AP fact check: Donald Trump on U.S. intervention in the Middle East
WASHINGTON — Donald Trump on Monday painted the Middle East as an oasis of stability before Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state, arguing that she and President Barack Obama “launched” the Islamic State group onto the world.
In trying to outline how he would defeat the threat, Trump himself launched several other false claims.
He said Clinton and Obama sought to install a democracy in Libya and pushed for immediate change in leadership in Syria, accusing the pair of embarking on a “nation-building” strategy that few Republicans would ascribe to Obama’s intervention-averse administration.
In contrast, he advocated his own vision for U.S. foreign policy that included the suggestion of a U.S. takeover of Iraq’s oil reserves.
A look at some of Trump’s comments and how they adhered to the facts:
TRUMP: “President Obama and Hillary Clinton should have never attempted to build a democracy in Libya, to push for immediate regime change in Syria or to support the overthrow of Mubarak in Egypt.”
THE FACTS: Trump seems to be confusing Obama and Clinton’s limited interventions, and sometimes non-interventions, with President George W. Bush’s post-9/11 regime-change efforts.
When the U.S. led a coalition to bomb Libya in March 2011, it was sold as a humanitarian intervention. Obama vowed not to deploy U.S. troops on the ground and focused primarily on protecting Libyan civilians from dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s military forces. He didn’t promise a stable democracy there, like Bush did.
Five months into Syria’s conflict, Obama urged President Bashar Assad to step aside. But Obama did very little to realize such a result, to the great dismay of his GOP critics and even some in his own administration.
To this day, the United States maintains its call for a Syria without Assad, even as it works with the Syrian leader’s closest partners to try to engineer a unity government that would keep Assad in power, perhaps indefinitely.
While Trump is right that Libya, Syria and Egypt appeared more stable seven years ago, his analysis leaves out the simmering resentment for autocratic governments that would bubble over during the 2011 Arab Spring. That cannot be ascribed to Obama and Clinton.
TRUMP on Clinton’s role in the Libya campaign: “With one episode of bad judgment after another, Hillary Clinton’s policies launched ISIS onto the world stage.”
THE FACTS: The U.S.-led military campaign in Libya created a security vacuum and political chaos. But it took three years before IS emerged in Iraq and Syria, and there is no connection between those developments.
The group has its roots in a militant organization known as al-Qaida in Iraq, which found haven in Syria after being nearly decimated in Iraq in 2007-2009.
Some experts say the instability in Libya opened a door for the Islamic State to spread to North Africa, particularly after it suffered heavy losses in Syria and Iraq in 2015-16. But the group is facing severe setbacks there, too.
TRUMP on the Iraq war: “I have been clear for a long time that we should not have gone in. 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.”
THE FACTS: Trump did publicly say he wanted U.S. troops out years earlier than Obama pulled them out.
He said in March 2007 the U.S. should declare victory and withdraw troops because Iraq was going to get further bogged down in civil strife.
He said the U.S. was “keeping a lid” on the situation by being there, but that when the U.S. leaves, “it’s all going to blow up” so the U.S. might as well leave “because you just are wasting time.”
TRUMP: “I have long said that we should have kept the oil in Iraq … In the old days, when we won a war, to the victor belonged the spoils.”
THE FACTS: While Trump argues against nation-building, he seems to be suggesting the U.S. should have seized Iraq and its natural resources as an American colony. He ignores the fact that Iraq is a sovereign country and the U.S. at no point threatened to take possession of the country.
Trump says he would have used the money from oil sales to pay for the care of wounded soldiers. But the mission would require a permanent occupation, or at least until the oil runs out, and a large presence of American soldiers to guard sometimes isolated oil fields and infrastructure.
Trump’s claim that the U.S. has taken “spoils” in previous wars also raises questions.
After major wars, the 240-year-old United States has tended to pour money and aid back into countries it has fought to help re-establish governments and services.
The U.S. still has troops in Germany and Japan, with the permission of those nations, but it did not take possession of their oil or other natural resources.
To achieve Trump’s stated goal of destroying Islamic State militants’ revenue stream, the U.S. has bombed oil facilities in Iraq. The bombing was designed to render the oil facilities inoperable, but not destroy them, with the notion that Iraq could rebuild its own economy with their oil when the conflict ended.
TRUMP: “Anyone who cannot name our enemy is not fit to lead our country. Anyone who cannot condemn the hatred, oppression and violence of radical Islam lacks the moral clarity to serve as our president.”
THE FACTS: Obama doesn’t use the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism,” but he condemns the group harshly and regularly. He has characterized IS fighters as “thugs,” ”thieves” and terrorists.
Obama says he doesn’t want to connect the group to the religion of Islam. Doing so, he says, would unnecessarily anger Arab allies fighting the group, alienate Muslims at home and validate the claims of the enemy. “ISIL is not ‘Islamic.’ he has said, using his preferred acronym for the group.
Trump’s actual opponent in the presidential race, Clinton, is more comfortable with such terminology.
She has used the terms “radical jihadism” and “radical Islamism.”
TRUMP: The Islamic State “has a new base of operations” in Libya.
THE FACTS: Islamic State militants have tried to establish such a base in the city of Sirte. But a U.S.-supported military offensive in Libya this year has all but driven the group out of its former headquarters there.
U.S. officials estimated at one point as many as 6,000 extremists in the North African country. Latest estimates put only a “couple hundred” IS militants left in Sirte. Libyan officials say the city is 70 percent liberated and IS militants are cornered in a few locations.
TRUMP on Iran: “The world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism is now flush with $150 billion in cash released by the United States.”
THE FACTS: Trump got closer to the truth by holding back from his oft-repeated claim that the U.S. “gave” Iran the money. He still doesn’t get it right.
When Iran lived up to its part of the nuclear deal in January, it regained access to some $100 billion in Iranian assets that were frozen in overseas banks. And as one of seven parties to the agreement, the United States scrapped sanctions to allow that to happen.
But Iran is hardly flush with cash.
Much of the money has gone to paying off debts accrued while suffering from U.S. and global economic restrictions. Tens of billions more are going into infrastructure projects. And Iran has kept much of the remaining money overseas to avoid inflationary pressures on its economy.
U.S. officials say Iran has brought home less than $20 billion.