Donald Trump called Monday for a Cold War-style mobilization against “radical Islamic terror,” repeating and repackaging calls for strict immigration controls – including a new ideological litmus test for Muslim visitors and migrants – and blaming the current level of worldwide terrorist attacks on President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
In a grab bag of promises to battle the Islamic State organization together with Russia and anyone else who wants to join the fight, the Republican nominee underlined the need to improve intelligence and shut down militant propaganda, recruiting and financing.
But he provided few specifics on how he would expand such efforts beyond those already underway.
“My administration will aggressively pursue joint and coalition military operations to crush and destroy ISIS,” Trump said in a speech in Youngstown, Ohio, using an acronym for the Islamic State. “International cooperation to cut off their funding, expanded intelligence sharing and cyberwarfare to disrupt and disable their propaganda and recruiting … It’s got to be stopped.”
The speech was one in a series of prepared remarks the Republican presidential nominee has scheduled, amid criticism of controversial off-the-cuff policy pronouncements that he has later dismissed as jokes or sarcasm. Reading directly from a TelePrompter, a subdued Trump rarely departed from his script.
The principal new initiative was what Trump called “extreme vetting” for “any hostile attitude towards our country or its principles, or who believed sharia law should supplant American law. … Those who did not believe in our Constitution or who support bigotry and hatred will not be admitted for immigration into our country.”
“In the Cold War,” he said, “we had an ideological screening test. The time is overdue to develop a new screening test for the threats we face today. … I call it extreme, extreme vetting.”
Current U.S. naturalization law requires adherence to “the principles of the Constitution of the United States” and rejects advocates of a variety of ideological positions, and those with proclivities, in the judgment of immigration officials, to commit various crimes.
In a semantic softening of his previous position restricting immigrants or visitors from Muslim-majority countries, Trump said he would “temporarily suspend immigration from some of the most dangerous and volatile regions of the world that have a history of exporting terrorism.”
As he has in the past, Trump said he would keep open the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, that Obama has unsuccessfully tried to close for more than seven years. “Drone strikes will remain part of our strategy, but we will also seek to capture high-value targets to gain needed information to dismantle their organizations. Foreign combatants will be tried in military commissions,” he said.
Obama initially did away with the commissions, and then reauthorized them during his administration, but they have been rarely used. In an interview last week with the Miami Herald, Trump said he would also use the commissions to try U.S. citizens, which is currently prohibited under law. He did not mention that possibility in his speech.
Listing two other early initiatives of a Trump presidency, he said he would establish “a commission on radical Islam which will include reformist voices in the Muslim community who will hopefully work with us. We want to build bridges and erase divisions.” The commission’s goal, he said, “will be to identify and explain to the American public the core convictions and beliefs of radical Islam” and develop “new protocols” for law enforcement.
At the same time, Trump said he would “call for an international conference” to “halt the spread of radical Islam,” partnering with Israel, Jordan and Egypt, among others.
“I also believe that we could find common ground with Russia in a fight against ISIS,” Trump said. “Wouldn’t that be a good thing?”
The Obama administration has made a similar proposal to join forces with Russia. But it has made it contingent on Moscow’s restraining Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from bombing civilians and opposition groups that are party to a cease-fire in Syria that both Assad and Moscow signed.
Trump softened the tone of previous comments on a number of things, including his description of NATO as “obsolete” and filled with members who don’t pay their fair share for U.S. “protection.” He said the United States would work closely with NATO on counterterrorism, and he congratulated the alliance for establishing a new division to handle the threat “since my comments.”
NATO first committed to increased counterterrorism activities at its summit in Wales in 2012.
Much of Trump’s speech drew from previous campaign appearances and a lengthy foreign policy speech he delivered in April, including a pledge for the United States to “get out of the nation-building business.”
But in the absence of specific plans, he also left behind much of his bombast, including a promise made during the primary campaign to “bomb the s---” out of the Islamic State. “I’d blow up every single inch, there would be nothing left,” he said in November.
In April, he said he had a “great plan” to defeat the militants but was keeping it secret to avoid tipping them off. “We’re gonna beat ISIS very, very quickly. folks. It’s gonna be fast. I have a great plan. It’s going to be great. They ask ‘What is it?’ Well, I’d rather not say. I’d rather be unpredictable.”
Last month, he told CBS’s “60 Minutes” that he intended to “declare war against ISIS” but would “have very few troops on the ground. We’re going to have unbelievable intelligence.”
As he has in the past, Trump blamed Obama and Clinton for creating a “vacuum” by withdrawing troops from Iraq, supporting the overthrow of Assad, and helping oust Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi, that allowed the Islamic State to expand. Last week, he called them the “founders of ISIS,” a phrasing he did not repeat in Monday’s speech.
Trump and others sought to make Clinton look soft on terrorism by repeatedly pointing out that she and the president refused to use the term “radical Islamic terrorism” to describe the group’s ideology. Clinton replied, as did Obama, that such terminology demonized the Muslim faith and risked making enemies of potential Muslim supporters and informants.
Trump made a number of false or misleading claims in his speech, including his long-discredited claim to have opposed the Bush administration’s 2003 invasion of Iraq, which Clinton voted to support. A number of the terrorist attacks he listed, and the plan for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, occurred under Bush.
Referring to the 2011 U.S. military action in Libya, Trump said Obama “regards Libya as his worst mistake.” Obama has said that “failing to plan for the day after” the intervention was probably his worse mistake.
Noting media reports that the Islamic State has made substantial profits selling oil in land that it occupies to fund terrorism, Trump said that “we could have prevented the rise of ISIS in Iraq” by claiming control of its oil.
“I was saying this constantly and consistently to whomever would listen. I said, ‘Keep the oil. Keep the oil. Keep the oil. Don’t let somebody else get it.’ ”
But all of the oil sold by the militants has come from fields they occupy in Syria. They have never controlled oil-rich territory in Iraq, where oil provides about 99 percent of government revenue, according to the United Nations.