A mass of images circulated early Wednesday showing celebratory or stunned faces as they watched President-elect Donald Trump declare victory over Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. The emotional night in America played out on televisions around the world: a bar in Paris, a market in Nicaragua, a party in Vietnam.
But one image in particular stands out: members of Iraq’s armed forces, more than two weeks into a coordinated effort to unlock ISIS’ grip on the city of Mosul, stare at a flat-screen TV as Trump speaks around 3 a.m. Eastern Time. Cell phones are charging nearby. Blankets and pillows cover the floor. A gun is propped up against the cinder-block wall. They are watching their future grow cloudy.
Trump’s speech didn’t mention Iraq or ISIS. But a number of previous remarks throughout the campaign season cast a cloud of unpredictability over an already unstable region, should he emerge as the winner. He called to “take the oil” and said he would “bomb the hell out of ISIS” and suggested “we’re going to have to do something extremely tough over there.” He said all of these things without really explaining how he would do any of it; for a while, he said he had a plan to defeat ISIS but wouldn’t broadcast it.
But that was presidential candidate Donald Trump. There is now President-elect Donald Trump. And in January there will be President Trump. This picture shows the first of many speeches he will make that are aired in war zones where U.S. troops, or local ones they support, are risking their lives in ground combat. He will have to acknowledge past statements and campaign pledges, and work with a real military that uses real weapons that have real consequences far beyond the battlefield and the halls of power in Washington. He will have to weigh putting U.S. service members at risk and assuage Americans’ concerns at home that these hard decisions are in their best interests.
Hours after this speech, uncertainty abounds. The future of American power in the Middle East and everywhere else has fallen into his hands. But this is what’s known: months of campaigning, months of talk, will finally result in some sort of action.