Donald Trump says President Barack Obama is the “founder” of the Islamic State group. He’s not, of course.
According to the GOP presidential nominee, Obama’s decision to pull U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011 destabilized the Middle East and created a situation in which Islamic State militants could thrive. That’s debatable, at least.
But to state that “Barack Hussein Obama” — as Trump put it to highlight the president’s middle name given to him by his Kenyan-born father — actively worked to create the extremist group is simply not accurate.
In fact, the United States is leading a coalition of some three dozen Western and Arab countries on a mission to destroy IS. Republicans argue his response has been tepid and incremental.
Trump made his allegation at a rally in Florida and repeated it Thursday. A look at his statements:
TRUMP: “He is the founder of ISIS,” he said Wednesday night, using one acronym for Islamic State. On Thursday, he told CNBC: “He was the founder of ISIS, absolutely. The way he removed our troops. ... He shouldn’t have got out the way he got out. It was a disaster what he did. “
In a tweet Friday, Trump referred to the Obama-Islamic State remarks as “sarcasm.” But he didn’t say that Thursday when asked about his claim by Hugh Hewitt, a conservative radio host. Hewitt asked if Trump meant that Obama’s decision to remove U.S. troops from Iraq left a vacuum for IS to grow, Trump replied:
“No, I meant that he’s the founder of ISIS, I do.”
THE FACTS: The founder of the group was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of al-Qaida in Iraq who was killed in a U.S. airstrike in 2006.
As for the manner of the U.S. withdrawal, Trump actually wanted U.S. troops out years earlier than Obama brought them out.
He told CNN in March 2007 that the U.S. should declare victory and get out 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: “In many respects, you know, they (IS militants) honor President Obama.”
THE FACTS: To the contrary, IS propaganda has shown fighters shooting targets bearing Obama’s image. IS has beheaded captives while slurring Obama’s name and suggested prices for enslaving his wife.
Before killing American-Israeli journalist Steven Sotloff in 2014, one IS militant said: “I’m back, Obama, and I’m back because of your arrogant foreign policy toward the Islamic State ... despite our serious warnings. So just as your missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people.”
Trump is echoing conspiracy theorists across the Middle East, including Iran’s supreme leader and those he backs, such as Syrian officials and Hezbollah, a Shiite militant group. They have all over time accused the U.S. of creating or supporting the extremist group responsible for mass killings, beheadings and other atrocities in Iraq and Syria, as well as inspiring militant attacks across the world.
ISLAMIC STATE HISTORY IN BRIEF:
The Islamic State group began as the al-Qaida affiliate in Iraq. As AQI, the group carried out massive attacks against Iraq’s Shiite Muslim majority, fueling tensions with al-Qaida’s central leadership.
Before the U.S. left Iraq, military officials thought they had pretty much tamped down the Sunni militant extremists. IS, however, continued to gain strength as the U.S.-backed Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who led the country, favoring his fellow Shiites over Sunni Iraqis.
The civil war in neighboring Syria was another destabilizing factor that also gave IS room to grow and take over large areas of both countries to set up a self-declared caliphate. The rise of the group also can be attributed to its savvy in using social media to recruit fighters and followers and its ability to reap millions, including through smuggling oil.
Since the U.S.-led coalition began its anti-Islamic State campaign in 2014, the coalition has cut the numbers of IS core fighters by half, to about 15,000, and cost the group 45 percent of its territory, which once comprised one-third of Iraq and Syria. The U.S. has 3,830 military service personnel in Iraq, advising and training Iraqi ground forces, and 50 or so special operations forces in Syria.
But in 2011, before the Islamic State was lethal and as Obama was determined to keep his campaign promise to end the war started by President George W. Bush, Washington wanted to leave several thousand American troops in the country to train Iraqi security forces. Iraqi leaders, however, refused to give U.S. troops immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts, and the U.S. refused to stay without it. Al-Maliki told U.S. military officials that he did not have the votes in parliament to provide immunity to the American trainers.
Trump’s commentary also seemed to echo an opinion expressed by a leader he says he respects, Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Late last year, Putin said that al-Qaida and IS were “actually a U.S. invention.” Putin said the rebels that the United States has armed have sometimes switched to join extremist groups in Syria like the Islamic State.