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Fact-checking Donald Trump’s ‘major’ speech on the Islamic State

Donald Trump outlines some of his plans to defeat the Islamic State and protect the United States. (Video: Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)

Donald Trump traveled to Youngstown, Ohio, to deliver what was billed as a “major” speech on how to deal with the threat posed by the Islamic State terrorist group, a.k.a. ISIS. For reasons known only to Trump, he continued to repeat false statements that have been repeatedly debunked in the past. So here’s a roundup of some of the more notable claims made in the speech. As is our practice, we don’t award Pinocchios in roundups, but readers by now should be able to tell the real whoppers.

“This summer there’s been an ISIS attack launched outside the war zones of the Middle East — hard to believe — every 84 hours.”

This number comes from IntelCenter, a private counterterrorism intelligence company, but the time frame that Trump uses is cherry-picked.

The group’s data from June 8 to July 20, 2016, have gotten attention for the number of terrorist attacks directed or inspired by ISIS: one attack every 84 hours. That’s why Trump says that’s how many attacks there have been “this summer,” though the data cover approximately six weeks of the summer so far. CNN reported that the group’s count mirrors the outlet’s tracking data, but it’s just a brief snapshot.

IntelCenter has tracked attacks since the Islamic State announced its “caliphate” in June 2014. Since then, there have been 76 attacks in 21 countries, killing 966 and injuring 2,812, the website says. Those data cover June 29, 2014, to Aug. 6, 2016. That means there were about three attacks every month over the 26 months covered by the data.

“The rise of ISIS is the direct result of policy decisions made by President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton.”

This is false and facile. The terrorist group is the direct result of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, as we explored in our interview with Washington Post reporter Joby Warrick, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his book on the rise of the Islamic State. (Trump, of course, supported the invasion of Iraq in 2003.) At best, one could argue that actions that Obama failed to take (over Clinton’s opposition) helped contribute to the growth of ISIS.

“Iran, the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism, is now flush with $150 billion in cash released by the United States.”

Trump always makes it sound like this is U.S. taxpayer money  and he always uses a too-high estimate. Because of international sanctions over its nuclear program, Iran had billions of dollars in assets that were frozen in foreign banks around the globe. With sanctions lifted, in theory those funds would be unlocked.

But the Treasury Department has estimated that once Iran fulfills other obligations, it would have about $55 billion left. (Much of the other money was obligated to illiquid projects in China.) For its part, the Central Bank of Iran said the number was actually $32 billion, not $55 billion.

“It all began in 2009 with what has become known as President Obama’s global ‘Apology Tour.’”

Trump resurrects an old — and discredited — Republican talking point. His prepared text even cited an April 2009 article written by Karl Rove as its source. As we demonstrated more than five years ago, Rove took Obama’s quotes out of context and twisted their meaning in order to build a tendentious case. The whole notion of an Obama apology tour was a fiction from the start  and was worthy of Four Pinocchios.


“The failures in Iraq were compounded by Hillary Clinton’s disaster in Libya. President Obama has since said he regards Libya as his worst mistake.”

First of all, Trump was a fervent advocate of intervening in Libya. On a video uncovered by BuzzFeed, Trump declared in 2011: “Gaddafi in Libya is killing thousands of people. Nobody knows how bad it is, and we’re sitting around. We have soldiers all over the Middle East, and we’re not bringing them in to stop this horrible carnage, and that’s what it is: It’s a carnage …. Now, we should go in, we should stop this guy, which would be very easy and very quick.”

Second, Trump misquotes Obama. In the quote cited by the Trump campaign, Obama said that intervening was “the right thing to do.” What he regretted as his worst mistake was failing to plan for “the day after.”

“I was an opponent of the Iraq War from the beginning — a major difference between me and my opponent.”

What will it take for Trump to just admit that he had supported the Iraq invasion before he opposed it, after the invasion already took place? This is yet another Four Pinocchio claim.

