‘Plan, prepare, and train for the outbreak of chaos,’ says al Qaeda’s handbook, The Management of Savagery, a blueprint for building the Caliphate through what might be called creative destruction. ‘At the outbreak of chaos, the onset of jihad: ride the wave…exploit the situation.’ Did Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s new chief strategist, read The Management of Savagery? He has been accused of implementing a ‘chaos theory of government’. Create chaos. Destroy the old order. Build paradise. The Trump administration has seemed busily engaged in phase one during its first two, hair-raising weeks in office. For the critics, the military raid against al Qaeda in Yemen was the inevitable outcome — a disaster, they say, that need not have happened but for Trump’s character flaws and Bannon’s fanaticism. The truth, however, is more complicated.
President Trump approved the raid over dinner at the White House. Bannon was there, ignoring those (including a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs) who say political operatives like him should be kept far away from national security. The US TV networks are reporting that the aim was to kill or capture the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen. This would be a ‘game changer’, Trump was supposedly told by his Secretary of Defence, one that President Obama had not been ‘bold enough’ to attempt. This account is disputed by the White House but it’s easy to imagine Trump being unable to resist a plan put in such terms. Whatever really took place, these life or death decisions were taken not in the Situation Room but (perhaps) over one of the steaks that Trump orders cooked like a hockey puck. The optics, as they say in Washington, were not good, especially in light of what happened next.
The raid went wrong from the start. Something – a barking dog, radio chatter — alerted the village and US Special Forces were met with heavy automatic fire.