President Trump’s announcement that our special forces have chased to doom the founder of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is a reminder that few things so become a commander-in-chief as success in battle. It is a laurel that has obtained for our greatest presidents. It was nice to see Mr. Trump in a moment of success. It’s a much-needed reminder that things are going on in Mr. Trump’s presidency other than impeachment.
The President was, by our lights, generous in his praise for all those who participated in the operation — particularly our GIs, of course, and their chain of command. Mr. Trump also singled out some of the most supportive politicians. Plus, acknowledged the help of allies or cooperative adversaries, countries such as Turkey and Iraq and even Russia and Syria. He also made a point of acknowledging the Kurds.
It’s too soon to know all the details of the raid, including what kind of support came from the foreign countries. Our raiders apparently overflew territory controlled by Russian troops. It’s not too soon, though, to suggest that the moment gave a much-needed glimpse of Mr. Trump’s emerging Mideast doctrine, the first glimpse since Mr. Trump had our troops stand aside as the Turks entered northern Syria.
On the one hand, we view that move the way many Iraq war hawks do. On the other hand, Mr. Trump used the raid on al-Baghdadi’s redoubt as an example of a point he’s been making — that moving our troops out of northeastern Syria doesn’t necessarily mean they’re abandoning the fight. Our raiders this week raced over long distances at high speed and low altitude at night. What a moment of modern warfare.
For all that, it would be a mistake to suggest that yesterday’s raid marks the end of the war on the Islamic State or Islamist terrorism generally. That’s a point we made after President Obama courageously sent our troops on another daring raid, the one that found Osama bin Laden. At the time, we expressed the hope that even while the heroism of our GIs humbled us, it would also embolden the President.
By that, we said, we meant giving Mr. Obama then — and now, we’d add, Mr. Trump — a growing appreciation for the possibilities of military and covert means in a twilight struggle in which our cause is just. If that happens, we said at the time, the raid could be more important than the death that was brought to bin Laden. And we would make the same point in respect of al-Baghdadi.
Can our politicians come together in this moment in a way that keeps alive the hope for working together on other pressing matters besides the war on terror? On the evidence, it’s hard to say. Vice President Biden issued a fine statement, as did, among others, Speaker Pelosi, Mayor Buttigieg, and Senator Sanders. The news was hardly out, though, than the Democratic leadership started complaining.
Mrs. Pelosi, in particular, was kvetching that she hadn’t been notified in advance. She suggested the Russians had been notified before she was. As we understood the president today, the Russians were notified only that we’d be transversing airspace under which they had troops. They did not know the mission of our aircraft. Mr. Trump feared a leak from Congress, and our sense is that he was smart to make secrecy a priority, at home and abroad.
Once he was ready to announce, though, it would have been better had he invited the congressional leadership, from both parties, to stand with him. In 2011, we felt that Mr. Obama would have been wiser to have had President George W. Bush standing with him. Mr. Bush had been invited, apparently, but demurred. It would have been better, we’ve always thought, had Mr. Obama insisted. Mr. Trump, too. Politics may no longer stop at the water’s edge. But they deserve to stop at the gates of Hell.