This may come as a surprise to some of you, but Donald Trump sometimes says things that aren’t entirely factual. On Wednesday, it happened again.
Speaking at a rally in Ocala, Florida, the Republican presidential nominee told the audience that ISIS was “hoping and praying” for Hillary Clinton to win the election.
“Because they’ll take over not only that part of the world, they’ll take over this country, they’ll take over this part of the world,” Trump said. “Believe me. They are hoping. They are hoping.”
“And by the way, you know, she likes to say they want me — I will be their worst nightmare,” he added. “I’m gonna be their worst nightmare. Ugh.”
There are two untrue statements in there. Let’s unpack them, shall we?
The ISIS takeover of America
The first, which you may have already guessed, is that ISIS will take over America if Clinton becomes president.
Trump is not alone in making these kinds of claims about ISIS — in fact, his top military adviser, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, describes ISIS as a “formidable enemy” that is “dead set on taking us over and drinking our blood.” He claims “They have built a fearsome movement, based on deep religious conviction. They think they’re winning, and so do I.”
He’s wrong, and so is Trump. I can’t believe I even have to say this, but: No, ISIS will not take over America if Clinton becomes president.
Even at its peak, the highest estimate of the group’s total number of fighters and support personnel in Iraq and Syria was 200,000. And today it is far, far from its peak. In just the last two years, the US-led coalition killed approximately 45,000 ISIS fighters. ISIS has lost 40 percent of its territory in Iraq and 10 percent of its territory in Syria, according to the Wilson Center, and it hasn’t launched a major offensive in over a year. According to estimates provided by the Pentagon, ISIS currently has somewhere between 15,000 to 30,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria.
But since Trump likes to hype the supposed terrorism threat from Syrian refugees coming to America, let’s go ahead and add in the 65,000 Syrian refugees that Hillary Clinton has said she wants to bring into the country, and — just for the sake of this ridiculous argument — let’s assume that every single one of them (including infants, because why not) is a terrorist ready to take up arms and help ISIS take over America.
That means that if every single ISIS fighter from Iraq and Syria were to leave there and somehow travel across the Pacific Ocean (despite not having an air force or navy to get them here) to launch an invasion (without tanks or heavy weapons), and were aided by every single Syrian refugee Hillary Clinton wants to let into the country (including babies), that would theoretically put ISIS’s total potential strength (in this completely ridiculous scenario) at 265,000.
Now, for the US side: In fiscal year 2015, the US Army had 1,042,000 soldiers: 490,000 active soldiers, 202,000 in the Army Reserve, and 350,000 in the Army National Guard, according to the Heritage Foundation’s “2016 Index of U.S. Military Strength.”
The US Navy currently has 435,919 active duty and ready reserve personnel (combined). In fiscal year 2015, the US Air Force was granted an authorized end strength of 312,980 active airmen, 67,100 reservists, and 105,000 guardsmen. The US Marine Corps in FY2015 had 184,100 active personnel.
That’s a total US military force of 2,147,099.
That brings us to a grand total of 2,930,796 people currently armed and ready to defend America from an attempted ISIS takeover. Against, at most, 265,000.
So yeah, I think we’re probably safe. Let’s move on to the next one.
ISIS’s support for Hillary Clinton
Trump said that ISIS is “hoping and praying” for Clinton to win the presidential race (so that they can take over the country, of course). But even if, as we now know, they couldn’t actually take over America, they could still be hoping and praying for Clinton to become president, believing it would give them some sort of advantage or recruitment boost.
Except that it turns out that ISIS is actually hoping and praying for Trump to win the presidency. Literally. They literally said that.
As Mara Revkin and Ahmad Mhidi note in Foreign Affairs, an ISIS spokesman wrote on the ISIS-affiliated Telegram messaging app channel: “I ask Allah to deliver America to Trump.” Another ISIS supporter posted on another channel that “The ‘facilitation’ of Trump’s arrival in the White House must be a priority for jihadists at any cost!!!”
Revkin and Mhidi also interviewed at least a dozen ISIS supporters and recent defectors, and they all confirmed that “ISIS strongly prefers Trump over the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton.”
To be clear, it’s not that ISIS actually likes Trump and thinks he’s a great guy of strong moral character who will help ease the plight of Muslims in the Middle East and around the world. Quite the opposite, in fact: ISIS prefers Trump because of his racist and Islamophobic views.
You see, ISIS (and al-Qaeda before it) has long claimed that the West, and in particular the United States, is at war with Islam. Its English-language recruitment propaganda outlines a laundry list of crimes the US and its Western allies have supposedly committed against Muslims and seeks to convince Muslims in those countries that their government is against them.
For instance, in one issue of its online propaganda magazine Dabiq, the group warns that “Muslims in the crusader countries [i.e., the West] will find themselves driven to abandon their homes … as the crusaders increase persecution against Muslims living in Western lands.”
The biggest problem with that argument is that, while the United States is involved in several wars in Muslim-majority countries — and does support dictators who repress Islamist political parties in several other Muslim-majority countries — the United States itself is a pluralistic, liberal democracy where people of all faiths (and no faith) are free to practice their beliefs as they see fit, with very few restrictions.
The fact that nearly all of the estimated 3.3 million American Muslims love their country and the rights and freedoms they enjoy in it directly contradicts the ISIS message.
And that’s exactly why they’d love it if Trump — who has called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” temporarily, insinuated that American Muslims secretly know who the terrorists are in their midst but are hiding it from law enforcement, and stated he’d put “certain mosques” in this country under surveillance — were to become president of the United States.