Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump said Monday it’s time to “chart a new course” in the battle against “radical Islamic terrorism,” though much of what he proposed is similar to the course already set by President Obama.
“My administration will aggressively pursue joint and coalition military operations to crush and destroy ISIS,” Trump said during a foreign policy speech in Youngstown, Ohio. He also called for international efforts to cut off funding to terrorist groups, expanded intelligence sharing, and cyberwarfare — all steps that are part of the existing White House strategy.
Trump broke with current policy, though, in calling for sharp new limits on visitors and immigrants from countries with a history of exporting terrorism. “We will be tough and we will be even extreme,” Trump said. “Our country has enough problems. We don’t need more.”
Trump did not renew his controversial call for a ban on all Muslim immigrants. But he did advocate a new ideological test for newcomers, backed by what he described as “extreme vetting.”
“In addition to screening out all members of the sympathizers of terrorist groups, we must also screen out any who have hostile attitudes towards our country or its principles or who believe that Sharia law should supplant American law,” Trump said. “Only those who we expect to flourish in our country and to embrace a tolerant American society should be issued visas.”
Trump also said he would temporarily suspend all immigration from countries where the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security conclude that adequate screening is not possible and he suggested a sharp reduction in the number of visitors from the Middle East. “If we don’t control the numbers, we can’t perform adequate screening,” Trump said.
He attacked Hillary Clinton’s push to accept more Syrian refugees in the U.S., saying his Democratic rival “wants to be America’s Angela Merkel.”
In another break with goals of the Obama administration, Trump vowed to maintain the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and devote more effort to capturing, rather than killing, terrorist leaders, in hopes of gathering more intelligence.
While critics argue Trump’s rhetoric alienates moderate Muslims, he promised to include those voices in a new commission on radical Islam. “We want to build bridges and erase divisions,” he said.
Trump more broadly criticized the Obama administration — and his Democratic rival, Clinton — saying their policies created a power vacuum in the Middle East that allowed ISIS to flourish. He focused on the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011 and the military intervention in Libya, which Clinton advocated when she was secretary of state.
“With one episode of bad judgment after another, Hillary Clinton’s bad policies launched ISIS onto the world stage,” Trump said. “As she threw the Middle East into violent turmoil, things turned out really to be not so hot.”
Trump suggested the course of history would have been different had the U.S. taken a more colonial approach to Iraq, keeping control of that country’s oil supply following the 2003 invasion.
“In the old days, when we won a war, to the victor belonged the spoils,” Trump said. “I just said it so many times, virtually every time I was interviewed: Keep the oil, keep the oil.”
He argued U.S. control of Iraq’s oil fields would have denied ISIS a key source of financing, while the American troops needed to safeguard the wells would have provided a check against the rise of the terrorist group.
Throughout his scripted policy address, Trump showed a more serious side than he did last week, when he erroneously described Obama as the “founder” of ISIS — a comment he later explained as sarcasm. GOP advisers have been encouraging Trump to exercise more discipline on the stump, in hopes of reversing his declining poll numbers.
Despite the somber tone and subject of the speech, supporters periodically interrupted the candidate with chants of “Trump” and “USA.”