John McCain and Donald Trump: fellow travelers in conspiracy theories about ISIS and President Obama


Now I understand why John McCain endorsed Donald Trump and steadfastly refuses to disavow him: they are both fellow travelers in conspiracy theories about ISIS and President Obama.

Back in June after the nightclub shooting in Orlando, McCain said: Obama ‘directly responsible’ for Orlando shooting:

McCain buttonSen. McCain, who lost to Obama in the 2008 presidential election, spoke to reporters in the Capitol Thursday while Obama was in Orlando visiting with the families of those killed in Sunday’s attack and some of the survivors.

“Barack Obama is directly responsible for it, because when he pulled everybody out of Iraq, al-Qaida went to Syria, became ISIS, and ISIS is what it is today thanks to Barack Obama’s failures, utter failures, by pulling everybody out of Iraq,” a visibly angry McCain said as the Senate debated a spending bill.

“So the responsibility for it lies with President Barack Obama and his failed policies,” McCain said.

* * *

Questioned on his startling assertion, McCain initially repeated it: “Directly responsible. Because he pulled everybody out of Iraq, and I predicted at the time that ISIS would go unchecked and there would be attacks on the United States of America. It’s a matter of record, so he is directly responsible.”

I did a fact check at the time to explain how McCain’s Neocon wanderlust for war with Iraq opened the door to Al Qaida in Iraq, the predecessor of Daesh or ISIL (ISIS). McCain bears responsibility as much as anyone. How the ‘McMedia’ fail to hold John McCain accountable.

On Wednesday, Donald Trump trafficked in the same conspiracy theory earlier proffered by John McCain. Phillip Bump at the Washington Post has an excellent summary:

At a rally in Florida on Wednesday night, Donald Trump offered a weird accusation: President Obama had founded the Islamic State (ISIS, in his phrasing). He’d said similar things in the past about how Obama and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton had helped create the terror group, but the fervor with which he made the stronger claim stuck out.

Over and over, to increasing applause, the Republican presidential nominee repeated the claim: “He is the founder of ISIS. He’s the founder of ISIS, okay? He’s the founder. He founded ISIS. And I would say the co-founder would be crooked Hillary Clinton.” Cheers. Applause.

* * *

This seemed like a by-now-familiar example of Trump being hyperbolic, taking a rhetorical point to its extreme. On CNBC on Thursday morning, though, he didn’t exactly embrace that idea.

Obama “was the founder of ISIS, absolutely,” Trump said, according to a transcript. “The way he removed our troops — We shouldn’t have gone in. I was against the war in Iraq … We shouldn’t have been in Iraq. I would not have been in Iraq if I was president, but that mistake was made; it was one of the worst mistakes in the history of our country. We destabilized the Middle East. We’ve been paying the price for it for years.”

(It is not true that Trump opposed the war in Iraq.)

He continued: “He was the founder of ISIS and so was [Hillary]. I call them co-founders…. Because of the way he got out…. He shouldn’t have gotten out the way he got out. It was a disaster what he did. Is there something wrong with saying that? Are people complaining that I said he was the founder of ISIS? All I do is tell the truth. I am a truth teller.”

Radio host Hugh Hewitt got Trump to commit to that view even more strongly.

Batshit1HEWITT: Last night, you said the president was the founder of ISIS. I know what you meant. You meant that he created the vacuum; he lost the peace.
TRUMP: No, I meant he’s the founder of ISIS. I do. He was the most valuable player. I give him the Most Valuable Player Award. I give her, too, by the way, Hillary Clinton.
HEWITT: But he’s not sympathetic to them. He hates them. He’s trying to kill them.
TRUMP: I don’t care. He was the founder. His, the way he got out of Iraq was that that was the founding of ISIS, okay? …
HEWITT: I know what you’re arguing …
TRUMP: You’re not, and let me ask you, do you not like that?
HEWITT: I don’t. I think I would say they created, they lost the peace. They created the Libyan vacuum, they created the vacuum into which ISIS came, but they didn’t create ISIS. That’s what I would say.
TRUMP: Well, I disagree.

There was no “Right, I was making a point” or “I misspoke” in that. Trump said that, no, he really meant that Obama had founded the Islamic State and that Trump had to “disagree” when Hewitt said that wasn’t the case. (Do we need to point out at this late hour that, of course, Obama didn’t found the Islamic State? Well, he of course didn’t. Trump’s ‘Obama founded ISIS’ comment exemplifies why his campaign is on the brink of doom.)

Remember, when John McCain trafficked in this conspiracy theory in June, 90 minutes later he issued a statement saying that he “misspoke,” though his statement continued to lay blame for the attack on the president’s policies — just not on the president himself.

As I have said, President Obama’s decision to completely withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011 led to the rise of ISIL. I and others have long warned that the failure of the president’s policy to deny ISIL safe haven would allow the terrorist organization to inspire, plan, direct or conduct attacks on the United States and Europe as they have done in Paris, Brussels, San Bernardino and now Orlando.”

