A day after announcing the death of Islamic State leader Abu al-Baghdadi, President Donald Trump climbed down from his long-uttered claim that his administration completely wiped out the group’s declared caliphate.
The commander in chief has tweeted seven times a version of the claim that, in his words from a tweet posted just two weeks ago, his administration is responsible for “defeating 100% of the ISIS Caliphate.”
After defeating 100% of the ISIS Caliphate, I largely moved our troops out of Syria. Let Syria and Assad protect the Kurds and fight Turkey for their own land. I said to my Generals, why should we be fighting for Syria….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 14, 2019
And on Oct. 10, Trump was even more clear.
“We defeated 100% of the ISIS Caliphate and no longer have any troops in the area under attack by Turkey, in Syria. We did our job perfectly!” he tweeted. Then-White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on March 22 used the phrase on Air Force One, telling reporters that the ISIS self-declared caliphate had been “100 percent eliminated.”
We defeated 100% of the ISIS Caliphate and no longer have any troops in the area under attack by Turkey, in Syria. We did our job perfectly! Now Turkey is attacking the Kurds, who have been fighting each other for 200 years….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 10, 2019
But the president told a different story on Monday during a speech to law enforcement officers in Chicago ahead of two fundraising events at a hotel he owns in the Windy City.
He told the officers that once the U.S. military — which had help from Kurdish forces Trump recently allowed to be attacked by Turkey’s military — had eliminated “70 percent” of the so-called caliphate, “I said, ’Let’s go home.’”
Despite his own words over the last few months, the president then blamed the news media for reporting his “100 percent” claim.
“Those people, before me, didn’t care,” he said, pointing to media assembled across from his lectern and referring to ISIS’s foothold in Syria.
As Trump took a victory lap on Sunday, top Democrats warned ISIS is far from neutered.
“We cannot afford to get distracted or take our eye off the target. ISIS remains a threat to the American people and our allies, and we must keep up the pressure to prevent ISIS from ever regrouping or again threatening the United States,” former Vice President Joe Biden, one of the 2020 Democratic presidential front-runners, said in a statement.
“That task is particularly important as the chaos of the past few weeks in northern Syria has jeopardized years of hard work and sacrifice by American and Kurdish troops to evict ISIS from its strongholds in Syria,” Biden added.
A recent CNN-SSRS poll found 59 percent of Americans disapprove of the way Trump is handling foreign policy, with 38 percent saying they approve.
The president continued to break with the more measured messages former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama used when announcing the deaths of major violent extremist organization leaders like Osama bin Laden.
“He was a sick and depraved man — and now he’s dead. He’s dead as a doornail,” the president said of al-Baghdadi.
“He should have been killed years ago. Another president should have gotten him,” Trump said in a jab at Obama.
When his national security team would come to him to get approval for a mission targeting other ISIS leaders, Trump claims he replied, “I never heard of him. I want al-Baghdadi — I said, ‘Get him.’ And they got him.”
‘What the hell is happening?’
Meanwhile, the president continued what is expected to be a reelection campaign theme by describing Chicago as something of a war zone. He also has used homelessness and issues in other major urban areas like San Francisco and Los Angeles as he courts rural and suburban voters in the Rust Belt and a few other swing states.
“What the hell is happening in Chicago?” he said, arms out wide for emphasis.
“The first weekend of August, 27 people were murdered [in Chicago], and 52 … were shot,” he said, noting that one recent weekend featured 78 shootings that left three people dead.
“All over the world they’re talking about Chicago,” he said before making the claim that “Afghanistan is a safe place by comparison.”
The president called out Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, saying he lacks the fortitude to take the proper steps to tackle crime there. But he did not lay out a plan under which his administration might change the violent crime rate there.
“I want Eddie Johnson to change his values,” Trump said, “and change them fast.”
Following his remarks, Trump signed an executive order to set up a new commission he said would craft “concrete recommendations to address systemic challenges that face law enforcement.” He added it will “study best practices” on training, hiring and “taking care of our law enforcement officers.”