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The death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is a real victory in the war against terrorist groups. The Islamic State is one of the most cruel and dangerous organizations to have roamed the planet in a long time, and its leader’s death damages it badly. But as recent protests from Iraq to Lebanon have shown, the Middle East remains a troubled region. And if Baghdadi’s death produces a greater U.S. disengagement from the Middle East, then things could spiral downward even faster.
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the world suddenly focused its gaze on the Middle East and recognized one seminal fact: The region was almost unique in having made no significant political, economic or social progress in decades. Throughout the world, communism had collapsed, juntas had disappeared, and economic growth had transformed developing countries. But in the Middle East, time had stood still, and even moved backward on some measures. This stagnation, many believed, was the atmosphere in which Islamic extremism and terrorism were able to grow and spread.