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Donald Trump's speech about fighting 'radical Islamic terrorism,' fact-checked

Linda Qiu
By Linda Qiu August 15, 2016
Katie Sanders
By Katie Sanders August 15, 2016

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump called for "extreme vetting" of immigrants and forging alliances to crush ISIS in a speech on counter-terrorism that invoked Cold War themes of a world divided.

Trump’s address was a deviation from his off-the-cuff style at rallies, speaking slowly with an assist from a Teleprompter in Youngstown, Ohio, on Aug. 15, 2016. He hit familiar notes, though, describing a dozen high-profile terror attacks on domestic and foreign soil and blaming Democratic rival Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama for the rise of ISIS.

"We cannot let this evil continue," Trump said. "We will defeat radical Islamic terrorism, just as we have defeated every threat we have faced in every age before."

Here are the biggest moments of his prepared remarks, fact-checked.

"Anyone who cannot name our enemy is not fit to lead this country."

For Trump and other Republicans, Obama’s reluctance to use the phrase "radical Islam" and Clinton’s dismissal of its significance reveals a failure to understand the nature of the real threat to the nation.

For Obama and Clinton, the avoidance is a conscious effort to separate ISIS from the rest of the Muslim world. As PolitiFact has found, Republican President George W. Bush used a similar strategy in describing terrorist threats after 9/11.

After the Orlando attacks, Obama called upon Muslim allies to reject the terrorists’ perversion of "one of the world’s great religions" and defended his choice of rhetoric.

"What exactly would using this label would accomplish? What exactly would it change? Would it make ISIL less committed to try to kill Americans?" Obama said. "Would it bring in more allies? Is there a military strategy that is served by this? The answer is none of the above."

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

Gone is the Pants-on-Fire talking point that "Obama founded ISIS." The revision is an improvement from last week’s ridiculous assertion, but it is still no factual slam dunk.

The terrorist group’s roots pre-date Obama’s presidency and Clinton’s role as secretary of state, and experts said nothing led to the group’s emergence and expansion like the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq.

Here’s the skimmed version of other contributing factors: Clinton as a senator did vote to authorize force in Iraq in 2002, but so did the vast majority of senators from both parties. Obama inherited a timeline to exit Iraq from Bush, and that did not include an agreement to leave a large force behind, which was what Obama wanted.

Other actions brought up by experts include the Obama administration’s lack of support to anti-Assad rebels in Syria (which Clinton did support) and its decision to intervene in Libya contributed to the power of ISIS.

"Iran, the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism, is now flush with $150 billion in cash released by the United States — plus another $400 million in ransom."

This is a more tempered version of a previous Trump claim. The $150 billion in cash is already Iran’s to begin with, just frozen under the economic sanctions levied against the country. When nuclear inspectors verified in January that Tehran was complying with the terms of the Iran deal, the United States and other countries began to lift the sanctions.

The $150 billion figure is "what it could possibly be in the broadest imagination," Michael Malloy, an expert on economic sanctions at the University of the Pacific, told us. Most experts peg the total value at under $100 billion, ranging from $35 billion to $60 billion.

Iran also isn’t "now flush" with all of it. Some of the money is tied up in debts (for example, about $20 billion is obligated to China) and other assets are still blocked because of other sanctions.

As for the the "$400 million in ransom," Trump is referring to the United States airlifting the cash to Iran in January just as Tehran released four detained Americans. The Obama administration contends that this was not a "ransom," but rather the refund for weapons purchased during the 1979 Iranian Revolution that were never delivered.

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

Call it the lie that will never die. With roots dating back to Mitt Romney’s 2010 book No Apology, Republicans have time and time again attacked Obama as the country’s apologist in chief.

Those claims have rated False or Pants on Fire. Obama's remarks early in his presidency never used the word that is the universal hallmark of apologies: "sorry." Merriam-Webster defines an apology as "an admission of error or discourtesy accompanied by an expression of regret."

Trump ticked off the familiar list of examples, but he no more convincingly made the case for an apology than Romney did six years ago.

Obama's speeches in his first year in office contained some criticisms of past U.S. actions, but he typically combined those passages with praise for the United States and its ideals. Obama often mentioned how other countries had erred as well.

(There were two apologies in 2012 toward the end of his first term — one for the accidental burning of copies of the Quran, made in an effort to quell violence against American troops in Afghanistan; and another by Clinton as secretary of state for a Nov. 26, 2011, incident involving the death of Pakistani troops.)

"I was an opponent of the Iraq war from the beginning — a major difference between me and my opponent. ... So I have been clear for a long time that we should not have gone in."

It would be a major dividing line, if it were true. While Clinton did vote for the Iraq War as a New York senator, there is no public evidence of Trump saying he was against the invasion before it occurred.

In fact, shock jock Howard Stern asked Trump in 2002 if he supported the looming invasion, and Trump’s response was, "Yeah, I guess so." Trump did not bring that up Monday, but he did selectively cite two other times he discussed the war as support for his claim that he opposed it from the beginning. (Neither does.)

