In 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump vowed to defeat ISIS, the Islamic militant group that seized control of territory in Syria and Iraq starting in 2014.
During a campaign rally, Trump said, if elected, his generals would have "30 days to submit to the Oval Office a plan for soundly and quickly defeating ISIS."
Trump did issue a presidential memorandum in January 2017 requesting such a plan, and his first defense secretary, James Mattis, met with the president about a month later to discuss options.
Fast forward to October 2019: Trump says his administration is responsible for defeating "100%" of the ISIS caliphate. Weeks later, when he announced the death of Islamic State leader Abu al-Baghdadi, he walked that back and said the figure is closer to 70%.
Now, near the end of Trump's term, ISIS appears to have largely fizzled out. But has it really been "soundly" defeated? And is it because of Trump's plan?
Experts told us that ISIS is significantly weaker, but not gone. They also said that Trump largely built on President Obama's strategy to fight the group — and they acknowledged that it took Obama a long time to devise and implement a strategy.
"Trump more fully resourced the strategy and deserves a fair share of the credit for its ultimate success — but he did not invent it," said Michael O'Hanlon, a foreign-policy specialist at the Brookings Institution. "As for ISIS, it no longer has significant territorial holdings, and its top leader has been killed. It is weaker than when Trump came to office, organizationally and ideologically and territorially. Trump again deserves some credit. But again, that was mostly due to the implementation of a strategy that he inherited."
Will Todman, an associate fellow in the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that although ISIS is significantly weaker than it once was, it hasn't been defeated and probably never will be.
He told us that the group continues to operate as an insurgency in Iraq and Syria, where it conducted at least 600 attacks from January to May 2020, showing that it remains a serious threat.
"Many of the economic, political and social factors that motivated the rise of the terrorist group remain or have even worsened. ISIS has also expanded its influence in other areas, including in Africa and Central Asia, and so the focus is shifting," Todman wrote in an email. "However, ISIS controls no territory in Iraq or Syria, and its capabilities are nothing in comparison to what they were at the height of their 'caliphate' or when President Trump took office."
Trump, he wrote, continued Obama's strategy and accelerated it "in part by loosening the rules of engagement. That led to greater levels of destruction, particularly in urban spaces, and greater numbers of civilian deaths were recorded as a result."
ISIS is much weaker now than when Trump came into office, and experts tell us he deserves some credit for applying more resources to the fight. But the strategy he used was largely inherited from the Obama administration, and ISIS is still operating in some areas. We rate this promise a Compromise.