With al-Baghdadi Raid, Trump Makes the Made-for-TV Announcement He Has Long Wanted

WASHINGTON — From the moment President Trump learned that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State, had been killed in a commando raid in Syria, he handled the news in an unusual way.

“Something very big just happened!” Mr. Trump teased on Twitter Saturday night around 9:30 p.m., just hours after American forces had landed in the region.

An or so hour 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 the Sunday talk shows, the president’s aides announced a rare, nationally televised presidential address in the morning.

The Diplomatic Reception Room setting gave Mr. Trump the kind of made-for-television presidential moment he has long craved — a parallel to President Barack Obama’s late-night announcement in 2011 that Osama bin Laden had been killed — at a time when he has been eager for a story line outside of impeachment and a way to counter the narrative that he had been outmaneuvered by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey in ordering American troops out of Syria.

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

He described the raid that killed Mr. al-Baghdadi in graphic terms and belittled the ISIS leader as having “died after running into a dead end tunnel, whimpering and crying and screaming all the way,” and that he “died like a dog,” one of Mr. Trump’s favorite invectives.

Mr. al-Baghdadi’s ISIS followers, the president said, were “frightened puppies” and “losers,” the same language he has used to describe former political rivals like Senator Ted Cruz and media outlets like CNN.

And the president also appeared to elevate the significance of the raid over the one conducted while Mr. Obama was president eight years earlier — an event that unfolded the same night that Mr. Obama ruthlessly 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.”

Mr. Trump also repeated the misleading claim that he delivered a warning about Bin Laden in one of his books. “Nobody listened to me,” Mr. Trump lamented. “To this day, I get people coming up to me, and they said ‘you know one of the most amazing things I’ve seen about you is that you predicted that Osama bin Laden had to be killed before he knocked down the World Trade Center.’”

In reality, Mr. Trump’s book, “The America We Deserve,” makes one passing reference to Bin Laden, where he is simply referred to as “public enemy No. 1.”

But on Sunday morning, Mr. Trump took credit not only for the raid that killed Mr. a-Baghdadi, but also for having been wiser than his predecessors. “I made a prediction,” he said. “Let’s put it this way. If they would have listened to me, a lot of things would have been different.”

From his implicit undermining of Mr. Obama to his focus on the fact that he has never received the credit he deserves, Mr. Trump handled the moment in a familiar way: putting himself at the center of the action, releasing information such as the number of helicopters involved in the operation that are normally classified, and focusing on vivid, cinematic details of a raid he bragged unfolded “as though you were watching a movie.”

All presidents make military victories their own, but for Mr. Trump, that movie was a lot about him.

Recalling the scene Saturday in the Situation Room, he described watching the raid as an “absolutely perfect” view of the skirmish and appeared to relish the details.

“They blasted their way in so quickly, it was incredible,” Mr. Trump said. “When he blew himself up, the tunnel collapsed on top of him, on top of everything — and his children. I mean, so he led his three children to death,” he said of Mr. al-Baghdadi. Mr. Trump added that the body of the ISIS leader “was mutilated by the blast.”

White House aides on Sunday morning released a photograph of the Situation Room as Mr. Trump, surrounded by his top aides, monitored developments.

The photo, showing six stone-faced men staring into the camera, appeared to be Mr. Trump’s answer to the photograph of Mr. Obama and his team receiving live updates about the operation to kill Bin Laden.

But Mr. Trump’s breathless language stood in contrast to the stark version of events that Mr. Obama relayed to the public after the secret raid that killed Bin Laden.

“A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability,” Mr. Obama said, addressing the nation in 2011. “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 American troops out of Syria and criticizing President George W. Bush’s decision to send troops to Iraq.

“He was a gutless animal,” Mr. Trump said in closing of Mr. al-Baghdadi. “Thank you all very much. I appreciate it. Very great day for our country.”

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