Donald Trump has attempted, and media have often allowed him, to advance the false claim that he opposed the Iraq War from the beginning, but evidence Trump regularly cites as proof of his opposition occurred after the war’s authorization and after the war had already begun. Ahead of the first presidential debate, moderators should be aware of his chronologically impossible excuses and be prepared to debunk them, such as his citing of a 2004 Esquire interview where he opposed the war, claiming he said the war was “a mess” at a 2003 party, claiming he expressed some concern in a January 2003 Fox interview, and his excuse that he “was not a politician” when he made his original remarks supporting the war.
Trump Has Repeatedly Claimed That He Opposed The Iraq War From The Beginning
Trump Has Falsely Claimed Repeatedly That He “Was Totally Against The War In Iraq.” Trump has repeatedly and falsely claimed that he “was totally against the war in Iraq," most recently during NBC’s September 7 Commander-in-Chief Forum, moderated by Matt Lauer -- who failed to correct Trump. However, in 2002, a year before the invasion of Iraq, when asked by radio host Howard Stern if he was “for invading Iraq,” Trump said, “I guess so.” Multiple fact-checkers have called out Trump’s claim, with PolitiFact rating it “False,” and The Washington Post’s Fact Checker giving it “four pinocchios” because, despite documentation of Trump’s “bogus claim,” Trump “repeatedly claims he opposed the war from the beginning.” The Fact Checker also explained that Trump cited an August 2004 Esquire story as evidence that he opposed the war. From the Post’s February 25 article:
As our timeline shows, Trump was not “totally” against the Iraq War. Trump expressed lukewarm support the first time he was asked about it on Sept. 11, 2002, and was not clearly against it until he was quoted in the August 2004 Esquire cover story. (We even made a video documenting how this is a bogus claim.) Yet he repeatedly claims he opposed the war from the beginning — and thus, earns Four Pinocchios. [The Washington Post, 2/25/16; PolitiFact, 9/7/16, via Media Matters, 9/21/16]
In Fact, Trump Did Initially Support The War, And His Excuses For His Support Don’t Hold Water
Esquire: Trump’s Interview With Us Was More Than A Year After Iraq War Began. Esquire reported that, at a foreign policy speech, Trump “cited an interview in Esquire from August 2004” as proof he was “always opposed the war,” even though that interview was “more than a year after the American invasion began.” The magazine added, “While we appreciate you driving people to our website, Donald, we can't pretend you were against the war before it began.” From the August 15 article (emphasis original):
Donald Trump made his big foreign policy speech today, and he devoted plenty of time to his early opposition to the war in Iraq. At one point, he cited an interview in Esquire from August 2004—more than a year after the American invasion began—in which he had railed against how the war was being handled:
“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 county? 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!”
That's all well and good, but Trump's big point throughout the speech and this entire campaign has been that he was always opposed to the war—even before it began. He has said this over and over again and used it to bash both his Republican primary opponents and Hillary Clinton for their “poor judgment.” This claim has been debunked (over and over again), by multiple fact-checkers, magazines, and newspapers.
Trump came out against the war in Esquire almost a year and a half after the invasion began, when the situation on the ground had begun to deteriorate and popular support for the war was sinking. This was a reasonable position for him to take, but it does not mean he was always against the war.
While we appreciate you driving people to our website, Donald, we can't pretend you were against the war before it began. [Esquire, 8/15/16]
CNN: Trump Cited Comment To Neil Cavuto That “The Iraqi Situation Is A Problem” -- Three Months After Iraq War Was Authorized -- As Proof Of His Opposition. CNN reported that Trump “once again sought to convince the public that he opposed the Iraq War by pointing to statements he made after the US had already invaded the country,” and, among other examples, cited a January 2003 interview with Fox’s Neil Cavuto in which he said “the Iraqi situation is a problem” but “did not say he was opposed to the invasion." In fact, according to a February 18 BuzzFeed article, Trump in that interview said of invading Iraq, “it’s sort like either do it or don’t do it.” From the September 8 CNN article:
Donald Trump on Thursday once again sought to convince the public that he opposed the Iraq War by pointing to statements he made after the US had already invaded the country.
But interviews Trump gave before and after the war prove that he was publicly supportive of the US invasion of Iraq. Trump only began questioning the merits of the war several months later, as US forces became mired in a war against Iraqi insurgents.
Trump on Thursday pointed to comments he made three months after Congress voted in favor of military action in Iraq, when he told Neil Cavuto of Fox News that “the Iraqi situation is a problem,” but that “the economy is a much bigger problem as far as the president is concerned.” He did not say he was opposed to the invasion. [CNN.com, 9/8/16; BuzzFeed, 2/18/16]
Associated Press: At An Oscars Party, Trump Called The Iraq War “A Mess” Four Days After Calling The Invasion A “Tremendous Success.” The Associated Press in a fact-check provided several examples to argue “There is no evidence Trump expressed public opposition to the war before the U.S. invaded” and “only began to voice doubts” “well after it began in March 2003.” The fact-check noted that while Trump claimed he called the war “‘a mess’” on March 25, 2003, at an Oscars party, his comment “came four days after he called the invasion a ‘tremendous success’” in an interview with Fox’s Neil Cavuto and “appeared to be a reference to a friendly fire incident in which a U.S. missile downed a British fighter jet and led to a 300-point fall in the stock market.” From the September 10 report:
Over and over again, Donald Trump says he opposed the Iraq War before it started. But no matter how many times the Republican candidate for president says it, the facts are clear: He did not.
There is no evidence Trump expressed public opposition to the war before the U.S. invaded. Rather, he offered lukewarm support. The billionaire businessman only began to voice doubts about the conflict well after it began in March 2003.
On March 21, 2003, just days after the invasion began, Trump told Cavuto on his show that the invasion “looks like a tremendous success from a military standpoint.”
He cites comments he made to The Post on March 25, 2003, at a post-Oscars party in which he called the war “a mess.” But those remarks, which came four days after he called the invasion a “tremendous success,” appeared to be a reference to a friendly fire incident in which a U.S. missile downed a British fighter jet and led to a 300-point fall in the stock market. [The Associated Press, 9/10/16]
CNN: Donald Trump Excused His Support For The War By Saying He “Was Not A Politician” At The Time. At a February CNN Republican presidential primary town hall hosted by Anderson Cooper, Trump told Cooper while he “‘may have’” signaled his support for invading Iraq in a 2002 interview with Howard Stern, “‘By the time the war started I was against it.’” Trump then excused his support for the war by adding “that at the time he ‘was not a politician.’” From the February 19 report:
Donald Trump said Thursday he “may have” signaled in a September 2002 interview with Howard Stern that he was in favor of invading Iraq.
“Yeah, I may have,” Trump said in a CNN Republican presidential town hall hosted by Anderson Cooper. “By the time the war started I was against it. And shortly thereafter, I was really against it.”
He added that at the time he “was not a politician.”
Pressed on the lack of any public comments concerning his opposition to the war in Iraq before it launched, Trump has pointed to the fact that he was a businessman at the time and not a politician required to share his stances on public issues like the Iraq War. [CNN.com, 2/19/16]