President Donald Trump deserves credit for ordering the operation that killed Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. It was a high-risk mission that required U.S. forces to fly hundreds of miles into al-Qaida-controlled territory to storm a heavily armed terrorist compound. If things had gone horribly wrong, Trump would have been blamed and borne the consequences. Trump knew the political risks but gave the order to go anyway.
Would Joe Biden have done the same? Unlikely.
The former vice president advised Barack Obama not to carry out the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. As Mark Bowden, author of "The Finish: The Killing of Osama bin Laden," explained in 2012, "The only major dissenters were Biden and (then-Defense Secretary Robert) Gates, and before the raid was launched, Gates would change his mind." During a meeting in the Situation Room, Biden later recalled, Obama turned to him and asked, "Joe, what do you think?" Biden answered, "Mr. President, my suggestion is don't go." Worse, his reason had nothing to do with national security. According to Bowden, Biden told the president that "if the effort failed, Obama could say goodbye to a second term." At the moment America had the man responsible for the 9/11 attacks in her sights, Biden was worried about politics, the absolute last thing a commander in chief should be thinking about in such circumstances.
But rather than praise Trump for ordering the killing of Baghdadi, Biden blasted the president, declaring the raid succeeded "despite his ineptitude as commander in chief." The man who opposed the bin Laden operation criticizes the man who approved the Baghdadi operation? That's rich. And it was the Obama-Biden administration's withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 that allowed the Islamic State to rise from the ashes of defeat and build a caliphate the size of Britain. Talk about ineptitude.
Trump's bold decision to go forward with the Baghdadi operation does not absolve him of criticism for his Syria policy. The fact is, taking out the Islamic State leader would not have been possible without the U.S. boots on the ground that Trump has announced he is withdrawing, or without the help of the Kurdish allies whom Trump is abandoning.
Our Kurdish allies deserve better. And we still need them. According to a Pentagon inspector general's report, even before Trump's most recent withdrawal announcement, the Islamic State was "resurging in Syria." It has between 14,000 and 18,000 members, as well as about 3,000 foreign fighters under arms in Syria and Iraq.
And while the loss of Baghdadi is a major blow, the Islamic State has survived similar blows before. Thanks to Trump, Baghdadi is dead. But the Islamic State is not. We still need to keep a boot on its neck, and that requires boots on the ground — and allies such as the Kurds.
Follow Marc A. Thiessen on Twitter, @marcthiessen.