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Trump Claims He Did More To Fight ISIS Than Obama. That Is, Of Course, Not True.

Trump ISIS

With the recent news that American-backed forces have taken most or all of the capital of the so-called Islamic State has led to another round of President Trump claiming that he has done more to combat ISIS than President Obama ever did. For example, during his recent speech at the Value Voters Summit, Trump stated; ”We’ve done more against ISIS in nine months than the previous administration has done during its whole administration — by far, by far.” To be sure, the fact that this victory, even though it may prove to be ephemeral as ISIS adapts by relocating to other locations and engaging in and encouraging terrorism outside of the boundaries of its territory, the fact that this happened under Trump’s watch means that he’ll likely get at least some of the credit for the success just as Obama did for things such as the success against al Qaeda in a war that began under his predecessor’s watch. All that being true, though, the fact that he’s claiming to have done more in nine months to fight ISIS than President Obama did during his entire Presidency is, as Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler notes, simply not true:

By the time Trump took office, Islamic State territory had fallen to 23,000 square miles, according to Jane’s. As of June of this year, the Islamic State controlled 14,000 square miles — and it has fallen further since. But far more of the “liberation” of territory, in square miles, took place before Trump took office, including the recapture of east Mosul as well as cities across Anbar province (Fallujah) and key Syrian cities such as Manbij that controlled the Turkish-Syrian frontier.

Indeed, the plan that resulted in the liberation of Mosul and Raqqa was launched under Obama, and there wasn’t much change other than looser rules of engagement with regard to striking targets of opportunity, resulting in an increased tempo. The assault on Raqqa began in November — two months before Trump took office, using the same coalition that ultimately captured the city.

“There is no doubt that the Trump administration followed the basic strategy set in place by the Obama administration,” said Michael Morell, former deputy director of the CIA. “There is no doubt that Obama would have gotten where Trump is at this moment as well.”

“There were no significant changes in the overall plan in combating ISIS,” said Ali Soufan, chief executive of the Soufan Group, and a former FBI agent who specialized in international terrorism cases. “What we are witnessing today is  mostly the fruits of what the former administration started.”

(…)

Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies dismissed land as a fairly useless metric given most of the territory is desert. But he said other metrics, such as air power, also bolstered the case that Obama had done more.

According to Cordesman’s calculations, coalition forces have flown 63,758 sorties, of which 23 percent were flown under Trump. As for air munitions used, coalition forces dropped 65,731 in 2014-2016 versus 36,351 in 2017. That amounts to 36 percent under Trump.

“Obama set up virtually all the structure that did the key fighting under Trump,” Cordesman said. He attributed Trump’s claims of dramatic success as akin to “saying nothing happened in Europe until the allies in the West crossed the Rhine and entered Germany on March 7, 1945.”

“Obama fashioned the strategy, the alliances and assembled the forces to destroy the caliphate, but the culmination of the process has occurred on Trump’s watch,” said Bruce Reidel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “It’s a good example of Trump keeping Obama policy basically intact, not dramatically altering it. Now the territorial battle is coming to a close and the much harder ideological conflict is still to be won; that is Trump’s challenge.”

We asked the White House for backup of the president’s statement. Officials blamed Obama for allowing the rise of the Islamic State and said a fuller response would be forthcoming, but we did not receive it before publication.

In other words, the basic truth here is that Trump’s policies with regard to ISIS were not significantly different from those of President Obama in terms of either strategy or tactics. As the article notes, there were some changes in ground operations implemented by Secretary of Defense Mattis when he took office earlier this year, but the extent to which those changes actually made a difference in the way the fight against ISIS was being conducted were minimal at best. Trump made no other changes in the strategy that had begun under President Obama more than a year earlier, and which were largely responsible for the successes on the ground that ultimately made the capture of Mosul and Raqqa possible, nor did he made any increase in the number of American forces involved in the battles or the number of support missions flown by American aircraft. Perhaps more importantly, the fighting that was done on the ground was, by and large, done by Iraqi forces and by the American-backed Syrian rebels who have been fighting both ISIS and the Assad regime in Damascus. So, the argument that Trump did more to fight ISIS is, as Kessler notes, quite simply untrue:

A president taking credit for a successful outcome started by his predecessor is a time-honored tradition. Obama certainly claimed repeatedly that he saved General Motors during the Great Recession, even though he built on steps first taken by George W. Bush.

