Memo|National Security   10 Minute Read

10 Reckless Donald Trump Statements on Terrorism and National Security

Published April 28, 2016

Updated On September 30, 2016

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Over the course of the election season, it has become increasingly clear that Donald Trump lacks a meaningful understanding of U.S. foreign policy. His reckless approach alienates the American public,1 world leaders,2 and stands in stark contrast to the tough and smart approach preferred by the American people and the U.S. military.3 Even Republican national security leaders have disavowed him, saying he would “make American less safe.”4

We culled ten previous Donald Trump statements on terrorism that are reckless and reveal how misinformed he is on the most critical national security issue facing the U.S. These statements, countered with facts, rebuttals, and the Obama Administration’s tough and smart counterterrorism policies, show just how out of his depth Donald Trump is on terrorism and national security issues.

#1: We’re Not Bombing

Statement: “We’re not bombing. We’re not doing much. We have a president that thinks ISIS has been contained. We have a president that doesn’t know what’s happening. So when you say we’re bombing, we’re not bombing.”5

Response: This is false. We are bombing ISIS. The Obama Administration has been bombing ISIS since 2014 and between U.S. efforts and 65 coalition partners, more than 14,000 airstrikes have hit ISIS. 

  • The U.S. is leading a huge coalition against ISIS, hitting them from the air and working with regional partners on the ground to take back territory.
  • Since 2014, the U.S. and coalition partners have been conducting airstrikes against ISIS. These efforts have accelerated in recent months, hitting nearly 20 ISIS targets on average every day. This strategy has been effective, cutting back ISIS’s territorial gains by 45% in Iraq and more than 25% in Syria and significantly diminished their financial resources.
  • Donald Trump is sorely mistaken on U.S. policy and his lack of understanding of U.S. counterterrorism efforts is dangerous.

#2: U.S. Generals Reduced to Rubble

Statement: “…The Generals have been reduced to rubble…They have been reduced to a point where it’s embarrassing to our country…”6

Response: Donald Trump is insulting the finest fighting force in human history. He may have forgotten we have the greatest military in the world: We have the most powerful navy fleet, with 273 ships7 and 11 commissioned aircraft carriers,8 roughly 7,100 nuclear warheads,9 and missile defense systems. Our senior military leaders stand together beyond partisanship in defense of our nation.

  • Donald Trump has no understanding of how the U.S. military works or of how career military service members are promoted to general. This isn’t a reality show where you can simply denigrate career military professionals and fire them.
  • Trump saying he’ll “rebuild our military”10 implies it’s broken, which is an insult to the brave men and women of our armed forces. He also ignores the fact that our military budget is larger than the largest Reagan budget.11
  • The U.S. is unquestionably the world’s strongest military power. Implying otherwise demonstrates ignorance of other countries’ military capabilities and our own.

#3: Kill Terrorist Families

Statement: “The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families.”12

Response: Donald Trump supports killing innocent people and committing war crimes. Killing the family members of ISIS would result in the deaths of innocent women and children. Donald Trump has no regard for our basic principles or humanitarian law.

  • There is a targeted and smart way to hit ISIS, which is what the Obama Administration is doing. Donald Trump doesn’t understand the difference between a reckless strategy, and a smart one.
  • Donald Trump’s plan to kill innocent people will not defeat ISIS. Killing innocent families runs counter to international law, our principles, and would enrage the world against the U.S. Resorting to such barbaric attacks would bring the U.S. down to the terrorists’ level, hurting our reputation and leadership role in the world.
  • Precision bombing and intelligence will effectively identify and eliminate the threat without incurring too many civilian casualties. The overkill Trump suggests is an insult to our military and intelligence professionals.

#4: Torture

Statement: “Torture works. Ok, folks?” You know, I have these guys – ‘Torture doesn’t work!’ – believe me, it works. And waterboarding is your minor form. Some people say it’s not actually torture. Let’s assume it is. But they asked me the question, ‘What do you think of waterboarding?’ Absolutely fine. But we should go much stronger than waterboarding.13

Response: U.S. national security experts, military officials, and the intelligence community agree that torture does not work. People who have been tortured have given false information to make the torture stop. We don’t find out that information is bad until after we’ve spent millions of dollars and lost lives chasing false leads. It doesn’t work and it goes against our values, which is why the U.S. does not and should not use torture.

