Donald Trump said Monday that U.S. interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere have been an “absolute failure” and promised to reset foreign policy away from nation-building and regime change if elected president.
The GOP presidential nominee, speaking in Ohio, singled out the Iraq war and its toll on U.S. troops and Iraqi children, and blamed the invasion and wider policies of President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential challenger Hillary Clinton, who served as secretary of state, for the rise and success of the Islamic State group.
Trump said his new strategy will instead focus on radical Islamic terrorism – what he called a “hateful ideology” — similar to the effort to defeat communism during the Cold War and will include freezing immigration from some countries while “extreme” new immigrant vetting procedures can be created.
The foreign policy speech came as Trump was confronted with falling poll numbers in key battleground states and continuing controversies over a string of recent statements, including his claim that Obama and Clinton founded the Islamic State group and criticism of a Gold Star family who backed the Democrats.
“It is now time for a new approach. Our current strategy of nation-building and regime change is a proven absolute failure,” Trump said. “We have created the vacuums that allow terrorism to grow and thrive.”
Obama, who was elected on a pledge to end the Iraq war, followed through with a U.S. withdrawal in 2011 that was originally negotiated by the previous administration of George W. Bush. With troops gone, the Islamic State group swept through the country in 2014 seizing the second largest city of Mosul and vast territory from Iraqi forces.
A U.S.-led coalition began airstrikes soon after the victories by the extremist group and the war, which costs U.S. taxpayers about $11.6 million each day, is ongoing.
Clinton served as secretary of state during the withdrawal in Iraq and, as Trump pointed out, was a decisive backer of intervention in Libya that led to the toppling of Moammar Gadhafi and opened the country to Islamic State fighters.
In November, Clinton outlined her own plan for combating the Islamic State group and terrorism by winning the war in Iraq and Syria, disrupting international networks and strengthening homeland security.
“Incident after incident proves again and again Hillary Clinton lacks the judgement … the stability and temperament and the moral character to lead our nation,” Trump said. “She also the lacks the mental and physical stamina to take on [the Islamic State group] and all of the many adversaries we face.”
Trump insisted Monday that he opposed the Iraq invasion in 2003 – a claim the fact-checking website PolitiFact rated as “false” — and said the United States blew the opportunity to seize the country’s vast oil reserves as a spoil of war during the subsequent occupation.
“I would say this constantly and consistently to anyone who would listen,” he said. “I said keep the oil, keep the oil, keep the oil. Don’t let somebody else get it.”
Trump said U.S. troops should have been used to seize and guard it, and that could have helped stop the later success of the Islamic State group, which has depended on selling the oil to fund its war effort since its invasion in 2014. The United States could have used the revenue to compensate wounded veterans and their families, he said.
“What was the purpose of this whole thing? Hundreds and hundreds of young people killed, and what about the people coming back with no arms and no legs,” Trump said. “Not to mention in all fairness the other side, the tremendous damage done. All those Iraqi kids who have been blown to pieces.”
“All of this death and destruction for nothing,” he said.
However, Trump said Obama and Clinton made a catastrophic and reckless mistake by pulling the military out of Iraq on a public timetable and opening territory for terrorists.
More than 4,400 troops were killed in Iraq and the United States spent nearly $61 billion to rebuild the country during the past war, according to the Iraq special inspector general. More than $100 billion has also been spent rebuilding Afghanistan since 2002, with most of the money going to police and the military.
Trump said he would bring that work to a “swift and decisive” end.
His approach will first focus on building global support to halt the spread of Islamic extremism as expressed by the Islamic State group, al-Qaida and other groups. That will include joint military operations, increased intelligence sharing and cyberwarfare.
“All actions should be oriented around this goal and any country which shares this goal will be our ally,” Trump said. “We can’t always choose our friends but we can never fail to recognize our enemies.”
The United States can find common ground with Russia in the effort, Trump said, citing the country’s intervention in Syria. However, Russia under Vladimir Putin is considered a top foe among many people in the Republican Party as well as international security experts, and its operations in Syria are widely seen as an effort to prop up the Bashar Assad regime, which is directly at odds with U.S. policy that views him as an oppressive tyrant.
Trump’s Russia statement is also complicated by new questions over ties between his campaign manager Paul Manafort and pro-Russian factions in Ukraine.
“They have much at stake in the outcome in Syria and have had their own battles with Islamic terrorism just as bad as ours,” Trump said about the Russians. “They have a big, big problem in Russia with [the Islamic State group].”
Meanwhile, Trump proposed immediate reforms on immigration to the United States and increased pressure on the Muslim population to root out extremists.
Building on past proposals, he said immigration from countries with histories of exporting terrorism would be frozen until his administration creates “extreme vetting” procedures that check whether incoming refugees and citizens support an inclusive, pluralistic American society. Immigrants who support Islamic Sharia law would be barred admission.
Meanwhile, a national commission would be created to pressure progressive American Muslims to root out extremists in their communities and teach the public about the signs of extremism, Trump said.
“Our country has enough problems, we don’t need more, and these are problems like we never had before,” he said.
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