There is no sign that Trump made headlines about his vocal Iraq War stance in 2003, nor that Trump clearly opposed the Iraq War prior to the invasion. We compiled a complete timeline of his comments leading up to the invasion and found that his comments were not “loud,” “clear” nor in “headlines” as he repeatedly claimed on the campaign trail.

Yet Trump continues to use this line, even though numerous news outlets have debunked it. This time, Trump cherry-picked his own quote to back up his claim: “Three months before the invasion, I said in an interview with Neil Cavuto … that perhaps we shouldn’t be doing it yet. And that the economy is a much bigger problem.”

He was referring to a January 2003 interview on Fox Business, about two months before the invasion. During it, Trump gave a lukewarm reaction to the Iraq invasion and urged then-President George W. Bush to make a decision. Below is the context for that claim. As readers can see, Trump did not weigh in on whether the United States should attack or not (“either you attack or you don’t attack”).

Cavuto: If you had to sort of break down for the president, if you were advising him, how much time do you commit to Iraq versus how much time you commit to the economy, what would you say?
Trump: Well, I’m starting to think that people are much more focused now on the economy. They are getting a little bit tired of hearing, we’re going in, we’re not going in, the — you know, whatever happened to the days of the Douglas MacArthur. He would go and attack. He wouldn’t talk. We have to — you know, it’s sort like either do it or don’t do it. When I watch Dan Rather explaining how we are going to be attacking, where we’re going to attack, what routes we’re taking, what kind of planes we’re using, how to stop them, how to stop us, it is a little bit disconcerting. I’ve never seen this, where newscasters are telling you how — telling the enemy how we’re going about it, we have just found out this and that. It is ridiculous.
Cavuto: Well, the problem right there.
Trump: Either you attack or you don’t attack.
Cavuto: The problem there, Donald, is you’re watching Dan Rather. Maybe you should just be watching Fox.
Trump: Well, no, I watch Dan Rather, but not necessarily fondly. But I happened to see it the other night. And I must tell you it was rather amazing as they were explaining the different — I don’t know if it is fact or if it is fiction, but the concept of a newscaster talking about the routes is — just seems ridiculous. So the point is either you do it or you don’t do it, or you — but I just — or if you don’t do it, just don’t talk about it. When you do it, you start talking about it.
Cavuto: So you’re saying the leash on this is getting kind of short here, that the president has got to do something presumably sooner rather than later and stringing this along could ultimately hurt us.
Trump: Well, he has either got to do something or not do something, perhaps, because perhaps shouldn’t be doing it yet and perhaps we should be waiting for the United Nations, you know. He’s under a lot of pressure. He’s — I think he’s doing a very good job. But, of course, if you look at the polls, a lot of people are getting a little tired. I think the Iraqi situation is a problem. And I think the economy is a much bigger problem as far as the president is concerned.


“In August of 2004, very early, right after the conflict, I made a detailed statement to Esquire magazine in an interview [opposing the invasion].”

Trump clearly was outspoken about his opposition to the Iraq War starting in 2004, the year he reportedly considered a presidential bid. (Instead, he launched his popular TV series, “The Apprentice.”) Trump did sharply criticize the war in Iraq in the August 2004 cover story of Esquire magazine. But this was nearly 18 months after the invasion in March 2003.

Trump also has pointed several times to a July 2004 Reuters article as proof he opposed the war from the outset. The Reuters article is a preview of the August 2004 Esquire cover story. Somehow, in Trump’s mind, 2004 has turned into 2003, and Trump now says he “was against the war from the very beginning,” even prior to the March 2003 invasion.

“But I have been just as clear in saying what a catastrophic mistake Hillary Clinton and President Obama made with the reckless way in which they pulled out.”

Trump criticizes the 2011 withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq, saying Obama “got us out the wrong way.” But Trump supported rapid withdrawal as early as March 2007, saying the United States should “declare victory and leave.” So once again Trump criticizes Obama and Clinton for taking action he advocated.

