Trump gets made-for-TV moment with White House address

US President Donald Trump at a World Series baseball game in Washington on Sunday. In his presidential address, he described the raid that led to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's death in graphic terms.
US President Donald Trump at a World Series baseball game in Washington on Sunday. In his presidential address, he described the raid that led to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's death in graphic terms.PHOTO: WASHINGTON POST

WASHINGTON • From the moment US President Donald Trump learnt that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had been killed, he handled the news in an unusual way.

"Something very big just happened!" he teased on Twitter last Saturday night local time, just hours after US forces had landed in the region.

An hour or so later, after convincing Mr Trump that waiting until the morning to elaborate on his cryptic Twitter message was a better way to steer the news that would dominate Sunday talk shows, the President's aides announced a rare, Sunday morning presidential address from the White House.

The Diplomatic Reception Room setting gave Mr Trump the kind of made-for-TV presidential moment he has long craved - a parallel to then-President Barack Obama's late-night announcement in 2011 that Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had been killed.

It came at a time when he has been eager for a storyline outside of impeachment and a way to counter the narrative that he had been outmanoeuvred by Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in ordering US troops out of Syria.

He spoke for 48 minutes, first reading a statement and then answering questions from reporters.

He described the raid that killed Baghdadi in graphic terms and belittled the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) leader as having "died after running into a dead-end tunnel, whimpering and crying and screaming all the way".

And the President appeared to elevate the significance of the raid over the one in which Osama was killed eight years ago - an event that unfolded the same night Mr Obama mocked Mr Trump at the White House Correspondents' Dinner.

"Al-Baghdadi everybody hears about, because he's built this monster for a long time," Mr Trump said. "But nobody ever heard of Osama bin Laden until really the World Trade Center."

 
 
 
 

His language stood in contrast to the stark version of events that Mr Obama relayed to the public after the secret raid that killed Osama.

Mr Obama, addressing the nation in 2011, said: "A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body."

After reading his statement, Mr Obama turned around and left the podium, taking no questions.

Mr Trump ended his news conference after defending his decision to pull US troops out of Syria and criticising former president George W. Bush's move to send troops to Iraq.

He said of Baghdadi in closing: "He was a gutless animal. Thank you all very much. I appreciate it. Very great day for our country."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 29, 2019, with the headline 'Trump gets made-for-TV moment with White House address'. Print Edition | Subscribe