Donald Trump on War & Peace
2016 Republican nominee for President; 2000 Reform Primary Challenger for President
I have also accelerated our negotiations to reach a political settlement in Afghanistan. Our troops have fought with unmatched valor--and thanks to their bravery, we are now able to pursue a political solution to this long and bloody conflict.
In Afghanistan, my Administration is holding constructive talks with a number of Afghan groups, including the Taliban. As we make progress in these negotiations, we will be able to reduce our troop presence and focus on counter-terrorism. We do not know whether we will achieve an agreement--but we do know that after two decades of war, the hour has come to at least try for peace.
He said the US has adhered to the pact for more than 30 years, "but we will not remain constrained by its terms while Russia misrepresents its actions. We cannot be the only country in the world unilaterally bound by this treaty, or any other."
NATO said that if Moscow failed to destroy all new missile systems that Washington insists violate the treaty, "Russia will bear sole responsibility for the end of the treaty."
An American withdrawal had been expected for months, after years of unresolved dispute over Russian compliance with the pact. It was the first arms control measure to ban an entire class of weapons: ground-launched cruise missiles with a range between 500 kilometers and 5,500 kilometers. Russia denies that it has been in violation.
Trump continued with his slew of tweets defending the Syria announcement. "We were originally going to be there for three months, and that was seven years ago--we never left. When I became President, ISIS was going wild. Now ISIS is largely defeated and other local countries, including Turkey, should be able to easily take care of whatever remains. We're coming home!" Trump wrote.
Trump's declaration of triumph has alarmed key NATO allies, who said such a change of course on Syria risks damaging the fight against Islamic State.
The suggestion stunned those present at the meeting, who took turns explaining to Trump how military action could backfire and risk losing hard-won support among Latin American governments.
But Trump pushed back. Although he gave no indication he was about to order up military plans, he pointed to what he considered past cases of successful gunboat diplomacy in the region, like the invasions of Panama and Grenada in the 1980s.
The idea, despite his aides' best attempts to shoot it down, would nonetheless persist in the president's head. Shortly afterward, he raised the issue with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. Two high-ranking Colombian officials confirmed the report.
A National Security Council spokesman reiterated that the US will consider all options at its disposal to help restore Venezuela's democracy and bring stability. Under Trump's leadership, the US, EU, and Canada have levied sanctions on dozens of top Venezuelan officials, including Venezuelan leader Maduro, over allegations of corruption and human rights abuses.
Maduro has long claimed that the U.S. has military designs on Venezuela and its vast oil reserves. Even some of the staunchest U.S. allies were begrudgingly forced to side with Maduro in condemning Trump's saber rattling.
At the time, it seemed unlikely he would ever have to make good on the promise. However, Trump's surprise victory gave him the chance to back up his claim. Many were openly skeptical he could do it.
But one year into the Trump administration, the facts on the ground--in Syria and Iraq--have changed dramatically. The 'Caliphate' announced with such fanfare in the summer of 2014 was in tatters. "We have made, alongside our coalition partners, more progress against these evil terrorists in the past several months than in the past several years," Trump proclaimed last fall. So is ISIS now defeated?
President Trump deserves credit for hastening the downfall of their Caliphate. However, ISIS 2018 will launch an insurgency in its former territory. ISIS has access to electronic spaces where it can continue recruitment efforts.
Trump fired back via Facebook: "If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS, which as everyone knows is ISIS's ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been President because this would not have happened. ISIS would have been eradicated unlike what is happening now with our all talk, no action politicians."
Trump added, huffily, "No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man's religion or faith."
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said during his annual New Year's address that preparations for launching an intercontinental ballistic missile have "reached the final stage." The development came after the country claims it tested its first hydrogen bomb last year.
North Korea, which has been at odds with the United States since the start of the Korean War in 1950, first tested a nuclear weapon in 2006. A nuclear test was conducted last year on Jan. 6.
To defeat ISIS, we must use military warfare, but also cyber warfare, financial warfare and ideological warfare. It's a whole different ballgame today than it was 50 years ago.
We must also establish an international goal with our allies of defeating radical Islamic terrorism--words that our president won't use and that Hillary Clinton won't use. Just like we won the Cold War by identifying our enemy and building a consensus to guide a long-term strategy, so too must we do the same with Islamic terrorism.
