“I said we better be careful with Osama bin Laden. There’s a guy named Osama bin Laden. Nobody really knew who he was. But he was nasty. He was saying really nasty things about our country and what he wants to do to it. And I wrote in the book [in] 2000 — two years before the World Trade Center came down — I talked to you about Osama bin Laden, you better take him out. I said he’s going to crawl under a rock. You better take him out. And now people are seeing that, they’re saying, ‘You know, Trump predicted Osama bin Laden’ – which actually is true.”
GOP presidential hopeful Donald Trump seems to subscribe to the theory that the more often you assert something, the more true it becomes. In various speeches and interviews, he has claimed that two years before the 9/11 attacks, he warned that Osama bin Laden was a threat — going to “do damage” to the United States — and even predicted the rise of terrorism.
This claim rests on a few sentences in Trump’s 2000 book, “The America We Deserve.” Just about every word uttered by Trump needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Did Trump really suggest that bin Laden was going to attack the United States — and did he predict terrorism?
Trump’s book was issued in January 2000, when he was considering a presidential run. The book does include a chapter on terrorism (more on that below), but there is only a single, offhand reference to bin Laden.
In fact, it’s a bit strange that he claims that in 2000 “nobody really knew who [bin Laden] was,” given that the leader of al-Qaeda had already been the public target of U.S. warplanes for his role in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. (Moreover, a federal grand jury in 1998 indicted him for his role in the bombings.)
Bin Laden was not at the training camp in Afghanistan attacked by the United States, so he escaped injury — a point that Trump raises in his solitary reference to bin Laden.
“Instead of one looming crisis hanging over us, we face a bewildering series of smaller crises, flash points, standoffs, and hot spots. We’re not playing the chess game to end all chess games anymore. We’re playing tournament chess — one master against many rivals. One day we’re all assured that Iraq is under control, the UN inspectors have done their work, everything’s fine, not to worry. The next day the bombing begins. One day we’re told that a shadowy figure with no fixed address named Osama bin-Laden is public enemy number one, and U.S. jetfighters lay waste to his camp in Afghanistan. He escapes back under some rock, and a few news cycles later it’s on to a new enemy and new crisis. Dealing with many different countries at once may require many different strategies. But there isn’t any excuse for the haphazard nature of our foreign policy. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel for every new conflict.”
But look at how Trump turns this one reference into a demonstration of his supposed predictive powers:
- “I predicted Osama bin Laden … was coming in to do damage.”
- “I said we better be careful with Osama bin Laden.”
- “Two years before the World Trade Center came down — I talked to you about Osama bin Laden, you better take him out.”
- “They’re saying, ‘You know, Trump predicted Osama bin Laden’ — which actually is true.”
None of those claims are true.
Even if they were true, Trump would have been echoing predictions of experts, news organizations and even bin Laden himself, who in media interviews indicated that he planned to attack the United States.
For instance, here’s a 1999 CNN headline: “Bin Laden feared to be planning terrorist attack.” The article started: “U.S. officials fear that suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden ‘may be in the final stages’ of planning an attack against the United States.”
In terms of predicting “terrorism,” Trump appears to be referring to this line in the book, in which he references a 1993 attack on the World Trade Center that left six people dead:
“I really am convinced we’re in danger of the sort of terrorist attacks that will make the bombing of the Trade Center look like kids playing with firecrackers. No sensible analyst rejects this possibility, and plenty of them, like me, are not wondering if but when it will happen.”
Note that he’s not saying the World Trade Center will be attacked again, but merely there will be some kind of bigger attack in the future. This was not a particularly original thought in 2000 — and even Trump acknowledges that “no sensible analyst rejects this possibility.”
This line was in Trump’s first chapter. In his fifth chapter, devoted to terrorism, Trump described the type of attack he was predicting: “In our age of miniaturization, weapons have shrunk — and the threat against us is suddenly very large. When a nuclear device can fit in a suitcase, and a canister of anthrax can devastate New York, Boston, Los Angeles, or any other American city, the equation has changed radically.” He added that “it’s time to get down to the hard business of preparing for what I believe is the real possibility that somewhere, sometime, a weapon of mass destruction will be carried into a major American city and detonated.”
Perhaps Trump deserves some credit for devoting a chapter to terrorism in a 2000 political book. But his prediction has not come true.
The Pinocchio Test
Trump has repeatedly and falsely claimed that he predicted in his 2000 book that bin Laden was going to attack the United States and that America needed to “take him out.” Moreover, his claims of predicting terrorism in the United States are similarly overblown. He earns Four Pinocchios.
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