Donald Trump Vs Hillary Clinton: Foreign Policy Fact-Check

Clinton TV debate
A sales assistant watches the TV broadcast of the first presidential debate in Seoul, South Korea, September 27. Trump and Clinton both made a series of foreign policy claims. Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton went head to head in the first U.S. presidential TV debate on Monday night. In common with most events of its kind, it was a bewildering bonanza of half truths seasoned with the odd downright porkie. Politics eh?

Below we’ve taken a look at the validity of six key claims the candidates made about the world beyond America, and its relationship to the U.S.


LIBYA

What Clinton said: The Democratic candidate claimed that Trump “advocated for the actions we took in Libya.” Clinton added that the Republican candidate “urged that [Muammar el-] Qaddafi be taken out after actually doing some business with him one time.”

Was it right? Clinton was largely correct, at least based on a February 2011 video blog Trump posted. In the video, the Republican candidate said that Qaddafi was killing “thousands of people in Libya” while the U.S. was doing nothing “to stop this horrible carnage,” despite having troops stationed across the Middle East. “We should go in, we should stop this guy—which would be very easy and very quick, we could do it surgically, stop him from doing it, and save these lives,” said Trump in 2011.

During a February debate with Republican challenger Ted Cruz, Trump claimed never to have discussed the subject and said that the U.S. “would be so much better off if Qaddafi were in charge right now.”

THE IRAQ WAR

What Clinton said: “Donald supported the invasion of Iraq,” Clinton claimed during the debate. “Wrong. Wrong. Wrong,” was Trump’s emphatic reply, as he claimed he did not express support for the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

Was it right? Seemingly so. In an audio interview with Howard Stern, unearthed by Buzzfeed in February , the businessman was asked directly whether he supported the invasion, which was proposed at the time. “Yeah, I guess so,” Trump responded. “I wish the first time it was done correctly.”

In the build-up to the invasion in January 2003, Trump told Fox Business’s Neil Cavuto that perhaps President George W. Bush “should be waiting for the United Nations” before invading, but by March 2003—with military intervention underway—Trump told Cavuto that the war looked like “a tremendous success from a military standpoint.”

Trump defended his initial response in a CNN town hall in February by saying he was “not a politician” at the time.


SYRIA/ ISIS

What Trump said: The Republican candidate attempted to blame the rise of the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), which now controls large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq and is a key player in the Syrian civil war, on U.S. foreign policy while Clinton was secretary of state between 2009 and 2013. “See you are telling the enemy everything you want to do. No wonder you have been, no wonder you have been fighting ISIS your entire adult life,” said Trump.

Trump also said that the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011 helped create a power vacuum in the region that ISIS exploited.

Was it right? The roots of ISIS stretch back to Al-Qaeda in Iraq, which developed in the power vacuum created by the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003—way before Clinton took up her post. The group formally split from Al-Qaeda in 2014 and in the same year swept through Iraq from its main base in Syria.

So there were at least six years before Clinton took up the role of secretary of state while ISIS was evolving, and the group’s explosive growth occurred largely after she had left office. The question of whether the withdrawal of U.S. troops aided ISIS’s growth remains open, but Clinton advocated the arming of moderate rebels in Syria as a means of filling the space left behind, according to the New York Times.

IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL

What Trump and Clinton said: The deal was “the worst ever signed,” with the U.S. having given Iran $150 billion dollars, Trump said. Clinton strongly backed the deal, saying, among other things, that it was “giving us access to facilities we've never been to before."

Was it right? Trump’s figure is probably wrong—most estimates put Iran as set to gain about $100 billion after the deal. In any case, that money is Iran’s own, but it has been frozen in foreign bank accounts until now—it isn’t a gift from America.

That said, Clinton was perhaps guilty of over-egging the benefits of the deal. According to the Associated Press , the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency had been present in Iran's declared nuclear facilities like Natanz and Fordo long before the July 2015 agreement.


NORTH KOREA

What Trump said: “China should go into North Korea…China is totally powerful as it relates to North Korea.”

Was it right? This is a long-running Trump line; he thinks the U.S. should get more out of its trade relationship with, and therefore leverage over, China, and one goal he states is the idea that China can be persuaded to help tackle North Korea , a rogue state.

Whether China could be persuaded to work more in line with U.S. interests is a matter of opinion rather than fact. But on the specific issue of its power over North Korea, Politifact has pulled Trump up in the past.

Trump’s claim that China is “totally powerful” in this context echoes his previous assertion, in January, that it has “total control” over North Korea. A range of experts told Politifact that, while China has more leverage over North Korea than America does, the extent of its influence is far from direct power or control over the country’s actions.


CHINA

What Trump said: "Look at what China is doing to our country… They are devaluing their currency and we have nobody in our government to fight them… They are using our country as a piggy bank to rebuild China, and many other countries are doing the same thing."

Was it right? Almost as central to his rhetoric as the Mexican border wall, Trump’s sallies against China’s allegedly toxic economic relationship to the U.S. are a favorite part of his arsenal.

Trump’s claim that the U.S. has had to pay to rebuild China has a kernel of truth at the heart of it; China’s economic liberalization and attendant trade with a range of other countries, including the U.S., has allowed it to make all sorts of improvements to its infrastructure.

But U.S. demand isn’t the only foreign demand from which China has benefited. And, of course, Americans have benefited from its cheap goods. In any case, China’s own domestic reforms, which later led to trade, are the main driver of its economic upturn.