That still does not make it right. Trump exacerbates the braggadocio by specifically saying he has done “by far” more than Obama, even though he inherited a structure and plan developed by Obama. Experts credit Trump with some tactical shifts that may have stepped up the tempo — though the number of civilian deaths has soared as a result. But in reality, according to several metrics, more was done under Obama.

Trump earns Three Pinocchios.

As Kessler notes, there’s nothing new about sitting Presidents taking credit for good news that happens under their Administration even when it’s demonstrably untrue or when, as here, it can be shown that there was no significant change in policy from the previous Administration. In Trump’s case, though, there has been an endless parade of this kind of credit claiming, none of which is supported by the available evidence. For example, in the wake of the release of nearly every monthly jobs report since he took office, Trump has claimed credit for the new jobs created (although, strangely enough, he had nothing to say earlier this month when the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the economy actually lost jobs in September) as has the rest of his Administration. In reality, job growth from February through September of this year actually lags behind the same period in 2016 and the same period for the previous three years, and if you include January in those calculations the disparity between 2017 and previous years becomes even larger. Furthermore, even if it were true Trump hasn’t implemented any policies that could arguably be said to have any real impact on the economy as a whole, much less on job creation in particular. Nonetheless, Trump continues to claim that he’s outperforming his predecessor.

As I said, it’s natural for any sitting President to claim credit for good news that happens when they are in office. The correlation, though, doesn’t mean that it’s true and, in Trump’s case the inclination to claim credit for things that aren’t true has become a near daily occurrence. Of course, given that this is a White House where lies and half-truths are a part of the daily agenda, that isn’t entirely surprising.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    Of course it’s not true…nothing this mendacious fvck says is true.
    The question is if the 4th estate is going to do anything about it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  2. @Daryl’s other brother Darryl:

    The question is if the 4th estate is going to do anything about it.

    Umm, the report I linked to is part of that “Fourth Estate.” and there is plenty of coverage of Trump’s lies on a daily basis all over the media.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  3. Gustopher says:

    This is one of his least worst lies.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  4. SenyorDave says:

    He tells so many lies I wonder what lie would he have to tell for his supporters to question him? How about “Jesus got that walking on water thing from me, I invented it”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  5. Not the IT Dept. says:

    I still want someone to ask him what he thinks of the civil war in Berserkistan and who does he hope will win. It was a lost opportunity during the primaries and general election.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  6. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @Doug Mataconis:
    Perhaps I should have said be able to do anything about it.
    Just the same, considering the level of mendacity and the potential damage, no one is doing anywhere near enough yelling about it. This normalization of the untrue is a tremendous crisis for the Republic. And I just don’t see that level of alarm.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  7. gVOR08 says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    …there is plenty of coverage of Trump’s lies on a daily basis all over the media,

    In the media we read. FOX et al not so much. During the campaign Trump’s lies got far less coverage than Hillary’s nothingburger emails and the pure as driven snow Clinton Foundation. NYT did as much as anyone to elect this moron.

    I’ve been surprised that Trump hadn’t been taking credit for progress against ISIS up til now. Likely no one told him anything about it til now.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  8. Jen says:

    The difference between what is covered on FOX and real news outlets is staggering. Viewers are literally getting a completely different view of the world.

    How he could get up and make that claim after four Americans were just killed in Niger by militants believed to be associated with ISIS is jaw-dropping. He is such a liar, and the complicity of the Republican party is disgusting.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  9. JKB says:

    Of course, we had plans to defeat ISIS, even under Obama. We had many opportunities to get Osama bin Laden as well under Obama, but they couldn’t get him to give the order.