  • Torture often produces false information. We get much more reliable information from standard interrogations conducted by our experienced career interrogators. Every time we see an American give a forced confession in North Korea or at the hands of ISIS before a beheading, we get absolute proof that torture doesn’t work.
  • Torture fundamentally contradicts the Constitution and our values. It harms our global reputation, which is a key component of American strength. By using torture, the U.S. throws its lot in with Russia, Iran, and North Korea.
  • Waterboarding inflicts “severe mental pain or suffering,”14 which distorts memories and is unnecessarily cruel. In response to the rhetoric from Trump on torture, the current CIA director, John Brennan, has said he wouldn’t allow CIA officers to waterboard terrorists. Donald Trump’s thoughtless approach to national security and support for torture would hurt U.S. interests.

#5: Russia and ISIS

Statement: “If you look at Syria. Russia wants to get rid of ISIS. We want to get rid of ISIS. Maybe let Russia do it. Let ‘em get rid of ISIS. What the hell do we care?”15

Response: We care because we’re not going to defer to Russia on matters of U.S. national security. Russia does not share our interests. Vladimir Putin does not care about the security of Americans. The Russian military is not even trying to destroy ISIS; its priority is to shore up the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, even if that means allowing ISIS to plan attacks against the U.S. Donald Trump’s suggestion that we let Russia fight ISIS shows how little he knows about the state of affairs in Syria. And yet Donald Trump defense Russia so often the former head of the CIA has called Trump an “unwitting agent” of Russia.

  • Russia’s intervention in Syria bolstered Assad’s forces and helped the regime gain ground against Syrian rebels. Russia’s focus was not in attacking ISIS targets, but attacking rebel targets to increase Assad’s leverage during peace talks.
  • Russia has only exacerbated the chaos in Syria with its indiscriminate bombing that’s killed thousands of innocent civilians.16
  • It is in the interest of U.S. national security that we eliminate ISIS, which is why we’re leading a tough and smart campaign with our coalition partners to defeat them. Making Russia responsible for our security and the security of our allies in the region is reckless.

#6: Admiration for Vladimir Putin

Statement: “It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond.”17

Response: Donald Trump has repeatedly praised Vladimir Putin, a dictator who not only doesn’t share U.S. interests, but actively counters them. He believes Putin—a dictator—is a better leader than President Obama. Donald Trump’s admiration for this authoritarian leader is reprehensible and shows how little Trump cares or knows about global affairs and U.S. national security.

  • Trump was interviewed on a Russian government network where he blasted U.S. foreign policy. He refuses to condemn Russia’s hacking into Americans’ emails and their interference into the presidential election.
  • Russia continues to support Ukrainian separatists and strengthen Assad in Syria. But Donald Trump continues to express admiration for a leader who deliberately counters U.S. interests.
  • Donald Trump refused to meet with the Ukrainian president, a U.S. ally, showing just how much he has cozied up to Putin.
  • His campaign even changed the Republican platform to be more Russia-friendly, taking out sections that call for providing weapons to Ukraine in order to counter Russian and rebel forces.

#7: Advocating Nuclear Weapons Against ISIS

Statement: “We’re going to hit them and we’re going to hit them hard. I’m talking about a surgical strike on these ISIS stronghold cities using Trident missiles.”18

ResponseThe Obama Administration has made nuclear nonproliferation a priority, reducing the world’s stockpiles of nuclear materials to prevent a nuclear war. Donald Trump, on the other hand, is either confused or reckless. Trident missiles are nuclear weapons, so he’s suggesting the U.S. launch a nuclear attack against a terrorist group. Using a nuclear weapon against ISIS is out of the question. It would cause a humanitarian catastrophe and incur thousands, if not millions, of innocent civilian deaths. It would open the door for other nations to use their nuclear weapons, endangering the world and America.

  • ISIS is embedded in cities and towns in Iraq and Syria. They are in tight spaces and hidden among innocent civilians. Using a nuclear bomb against ISIS would have a catastrophic effect on the region and kill thousands of innocent people. The U.S. is employing a smart approach to defeat ISIS through coalition airstrikes and aiding local groups on the ground.
  • A nuclear weapon hasn’t been used in war since 1945. Donald Trump doesn’t understand the ramifications of introducing a nuclear weapon on the battlefield against a non-state actor.
  • Trump’s statements on nuclear weapons, which include his support for proliferation in Japan and South Korea, reveals he, as President Obama has noted, “doesn’t know much about foreign policy, or nuclear policy…”19

#8: Banning Muslims from Entering the U.S.

Statement: “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”20

Response: Donald Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims is meant to incite hysteria, not solve any problems. We are not at war with Muslims or Islam. There are millions of Muslims currently living in the U.S. who contribute to our democracy. Outside of America, there are many Muslims fleeing near certain death, rape, and torture at the hands of ISIS. They are not our enemy; they are our friends.

