During his time in CIA custody, 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told his interrogator something prophetic. The United States may enjoy some fleeting battlefield successes, Mohammed declared, but in the end “we will win because Americans don’t realize . . . we do not need to defeat you militarily; we only need to fight long enough for you to defeat yourself by quitting.”
President Trump should ponder Mohammed’s words as he prepares to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria — a move that will bring a smile to Mohammed’s face.
Trump knows the consequences of suddenly withdrawing from a country. The Obama administration “created this huge vacuum” in Iraq in 2011, Trump correctly observed during the presidential debates, adding, “we should have never been in Iraq, but once we were there, we should have never gotten out the way they (did).” Once Trump was inaugurated, he changed former President Barack Obama’s restrictive rules of engagement and freed up our military to drive the Islamic State from the territory it had seized. He deserves enormous credit for this achievement.
But just because the Islamic State controls no territory does not mean it is defeated. In 2011, the group controlled no territory in Iraq, yet thanks in no small part to Obama, it soon grew to establish a caliphate the size of Britain. Not only did the Islamic State revive itself, but the resurgent terrorist network also spread its murderous tentacles farther around the globe, establishing cells in 29 countries that have carried out 143 terrorist attacks that have killed 2,043 people and injured many thousands more. We are still living with the deadly consequences of Obama’s mistake. On Dec. 13, authorities in Bari, Italy, arrested a Somali man named Omar Moshin Ibrahim, believed to be a member of the Islamic State, who was threatening to bomb St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome on Christmas Day.
Today, the Islamic State is much stronger than it was when Obama withdrew from Iraq in 2011. The Defense Department estimates that the Islamic State retains about 30,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria and is “more capable” than its predecessor group al-Qaida in Iraq was at the latter’s peak in 2006-07.