donald trump
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On the campaign trail, candidates will often say things they don’t mean or make promises they don’t intend to keep, but sometimes you should believe them even when they say outlandish things. That appears to be the case with something Donald Trump said about Syria back in September 2015.

Donald Trump wants to flip the U.S. strategy against ISIS on its head, drawing down the America’s involvement in fighting the militant group in Syria in favor of a greater Russian presence.

While most of his fellow Republican presidential hopefuls are calling for a bigger military effort to destroy the group, Trump said the U.S. should reduce its already small footprint in Syria. And in Iraq, Trump said he would be willing to send round forces to fight the radical militant group.

“Now let me just say this: ISIS in Syria, (Syrian President Bashar el) Assad in Syria, Assad and ISIS are mortal enemies. We go in to fight ISIS. Why aren’t we letting ISIS go and fight Assad and then we pick up the remnants?” Trump said in a “60 Minutes” interview that aired Sunday on CBS.

Alternatively, the GOP front-runner said the U.S. should let Russia take the lead in battling ISIS in Syria, where the Russian government is allied with the Assad regime.

“Russia wants to get rid of ISIS. We want to get rid of ISIS. Maybe let Russia do it. Let them get rid of ISIS. What the hell do we care?” Trump said.

That was rightfully seen at the time as a severely unorthodox take on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. And, as I pointed out in my May 2018 piece, Trump’s Lies About Moscow Tower are Impeachable, there were other red flags going up in September 2015. On September 29, Trump went on Bill O’Reilly’s show and made some astonishing statements.

“I will tell you that I think in terms of leadership, [Putin] is getting an ‘A,’ and our president is not doing so well.”

“Putin is now taking over what we started and he’s going into Syria, and he frankly wants to fight ISIS, and I think that’s a wonderful thing,” Trump told Fox News Tuesday, after ending his boycott against the network. “If he wants to fight ISIS, let him fight ISIS. Why do we always have to do everything?”

It was at this point that people first began to question whether Trump had business ties to Russia that might explain his positions. They certainly did not seem designed to appeal to the typical Republican primary voter. According to his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS was hired in September or October 2015 by the conservative Washington Free Beacon to look into Trump’s business practices.  The first thing he did was look into possible Trump-Russia ties. He was curious that Trump was saying “weird things about Putin” and had made a number of trips to Russia without ever consummating a deal.

Simpson testified that he began his research by focusing on Trump’s relationship with Felix Sater. That was certainly prescient considering that Sater was, at that very moment, negotiating a deal on a potential Moscow Trump Tower. In fact, on October 28, 2015, the deal was complete: Trump signed a letter of intent to begin the project. On Wednesday, CNN obtained an actual copy of this letter, which, despite Rudy Giuliani’s previous denials, bears the future president’s signature.

There can no question anymore that in the September 2015 time period, Trump was simultaneously in negotiations to build a Moscow Trump Tower and praising Putin as a better leader than Obama. He also argued that Putin should be given a free hand to deal with Syria without American interference.

He is now making the same argument. We can’t say that we weren’t warned.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at