By the way, President Obama has allowed Syrian refugees to pour into our country at unbelievable rates, but it's almost impossible to get a Christian in from Syria. They take others, but they don't take Christians--very, very, very rare.
TRUMP: She made a terrible mistake on Libya. And not only did she make the mistake, but then they complicated the mistake by having no management once they bombed the you-know-what out of Gadhafi.
USA TODAY Fact-Check: This isn't the first time Trump has ignored his past support for the U.S. intervention in Libya. During the 10th GOP debate, Trump said he had "never discussed that subject" when Sen. Ted Cruz called him out on supporting U.S. action in the country. But Trump said in a February 2011 YouTube video that the U.S. should go into Libya "on a humanitarian basis" and "knock [Gadhafi] out very quickly, very surgically, very effectively and save the lives."
I am totally prepared. But remember this. I found this subject and these subjects of interest all of my life. This hasn't been over the last 14 months. I've found these substantiates of tremendous interest. That's why they were asking me about Iraq 14 years ago. They were asking me these questions. They don't ask businesspeople those questions.
Right here is a list that was just printed today of 88 admirals and generals that I meet with and I talk to. I'm doing a lot of different things. I am studying. You see General Flynn and you see some of the folks that we have, and they're scattered throughout the audience. So we have admirals, we have generals, we have colonels. We have a lot of people that I respect.
Trump had previously said that he was more than capable of pulling off the kind of nuclear-weapons-reduction deal that would become one of Reagan's proudest achievements. Trump told a Washington Post reporter in 1984 that he dreamed of employing his negotiating skills on nuclear disarmament talks with the Soviets. "Some people have an ability to negotiate. It's an art you're basically born with. You either have it or you don't." It didn't matter that Trump was no expert on missiles. "It would take an hour and a half to learn everything there is to learn about missiles. I think I know most of it anyway. You're talking about just getting updated on a situation."
TRUMP: I was in favor of Libya? I never discussed that subject. We would be so much better off if Gadhafi were in charge right now. If these politicians went to the beach and didn't do a thing, and we had Saddam Hussein and if we had Gadhafi in charge, instead of having terrorism all over the place, at least they killed terrorists, all right? And I'm not saying they were good--because they were bad, they were really bad--but we don't know what we're getting. You look at Libya right now, ISIS, as we speak, is taking over their oil. As we speak, it's a total mess. We would have been better off if the politicians took a day off instead of going into war.
"We made a mistake going into Iraq. I've never said we made a mistake going into Afghanistan," Trump told CNN. Trump said on October 6 that he believed entering Afghanistan was a mistake and worried about U.S. forces getting stuck there.
"At some point, are they going to be there for the next 200 years? It's going to be a long time," Trump said, when asked about Afghanistan. "We made a terrible mistake getting involved there in the first place. We had real brilliant thinkers that didn't know what the hell they were doing. And it's a mess. And at this point, you probably have to stay because that thing will collapse about two seconds after they leave."
Trump first signaled his backtrack when he said Afghanistan is "where we should have gone," meaning the US should have focused its attention on Afghanistan over Iraq.
TRUMP: I'm the most militaristic person on your show. I want to have a much stronger military. I want it to be so strong that nobody is going to mess with us. I want to take care of our vets, who are treated terribly, like third-class citizens.
Q: Well, let's take an example of some case where you may or may not use military force. It turns out Assad apparently used chemical weapons on his own people.
TRUMP: Well, you know, the time to have done it would have been when he drew the line in the sand.
Q: So, you would have done it in that case?
TRUMP: I might have gone in. Now it's such a mess over there, with everybody involved, and the airspace is very limited. It's not that big of an area. The airspace is very limited. So are we going to start World War III over Syria?
When I look at some of the things that happened in government, I can't believe it. Countries that we're protecting are screwing us on oil prices. It's unthinkable. I wouldn't stand for it.
At the same time, we must not get involved in a long-festering conflict for humanitarian reasons. If that’s our standard, we should have troops stationed all over Africa, and much of Asia as well.
The missile strike, in response to a chemical weapons attack, was intended to be a limited, one-time operation, and the president seemed determined to quickly move on. Critics, including Senator Marco Rubio, argued that Syria's President Assad felt free to launch a chemical attack precisely because the Trump administration had given him a green light.
