Democrats and their allies spent weeks telling us that President Trump's strategic withdrawal from northeastern Syria would mean that ISIS would strengthen again...right up until the exact moment ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed.
"The upper hand we once held over ISIS has been eroded," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a speech on the Senate floor last week. "Three weeks after first announcing the troop withdrawal, the president does not seem to have a clear strategy for securing the enduring defeat of ISIS and fixing the mess he’s created in Syria. What is the strategy here? America’s security is at risk. ISIS is dangerous. ISIS is escaping. How will the administration continue to bring the fight to ISIS?"
Schumer probably should have waited five days, because on Saturday evening, the administration certainly brought the fight to al-Baghdadi. In an infamous Oval Office meeting with President Trump the previous week, though, Schumer said he told Trump that Trump was allowing ISIS to restrengthen.
"I told the president, being from New York," he told reporters immediately after the meeting, "we’re particularly aware of the problems that terrorism that an organization like ISIS can create. And the fact that someone no less than General [James] Mattis has said that ISIS has been enhanced, that the danger of ISIS is so much greater, worries all of us."
MSNBC morning host Joe Scarborough was even more pointed in his critique, however, as he claimed that Trump's strategic pullout was "aiding and abetting ISIS, the rise of ISIS."
"That will happen because of this move," he promised his viewers on October 14th. Four days earlier, he was even harsher.
"Donald Trump suggests that we can just let ISIS go and they can go back — there are so many disturbing things, Mika. It is more obvious than ever Donald Trump is neither emotionally or mentally fit to be president of the United States," Scarborough said. "That is without debate. It really is. Just look at all the actions over the past several weeks and it just keeps getting worse. And the consequences are growing grimmer by the day.
"Any Republican that keeps Donald Trump in office, every Republican that allows him to remain commander-in-chief, they, like Donald Trump, own the resurgence of ISIS."
Republicans, too, were wrong about how quickly and powerfully ISIS would return as soon as American troops withdrew.
"The President who loves to talk about his campaign promises, how is this fulfilling his campaign promise to defeat ISIS? This is actually just pleasing Rand Paul. That’s all this is," said Illinois Representative Adam Kinzinger, a frequent Trump critic.
"We leave [and] this, this is a great day for ISIS and a great day for Assad," said "The View" co-host and alleged Republican Meghan McCain. "And shame on everyone supporting this."
Democrats and their allies in the media, though, were far and away the most cocksure in their pronouncements that the withdrawal would strengthen ISIS if not return it to its former glory.
"There’s nothing good about this decision," said Maine Senator Angus King. "This is a gift to Putin, to Iran to Turkey to Assad and ISIS."
"There are thousands of ISIS fighters that have been held by the Kurds. What’s going to happen?" asked former Obama Administration official Jen Psaki. "And [Trump] didn’t have a plan. So this has now become a national security issue for the United States. Of course it is absolutely horrific to leave our partners, the Kurds, as we have to be slaughtered by Turkey. But now we are talking about thousands of ISIS fighters being out there without any regard or any plan on how to address it."
Former National Security Adviser Susan Rice agreed with this assessment, claiming that President Trump's supposed abandonment of the Kurds would make ISIS stronger and America weaker.
"It’s because we have an unmatched network of alliances and partnerships, countries that are willing to join with us when we face a challenge, whether it’s after 9/11, whether it’s to defeat ISIS, whether it’s to fight Ebola or deal with the resurgent Russia, we need allies," she explained. "And because he trashes them at every opportunity, and now having thrown the Kurds under the bus, he is making us weaker and he is making countries in the world far less willing to trust in our leadership and won’t join with us when we need them most."
One might ask Rice whether America is weaker or stronger now that al-Baghdadi is dead, just as one might ask the other critics of President Trump's Syria decision whether ISIS is again on the ascendancy or whether the White House has a plan to defeat it. The White House pretty obviously did.
And yet it was merely assumed that it didn't and that ISIS would grow stronger as soon as American troops withdrew. On Saturday, that was thoroughly disproved. Yet right up until the exact moment al-Baghdadi was killed, we were being assured that ISIS was stronger. Heck, even Saturday Night Live did! In one of the most unfortunate bits of timing in recent memory, SNL ran a cold open in which actor Pete Davidson told Alec Baldwin's President Trump that he had made ISIS great again.
"Ah, a young Trump supporter," Baldwin's Trump said as Davidson joined him onstage at a rally. "Where are you from, New Mexico?"
"ISIS," Davidson answered. "Yeah, I was a prisoner in Syria until last week when you freed me. So I just wanted to say thank you for bringing jobs back...to ISIS. And I promise that I will make ISIS great again. Whoo!"
"ISIS is back in a big, big way, folks," Baldwin's Trump said. "And we love that, don't we? Okay."
It was a perfect metaphor for the past month of hysterical responses to President Trump's Syria policy: At almost the exact moment Trump was being blasted for supposedly allowing ISIS to return to power, Trump was overseeing the raid that killed ISIS's leader.