“We had no terrorist attacks at all during my four years.”
— Former president Donald Trump, during a Fox News town hall, Jan. 10
“I had no wars. I’m the only president in 72 years, I didn’t have any wars.”
— Trump, also during the town hall
Trump’s town hall featured many of the same false claims he makes on a daily basis, but there were two new ones that are worth of fact-checking. We suspect that, if he becomes the Republican presidential nominee, he will feature these falsehoods on a regular basis. They slip nicely into his narrative that President Biden has unleashed chaos around the globe.
Trump made this comment in the context of touting the travel ban he imposed, after several court challenges and rewrites, on Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen. (Chad was on the list but was removed in 2018 after the White House said the country had improved security measures.)
“They call it the Trump travel ban,” he told the Fox audience. “They tried to make a big deal. The Supreme Court very intelligently approved it. Without that, we would’ve had blowups.”
The travel ban essentially halted the issuance of immigrant visas to the affected countries and restricted certain types of nonimmigrant visas, such as for tourism and business, though the protocol varied from country to country.
But Trump is wrong when he claims there were no terrorist attacks during his presidency. Laying aside domestic terrorism by right- or left-wing groups, the authoritative Global Terrorism Database maintained by the University of Maryland shows two major incidents tied to Islamist militants that resulted in fatalities.
Dec. 6, 2019: “A member of the Saudi Air Force, identified as Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, opened fire on a classroom in the Naval Air Base in Pensacola, Florida, United States. Four people, including the assailant, were killed and eight others were injured in the attack. Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed responsibility for the incident. Alshamrani posted criticism of U.S. wars and quoted Osama bin Laden on social media hours before the attack.”Dec. 17, 2017: “An assailant driving a Home Depot rental truck entered a bike path in an attempt to run over civilians on the West Side Highway in Lower Manhattan, New York City, United States. Following the initial attack, the assailant exited the vehicle and was shot by a police officer after displaying imitation firearms. At least eight people, including two citizens from the United States, five Argentinian tourists, and one Belgian tourist, were killed and 13 other people, including the assailant, were injured in the attack. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claimed that the assailant, identified as Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov, was ‘one of the caliphate soldiers;’ however, sources doubted the veracity of this claim. Authorities also recovered a note from the vehicle in which Saipov pledged allegiance to ISIL.”
Both of these incidents garnered enormous attention, and Trump himself commented on the cases at the time. He even called the Saipov case a “terrorist attack” in his 2018 State of the Union address.
“In recent weeks, two terrorist attacks in New York were made possible by the visa lottery and chain migration,” Trump said. “In the age of terrorism, these programs present risks we can no longer afford.”
The other case listed in the database that Trump referenced in his address (the 2019 incident had not yet happened) was this one, though it did not result in fatalities:
Dec. 11, 2017: “A suicide bomber detonated explosives [a pipe bomb] at Port Authority Bus Terminal between Seventh and Eighth Avenue in Manhattan, New York City, New York, United States. In addition to the assailant, three civilians were injured in the blast. Akayed Ullah, a jihadi-inspired extremist, claimed responsibility for the incident and stated ‘They’ve been bombing in my country and I wanted to do damage here,’ and ‘I did it for the Islamic State.’ In April 2021, Ullah was sentenced to life plus 30 years.”
Ullah, who came to the United States from Bangladesh in 2011, had obtained a green card as the child of a sibling of a U.S. citizen. Saipov, from Uzbekistan, arrived in the United States in 2010 through the diversity visa lottery.
The database also lists four other incidents attributed to jihadi-inspired extremists, though no one was killed except, in two cases, the assailant.
A Trump spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
Trump said he was the first president in 72 years not to have any wars, which takes us back to 1948, when Harry S. Truman was elected in his own right after stepping up to finish Franklin D. Roosevelt’s final term months before the end of World War II. This is a more broad-based claim than a statement Trump made in his farewell address as president — that he had started no new wars.
The spokesman did not respond to a question seeking clarification, but neither claim is true.
Jimmy Carter, president from 1977 to 1981, not only never formally declared war or sought authorization to use force from Congress during his presidency, but military records show not a single soldier died in hostile action during his presidency. Eight military personnel died during the 1980 Iranian hostage rescue mission, but the military deems those as non-hostile deaths. (A helicopter collided with an aircraft.) A marine and an army soldier were also killed when a mob burned the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad.
At least 65 active duty troops died in hostile action in Trump’s presidency, the records show, as he ramped up commitments in Iraq and Syria to fight the ISIS terrorist group while also launching airstrikes on Syria as punishment for a chemical weapons attack. (During the town hall, Trump bragged, “We beat ISIS, knocked them out.”) Trump also escalated hostilities with Iran, including the killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. Trump said at the time the strike was carried out in accordance with the Authorization for Use of Military Force resolution of 2001.
Trump might argue that he inherited those conflicts, but it is debatable whether one should count Barack Obama’s intervention in Syria as a “new war” or an extension of the conflict in Iraq started under George W. Bush. (The ISIS terror group emerged in the aftermath of that war.) Obama did not deploy any U.S. troops to Libya when NATO began a campaign in Libya aimed at saving civilians in Benghazi threatened by Libyan government forces. Still, 1,436 troops died in hostile action in Obama’s first term as wars continued in Iraq and Afghanistan; 161 troops died in hostile action during his second term.
Only 58 troops died in hostile action during Ronald Reagan’s two terms, including 17 as a result of the brief 1983 invasion of Grenada. But 241 people were killed when suicide bombers struck U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut.
Bill Clinton established a no-fly zone in Bosnia, deployed troops to restore the president of Haiti and bombed targets in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan. But only one death from hostile action is recorded by the military during his eight-year presidency. Eighteen troops died in Somalia supporting a United Nations peacekeeping mission (the Black Hawk Down incident); his predecessor, George H.W. Bush, had sent the troops for humanitarian reasons.
Trump often has a poor memory and a tenuous grasp on history, as these examples yet again show. There were jihadi-inspired terrorist attacks in the United States during his presidency, as he himself noted at the time. It’s also false to claim that he’s the first president since 1948 not to have had any wars on his watch. Jimmy Carter earns that honor.
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