Trump's action in Syria was welcomed by many traditional American allies who had fretted over Obama's reluctance to take a greater leadership role in the Middle East. After the missile strike, Israeli news outlets were filled with headlines like "The Americans Are Back," and European leaders expressed relief both that he had taken action and that he had not gone too far.
Nearly four years later, now president himself and grappling with how to respond to another chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government, Trump ignored his own warnings and did what Obama threatened but never carried out: order a missile strike targeting assets of President Assad.
To understand the magnitude of Trump's reversal, look at his Twitter account. Trump posted dozens of tweets about the conflict in the years before he declared his candidacy for the White House, and frequently did so during the campaign as well. He carved out a staunchly noninterventionist stance on the conflict and criticised Obama's approach as plodding. But he also made one thing clear: If he was in charge, any action would be swift and secretive to catch Assad off guard.
TRUMP: Assad turned out to be a lot tougher than she thought. Everyone thought he was gone two years ago. He aligned with Russia. He now also aligned with Iran, who we made very powerful. We don't know who the rebels are. But if they overthrow Assad, as bad as Assad is, and he's a bad guy, but you may very well end up with worse than Assad.
CLINTON: I think a no-fly zone could save lives and could hasten the end of the conflict. I'm aware of the concerns that you have expressed. This would not be done on the first day. This would take a lot of negotiation. And it would also take making it clear to the Russians and the Syrians that our purpose here was to provide safe zones on the ground.
TRUMP: We are so outplayed on missiles, on cease-fires. But our country is so outplayed by Putin and Assad, and by the way--and by Iran. Nobody can believe how stupid our leadership is.
Trump indeed recently said, "With Iran, when they circle our beautiful destroyers with their little boats, and they make gestures at our people that they shouldn't be allowed to make, they will be shot out of the water." Wonkette.com reports that on Sept. 4, seven Iranian Revolutionary Guard patrol boats approached the USS Firebolt in the Persian Gulf; one Iranian boat came within 100 yards of the USS Firebolt. Wonkette.com concludes that Trump's tough talk was cheered by the crowd at the Values Voter Summit, which chanted "USA! USA!" and "Shoot them!"
TRUMP: No. But when I do come up with a plan, I may love what the generals come back with.
Q: Do you have a secret plan to defeat ISIS?
TRUMP: I have a plan. But, look, if I win, I don't want to broadcast to the enemy exactly what my plan is. If I like, maybe, a combination of my plan and the generals' plan, I'm not going to call you up and say, "We have a great plan." This is what Obama does: "We're going to leave Iraq on a certain day."
CLINTON: We have to defeat ISIS. And we've got to do it with air power. We've got to do it with much more support for the Arabs and the Kurds who will fight on the ground. We're going to work to make sure that they have support--surveillance, intelligence, reconnaissance help. They are not going to get ground troops. We are not putting ground troops into Iraq ever again.
TRUMP: I was totally against the war in Iraq. You can look at Esquire magazine from '04. You can look at before that. I was against the war in Iraq because I said it's going to totally destabilize the Middle East, which it has.
USA TODAY Fact-Check: Trump expressed mild support for invading Iraq when asked about it on the Howard Stern radio show on Sept. 11, 2002--about six months before the war started. Stern asked Trump if he supported a war with Iraq, and Trump responded, "Yeah, I guess so." Trump cited an Esquire article that appeared in August 2004 to show his opposition to the war. But that article appeared 17 months after the war started. The facts don't support either candidate's strong assertions.
Part of the problem that we've had is we go in, we defeat somebody, and then we don't know what we're doing after that. We lose it, like as an example, you look at Iraq, what happened, how badly that was handled. When President Obama took over, it was a disaster. He took everybody out and ISIS was formed. If you look at the aftermath of Iraq, Iran is going to be taking over Iraq.
If we would have taken the oil, you wouldn't have ISIS, because ISIS formed with the power and wealth of that oil. They have among the largest oil reserves in the world. We go in, we spend $3 trillion, we lose thousands and thousands of lives, and then, we get nothing. It used to be to the victor belong the spoils. I always said: Take the oil.
We have had the worst and you could even say the dumbest foreign policy. Our results are so bad. We would have been better off had we never, ever spent $2 in that part of the world.
I have great respect for the [military leadership] that gave us the [national security] briefings. They were experts on Iraq and Iran and Russia. There was one thing that shocked me. What I did learn is that our leadership, Barack Obama, did not follow what our experts said to do.