Here’s what he told Fox News’ Neil Cavuto in January 2003, two months before the invasion, speaking of Bush: "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. 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."

Trump also read aloud parts of his August 2004 interview with Esquire, in which he no doubt offered blunt criticism. Still, this was more than a year into the war, not "from the beginning."

Trump has previously said his opposition was "loud and clear" from the start. False.

"By that same token, President Obama and Hillary Clinton should never have attempted to build a democracy in Libya, to push for immediate regime change in Syria, or to support the overthrow of Mubarak in Egypt."

Trump is not wrong about Obama and Clinton supporting regime change in Libya. But Trump leaves out an important detail: He supported the intervention, too.

The U.S. military spent about $2 billion and several months backing the Libyan uprising against Gaddafi, who had held power for decades. The uprising, part of the Arab Spring, toppled Gaddafi in August 2011, and rebel forces killed him the following October.

"But we have go in to save these lives; these people are being slaughtered like animals," Trump said, according to a BuzzFeed transcript of a 2011 video blog. "It’s horrible what’s going on; it has to be stopped. We should do on a humanitarian basis, immediately go into Libya, knock this guy out very quickly, very surgically, very effectively, and save the lives."

On Syria, Clinton and Obama were not as unified as Trump makes it sound as the country fell to bloody civil war. Clinton favored supporting Syrian rebels against the Assad regime, but was overruled by Obama. To deal with ISIS, the United States has been leading a coalition of more than 60 countries in an active military role in Syria, including launching airstrikes against ISIS targets.

With instability in Egypt, Trump is again withholding mention of his own support in 2011 for Mubarak’s overthrow. He told Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren on Feb. 12, 2011, "So, it’s a good thing that they got him out, hopefully they’re gonna get the money back." (H/T BuzzFeed.)

"If we had controlled the oil, we could have prevented the rise of ISIS in Iraq — both by cutting off a major source of funding, and through the presence of U.S. forces necessary to safeguard the oil and other vital infrastructure."

Seizing Middle Eastern oil is a decade-old Trump idea, but it contradicts both his own positions as well as international law.

Trump is right that oil is a major source of funding for the terrorist group, but he’s not the only one aware of this. The United States has been targeting ISIS’ oil assets since the beginning of the air campaign in 2014.

Trump did not detail how the United States would have been able to take and control the oil fields of a sovereign country, but it would have required invading Iraq (which Trump falsely says he was against from the beginning), maintaining a U.S. presence there and convincing the Iraqi government to give up their claims on their own resources.

And there’s also the Geneva Conventions, which Trump has already proposed to violate by calling for the deaths of families of terrorists. International law prohibits destroying or seizing enemy property.

"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."

This is wildly inaccurate and misleading. Trump said NATO should be "readjusted to take care of terrorism" in late March 2016. In June, NATO announced the creation of a new intelligence chief post. Trump tweeted out a Wall Street Journal story on the news and said the alliance "made the change without giving me credit."

But NATO had been engaged in counterrorism efforts for over a decade before Trump offered his insights.

NATO launched its first anti-terror operation a month after the 9/11 attacks, created a Partnership Action Plan against Terrorism in 2002, and adopted comprehensive counterterrorism policy guidelines in 2012.

"While my opponent accepted millions of dollars in foundation donations from countries where being gay is an offense punishable by prison or death, my administration will speak out against the oppression of women, gays and people of different faith."

Trump goes too far when he suggests Clinton herself took the money, but the Clinton Foundation has accepted donations from countries with poor track records on women’s rights and human rights.

Saudi Arabia gave between $10 million and $25 million to the foundation, and the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Oman contributed between $1 million and $5 million each.

For his part, Trump opposes gay marriage and called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States. (He has tried to distance himself from that proposal by saying the ban would affect refugees from countries particularly riddled with terrorism, but he won’t say what those are until he takes office.)

A neighbor of the San Bernardino shooters "saw suspicious behavior but didn’t warn authorities, because said they didn’t want to be accused of racially profiling."

We rated a similar claim from Trump supporter and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie False.

We found second-hand reports that weren’t well-sourced and primarily in right-leaning news website about a neighbor of Syed Farook’s mother recounting the words of another neighbor. The neighbor, according to the first one, was considering reporting an unusual amount of package deliveries (whether they were to Farook’s house or Farook’s mother’s house is unclear) but "she didn’t want to profile."

This is hearsay from a neighbor of Farook’s mother, who didn’t live in San Bernardino. Even if we assume the story is true, the neighbor was only suspicious but she didn’t "know" an attack was being planned.

"By contrast, my opponent wants to increase the flow of Syrian refugees by 550 percent."

Trump is right: Clinton wants to increase Obama's limit of 10,000 Syrian refugee admissions to 65,000.  He leaves out that she has made it clear that these refugees would first go through an extensive screening process.

Trump used her plan to bolster his characterization of Clinton as "America’s Angela Merkel."

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Donald Trump's speech about fighting 'radical Islamic terrorism,' fact-checked