Donald Trump spent seven minutes of his major address on education reform Thursday to defend his false assertion that he was against the Iraq War before it started.
The subject came back to the center of discussion after Trump brought it up in Wednesday night’s Commander-in-Chief Forum on NBC.
“I happened to hear Hillary Clinton say that I was not against the war in Iraq,” he said Wednesday. “I was totally against the war in Iraq. You can look at Esquire magazine from ’04. You can look at before that.”
NBC host Matt Lauer was strongly criticized by his colleagues in the media for not rebuffing Trump, who told shock jock Howard Stern in 2002 “yeah, I guess so” when asked if he was in favor of the Iraq War, adding, “I wish the first time it was done correctly.”
“I opposed going in,” Trump said on Thursday. “And I did oppose it, despite the media saying no, yes, no. I opposed going in.”
The New York businessman claimed he opposed the war from the beginning, long after his interview with Stern when he halfheartedly said he’d be for the conflict.
He cited an interview from January 2003 – right before the war’s outbreak – with Fox News host Neil Cavuto as proof of his opposition before it started.
“I said in an interview with Neil Cavuto that perhaps we shouldn’t be doing it yet and that the economy, these were quotes, that the economy, this was on live television, the economy is a much bigger problem as far as the president is concerned,” he said. “This was before the war started by a very short distance.”
- AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Here’s what Trump said in that appearance on Cavuto’s program, after Cavuto asked whether President George W. Bush should be more focused on the economy or on the potential Iraq War:
“Well, he has either got to do something or not do something, perhaps, because perhaps shouldn’t be doing it yet and perhaps we should be waiting for the United Nations, you know. He’s under a lot of pressure. I think he’s doing a very good job. But, of course, if you look at the polls, a lot of people are getting a little tired. I think the Iraqi situation is a problem. And I think the economy is a much bigger problem as far as the president is concerned.
“Well, I’m starting to think that people are much more focused now on the economy. They are getting a little bit tired of hearing we’re going in, we’re not going in, the – you know, whatever happened to the days of the Douglas MacArthur? He would go and attack. He wouldn’t talk.
“We have to – you know, it’s sort like either do it or don’t do it. When I watch Dan Rather explaining how we are going to be attacking, where we’re going to attack, what routes we’re taking, what kind of planes we’re using, how to stop them, how to stop us, it is a little bit disconcerting. I’ve never seen this, where newscasters are telling you how – telling the enemy how we’re going about it, we have just found out this and that. It is ridiculous.”
Although Trump expressed skepticism about the war, he did not outright oppose it in this appearance.
Trump then cited an interview from March 2003, when he was quoted by The Washington Post as saying the war was “a mess.”
“Just after the war had started, just days after the war had started, just a little while after, I was quoted as saying the war is a mess,” Trump said in his Thursday speech in Cleveland. “And yet, more evidence that I had opposed the war from the start. I said the war is a mess on television, somewhere.”
But Trump also expressed in another interview with Cavuto right after the onset of the war that he thought the war looked “like a tremendous success from a military standpoint”:
“Well, I think Wall Street’s waiting to see what happens, but even before the fact, they’re obviously taking it a little bit for granted, and it looks like a tremendous success from a military standpoint, and I think this is really nothing compared to what you’re going to see after the war is over.
“I think Wall Street’s just going to go up like a rocket, even beyond, and it’s going to continue and, you know, we have a strong and powerful country, and let’s hope it all works out.”
In December 2003, also speaking with Cavuto, Trump again expressed skepticism about the war, but not outright opposition.
Here’s what he said after Cavuto asked about the opposition to the war:
“Well, look, you have a lot of questions and a lot of people questioning the whole concept of going in in the first place, Neil. But we are in, we went in, you had to find him. If he was alive, you had to find him. And you know, they fulfilled the pledge of finding Saddam Hussein.
“Well, you have two mixed bags. I mean, you have Mr. [Howard] Dean that’s going to say we shouldn’t have been there regardless. And you have others that are saying, ‘Well, we are there, and we have to do the best.’ I mean, we are there, regardless of what should have been done.
“Some people agree and some people don’t agree, but we are there. And if we are there, you have to take down Saddam Hussein. And they have done that, and they did it maybe not as quickly as they thought in terms of finding him, but they found him. And that is a huge day for this country.”
In his Thursday speech, Trump then referenced the August 2004 Esquire article – his strongest and earliest rebuke of the Iraq War more than a year after it began.
“Very early in the conflict,” Trump said. “Extremely early. Right in the beginning. Right at the beginning.”
- AP Photo/Evan Vucci
In that Esquire interview, Trump called the war a mess he would “never have handled” in “that way”:
“Look at the war in Iraq and the mess that we’re in. I would never have handled it that way. Does anybody really believe that Iraq is going to be a wonderful democracy where people are going to run down to the voting box and gently put in their ballot and the winner is happily going to step up to lead the country? C’mon. Two minutes after we leave, there’s going to be a revolution, and the meanest, toughest, smartest, most vicious guy will take over. And he’ll have weapons of mass destruction, which Saddam didn’t have.
“What was the purpose of this whole thing? Hundreds and hundreds of young people killed. And what about the people coming back with no arms and legs? Not to mention the other side. All those Iraqi kids who’ve been blown to pieces. And it turns out that all of the reasons for the war were blatantly wrong. All this for nothing!”
Trump told CNN’s Larry King in November 2004 that he did “not believe that we made the right decision going into Iraq, but, you know, hopefully, we’ll be getting out.”
On Thursday, Trump said he saw “all the lies last night” about his opposition to the Iraq War.
“‘Donald Trump was always in favor of the war,'” Trump said, as if he were a reporter. “Which is why I had to do this. The media is so dishonest. So terribly dishonest.”
He later added that he would’ve caught Osama bin Laden, the Al Qaeda leader and plotter of the September 11 attacks, before the attacks.
He called the lengthy rant setting “the record straight” because “there is so much lying going on.”
“The Howard statement was long before, and it was the first time anyone had asked me about Iraq, and I said, ‘Ah, I don’t know,'” Trump said of his initial support of the war. “That was superseded because before the war, much closer, I gave statements that we shouldn’t go into the war.”
Trump did not provide such statements in his rant.
“Had I been in Congress at the time of the invasion, I would’ve cast a vote in opposition,” he said. “Here’s the bottom line: I was a private citizen. I had no access to briefings or great intelligence … like [Clinton] did. I had no access to anything. I was a private citizen.”