CRUZ: We're hopeful that the violence will cease, but there's reason to be highly skeptical. Russia has enhanced its position because of Obama's weakness in the Middle East, weakness in Syria.
TRUMP: I don't because it not working and the countries aren't agreeing to it and the rebels aren't agreeing and Syria is not agreeing. It's a meaningless ceasefire. I would love it, but all parties have to be part of it.
Trump has repeatedly claimed that he was against the Iraq War before it began, despite no evidence of him publicly stating this position. Trump's comments on Stern's show are more in line with what he wrote in his 2000 book, The America We Deserve, where he advocated for a "principled and tough" policy toward "outlaw" states like Iraq.
Asked at the CNN town hall about the Stern interview, Trump said, "I could have said that. I wasn't a politician. It was probably the first time anyone has asked me that question. By the time the war started, I was against it, and shortly thereafter, I was really against."
Q [to Trump]: You said that you could get along very well with Vladimir Putin. You did say let Russia take care of ISIS.
TRUMP: Jeb is so wrong. You fight ISIS first. You have to knock 'em out. You decide what to do after, you can't fight two wars at one time. If you listen to him, that's why we've been in the Middle East for 15 years, and we haven't won anything. We've spent $5 trillion dollars in the Middle East with thinking like that. We've spent $5 trillion dollars; we have to rebuild our country. We have to rebuild our infrastructure. you listen to that you're going to be there for another 15 years. You'll end up with world war three.
TRUMP: Well, four years ago, I said, bomb the oil and take the oil. And if we did that, they wouldn't have the wealth they have right now. Now, we're doing little pinpricks. If somebody's driving a truck, they give notice to the person driving the truck, "we're going to bomb." If they don't get out of the truck, the truck sails away with the oil. We don't want to bomb the oil, because we don't want to pollute the atmosphere. Can you imagine General Douglas MacArthur or General Patton saying we can't bomb because we're gonna hurt the atmosphere? You have to knock the hell out of the oil. And you have also back channels of banking. You have people that you think are our great allies in the Middle East, that are paying tremendous amounts of money to ISIS. So we have to stop those circuits. So between the oil and the banking, you will dry them up. But it should have been done four years ago, not now.
TRUMP: Assad is a bad guy, but we have no idea who the so-called rebels--nobody even knows who they are.
Carly FIORINA: Governor Bush is correct. We must have a no fly zone in Syria.
TRUMP: So, I don't like Assad. Who's going to like Assad? But, we have no idea who these people, and what they're going to be, and what they're going to represent. They may be far worse than Assad. Look at Libya. Look at Iraq. Look at the mess we have after spending $2 trillion dollars, thousands of lives, wounded warriors all over the place--we have nothing. And, I said, keep the oil. And we should have kept the oil, believe me. We should have kept the oil. And, you know what? We should have given big chunks of the oil to the people that lost their arms, their legs, and their families, and their sons, and daughters, because right now, you know who has a lot of that oil? Iran, and ISIS.
TRUMP: But we're going to have to do something very strong over there. We're going to have to take away the energy, the fuel, the money from ISIS, because, in the case of ISIS-- I've been saying this for years. We have to stop the source of money. And the source of money is oil.
Q: So you'd step up the campaign against ISIS even though you believe that Vladimir Putin is getting stuck in a quagmire by going in?
TRUMP: Well, I'm not looking to quagmire, I'm looking to take the oil. The Middle East is one big, fat quagmire. If you look at the Soviet Union, it used to be the Soviet Union. They essentially went bust and it became Russia, a much smaller version, because of Afghanistan. They spent all their money. Now they're going into Syria. I'm all for Russia going in and knocking and dropping bombs on ISIS. As far as I'm concerned, we don't have to have exclusivity on that.
Who did they turn to for help? Who else? Uncle Sucker. That's us. We spent billions of dollars sending our army to win back Kuwait. Our people were killed and wounded, but the Iraqis went back to their country.
About two months after the war, several Kuwaitis came up to my office. They told me, "We want to invest outside the United States." We had just handed them back their country! They were watching TV in the best hotel rooms in Paris while our kids were fighting for them. And they didn't want to invest in this country?
How stupid are we? Why didn't the United States make a deal with them that outlined how they would pay for us to get their country back for them? They would have paid anything if just asked.
