President Donald Trump falsely boasted that he predicted Osama bin Laden’s 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center and inaccurately asserted he had always opposed the war in Iraq in a news conference Sunday that often fell short on facts.
A look at some of the president’s claims at the briefing, where he announced the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State group:
TRUMP: “I’m writing a book … About a year before the World Trade Center came down, the book came out. I was talking about Osama bin Laden. I said, ‘You have to kill him. You have to take him out.’ Nobody listened to me.” Trump added that people said to him, “‘You predicted that Osama Bin Laden had to be killed, before he knocked down the World Trade Center.’ It’s true.”
THE FACTS: It’s not true.
His 2000 book, “The America We Deserve,” makes a passing mention of bin Laden but did no more than point to the al-Qaida leader as one of many threats to U.S. security. Nor does he say in the book that bin Laden should have been killed.
As part of his criticism of what he considered Bill Clinton’s haphazard approach to U.S. security as president, Trump wrote: “One day we’re told that a shadowy figure with no fixed address named Osama bin Laden is public enemy Number One, and U.S. jetfighters lay waste to his camp in Afghanistan. He escapes back under some rock, and a few news cycles later it’s on to a new enemy and new crisis.”
The book did not call for further U.S. action against bin Laden or al-Qaida to follow up on attacks Clinton ordered in 1998 in Afghanistan and Sudan after al-Qaida bombed the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The U.S. attacks were meant to disrupt bin Laden’s network and destroy some of al-Qaida’s infrastructure, such as a factory in Sudan associated with the production of a nerve gas ingredient. They “missed” in the sense that bin Laden was not killed in them, and al-Qaida was able to pull off 9/11 three years later.
In passages on terrorism, Trump’s book does correctly predict that the U.S. was at risk of a terrorist attack that would make the 1993 World Trade Center bombing pale by comparison. That was a widespread concern at the time, as Trump suggested in stating “no sensible analyst rejects this possibility.”
Still, Trump did not explicitly tie that threat to al-Qaida and thought an attack might come through a miniaturized weapon of mass destruction, like a nuclear device in a suitcase or anthrax.
TRUMP: “Nobody ever heard of Osama bin Laden until really the World Trade Center.”
THE FACTS: That’s incorrect. Bin Laden was well known by the CIA, other national security operations, experts and the public long before 9/11, with the CIA having a unit entirely dedicated to bin Laden going back to the mid-1990s. The debate at the time was over whether Clinton and successor President George W. Bush could have done more against al-Qaida to prevent the 2001 attacks.
WAR IN IRAQ
TRUMP: “In Iraq — so they spent — President Bush went in. I strongly disagreed with it, even though it wasn’t my expertise at the time, but I had a very good instinct about things. They went in and I said, ‘That’s a tremendous mistake.’ And there were no weapons of mass destruction. It turned out I was right.”
THE FACTS: There is no evidence Trump expressed public opposition to the Iraq war before the U.S. invaded, despite his repeated insistence that he did. Rather, he offered lukewarm support. He only began to voice doubts about the conflict well after it began in March 2003.
His first known public comment on the topic came on Sept. 11, 2002, when he was asked whether he supported a potential Iraq invasion in an interview with radio host Howard Stern. “Yeah, I guess so,” Trump responded. On March 21, 2003, just days after the invasion, Trump said it “looks like a tremendous success from a military standpoint.”
Later that year he began expressing reservations.
TRUMP, on Syria: “I want our soldiers home or fighting something that’s meaningful. I’ll tell you who loves us being there: Russia and China. Because while they build their military, we’re depleting our military there.”
THE FACTS: His assertion that a pullout of U.S. troops from Syria strategically hurts Russia is highly dubious.
Both Russia and Iran stand to gain, and Russia has taken steps to move in and expand its influence in Syria after Trump announced a pullout. Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reached a deal on divvying up control of an area along the Turkey-Syria border, allowing Syrian troops to move back into a large part of the territory and ensure Kurdish fighters stay out.
The Kurds once hoped an alliance with Washington in battling IS would strengthen their ambitions for autonomy, but now they are left hoping they can extract concessions from Russia and Syria to keep at least some aspects of their self-rule.
“The U.S. has essentially ceded its influence and power in Syria to the Russians, the Turks and the Iranians,” said Seth Jones, a counterterrorism expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Iran and Russia are both key allies of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government, with troops on the ground in Syria. While they may publicly oppose a Turkish incursion into Syria, they probably don’t mind an operation that diminishes the U.S.-allied Kurdish forces.
Some of Turkey’s incursions into Syria appeared to have been coordinated with Russia and Iran.