With the reported killing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi yesterday, Donald Trump finally had the moment of military victory that he has so desperately lusted for since he took office.
The man who wanted to stage massive military parades in Washington DC — in the mode of every tin-pot authoritarian dictatorial regime trying to project power from a position of bravado-laced insecurity — and was reeling from the backlash to his withdrawal of troops from Syria and the abandonment of America’s Kurdish allies suddenly had a positive accomplishment to crow about. And crow he did.
Before he even began his rambling nearly 50-minute live address to the nation on Twitter about the “dangerous and daring” nighttime mission by American Special Operations Forces that resulted in the ISIS leader committing suicide by detonating an explosive vest, Trump had his Director of Social Media, Dan Scavino, post a photo of himself at a Situation Room table accompanied by Vice President Mike Pence, the Secretary of Defense, his National Security Advisor, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Deputy Director for Special Operations for the Joint Staff all looking serious and determined.
— Dan Scavino Jr.🇺🇸 (@Scavino45) October 27, 2019
The photo was meant to evoke the weight and drama of the famous shot taken during the raid that led to the death of Osama Bin Laden during the Obama administration that was taken in real-time as Obama and advisors awaited news of the outcome of the mission.
The photo by Pete Souza, the former Chief Official White House Photographer for Presidents Obama and Reagan, pointed out that — unlike his dramatic documentary shot that captured the tension, anticipation, and concern in the room as the events unfolded — the shot of Trump and his staff appeared to have been staged after the fact.
Souza posted Scavino’s tweet of the photo to his own Twitter account and noted that the shot’s metadata indicated that it had been taken well after the time that the military operation against al-Baghdadi had begun.
In fact, comparing press reports of when the raid began — at about 3:30 EST — to the president’s reported location at the same time, it appears that Trump was actually not in the situation room as the action was unfolding as Obama and his cabinet had been but was departing from his usual jaunt at the Trump National Golf Club at that time.
The raid, as reported, took place at 3:30PM Washington time. The photo, as shown in the camera IPTC data, was taken at "17:05:24". https://t.co/XV0MFfFiTt
— Pete Souza (@PeteSouza) October 27, 2019
The Baghdadi raid reportedly took place yesterday at 3:30PM EST.
According to yesterday's pool report, Trump and crew didn't leave Trump National Golf Club until 3:30PM EST.
— Avi Bueno (@Avi_Bueno) October 27, 2019
While Souza later backed off slightly and acknowledged that the military action could potentially have still been taking place by the time Trump’s photo was taken, compare the formal posing and posturing in the president and his staff’s stiff portrait with the documentary style of Souza’s fly on the wall shot.
One contextual note: during the raid itself, I made around 100 photos. I chose what I thought was the best one. I made around 1,000 photos throughout that day. Every photo was saved (as required by the Presidential Records Act), and eventually every photo will be made public. https://t.co/fdpQ2BLqdb
— Pete Souza (@PeteSouza) October 27, 2019
Donald Trump may see the suicide of al-Baghdadi when cornered by U.S. forces as a greater achievement than the killing of Osama bin Laden, but unlike President Obama, the evidence is clear that when the operation started, unlike his predecessor, Trump was not even the least bit involved in supervising the mission as commander in chief.
Perhaps that is something for which we should be eternally grateful, but Trump’s disengagement and stolen valor still rankles many people who long for the leadership and intelligence that Obama displayed.
Follow Vinnie Longobardo on Twitter.
Vinnie Longobardo is a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music and art.