TRUMP: I don't think so. I think what I want to do is I want to sit back and I want to see what happens. You know, Russia got bogged down, when it was the Soviet Union, in Afghanistan. They thought that would be quick and easy and they'll go in and they'll clean it up...
Q: You think Putin's falling into a trap?
TRUMP: I think it's not going to be great for them, there are so many traps. There are so many problems. When I heard they were going in to fight ISIS, I said, "Great."
Q: But they're not bombing ISIS.
TRUMP: Well, not yet. But they don't want ISIS going into Russia, either. So they're not bombing them yet.
Sen. Rand PAUL: I've made my career as being an opponent of the Iraq War. We have to learn sometimes the interventions backfire. The Iraq War backfired and did not help us. We're still paying the repercussions of a bad decision.
Dr. Ben CARSON: When the issue occurred in 2003, I suggested to President Bush that he not go to war. So I just want that on the record.
TRUMP: I would be so different from what you have right now. Like, the polar opposite. We have a president who doesn't have a clue. I would say he's incompetent, but I don't want to do that because that's not nice. But if you look at the deals we make, whether it's the nuclear deal with 24 hour periods--and by the way, before you get to the 24 hours, you have to go through a system. You look at Sgt. Bergdahl, we get Bergdahl, a traitor, and they get 5 of the big, great killer leaders that they want. We have people in Washington that don't know what they're doing. Now, with Iran, we're making a deal, you would say, we want out our prisoners. We want all these things, and we don't get anything. We're giving them $150 billion dollars plus. I'll tell you what, if Iran was a stock, you folks should go out and buy it right now because you'll quadruple--this, what's happening in Iran, is a disgrace, and it's going to lead to destruction in large portions of the world
A: The only way you're going to beat them is that. You know why they're rich? Because they have the oil.
Q: But I don't think the government of Iraq would want us to bomb their oil fields.
A: There is no government in Iraq. The so-called government in Iraq went to Iran to meet with Iran. Iran is going to take over Iraq. That's as simple as that. I don't care about the government of Iraq. They're totally corrupt. Who cares?
In early 2015, Trump told CPAC that he felt the U.S. may need "boots on the ground" to fight the Islamic State. Soon after, he clarified to Fox News that he would send limited numbers of troops if all of his military advisers recommended it.
We spent $2 trillion in Iraq, $2 trillion. We lost thousands of lives, thousands in Iraq. We have wounded soldiers all over the place, thousands and thousands of wounded soldiers. And we have nothing. We can't even go there. We have nothing. And every time we give Iraq equipment, the first time a bullet goes off in the air, they leave it.
Last week, I read 2,300 Humvees--these are big vehicles--were left behind for the enemy. 2,300 sophisticated vehicles, they ran, and the enemy took them.
When asked about ISIS, Trump said he "would hit them so hard and so fast that they wouldn't know what happened." He later claimed his approach would be one that historical military figures General Douglas McArthur and General George Patton would approve of.
How much is it worth to them to be rid of the bloodthirsty dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and to have gained a democracy? In reality, that's a priceless gift. When I say they should pay us back, I'm not even talking about cash out of their pockets. All I'm asking is that they give us, temporarily, a few flows of oil--enough to help pay us back and help take care of the tens of thousands of families and children whose brave loved ones died or were injured while securing Iraqi freedom.
But does Iraq do that? No. In fact, they've made it clear they have no intention of ever doing so. Ever. The ingratitude of Iraq's leadership is breathtaking.
Pres. Bush authorized a covert program to "undermine the electrical and computer systems" at Natanz, Iran's uranium enrichment facility. What came out of that initiative was the Stuxnet cyber worm. It was unleashed against Iran's nuclear centrifuges and made them spin so fast they destroyed themselves. The operation was very successful and destroyed roughly 1/5 of Iran's centrifuges. No one knows for sure how many months or years we put back on Iran's nuclear clock. Some analysts say 6 months, others 1 or 2 years, But that's the point: the clock is still ticking.
Why do we have this special relationship? It is not out of charity, guilt, or what some call “ethnic lobbies.” We have been there for Israel because Israel is there for us. Israel is a stable democracy in a region filled with dictatorship.
As Israel has matured, our close ties also bring America a fair trading partner and a fellow pioneer on the high-tech frontier of medicine and communications that will enrich Americans’ lives in the coming century. Our two countries must continue to stand strong together as pillars of freedom and progress.
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