    The on thing, confirmed by commanders in theater, that Trump has done was shutdown West Wing micromanagement of the professionals in the field. The commanders on the ground have been trusted to use their professional judgement and it is paying off.

    This is often the case with a change in leadership. The new leader unleashes the pent up talent and energy the earlier micro-manager couldn’t tap.

    Obama and Biden did the Iraq victory tour based on Bush’s decision until their subsequent decisions had their impact and it all turned bad.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 26

  10. Moosebreath says:

    @JKB:

    “We had many opportunities to get Osama bin Laden as well under Obama, but they couldn’t get him to give the order.”

    You mean the President Obama who actually did give the order for the raid on bin Laden, which actually got him? That President Obama?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 25 Thumb down 0

  11. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @JKB:

    We had many opportunities to get Osama bin Laden as well under Obama, but they couldn’t get him to give the order.

    Apparently your faculties have left you.
    Of course you voted for someone suffering from dementia…so clearly you aren’t very bright to begin with.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  12. reid says:

    @Moosebreath: I have no doubt that God-Emperor Trump will finally get bin Laden!

    Disturbing to get even a little insight into the thought processes from inside the bubble….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  13. michael reynolds says:

    @Moosebreath: @JKB:

    Not in JKB’s reality. In his reality Obama was a secret ISIS supporter and it was the ghost of Ronald Reagan who killed OBL.

    Don’t waste time talking facts to Trumpies. They no longer participate in reality. Thing Scientologists, but even dumber.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  14. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @JKB:

    We had many opportunities to get Osama bin Laden as well under Obama, but they couldn’t get him to give the order.

    You have these stridently held beliefs…and they are based on complete nonsense.
    If you are going to refuse to think for yourself…then you really should find much better people to think for you.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  15. CSK says:

    @SenyorDave:

    Well, it didn’t bother his fundamentalist admirers when he claimed that Jesus was a fellow egomaniac.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  16. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    Dumb Donnie today when asked if he should be more “civil”:

    I went to an Ivy League college. I was a nice student. I did very well. I’m a very intelligent person

    1). He does not even know the meaning of “civil”.
    2). If you are bragging about being smart, then you are likely not.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  17. Kylopod says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl:

    I’m a very intelligent person.

    Whenever Trump says stuff like this, I’m reminded of the old Borscht Belt joke: A Jew tries to get into a restricted country club, and when they ask him for his religion, he says “I’m a goy.”

    Trump’s boasts are so transparently ridiculous that even when he says them he seems to be inadvertently confessing to the opposite.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  18. reid says:

    @Kylopod: What I will never understand is why so many people support him, despite the transparent boasts and countless other things that should make anyone think, “This guy is an idiot BSer!”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  19. CSK says:

    @Kylopod:

    Oh, he is confessing to the opposite. Have you ever met a truly intelligent, accomplished individual who had to remind you continually of how intelligent and accomplished he or she is?

    I’ve been privileged to have two Nobel Prize winners as colleagues. Both were exemplars of modesty. Trump isn’t fit to wipe their boots.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  20. Moosebreath says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl:

    “2). If you are bragging about being smart, then you are likely not.”

    In the words of one of Trump’s former professors at Penn:

    “The late Professor William T. Kelley, who taught marketing at Wharton for 31 years and had Trump in his classroom, said, “Donald Trump was the dumbest goddamn student I ever had,” in a conversation with his close friend Frank DiPrima.

    Kelley made the comment while Trump was already a public figure, but had not yet ventured into politics.”

    @Kylopod:

    “I’m reminded of the old Borscht Belt joke: A Jew tries to get into a restricted country club, and when they ask him for his religion, he says “I’m a goy.””