“I have long said that we should have kept the oil in Iraq.”

This is nonsensical. The Bush administration invested a lot of diplomatic effort in assuring Middle Eastern allies that the United States was not invading because of Iraq’s oil fields. Moreover, oil revenue was crucial to ensuring a functioning Iraqi state — which is why insurgents often targeted the oil sector in Iraq.

In any event, seizing the oil of a sovereign nation after invading it would be considered a “grave breach” of the Geneva Conventions, one of the cornerstones of international law, as well as other international agreements. Maybe Trump’s staff should arrange a tutorial on international law.

“I had previously said that NATO was obsolete because it failed to deal adequately with terrorism. Since my comments, they have changed their policy and now have a new division focused on terror threats.”

NATO has disputed Trump’s repeated claim that NATO created a new assistant secretary general for intelligence because of his critique. “There’s no connection to any national election campaign,” NATO said, noting that the post had been under consideration several years before Trump began saying the organization was obsolete. NATO first committed to increased counterterrorism activities at a summit in Wales in 2012.

“Unlike Hillary Clinton, who has risked so many lives with her careless handling of sensitive information, my administration will not telegraph exactly military plans and what they are.”

Tellingly, Trump’s prepared text offered no footnote for this claim. There is little evidence that Clinton disclosed military plans through use of a private email server for State Department communications.

There indeed was sensitive information in Clinton’s emails, as the FBI found in its investigation into her use of her private server. Some of the emails were in reference to specific drone strikes being planned, the Wall Street Journal reported. But Trump exaggerates to say they “telegraph exactly military plans and what they are.”

Rather, these were vaguely worded emails forwarded by Clinton’s aides to her private email account. The Journal reported that the emails “were written within the often-narrow time frame in which State Department officials had to decide whether or not to object to drone strikes before the CIA pulled the trigger, officials said. Law-enforcement and intelligence officials said State Department deliberations about the covert CIA drone program should have been conducted over a more secure government computer system designed to handle classified information.”

“We admit about 100,000 permanent immigrants from the Middle East every year.”

Trump overstates the figure here. The number of people seeking lawful permanent resident status (“a green card”) adds up to about 76,000 people if you include the Arab countries in the Levant, Persian Gulf and North Africa, according to 2014 Department of Homeland Security figures.

You get to around 100,000 only by including Afghanistan and Pakistan, which of course are outside the traditional “Middle East.” Other Muslim countries, such as Indonesia (2,139) and Somalia (5,190), do not significantly add to the total.

“The United States subcommittee on Immigration estimates that Hillary Clinton’s plan would mean roughly 620,000 refugees from all current refugee-sending nations in her first term, assuming no cuts to other refugee programs.”

This figure stems from the unverified assumption that Clinton, who has called for 55,000 additional refugees from Syria, would continue at that pace for every year of her first term, on top of the Obama administration’s proposal for 100,000 refugees for fiscal year 2017. The committee then multiples 155,000 times four years to reach 620,000 refugees. Clinton has never proposed such a “plan,” so this is an invented figure. Clinton only has proposed an increase of 55,000 refugees for one year.

“A neighbor saw suspicious behavior. Bombs on the floor and other things, but didn’t warn authorities because they said they didn’t want to be accused of racial profiling.”

There is no evidence this was the case. There have been unconfirmed second- or third-hand reports — a friend of a friend of a neighbor — that a neighbor claimed to have noticed suspicious activity but did not report anything for fear of doing racial profiling. The religion of this supposed neighbor is unknown, but presumably a fear of racial profiling would suggest the neighbor was not Muslim.

Trump ad-libbed the phrase about “bombs on the floor.” Even the secondhand reports don’t suggest a neighbor saw “bombs on the floor” — just that they received numerous packages at their home and were in their garage late at night.

What Donald Trump is doing on the campaign trail

MANCHESTER, NH - NOVEMBER 7: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event at SNHU Arena in Manchester, NH on Monday November 07, 2016. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

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