- Following the raid that led to the death of the Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the White House has released two photos of President Donald Trump in the Situation Room.
- They are strikingly different from the Situation Room photo during the Obama-era raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
- Trump’s photos appear staged, with Trump in the center looking directly into the camera, and seem to have been taken well before the raid.
- It depicts a president obsessed with his image rather than preoccupied with his job.
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On Saturday, a US Special Forces operation led to the death of the Islamic State’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in Syria. In his announcement Sunday morning, President Donald Trump said al-Baghdadi “died like a dog” while detonating an explosive vest that killed himself and three children.
Following the raid, the White House released a photo from inside the Situation Room. Two photos, actually, and they’re striking.
The two photos, from slightly different angles, show Trump sitting at the head of the conference-room table. Vice President Mike Pence is sitting to his right (but left of him in the photo). Both are looking directly into the camera, which hovers above the other end of the table.
They are surrounded by Robert O'Brien, Trump's national security adviser; Mark Esper, the secretary of defense; Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Brig. Gen. Marcus Evans, the Joint Staff deputy director for special operations.
It is a stark contrast to the Situation Room photo taken May 1, 2011, during the military raid that killed the Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, under the Obama administration. That one takes place in a smaller, more poorly lit conference room within the Situation Room. And as the Lawfare editor Quinta Jurecic noted on Twitter, it does not appear staged.
Obama is not at the center of the photograph. He is not even at the head of the table. Coffee cups are scattered on the table. Most of the national security team isn't wearing suit jackets. And none are looking at the camera.
Instead of getting an impression that the photographer is trying to depict the glory and power of the US president, you get the impression that these are a bunch of professionals focused on a solemn job: watching over a dangerous operation that would inevitably lead to death and that could go horribly wrong. For Trump, on the other hand, there is no distinction between the image of the job and the job itself.
Pete Souza, the former White House photographer who took the Obama-era Situation Room photo, noted that the metadata of the Trump photo was marked 17:05:24, or 5:05 p.m. The raid on Baghdadi, according to The New York Times, took place at about 6:10 p.m. It suggests that Trump's photo was staged before the raid had even happened.
Trump's White House tried to put this kind of image into the American imagination before. In April 2017, he launched missiles at military infrastructure controlled by Syrian President Bashar Assad in response to a chemical weapons attack. The White House released a Situation Room-style photo taken from Trump's Mar-a-Lago club and described it as a "secure location." It was taken by Shealah Craighead, who also took the new Trump photo. Everyone is sitting on small wooden chairs. You probably don't remember it. Time will tell how the new photo fares.
There are other odd details about Trump's new Situation Room photos. There are a lot of colorful Ethernet cables that aren't connected to anything, slightly undermining the seriousness of the moment. And while Trump appears to have briefing papers in front of him - a rare sight - they are mostly obscured compared with the people around him, suggesting he is the least informed person at the table.
It is also precisely the type of photo Trump would have criticized during Obama's presidency. "Stop congratulating Obama for killing Bin Laden," he said in 2012. "The Navy Seals killed Bin Laden."
Update: A previous version of this article said the raid reportedly took place at 3:30 p.m. According to more recent reporting, it took place at approximately 6:10 p.m.
- Read more:
- ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been killed in a US military strike, according to Trump
- Trump says ISIS leader al-Baghdadi died 'whimpering and crying and screaming' after trying to escape through a dead-end tunnel and igniting a suicide vest that killed 3 children
- US troops demolished ISIS leader's suspected building to prevent it from becoming a shrine
- Trump kept Pelosi and key Democrats out of the loop on the strike against ISIS leader al-Baghdadi
- Trump thanks Russia and other nations for helping with the US mission to kill ISIS leader al-Baghdadi