  • The U.S. has a robust vetting system for processing refugee applications. Refugees go through an 18 to 24 month screening process with several U.S. agencies, including the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, the State Department, the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security.
  • Muslims make up nearly one quarter of the global population. Citizens from major Muslim countries like Malaysia and Indonesia would be banned under Trump’s plan. Banning them would alienate an entire group and potentially lead to radicalization.
  • Banning Muslims would make it extremely challenging to use diplomacy and work with important Muslim allies like King Abdullah of Jordan and activist Malala Yousafzai. We need allies like these to win this fight against ISIS; we can’t make it impossible to work with the U.S. Donald Trump’s call to ban Muslims from entering the country is thoughtless and will do nothing to prevent terrorist attacks.

#9: Starting a Ground War in the Middle East

Statement:  “I would listen to the generals, but I’m hearing numbers of 20,000 and 30,000 [in Iraq and Syria].”21

Response: The U.S. is still drawing down troops from a war in Afghanistan, and Donald Trump wants to put the military into another ground war without any exit strategy. He doesn’t understand there’s an effective way to defeat ISIS without putting our U.S. military servicemen and women in the middle of a civil war. 

  • The U.S. is implementing a tough and smart strategy to defeat ISIS without resorting to tens of thousands of ground troops. U.S. and coalition forces are hitting nearly 20 ISIS targets on average every day. The U.S. currently has about 3,800 forces in Iraq aiding Iraqi security forces to take the fight to ISIS on the ground.
  • This is not our fight alone. Our regional allies will have to step up their contributions in the fight against ISIS. The U.S. can’t get pulled into another long-term ground war.
  • The current U.S. strategy has taken out over 20,000 ISIS fighters since operations began in 2014. ISIS has lost 45% of its territory in Iraq and more than 25% in Syria. Introducing thousands of U.S. ground combat troops to take on ISIS would be reckless and irresponsible.

#10: Only Trump Can Solve Terrorism

Statement 1: “Another radical Islamic attack, this time in Pakistan, targeting Christian women & children. At least 67 dead, 400 injured. I alone can solve.”22

Statement 2: “…My primary consultant is myself, and I have a good instinct for this stuff”23

Response: Donald Trump has the most inexperienced foreign policy team of any major presidential candidate. He has the backing of no prominent military leaders, past or present. No leading elected official who has made national security a priority has endorsed him. Beyond his foreign policy team, he has no experience tackling these issues himself. He lacks the experience and has put no policy ideas forward to address the national security challenges facing the U.S.

  • Prominent and respected Republican national security leaders have said they cannot support Trump because of his national security views. They’ve called his views “inconsistent,” “hateful,” and “dishonest.”24 World leaders on the frontlines of terrorism have chastised Trump and distanced themselves from him. His fiery rhetoric is now a recruiting tool for terrorists.
  • No person alone can defeat ISIS and other terrorist networks. It takes an extremely collaborative effort across nations, like the 66-nation coalition President Obama has amassed to defeat ISIS by hitting the group from the air, and working with regional partners on the ground to take back territory. This strategy has cut back ISIS’s territorial gains by 45% in Iraq and more than 25% in Syria and significantly diminished their financial resources.
  • Donald Trump’s claim that only he can solve terrorism is naïve and thoughtless. He has no proposal to defeat ISIS, and what little he has said on ISIS and foreign policy would amount to war crimes. Donald Trump has no experience combating Islamic extremism and he has not chosen to surround himself with experts that could educate him on the topic.
  1. Ben Freeman and Mieke Eoyang, “Uncovering the Paradox of National Security Public Opinion,” Third Way, September 18, 2015. Available at: http://www.thirdway.org/memo/uncovering-the-paradox-of-national-security-public-opinion.

  2. Oren Dorell and Jessica Durando, “Like ‘Hitler’? How World Leaders See Donald Trump,” USA Today, March 16, 2016. Accessed April 27. 2016. Available at: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2016/03/08/donald-trump-world-leaders-republican-gop/81312520/.

  3. Peter Holley, “’The Military is Not His Palace Guards,’ Retired Three-Star General Says of Donald Trump,” The Washington Post, March 7, 2016. Accessed April 27, 2016. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2016/03/07/the-military-is-not-his-palace-guards-retired-three-star-general-says-of-donald-trump/.

  4. Ken Adelman, David Adesnik, Michael Auslin, et al., “Republican National Security Leaders Unable to Support Donald Trump,” Open letter, March 2, 2016. Accessed April 25, 2016. Available at: http://warontherocks.com/2016/03/open-letter-on-donald-trump-from-gop-national-security-leaders/.

