Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the founder and head of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) — and also a member of al-Qaida — is dead. He died like a whimpering coward, according to the president, and the world is a much better and safer place without him.
Baghdadi’s death, at the hands of America’s very best and most elite military heroes, also underscores why American military presence is abroad: killing the Baghdadis of the world in their own backyards prevents them from amassing enough strength to strike the American homeland.
It’s been more than 18 years since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when the World Trade Center towers were attacked by al-Qaida terrorists, plunging America into the new reality of Islamic radicalism and terrorism.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing is that since then, we haven’t had a mass terrorist attack on U.S. soil since that date — we’ve had issues with localized terrorism, but nothing on the scale of 9/11. And the thanks for that goes directly to the United States military attacking the problem at its source, keeping it there, and keeping Americans safe.
We’re getting better at killing the Osama bin Ladens and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadis of the world, and as a result, both America and the world is a safer place.
The standard argument against U.S. presence abroad is that it embroils us in endless conflicts and needlessly drains American resources. And so long as we remain without a broad strategy of accomplishing our goals, I am sympathetic toward that view.
But even then-Senator John McCain warned of the dangers of American withdrawal from the Middle East in 2017. Writing in The New York Times, McCain castigated the previous eight years of American withdrawal and allowing our enemies to step in and control areas of the world with American interests at stake:
If we keep sleepwalking on our current trajectory, we could wake up in the near future and find that American influence has been pushed out of one of the most important parts of the world. That is why Americans need to care about what is going on in the Middle East right now. That is why we need to stick with our true friends, like the Kurds. And that is why, now more than ever, we need a strategy that lifts our sights above the tactical level and separates the urgent from the truly important.
Having a strong presence in the Middle East is important because it allows the United States to gather intelligence, kill the bad guys, and keep control over volatile regions.
According to Jennifer Griffin, national security correspondent for Fox News, “[U.S.] Special Operations forces removed ‘highly sensitive material’ from [the] compound about ISIS origins and future plans” when they killed Baghdadi. “[U.S.] military source [says] raid was ‘much more dangerous than Operation Neptune Spear’ (Bin Laden raid).”
Indeed, it’s not just that we’re killing these guys: we’re getting intelligence on all of their future plans, which in turn, helps us mount better defenses. That’s the point of a small, enduring presence of U.S. forces in the region — containing the threats to U.S. security while avoiding the prospect of nation-building.
U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX), a former soldier himself, gives probably the best answer when people discuss endless wars and conflict. In response to a question on endless wars, Crenshaw opined:
Here’s what you have to remember: we can’t put artificial time tables and troop levels on a mission. In the end we have a mission and that mission, as I’ve stated, is prevention, it’s deterrence. It’s understanding that this world is a very small place.
Information travels very fast. It’s easy for our enemies to radicalize people here at home and it’s also easy for them to establish plans to attack the homeland when we leave them alone. They wake up every single day, and they think about how are they going to conduct another 9/11. I promise you that. I’ve met these people. I know them. I’ve targeted them.
He points out elsewhere that putting our deterrence force in Syria into perspective requires taking a step back.
“It’s also important to put some of this into context,” Crenshaw says. “There’s 35,000 troops in Germany. There’s 50,000 troops in Japan. There’s 30,000 troops in South Korea. I don’t hear any calls to bring all of them home.”
We obviously cannot — and should not — be everywhere on the globe with our military. We have to use military force smartly in ways that ensure American national security. But we are the world superpower of our time, and our advances in technology, diplomacy, and economics have given us power past superpowers would be jealous to wield.
America has long been the reluctant superpower in the world — more inclined to reflect in on itself and its various projects than to project power abroad. But when we are focused on using that power wisely, we can accomplish great things, like ridding the world of monsters.
Baghdadi is dead. America is safer. The world is a better place. The American military remains heroic — and we owe them a deep debt of gratitude for their courage, bravery, and steadfast will to tear down the forces of evil.