For months and months throughout the 2016 presidential election, then-Republican nominee Donald J. Trump was downright vociferous about his plan to combat ISIS. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, he insisted, were the "founders" of ISIS, and were ineptly (though he might sooner say "stupidly") prosecuting a war that we would quickly, easily win. So, what is Trump doing about ISIS now? As a study in promises and accountability, it's a pretty important question.
Well, the short and sweet answer, according to reports, is that he's not really doing anything all that different. As Kimberly Dozier noted for The Daily Beast, sources close to the administration have stated that the much ballyhooed 30-day plan Trump insisted the Pentagon come up with, to "soundly and quickly" defeat the terrorist group, is essentially a cobbled-together list of many of the same strategies the Obama administration previously employed.
In other words, as in so many different areas, it sounds as though Trump's tough talk during the campaign has given way to the hard reality that he is not a superior military strategist, or a dynamic and unprecedentedly brilliant thinker. In fact, to the contrary, he's the first president to ever have no military experience or prior career in elected office.
Throughout the campaign, Trump frequently insisted he had a secret plan to defeat ISIS, a claim contradicted by the fact that he deferred planning to the Pentagon once getting into office. The most specific he would ever get was that he intended to "bomb the shit out of" their oil resources, as well as his insistence that he knew "more about ISIS than the generals."
And yet, the best available reports suggest that the action he's taken as president has been, well, virtually unchanged from the previous administration, except insofar as he's already thrown the Pentagon under the bus for the fatally botched Yemen raid, and has sent a charge of enthusiasm through ISIS fighters with his immigration and refugee travel ban ― some ISIS social media posts have reportedly called it the "blessed ban."
Isis hails Donald Trump’s Muslim immigration restrictions as a 'blessed ban'... https://t.co/LbsMXds8yN— Matthew Facciani (@MatthewFacciani) February 10, 2017
Indeed, various counter-terrorism experts have voiced dire warnings both about the impact of Trump's virulent rhetoric on Islam, and his actual policy actions. Despite the risk of ISIS-inspired terrorist incidents throughout Europe and the United States alike ― a very hard-to-combat phenomenon, given that such attacks may rely on inspiration rather than active coordination ― the reality is that ISIS-controlled territory in the Middle East shrunk significantly throughout 2016. In short, the tide was churning against the terrorist group, but Trump's endless vitriol could serve to fuel recruitment, blunting western efforts and giving it a second wind.
And now, it's being reported that Trump may take himself even more out of the process on military decisions relating to ISIS than he was to begin with. According to The Daily Beast, government officials say Trump may approve Secretary of Defense James Mattis to take actions and approve future operations like the Yemen raid without his explicit approval, to some extent upending the notion of civilian oversight of the military.
This is a strange plan for someone who claimed to be smarter than America's military leadership, to be sure. And it may be the surest indication yet that Trump realizes, for all his promises, that he's either not up to or not interested in the rigors of military decision-making.