On Friday morning, at long last, Donald Trump finally explained his rationale. Donald Trump Explains His Obama-Founded-ISIS Claim as ‘Sarcasm’: in an early-morning Twitter post on Friday, Mr. Trump said that he was just being sarcastic. The post was a reversal from just a day ago, when Mr. Trump said in a number of interviews that he was indeed serious about the charge.

It was sarcasm, guys.

But it wasn’t, as you know. Sarcasm is being ironic for the purposes of mockery. A guy trips and breaks his nose, and you say, “Nicely done.” That’s sarcasm. It is saying the opposite of what is expected, making it not a particularly sophisticated form of humor but a popular one.

In this case, Trump saying he was being sarcastic means that he was, what? Mocking the idea that Obama had a role in fostering the Islamic State? Is that what Trump means? He said that Obama founded the Islamic State for the purposes of making it clear that, in truth, he, Donald Trump, didn’t believe that Obama was in any way responsible for the emergence of the group? He was mocking those who might be inclined toward hyperbolic characterizations for the purposes of scoring political points? Is that what Trump is doing here?

It’s a nonsense excuse. Why Trump decided at this late hour that the comment needed excusing isn’t clear. Of all of his various verbal transgressions, this one doesn’t seem significantly more detrimental to his campaign than his past comments.

* * *

It wasn’t sarcastic. It also wasn’t satire. It was Trump wanting and getting attention, a process he has mastered. That doesn’t make the statement true or insightful — and it doesn’t seem to have done much to smooth his path to the presidency.

Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s fact checker, has a piece that takes apart this McCain/Trump conspiracy theory. Donald Trump accusation that Obama founded Daesh ‘ludicrous’:

Rather than yet another fact check of yet another bizarre claim by Donald Trump, we decided to take another approach. We had previously fact-checked former Florida governor Jeb Bush when he wrongly asserted that Daesh, also known as ISIS or ISIL, did not exist when his brother, George W. Bush, was president. So it did not seem worth plowing over the same ground.

But the Washington Post has an inside expert on the rise of Daesh — our colleague Joby Warrick. His bestselling book, Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS, won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction. So here’s an interview with Joby, conducted by telephone, about Trump’s statement.

Is Obama the founder of ISIS?

Absolutely not. It’s like saying that Ronald Reagan is the founder of al-Qaida because the arms he sent to the mujahideen in Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion led to the creation of al-Qaida. It’s a ludicrous claim.

So who founded ISIS?

It was started by a Jordanian terrorist named Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi. It did not initially start out calling itself ISIS; it was called al-Qaida in Iraq.

So what did Obama have to do with the rise of ISIS?

That goes back to my earlier point. ISIS arose in response to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Zarqawi moved into Iraq in advance of the invasion in anticipation of leading a Sunni insurgency. That’s really the origin of ISIS from a U.S. policy standpoint. [Note: Trump supported the invasion of Iraq.]

But why did ISIS suddenly seem to grow rapidly during the Obama administration?

The civil war in Syria breathed new life into what had become a moribund organization. The conflict in Syria created a perfect vacuum in terms of governance, and so the civil war became an opportunity for the restoration of the organization. You could fault the White House for not intervening into the Syrian conflict. But there are all kinds of questions about whether any actions taken by the United States would make a difference. Also, given Russian opposition at the United Nations, it’s pretty unlikely the United States could have gotten international backing for an intervention.

Some people have also criticized Obama for pulling troops out of Iraq.

There are two different issues. ISIS rebounded within the space created in the Syrian conflict. ISIS then saw opportunity to rebound in Iraq. One factor was the withdrawal of U.S. troops. But there was also rampant mismanagement by the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which greatly degraded the Iraqi military and exacerbated tensions between Sunnis and Shiites.

Trump also claims Hillary Clinton was a “co-founder” of ISIS. Does that make sense?

No. Within the administration, Clinton was one of the loudest forces for keeping a residual force in Iraq and for intervening in Syria, such as arming the rebels. So the criticism especially does not apply to her, since she advocated a more hawkish policy than was undertaken by Obama.

Other fact checkers are equally harsh on Trump’s false claims. Trump’s False Obama-ISIS Link, PoltiFact (via CBS): Fact check: Trump wrongly calls Obama “founder” of ISIS, AP: AP Fact Check: Trump wrongly calls Obama ‘founder’ of ISIS.

This goes double for John McCain’s frequent false assertion of this conspiracy theory about ISIS and President Obama.


  1. McCain gave us the hard-drinking fist-fighting Palin clan. So, right there, he’s got to go.

    He has no credibility from the left or right anymore.

    In fact, has anyone noticed that between Palin, Trump, Nugent, Duck Dynasty, and now Jeff Flake, how intertwined the GOTeaP has become with reality TV?

    It’s weird. How can you take them seriously anymore?

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