Mark K. Updegrove, a presidential historian who wrote a book about Presidents George Bush and George W. Bush, said neither of those commanders in chief nor President Barack Obama would have been so loose with the truth about so momentous an event. Events like the killing of Osama bin Laden, he said, were treated with solemnity and soberness.
“In the days of reality television, humility is not enough,” said Mr. Updegrove, who is also president and chief executive of the Lyndon B. Johnson Foundation in Austin. Mr. Trump, the reality television veteran, “has to continue to add to the inherent drama of the moment, not only bragging about the despot being brought to justice but happening in the most humiliating way. He can’t help himself.”
It is certainly true that there was no mourning Mr. al-Baghdadi’s death in Washington. During his five-year reign, the Islamic State proved itself one of the most brutal terrorist organizations on the planet, establishing a murderous rule over millions while beheading and raping captured Americans.
Nor did anyone argue with the characterization of Mr. al-Baghdadi as a coward after he detonated a suicide vest with children nearby on Sunday, killing them along with himself.
But that was apparently not enough for Mr. Trump. In his announcement and subsequent question and answer session, he used the word “whimpering” six times, “crying” five times and “screaming” four times.
Mr. Trump’s account, aspects of which he repeated Friday evening at a rally in Tupelo, Miss., has left four-star generals in the awkward position of not confirming assertions they do not know to be true while trying not to contradict the president too overtly.
Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both said they had not been told of such details, but allowed that it was possible the president had spoken with commandos involved in the operation — without explaining how that would have happened without the top civilian and military leaders of the Pentagon knowing about it.