- - Monday, October 28, 2019

“This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper,” wrote T.S. Eliot in “The Hollow Men.” A dark commentary on the despair gripping the European continent following World War I, it fits as a preface to the last moments of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, almost.

“He died after running into a dead-end tunnel, whimpering and crying and screaming all the way,” recounted President Trump on Sunday, describing how the world ended for the terrorist kingpin. Thus, it was first with a whimper, then with a bang, as al-Baghdadi detonated his suicide vest, killing himself and three of his own children. “He died like a dog,” said Mr. Trump.

The president’s account was florid, but a little unfair. Dogs are nothing if not loyal. They would never purposely lead their own flesh and blood to destruction. No, al-Baghdadi died like he lived — as a beast.

In solemn tones, the president from the White House informed the nation about the death of the leader of ISIS, or the Islamic State, at the hands of U.S. Special Ops personnel who attacked his Syrian hideout in a night-time raid. “Bigger than bin Laden,” is how Mr. Trump described the outcome, referring to the 2011 operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the 2001 attack on the New York World Trade Center and the Pentagon, which killed nearly 3,000.

To be sure, bin Laden’s September 11 changed the world, ending the notion of a United States safe and secure, beyond the reach of the grave threat of Islamic extremism. Building on the Saudi firebrand’s foundation in 2014, al-Baghdadi inspired legions of followers to throw their backs and money into the creation of a caliphate rooted in the Middle East and determined to spread a frighteningly authoritarian form of Islam throughout the world. His message resulted in ISIS affiliates carrying out thousands of terrorist attacks in 30 nations.



If not for Mr. Trump’s vow to turn back the terror tide — with assistance from the Syrian army and, surprisingly, Russia and Iran — the Iraqi cleric with the blood-red-tinged beard might have succeeded. By March, his domain that once overspread large portions of Iraq and Syria had shriveled to a single Syrian village, and the remnants of his 30,000-man army were herded into detention camps. A $25 billion bounty on his head likely nudged the dispensation of justice.

The world, and America in particular, is safer with the guileful voice of al-Baghdadi silenced. As al Qaeda never regained its momentum following the annihilation of bin Laden, ISIS has been similarly demoralized by the loss of its precious territory, and assuredly now by the suicide of its leader.

Since September 11, Presidents Bush and Obama have proactively taken the fight to its source. They have, for the most part, succeeded in keeping the American homeland safe at a staggering cost of thousands of military lives and trillions of dollars. On his watch, Mr. Trump says that after nearly generation of U.S. troops fighting in the region, endless wars must cease. His subsequent withdrawal of a handful of military personal from the Syrian-Turkish border provoked hysterical backlash from Washington’s political class fully invested in the interventionist strategy.

Fear for the well-being of Kurdish settlements threatened by Turkey no longer restrained by U.S. presence is legitimate, but a fragile peace has taken hold that validates the president’s sense of timing of disengagement. The fact that a powerful U.S. raid efficiently dispatched al-Baghdadi in close proximity to the buffer zone Turkey has established in northern Syria also bolsters his argument that American security objectives can be achieved at will without a ponderous and perpetual armed presence.

That the world’s top terrorist has been brought to a fitting end is cause for gratitude, but ideas are harder to kill than men, and ideas fueled by anger are the hardest of all. For the span of recorded history, the Middle East has remained a cauldron of acrimony for reasons of religion, territory, and sometimes little reason at all.

If history is a guide, the death of ISIS’ founder will trigger the ire of a fresh extremist with an equally shrill call to avenge perceived injustice to his ideological lineage. There can be no substitute for vigilance.

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