  5. Sopan Deb, “Trump Defends Idea of Shutting Down Mosques, Slams Carson on Foreign Policy,” CBS News, November 19, 2015. Accessed March 18, 2016. Available at: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/donald-trump-defends-idea-of-shutting-down-mosques-talks-about-ben-carson/

  6. Pamela Engel, “Trump Says US Military Generals ‘Have Been Reduced to Rubble’ Under Clinton and Obama,” Business Insider, September 7, 2016. Accessed September 22, 2016. Available at: http://www.businessinsider.com/trump-military-generals-rubble-obama-clinton-2016-9.

  7. Zachary Cohen, “Size Matters: Is the U.S. Navy Really too Small?” CNN, September 8, 2015. Accessed April 15, 2016. Available at: http://www.cnn.com/2015/09/08/politics/us-navy-size-military-election-2016/.

  8. United States. U.S. Department of the Navy, “The Carriers the List.” Accessed April 15, 2016. Available at:  http://www.navy.mil/navydata/ships/carriers/cv-list.asp

  9. “Nuclear Weapons: Who Has What at a Glance,” The Arms Control Association, October 2015. Accessed April 15, 2016. Available at: https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/Nuclearweaponswhohaswhat.

  10. Jeremy Diamond, “Trump Calls for Military Spending Increase,” CNN, September 7, 2016. Accessed September 21, 2016. Available at: http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/06/politics/donald-trump-defense-spending-sequester/.

  11. Ben Freeman and Mieke Eoyang, “The President’s 2017 Defense Budget,” Third Way, February 24, 2016. Accessed April 25, 2016. Available at: http://www.thirdway.org/report/the-presidents-2017-defense-budget

  12. Tom LoBianco, “Donald Trump on Terrorists: ‘Take Out Their Families,” CNN, December 3, 2015. Accessed March 4, 2016. Available at: http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/02/politics/donald-trump-terrorists-families/.

  13. Daniel W. Drezner, “The Orwellian Foreign Policy Statements of the Trump Campaign,” The Washington Post, February 18, 2016. Accessed March 11, 2016. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/02/18/the-orwellian-foreign-policy-statements-of-the-trump-campaign/.

  14. 18 USC Sec., 2340, 1994. Accessed March 18, 2016. Available at: https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/2340.

  15. “Trump Gets Down to Business on 60 Minutes,” CBS News, September 27, 2015. Accessed March 11, 2016. Available at: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/donald-trump-60-minutes-scott-pelley/.

  16. Emma Graham-Harrison, “Russian airstrikes in Syria killed 2,000 civilians in six months,” The Guardian, March 15, 2016. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/mar/15/russian-airstrikes-in-syria-killed-2000-civilians-in-six-months.

  17. Nick Gass, “Trump: Putin’s Compliments are a ‘Great Honor,’” Politico, December 17, 2015. Accessed September 22, 2016. Available at: http://www.politico.com/story/2015/12/trump-vladimir-putin-praise-216892.

  18. “Meet the Press Transcript – August 9, 2015,” NBC News, August 12, 2015. Accessed March 15, 2016. Available at: http://www.nbcnews.com/meet-the-press/meet-press-transcript-august-9-2015-n408516.

  19. Andrew Rafferty, “Obama: Trump Doesn’t Know Much about Nuclear Weapons, or the World,” NBC News, April 1, 2016. Accessed April 11, 2016. Available at: http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2016-election/obama-trump-doesn-t-know-much-about-nuclear-weapons-or-n549476.

  20. Donald Trump, “Statement on Preventing Muslim Immigration,” Press Statement, December 7, 2015. Accessed March 4, 2016. Available at: https://www.donaldjtrump.com/press-releases/donald-j.-trump-statement-on-preventing-muslim-immigration.

  21. Nicole Gauoette and Barbara Starr, “Trump is Calling for 30,000 Troops. Would that Defeat ISIS?” CNN, March 11, 2016. Accessed March 16, 2016. Available at:  http://www.cnn.com/2016/03/11/politics/donald-trump-30000-troops-isis/.

  22. Donald Trump, “Another radical Islamic attack, this time in Pakistan, targeting Christian women & children. At least 67 dead,400 injured. I alone can solve,” March 27, 2016 4:37 PM. Available at: https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/714189569793646597.

  23. Jesse Byrnes, “Trump’s Top Foreign Policy Advisor? I’m Speaking With Myself,” The Hill, March 16, 2016. Accessed April 27, 2016. Available at: http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/273197-trumps-top-foreign-policy-advisor-im-speaking-with-myself.

  24. Ken Adelman, David Adesnik, Michael Auslin, et al., “Republican National Security Leaders Unable to Support Donald Trump,” Open letter, March 2, 2016. Accessed April 25, 2016. Available at: http://warontherocks.com/2016/03/open-letter-on-donald-trump-from-gop-national-security-leaders/.

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