Trump Does a U-Turn on How He’d Fight ISIS
Policy + Politics

Trump Does a U-Turn on How He’d Fight ISIS

© Joshua Roberts / Reuters

Donald Trump yesterday completely reversed himself on whether or not he would commit U.S. combat troops to the fight against ISIS, even as he bragged that he has the “steady hands” necessary to manage the country’s foreign policy in an increasingly dangerous world.

As Belgian authorities struggle to deal with the aftermath of what appears to be two murderous bombings in Brussels on Tuesday for which ISIS has claimed credit, the question of whether the country’s next commander in chief has thought clearly about how to deal with the terror group is on the minds of many. Trump didn’t do much to inspire confidence on Monday.

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Less than two weeks before, on March 10, at the most recent Republican presidential debate, Trump was asked about his position on using U.S. troops to fight ISIS. His answer was clear: The U.S. should send in troops, wipe out ISIS, and get out.

“We really have no choice,” the GOP’s leading contender for the presidential nomination said. “We have to knock out ISIS. We have to knock the hell out of them. We have to get rid of it. And then come back and rebuild our country, which is falling apart. We have no choice.”

Asked how many troops he would commit, Trump said, “I would listen to the generals, but I'm hearing numbers of 20,000 to 30,000. We have to knock them out fast … So, the answer is we have to knock them out. We have to knock them out fast. And we have to get back home. And we have to rebuild our country, which is falling apart.”

But in an interview with The Washington Post editorial board on Monday, Trump denied having said that he would commit troops.

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Deputy editorial page editor Jackson Diehl asked the billionaire, “Could I ask you about ISIS, speaking of making commitments, because you talked recently about possibly sending 20 or 30,000 troops and —“

Interrupting Diehl, Trump said, “No I didn’t, oh no no no, okay, I know what you’re saying. There was a question asked to me. I said that the military, the generals have said that 20- to 30,000. They said, would you send troops? I didn’t say send 20,000. I said, well the generals are saying you’d need because they, what would it take to wipe out ISIS, I said pretty much exactly this, I said the generals, the military is saying you would need 20- to 30,000 troops, but I didn’t say that I would send them.”

Asked if he would commit troops if in fact some generals told him that was what was needed to defeat ISIS, Trump let fly with this barrage of words:

“I find it hard to go along with — I mention that as an example because it’s so much. That’s why I brought that up. But a couple of people have said the same thing as you, where they said, ‘Did I say that,’ and I said that that’s a number that I heard would be needed. I would find it very, very hard to send that many troops to take care of it. I would say this, I would put tremendous pressure on other countries that are over there to use their troops and I’d give them tremendous air supporters and support, because we have to get rid of ISIS, okay, just so — we have to get rid of ISIS. I would get other countries to become very much involved.”

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Bottom line takeaway from the Post interview is that Trump’s position today is the opposite of the one he took at the Republican debate less than two weeks ago.

Trump clarified his new position, sort of, hours later when he was interviewed by Wolf Blitzer on CNN. Turns out he might be in favor of the number of troops he cited in the debate – just not their source.

“I wouldn't deploy 20,000,” he said. “I’d get people from that part of the world to put up the troops, and I’d certainly give them air power and air support and some military support … I would never ever put up 20,000 or 30,000.”

Also yesterday, trump artfully dodged another ISIS related question from the Post.

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When Fred Ryan, the paper’s publisher and CEO, asked whether he would consider using a tactical nuclear weapon against ISIS forces, he began, “I don’t want to use, I don’t want to start the process of nuclear. Remember the one thing that everybody has said, I’m a counterpuncher. Rubio hit me. Bush hit me. When I said low energy, he’s a low-energy individual, he hit me first. I spent, by the way he spent 18 million dollars’ worth of negative ads on me. That’s putting –”

Ryan interrupted, “This is about ISIS. You would not use a tactical nuclear weapon against ISIS?”

“I’ll tell you one thing, this is a very good looking group of people here,” Trump said. “Could I just go around so I know who the hell I’m talking to?”

And the conversation never got back to the subject of using nuclear weapons against ISIS.