Trump is playing into popular Middle East conspiracy theories about ISIS

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump keeps calling President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton the “founders” of ISIS, insisting that bad US policies both were involved in are to blame for the rise of the terrorist group.

“[Obama] was the founder of ISIS, absolutely,” Trump told CNBC Thursday. “The way he removed our troops. Shouldn’t have gone in. I was against the war in Iraq. … We destabilized the Middle East. We’ve been paying the price of it for years. But he was the founder, absolutely the founder.”

Trump has been making these types of claims for months, but he’s ramped up his rhetoric in recent weeks. Even some conservatives have questioned his portrayal of Obama and Clinton’s role in the rise of ISIS.

“You said the President was the founder of ISIS,” conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt said to Trump during a Thursday interview. He then seemingly gave Trump an out to explain his outlandish statement: “I know what you meant. You meant that he created the vacuum, he lost the peace.”

But Trump doubled down.

“No, I meant he’s the founder of ISIS. I do,” Trump said.

He later insisted that people like it when he calls Obama and Clinton “co-founders” of ISIS.

“Everyone’s liking it. I think they’re liking it,” Trump said. “I give [Obama] the most valuable player award. And I give it to him, and I give it to, I gave the co-founder to Hillary.”

Other Republican politicians have made the point in the past that the Obama administration’s foreign policy gave rise to terrorism in the Middle East. But Trump takes that argument a step further by claiming that Obama and Clinton actually founded ISIS.

Trump supporters have said they know what he really means by that — that Obama administration policies, which Clinton was a part of during her tenure as secretary of state, created a power vacuum in the Middle East that allowed terrorist groups to sprout up in the place of US troops. Obama is responsible for the US troop drawdown in Iraq, and therefore, Republicans argue, he’s responsible for what happened there after the US left.

But it seems that Trump wants people to take him quite literally.

The problem with that, explained terrorism expert Thomas Joscelyn on Twitter, is that it feeds into conspiracy theories rampant in the Middle East about US involvement in the creation of ISIS.

There’s the widespread perception in the Middle East that the US is so powerful that the military could defeat ISIS if the government really wanted to. The fact that ISIS continues to exist is proof to some that the US doesn’t really want it gone.

And a recent survey found that 81% of Syrians and 85% of Iraqis think the US created ISIS. Another recent survey found that 93% of Iraqis view the US as an enemy of their country.

Despite the US military drawdown in Iraq, the country is still a crucial ally in the fight against terrorism. A US presidential candidate seemingly legitmising conspiracy theorists further undermines any authority America has left in the Middle East.

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