Donald Trump, who previously said he wouldn’t disclose his strategy for defeating ISIS because he did not “want the enemy to know what I’m doing,” finally broke down and let the American public in on his plans in an uncharacteristically low-energy speech delivered in Ohio Monday afternoon.
He didn’t get too into specific details in his speech. Instead, Trump repeated the untruths that he opposed both the Iraq War and intervention in Libya from the beginning, reversed his position on U.S. involvement with NATO and called for — rather than his previously proposed “complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the country — new screening procedures for immigrants seeking entry to the United States.
“I call it extreme, extreme vetting,” Trump said.
Shortly before he took the stage in Youngstown, Hillary Clinton – doing her own stump stop in Scranton, Pennsylvania – mocked Trump’s prior reluctance to share his plans to take out ISIS. (Vice President Joe Biden, campaigning with Clinton, called Trump “totally unqualified” to take on the role of commander in chief.) “He wants to keep his plan quote, secret and then it turns out the secret is he has no plan.”
In Ohio, Trump blamed Clinton for the Middle East’s descent into chaos and said she “lacks the mental and physical stamina to take on ISIS” and added that she “lacks the judgment … stability and temperament and moral character to lead our nation.” In a soft and raspy voice, Trump declared Clinton and Obama responsible for the rise of ISIS, a decidedly more nuanced version of his previous claims that they were “co-founders” of the terrorist organization.
He attempted to also draw a distinction between himself and Clinton on Iraq, saying she voted for the Iraq War while he, “a private citizen, whose personal opinions on such matters was not sought … nonetheless publicly expressed my private doubts about the invasion.” This, as many outlets have pointed out on previous occasions, is not accurate; he did in fact say he supported invading Iraq when asked about it prior to the invasion on the Howard Stern Show.
While arguing that the Iraq War was a mistake, Trump briefly digressed to say U.S. should have “kept the oil” belonging to Iraq after coalition troops invaded the country. “I was saying this constantly and to whoever would listen: keep the oil, keep the oil, keep the oil!” Then, incongruously, he added: “If I become president, the era of nation-building will be ended.”
Trump called for an international conference to “halt the spread of radical Islam,” adding that he would “work closely” with NATO to achieve that goal. That’s a departure from Trump’s assertion, in March, that as president he might withdraw from NATO altogether. “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,” Trump said Monday.
(While it is true that NATO is in the process of creating a new intelligence position in charge of sharing information about terrorism and other threats, plans for the overhaul have actually been underway since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, a military intervention, it bears mentioning, Trump appeared to have no knowledge of in a recent TV interview.)
Speaking of Ukraine — it was conspicuously absent from Trump’s speech Monday, as was anything more than a glancing mention of Russia, a country the last Republican nominee for president declared, “Our number one geopolitical foe.” Trump said Monday he believes “we could find common ground with Russia in the fight against ISIS. They too have much at stake in the outcome in Syria, and have had their own battles with Islamic terrorism.”
While not surprising — the Republican nominee has spoken warmly of Russian President Vladimir Putin on several occasions in the past, and has even invited Russia to hack and release emails Clinton wrote while she was Secretary of State — it’s significant considering the fact that the New York Times reported the existence this weekend of a secret ledger which appears to indicate Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was on the receiving end of some $12.7 million in off-the-books payment by Kremlin ally Viktor Yanukovych, the ousted president of Ukraine.
It remains unclear whether or not Manafort is still being paid for that job. As the Times wrote this weekend: “Ukrainian company records give no indication that Mr. Manafort has formally dissolved the local branch of his company, Davis Manafort International.”
In his speech Monday, Trump stated his intention to apply a new test to immigrants hoping to come to America. “We should only admit into this country those who share our values and respect our people,” he said, promising to stop processing visas from “regions where adequate screening cannot take place.” The proposal appears to be a toned-down version of his previously proposed Muslim ban.
He also reiterated a previous promise he made to keep Guantanamo Bay detention center open (Obama sent plans to close the facility to Congress in February), and to continue the use of drone strikes.
Oh yeah, and Trump said he’d get rid of all those other terrorist organizations, too. In addition to destroying ISIS, Trump promised, “We will decimate Al Qaeda, and we will seek to starve funding for Iran-backed Hamas and Hezbollah.” That news will come as a disappointment to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who recently praised Trump for boldly and erroneously declaring President Obama the founder of ISIS. “This American candidate, who speaks in the name of the American Republican Party, has facts,” Nasrallah said.