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Trump says the Islamic State’s defeat is imminent — as he has for months

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 3/20/2019 Philip Bump
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President Trump brought a visual aid with him when speaking to reporters outside the White House on Wednesday. It was a map of the Middle East, colored to show areas once and currently controlled by the Islamic State.

“I brought this out for you because — this is a map of, everything in the red, this was on election night in 2016. Everything red is ISIS,” Trump said, referring to the Islamic State. “When I took it over, it was a mess. Now, on the bottom, that’s the exact same: There is no red. In fact, there’s actually a tiny spot, which will be gone by tonight.”

“So that’s ISIS, red, right there,” he added. “And the bottom one is how it is today. This just came out 20 minutes ago.” 

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The key part of Trump’s comments was that prediction: gone by tonight. Allied forces battling the Islamic State have been pushing to eradicate it from the last area of the group’s self-declared caliphate in Eastern Syria. Trump’s predicting that it won’t last until Thursday morning.

It’s an interesting thing for Trump to predict. During the 2016 campaign, often in an effort to dismiss questions about his foreign policy plans, he regularly derided President Barack Obama for having announced military actions in advance.

“I’m not like other administrations, where they say we’re going to do this in four weeks and that …. it doesn’t work that way,” he told an interviewer from Fox News shortly after taking office.

Granted, this isn’t telegraphing what the military is going to do — but it is a hard-and-fast prediction. The Islamic State caliphate, gone within 24 hours.

The real problem with the prediction is that he has made it any number of times before.

On Jan. 30, he tweeted that the caliphate would be destroyed “soon.”

On Jan. 31, he told reporters that “you’ll be seeing something next week” about “what’s happened in Syria with respect to ISIS and the caliphate.” (“We’ve done tremendous in the last couple of weeks,” he said.)

On Feb. 1, it was back to “soon” in a tweet.

On Feb. 3, Trump said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that “we will be announcing in the not-too-distant future 100 percent of the caliphate which is the area — the land — the area — 100.”

“We’re at 99 percent right now,” he added. “We’ll be at 100.”

On Feb. 6, Trump pledged in a speech that it “should be formally announced sometime probably next week that we will have 100 percent of the caliphate.”

On Feb. 10, it was back to “soon.”

On Feb. 11, Trump told a rally in El Paso that “in the Middle East, our brave warriors have liberated virtually 100 percent of ISIS in Iraq and Syria.”

“Now, you don’t hear that from these people,” he added, pointing to the news media. “Now, we’ve taken back — soon it’ll be announced soon, maybe over the next week, maybe less, but it’ll be announced very soon — we’ll have 100 percent.”

On Feb. 15, during his news conference announcing his border-wall emergency declaration, he promised good news imminently.

“We have a lot of great announcements having to do with Syria and our success with the eradication of the caliphate,” he said. “And that will be announced over the next 24 hours. And many other things.”

On Feb. 16, he claimed that the caliphate had been “100%” defeated already, so he was removing troops from Syria.

On Feb. 22, it was again not 100 percent defeated.

“In another short period of time, like hours — you’ll be hearing hours and days — you’ll be hearing about the caliphate. It will — it’s 100 percent defeated,” Trump said. “Nobody has been able to say that.”

On Feb. 28, the caliphate was back to being entirely defeated.

“We just took over — you know, you kept hearing it was 90 percent, 92 percent — the caliphate in Syria,” he said at an Air Force base in Alaska. “Now it’s 100 percent. We just took over. A hundred percent caliphate. That means the area of the land. We just have 100 percent, so that’s good.”

On March 2, speaking to the Conservative Political Action Conference, Trump said that “as of probably today or tomorrow, we will actually have 100 percent of the caliphate in Syria. One hundred percent. One hundred percent.”

And then, March 20: Complete eradication within 24 hours.

It does seem likely that the caliphate will soon be completely destroyed, though, as Trump has also noted at times, that doesn’t mean the risk of attacks by members of the Islamic State or its sympathizers has vanished. (“You’re always going to have that,” he told the New York Times. “Somebody is going to walk into a store, unfortunately.”)

All we’re saying is that you might take the “gone by tonight” prediction with a grain of salt.

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