Today the president of the United States announced the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the man who led the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The president’s speech and his subsequent press conference were a failure and a missed opportunity. Here is what I wish he had said.
Last night, in Syrian darkness, the leader of the Islamic State met his end.
After years of fighting his organisation, soldiers of the United States found and confronted Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
He is now dead, and his organisation is weaker for his death.
When I took office three years ago, I directed the resources of the United States toward the defeat of the Islamic State.
In concert with allies global and local, alongside fighters of many nations, and amid heroic civilian sacrifice, our forces have begun to win. The Islamic State has lost its cities and its territory. Its fighters have been killed and taken prisoner. And millions of blameless civilians no longer live under its savage rule.
But the strength of the Islamic State is not in territory or fighters. It is in the ideology which inspires men and women to commit acts of sickening violence – against those who share their claimed religion, against religious minorities, and against foreigners whose societies and nations the terrorists wish to overthrow.
Today, this ideology has lost a figurehead and a symbol.
For as long as the Islamic State has tried to control territory and inspire terror, the United States has struggled against it. Our intelligence services have, with determination and professionalism, tracked its movements and traced its leaders. And our armed forces, risking their own lives, have stood alongside our friends in the defence of the possibility of a world free from violence and free from fear.
In an operation of characteristic skill and bravery, American forces travelled by helicopter into Idlib province, in north-western Syria – to the place where careful intelligence confirmed Baghdadi was hiding. There, they fought with those protecting Baghdadi, and disdaining their own safety, rescued as many of the children and civilians they encountered as they could.
Amid the fighting, Baghdadi retreated from American forces into a tunnel, and this is where he died.
He took three children with him into that tunnel, and our soldiers could not protect them from him.
His final act ended their lives along with his own.
We cannot glory in his end because of its bitter cost. But his death means that no longer will others die in his name, or on his authority.
The aid workers and journalists, who were murdered by his masked men; the civilians punished under a law enforced by criminals; those sold into the inconceivable suffering of slavery; those who resisted, who were executed, who lie in graves – still unexcavated – with hundreds whose fates they shared.
We cannot return them to life and health. We must grieve for them and honour their names.
But the man whose name outweighed theirs, and justified their suffering, is gone.
The war which has overtaken the Middle East, and touched most of the world, arose from the evil designs of a few.
Millions protested, almost a decade ago, for their freedom.
They were met with bullets, and the wars of the last ten years were born. Amid the swirling violence, jihadist forces grew in strength. As governments failed and faded away, the spaces they left uncontrolled became havens. In early 2014, the Islamic State finished biding its time, and in quick succession attacked all in its path, expanding its territory at the barrel of a gun and under a false warrant from the divine.
The United States is not quick to anger, but when roused it is powerful – and it is relentless.
The defeat of the Islamic State is inevitable, but the fight has not been easy.
We have learned lessons from the last decade of conflict. The million dead in Syria’s civil war will not be forgotten. We will support those who fight terror and tyranny, but not only those who fight.
Democracy and prosperity are the things the terrorist and the tyrant fear.
We will defend ourselves and our nation, but also those who seek democracy and peace in their own lands. They are the people the terrorists and tyrants fear; and they are the people the terrorists and the tyrants seek first to kill.
The death of Baghdadi is not the end. It is a small victory, and a demonstration that evil destroys itself as readily as it destroys the lives of the good.
No one can escape fate; no one can evade justice.
A new day has not yet come, but the darkness is lifting. We will do all we can to ensure the arrival of the dawn.
God bless the dead and the mourning. God bless those who suffer and who fear. And god bless the United States of America.
A version of this piece was later published at Arc Digital.