On Monday, Donald Trump gave a speech at Youngstown State University that amounted to an overlong, incoherent exercise in scaremongering. Most of the press coverage, almost uniformly negative, focused on the Republican nominee’s call for the “extreme vetting” of visa applicants. But there was much more to it than that.
A good rule of thumb for knowing you are in the presence of a crank is when he starts in on how Islamofascism or, as Trump repeatedly called it, “Radical Islamic Terrorism” is the great challenge of our age, comparable to the challenges posed by the three great, sinister ideologies of the 20th century: Fascism, Nazism, and Communism. That was Trump’s opening gambit; it only went downhill from there.
After listing a number of terror attacks that have taken place in the United States and Western Europe (not surprisingly, he neglected to mention any of the rather more serious attacks that occurred in Beirut and Baghdad this year), Trump went on to claim that “the rise of ISIS is the direct result of policy decisions made by President Obama and Secretary Clinton.” He further claimed that Obama’s “failure to establish a new Status of Forces Agreement in Iraq…led directly to the rise of ISIS.”
Both claims are demonstrably false. The decision by the Bush administration to disband the Iraqi Army in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion led to the rise of ISIS. Furthermore, it was the Bush administration that reached the agreement with the Iraqi government on the timetable for withdrawal, not Obama.
One of the other notable things about Trump’s speech was that, for a candidate who repeatedly claims that he and he alone possesses the will to defeat “Radical Islamic Terrorism,” he seems to be afraid to call out the principal funders of Salafist extremism. According to Trump’s incoherent account, it is Iran that is “the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.” And while this has been a common AIPAC talking point for years now—and never more so since the successful conclusion of the Iran nuclear accord—it, again, is false.
The principal funders of ISIS and similar Sunni extremists have been (and continue to be) our very own Gulf State “allies.” But Trump, who proclaimed, “We cannot always choose our friends, but we can never fail to recognize our enemies,” could never quite bring himself to name those who assist our enemies. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait have all provided aid to the Islamic State. Instead of confronting this head on, Trump ducked.