    That reminds me of Groucho’s line at a similar country club, “My kids are only half Jewish. Can they go in up to their waists?”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  21. becca says:

    @JKB:Fasinating stuff! I do hope you leave your brain to science.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  22. Scott F. says:

    @SenyorDave:

    Remember Trump supporters believe he has yet to tell even one lie, so there is no point in waiting for some egregious falsehood that will finally turn the tide with them. Until such time that Trump actually cops to telling a lie, this condition will not change.

    This is why the gaslighting and the cries of Fake News are so important to Trump’s survival. His supporters trust him and only him. The moment that the base allows any credibility to any source of truth beyond Trump’s Twitter feed (and maybe Hannity’s show), the whole Trumpkin belief system will collapse. The Donald will NEVER admit misspeaking, let alone lying. He’s finished once he does.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  23. wr says:

    @CSK: “Have you ever met a truly intelligent, accomplished individual who had to remind you continually of how intelligent and accomplished he or she is?”

    No. And I’ve never met a truly rich person who had to remind you continually of how rich he is.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  24. Jen says:

    The on[e] thing, confirmed by commanders in theater, that Trump has done was shutdown West Wing micromanagement of the professionals in the field. The commanders on the ground have been trusted to use their professional judgement and it is paying off.

    He’s done this because he has no interest in learning military tactics and so that he can blame someone else when things go wrong. Which, incidentally, is what he has just done by saying that the mission in Niger that resulted in the deaths of the four soldiers wasn’t authorized by him, it was “the generals.”

    He is an utterly incapable and feckless human being.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  25. CSK says:

    @Jen:

    But…but…he has told us that he knows more about ISIS than “the generals” do because he watches “the shows.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  26. CSK says:

    @Jen:

    So he’s admitting, in essence, that “the generals” do whatever they like and ignore their alleged commander-in-chief?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  27. Kylopod says:

    @CSK:

    Have you ever met a truly intelligent, accomplished individual who had to remind you continually of how intelligent and accomplished he or she is?

    Nope. Of course there’s no shortage of smart megalomaniacs in the world, but even they don’t talk like this. Because they know it sounds dumb.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  28. Kylopod says:

    @Moosebreath:

    “The late Professor William T. Kelley, who taught marketing at Wharton for 31 years and had Trump in his classroom, said, “Donald Trump was the dumbest goddamn student I ever had,” in a conversation with his close friend Frank DiPrima.

    FAKE NEWS!!!!

    That reminds me of Groucho’s line at a similar country club, “My kids are only half Jewish. Can they go in up to their waists?”

    Yeah, I heard that one too. I was impressed you remembered it, as it tends to get overlooked in favor of the more famous Groucho line (quoted in Annie Hall) about how he would never belong to a club that would have him as a member.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  29. Jen says:

    @CSK: He’s got every single quality of a crappy mid-level manager. “Delegates” to free up his own time to goof off and not do any of the real work, then takes the credit when things go well and blames things on others when they don’t. It’s no wonder he’s tanked so many businesses (including casinos).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  30. CSK says:

    @Jen:

    Well, as I’ve always said, you have to be really, really monumentally incompetent to go broke peddling booze and promoting gambling–both of which Trump can count amongst his more dazzling accomplishments.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  31. Kylopod says:

    @Jen:

    He’s got every single quality of a crappy mid-level manager.

    One of the strange things about Scott Adams’ Trump lovefest is that Trump has some notable similarities to the Pointy-Haired Boss that is probably Adams’ most iconic contribution to popular culture. Maybe he intended the PHB as the hero and we all just didn’t realize it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  32. Sleeping Dog says:

    what’s the axiom, 90% of life is showing up.

    Trump is like Reagan in claiming a personal victory with the release of the embassy hostages, though he’d only been president a couple of hours upon their return.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  33. Moosebreath says:

    @Kylopod:

    “I was impressed you remembered it, as it tends to get overlooked in favor of the more famous Groucho line (quoted in Annie Hall) about how he would never belong to a club that would have him as a member.”

    It’s in a book of quotes I have (The Portable Curmudgeon).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0