warning of a resurgence in IS activity in civil-war ravaged Libya after the chaos there, triggered by the 2011 US/NATO bombing campaign to topple Muammar Gaddafi, left an opening for the terror group to become the “third party” in that conflict, as one official said.
Experts have also warned that flaring tensions between the US and Iran in the aftermath of the Trump administration’s assassination of Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s top general and frontline player in the fight against IS, provide another opportunity for the group — now operating as an underground guerilla insurgency — to stage a comeback.
Washington put its anti-IS activities in Iraq on hold for almost two weeks to deal with an uptick in threats against its troops and bases from Iraqi militias and protesters after the Soleimani strike also took out Iraq’s high-ranking general Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. Trump then ignored calls from the Iraqi parliament and government to prepare for a troop withdrawal, sparked by Iraqi fears that the country would become a battleground in a war between the US and Iran.
All of these rising tensions naturally take the focus off IS, which is using the distractions to reorganize and revive itself wherever it can. Emboldened by Soleimani’s death, IS cells have reportedly been intensifying their deadly ambush attacks in Iraq and Syria.
This isn’t the first time Trump has claimed all of the credit for defeating IS. He made the same claim in a speech earlier this month addressing Tehran’s missile strikes on US bases in Iraq, and on numerous occasions before that. In fact, by March 2019, he had already made similar claims no less than 16 times.
Trump’s words are clearly designed to give the impression of an absolute American victory under his leadership, but it’s worth remembering that IS lost its physical territories not solely due to the “courage of US forces” as Trump framed it, but thanks also, in large part, to the efforts of the Russian, Syrian, Iraqi, and Iranian militaries — and, of course, the Kurdish militias who were later abandoned by the US.
While Trump may be a serial offender, his pompous attitude is not much different from the glory-hogging that has always been typical of how Washington portrays its role in conflicts abroad. Indeed, just last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a speech on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz which made it sound like US troops, rather than Soviet ones, had liberated the notorius Nazi death camp.
Yesterday, IS militants reportedly opened fire on fishermen working along the Tigris river in Iraq, killing one and injuring another. It was just the latest in a series of deadly attacks targeting not only military and police forces, but also civilians. On Jan 14, IS fighters stole 2,000 cattle from a village in Syria and ambushed Syrian military forces who were sent to the area, killing 11 troops and two shepherds.
While Trump’s American fans might erupt into raucous cheers when he declares the terror group crushed, it’s a different story for civilians in the region who “don’t dare leave their homes after sunset” for fear of attacks by barbaric militants.
Trump’s comments on IS — which are a clear misrepresentation of reality and designed more to win political brownie points ahead of the election season than they are to reflect a more complicated truth — are a useful reminder that one should always take statements from Washington with a generous grain of salt.