Fact-Checking Donald Trump’s National Security Speech
WASHINGTON — Donald J. Trump turned his attention to national security and military readiness on Wednesday, saying in a speech that his approach to foreign policy could be summed up in three words: “peace through strength.”
Mr. Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, offered many facts to support his vision and outlined the approach a Trump administration would take on issues related to national security. We found five of his key claims or proposals to be misleading or consistent with current policy.
On Military Spending
“As soon as I take office, I will ask Congress to fully eliminate the defense sequester and will submit a new budget to rebuild the military.”
The military, Mr. Trump said, needs to be expanded and equipped with a new generation of aircraft and other equipment. The changes he proposed — such as adding about 90,000 soldiers to the Army and expanding the Navy to 350 ships — would require tens of billions of dollars a year in additional military spending (expanding the Army alone could cost more than $10 billion a year). To get the needed money, Mr. Trump said he would call on Congress to reverse the cuts to military spending made as part of the budget sequester in 2013, which was the result of a compromise reached between Democrats and Republicans.
Still, the new spending would ultimately cost taxpayers nothing, Mr. Trump suggested, turning to familiar Republican talking points to explain how he would pay for it. He said he would eliminate wasteful government spending, increase energy production and trim the federal work force, including the military bureaucracy, for instance. He also suggested he would collect unpaid taxes, which he said amounted to $385 billion. But Mr. Trump offered scant details about how much his new military budget would cost and how his proposals to “make the government leaner” would cover the spike in military spending.
On the Size of the Navy
“The Navy is among the smallest it has been since 1915.”
The shrinking of the Navy’s fleet is a specious claim that has been a popular Republican talking point for years. The variation that Mr. Trump repeated on Wednesday — that the Navy’s fleet of 276 ships is its smallest since World War I — is accurate in strictly numerical terms.
But military commanders and experts say the claim purposely obscures the ability of today’s Navy, ignoring the vast gap between what a warship could do a century ago and the frightening array of armaments, aircraft and surveillance equipment carried by modern Navy vessels. Cruisers and destroyers carry cruise missiles, submarines can launch nuclear weapons, and a single aircraft carrier with its escort ships wields more firepower than most militaries on the planet.
On the Islamic State
“I will ask my generals to present me a plan within 30 days to defeat and destroy ISIS.”
The Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, is in retreat in Syria and Iraq, and Pentagon officials and analysts believe that the plans laid out by the Obama administration are working. Still, the group remains a potent force in the Middle East, and its loyalists overseas continue to present a significant threat. Could that be addressed by a new plan that focuses on, as Mr. Trump said, “cyberwarfare, financial warfare and ideological warfare” in addition to military action?
Unlikely, say defense officials and analysts. The United States and its allies are already focusing on those fronts, and have been especially successful at targeting the Islamic State’s financial strength by striking its oil-producing infrastructure and seizing territory, depriving the group of its tax base. The ideological piece has proved more difficult — the Islamic State is still attracting recruits — but who exactly would come up with Mr. Trump’s new plan was not made clear. The generals he cited in his speech, after all, were the ones who devised the current plan.
“We will also make it a priority to develop defensive and offensive cybercapabilities.”
The United States has already prioritized cyberwarfare — in fact, it was arguably one of the first states to use a cyberweapon, the Stuxnet computer worm, which wiped out many of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges in 2010.
The defensive part has proved more challenging in large part because no one — not a single country or private company — does it particularly well. There is no easy solution, experts say, and attackers have a huge advantage: They often need to find only a single vulnerability in software that contains millions of lines of code. Defenders need to find them all to “immediately protect” networks, as Mr. Trump promised to do on Wednesday.
On Money to Iran
“Iran, the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism, is now flush in cash released by the United States.”
Mr. Trump claimed that the United States had released $150 billion to Iran. He failed to point out that the money came from Iranian assets frozen by the United States and released under the terms of a deal to limit Tehran’s nuclear program. The $150 billion figure he offered is also disputed by experts who say it represents the highest possible estimate for the total value of Iranian assets unfrozen by the United States. The figure is probably closer to $100 billion, many say.
Mr. Trump also mentioned “$1.7 billion in cash ransom payments.” The payments were made in cash earlier this year to settle an old arbitration case, not pay a ransom. But the Obama administration has acknowledged that it used the money as leverage, holding on to the payments until Iran released American prisoners.