President Barack Obama, July 6, 2015, describing U.S. military efforts against ISIS: “This will not be quick. This is a long-term campaign. ISIL is opportunistic and it is nimble.”
ISIS has lost 98 percent of the territory it once held — with half of that terror group’s so-called “caliphate” having been recaptured since President Trump took office less than a year ago, U.S. military officials said Tuesday.
The latest American intelligence assessment says fewer than 1,000 ISIS fighters now remain in Iraq and Syria, down from a peak of nearly 45,000 just two years ago. U.S. officials credit nearly 30,000 U.S.-led coalition airstrikes and regional partners on the ground for killing more than 70,000 jihadists. Meanwhile, only a few thousand have returned home.
The remaining ISIS strongholds are concentrated in a small area along the border of Syria and Iraq. ISIS, at one point, controlled an area the size of Ohio.
“The rules of engagement under the Obama administration were onerous. I mean what are we doing having individual target determination being conducted in the White House, which in some cases adds weeks and weeks,” said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula, the former head of U.S. Air Force intelligence. “The limitations that were put on actually resulted in greater civilian casualties.”
Two weeks ago, our David French noticed that the country and its allies had won a war against a vicious, once-terrifying enemy, and somehow the public had largely tuned it out.
Now, however, the caliphate is a smoking ruin. It courted conflict with the great powers. It craved Armageddon, and it got its wish. No one knows ISIS’s exact casualty figures, but its fighters have died by the tens of thousands. I’ve spoken to men who were directly involved in the air campaign, and they have told me that the public doesn’t yet understand the sheer scale and ultimate effectiveness of the American attacks.
Yes, we withdrew from Iraq too soon. Yes, our counteroffensive against ISIS unfolded slowly. But we fought back, we trained and equipped allies, and we won. This is one of the best stories of the young Trump administration. While many of the battles were fought under Obama, Trump pursued the enemy relentlessly. He delegated decision-making to commanders in the field, they fought within the laws of war, and they prevailed.
Trump promised to defeat ISIS, and he has delivered a tremendous victory.
An important point from David, for when the urge to complain “it’s the media!” becomes strong:
But part of the blame still rests with us. Let’s be honest: Panic and fear make for a better story than victory and peace. I hear all the time from friends who ask me to “write more about good news.” Yet I write about good news all the time, and those pieces are often among my least-read articles. Perhaps I’m simply bad at writing about good things. Or perhaps the public has less appetite for the positive.
Why aren’t people talking about the defeat of ISIS more? Why aren’t more conservatives, hawks, and fans of Trump talking about the defeat of ISIS more?
My friend Cam has spent his adult life working in talk radio, and he told me a long time ago that radio is all about creating an emotional connection with the audience. (You certainly can’t rely on exciting visuals.) The easiest emotion to stir in someone else is anger. “Did you hear about this? Can you believe this? This is an outrage! We oughta go down there and straighten those morons out!” etc.) There’s an element of this to print media, as well. A furious denunciation full of ridicule, sneering, and condemnation will usually get better traffic, more shares on social media, and more “you tell ‘em!” affirmation than either a balanced assessment or an optimistic, cheery piece.
This is partially why the ideological press aligned with the opposition party usually enjoys circulation jumps, advertising jumps, and traffic bumps when the other party wins power. Everyone wants to know what the other guys are up to in power. Once your guy is in the Oval Office, you feel like you can relax and tune out from politics for a bit.
Writers, columnists, radio talk show hosts, television hosts and commentators — they all respond to audience responses. If people get fired up and excited and you get more feedback and the caller phone lines light up and the ratings go up when you’re angry, you’ll feel a strong incentive to be angry. I know this is true, because I feel those same incentives! You probably enjoyed this section more because I put the foolish-sounding prediction from President Obama at the top.
A More Productive Year in Congress Than Most Americans Thought
Politico writes about the 74 bills and 23 joint resolutions signed into law by President Trump, and notes that several are pretty significant and far-reaching, describing them as “bills passed by Congress and signed by Trump that you may never have heard about — but which carry real implications for millions of Americans.”
Number two on their list:
In the biggest reform of education benefits for veterans in decades, Congress passed the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Education Assistance Act in August, a 68-page bill that combined 18 separate bills into one, with numerous reforms long sought by veterans’ advocates. Most notably, the law eliminates the 15-year time limit for veterans to use their education benefits — the main reason the bill was nicknamed the “Forever GI Bill.” It also expands education benefits to any service member who receives a Purple Heart — regardless of how long he or she served — and provides extra money for veterans who pursue a degree in science technology, engineering or math, a small incentive to help America’s shortage of STEM workers.
Number three on their list was also at the Department of Veterans Affairs:
It’s hard to think of piece of legislation that is less sexy than reforms to the government’s personnel rules, a subject that can bore even the most careful Congress-watchers. But a bill reforming civil service rules at the Department of Veterans Affairs, which Trump signed into law in June, caught the eye of many administrative experts. The changes were the culmination of years of work by lawmakers who were frustrated at the department’s inability to fire workers responsible for the scandal at VA hospitals in 2014.
The reforms create a new office to provide protection to whistleblowers and significantly reduce the time needed to fire VA employees, a process that previously could take months, if not years. Agencies often decided it wasn’t even worth the effort. Under the new law, the review process remains largely the same for most employees — it changes more for senior executives — but the time allotted for filing an appeal is sharply reduced. Perhaps more importantly, the law also lowers the burden of proof necessary for firing employees. The changes were opposed by groups representing federal employees, but the bills sailed through Congress, passing by a voice vote in the Senate and 368-55 in the House.
Reforms to a single agency’s civil service rules may seem like a minor legislative change. But experts are carefully watching how the agency implements the new rules as something of an experiment to see whether they should be implemented across government. As the scandal at VA hospitals showed, the quality of federal employees can have a major impact on the lives of individual Americans. Civil service reforms might not be sexy, but they’re critical to an effective government.
Maybe these legislative accomplishments aren’t so obscure and hard to find good information about. Maybe some folks are just reading the wrong publications!
Yelling for Paul Ryan to Come Back Like the Little Boy Yelling at Shane
As anyone familiar with Twitter knows, Congress is operating under unusual circumstances thanks largely to President Trump’s unpredictable leadership. Ryan has fortunately avoided getting into a tweet war with Trump, which might explain why Ryan has been spared from Trump’s infamous 140-character assaults. Nevertheless, working with Trump must be exhausting (in the daycare sense).
Through it all, Ryan has refused to debase himself by hurling insults at his critics. He reminds the Beltway of what life used to be like before Twitter, and he’s an example of how a leader should behave.
It’s not fair to blame Ryan for the antics of a president with little self-control.
Congress would lose a great deal — namely integrity — if Ryan were to leave. Paul, please don’t go.
Meanwhile, Ryan’s primary challenger from last year, Paul Nehlen, accused a journalist who criticized him of being “shill for the sheckles. [sic]” This idiot can’t even spell his anti-Semitic slurs right, it’s spelled “shekels.” Another great candidate selection from Team Breitbart, whose coverage left readers believing that Nehlen was on the verge of defeating Ryan last year. Ryan won, 84 percent to 16 percent.
ADDENDA: Already announced on the Three Martini Lunch podcast’s 2017 Awards: the year’s Worst Political Scandal, Best Political Theater, Worst Political Theater, Significant Passing, Rising Star, Fading Into Political Oblivion, Most Underrated Political Figure, Most Overrated Political Figure, and Most Honest Political Figure.