Donald Trump has presented strong opinions on some Syria-related policy issues, but they lack coherence and detail. He is in favor of a safe zone, against arming the Syrian opposition, and in favor of letting Russia handle bombing ISIS. He has not acknowledged that Russia is mainly targeting non-ISIS Syrian rebels. He claims to have plan to defeat ISIS but he does not want to share the details. Donald Trump’s position on accepting Syrian refugees has changed over time, but since October 2015 he has been solidly against accepting Syrian refugees, particularly if they are Muslim, into the US. Trump’s position on having US forces on the ground has waffled back and forth: in 2015 he was willing to go as far as: “if need be,” but in March 2016 this position appeared to became a clear yes when he said he would send the 20,000-30,000 forces recommended by U.S. generals, saying: “we have no choice.” Several weeks later when asked about this statement in an interview he backtracked, making it again unclear where he stands.

  • On ISIS:
    • “When I do come up with a plan that I like and that perhaps agrees with mine, or maybe doesn’t — I may love what the generals come back with… I have a plan… I don’t want to broadcast to the enemy exactly what my plan is.” (Time, 09/08/16)
    • “I am also going to convene my top generals and give them a simple instruction: they will have 30 days to submit to the Oval Office a plan for defeating ISIS.” (Real Clear Politics, 09/06/16)
    • “I have a simple message for [ISIS]. Their days are numbered. I won’t tell them where and I won’t tell them how. But they’re going to be gone. ISIS will be gone if I’m elected president. And they’ll be gone quickly. They will be gone very, very quickly.” (NY Times, 04/28/16)
    • “You got to fight ISIS first. You fight ISIS first. Right now you have Russia, you have Iran, you have them with Assad, and you have them with Syria. You have to knock out ISIS. They’re chopping off heads. These are animals. You have to knock em out. You have to knock them off strong. You decide what to do after, you can’t fight two wars at one time.”  (Washington Post, 02.13.16)
    • “We should be able to penetrate the Internet and find out exactly where ISIS is and everything about ISIS. And we can do that if we use our good people.” (Washington Post, 12/15/15)
    • “I would bomb the shit out of ’em… I would just bomb those suckers,…I’d blow up the pipes, I’d blow up the refi-, I’d blow up every single inch, there would be nothin’ left.” (Washington Post, 11/16/15)
    • “Syria’s a mess. You look at what’s going on with ISIS in there, now think of this: we’re fighting ISIS. ISIS wants to fight Syria. Why are we fighting ISIS in Syria? Let them fight each other and pick up the remnants.” (Time, 9/18/15)
  • On Assad:
    • “He’s [Assad’s] much tougher and smarter than her [Hillary Clinton] and Obama… But if they ever did overthrow Assad, you might end up with as bad as Assad is. And he’s a bad guy. But you may very well end up with worse than Assad.” (Politico-Debate Transcript, 10/20/16)
    • “I don’t like Assad at all, but Assad is killing ISIS.” (Politico-Debate Transcript, 10/10/16)
    • “I think Assad is a bad guy, a very bad guy, all right? Lots of people killed… We have to do one thing at a time. We can’t be fighting ISIS and fighting Assad. Assad is fighting ISIS. He is fighting ISIS.“ (Washington Post, 12/15/15)
    • “We have to get rid of ISIS first. After we get rid of ISIS, we’ll start thinking about it. But we can’t be fighting Assad. And when you’re fighting Assad, you are fighting Russia, you’re fighting — you’re fighting a lot of different groups.” (Washington Post, 12/15/15)
    • “Assad is bad, maybe these people could be worse.” (Guardian, 10/13/15)
  • On a No Fly Zone:
    • “We have to build safe zones over there. And we have to take care of people. Let’s build safe zones, but build them over there! Build them in Syria, build them in places over there! We have to build safe zones. We’ll build safe zones over there, and now here’s where the deal making comes in…we have to get the gulf states to pay for it.” (ABC News, 06/15/16)
    • “A big beautiful safe zone, and you have whatever it is so people can live and they’ll be happier.” (ABC News, 11/16/15)
  • On U.S. Forces:
    • “I said the generals, the military is saying you would need 20- to 30,000 troops, but I didn’t say that I would send them…I would find it very, very hard to send that many troops to take care of it.” (Washington Post, 3/21/16)
    • In response to adding troops on the ground to fight ISIS: “We really have no choice. We have to knock out ISIS. We have to knock the hell out of them. We have to get rid of it. And then come back and rebuild our country, which is falling apart. We have no choice…I would listen to the generals, but I’m hearing numbers of 20,000 to 30,000.” (CNN, 03.10.16)
    • “Donald Trump would be open to putting boots on the ground “if need be” in the fight against ISIS.” (NBC News, 11/18/15)
  • On arming groups:
    • “I think we are backing people we have no idea who they are. The rebels, we call them the rebels, the patriotic rebels. We have no idea. A lot of people think, Hugh, that they are ISIS.” (Washington Post, 12/15/15)”
    • I read about the rebels, nobody even knows who they are… we have no idea who these people, and what they’re going to be, and what they’re going to represent. They may be far worse than Assad.” (Washington Post, 11/10/15)
    • “The so-called ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels pledged their allegiance to ISIS after Obama’s address. We should not be arming them!” (@realDonaldTrump, 9/12/14)
  • On Russia and Iran:
    • “I think it would be great if we got along with Russia because we could fight ISIS together, as an example, but I don’t know Putin… I know nothing about Russia – I know about Russia, but I know nothing about the inner workings of Russia.” (Politico-Debate Transcript, 10/10/16)
    • “Russia is killing ISIS and Iran is killing ISIS and they have lined up because of weak foreign policy.” (Politico-Debate Transcript, 10/10/16)
    • “And, you know, the beautiful part of getting along, Russia wants to defeat ISIS as badly as we do. If we had a relationship with Russia, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could work on it together and knock the hell out of ISIS? Wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing?” (Time, 09/08/16)
    • “If Putin wants to go and knocked the hell out of ISIS, I am all for it, 100%, and I can’t understand how anybody would be against it.” (Washington Post, 11/10/15)
    • “Russia wants to get rid of ISIS. We want to get rid of ISIS. Maybe let Russia do it. Let ’em get rid of ISIS. What the hell do we care?” (Business Insider, 10/5/15)
  • On Syrian Refugees:
    • “And this is what’s caused the Great Migration where she’s [Hillary Clinton’s] taking in tens of thousands of Syrian refugees, who probably in many cases – not probably, who are definitely in many cases, ISIS-aligned. And we now have them in our country. Wait til you see – this is going to be the great Trojan horse. Wait til you see what happens in the coming years.” (Politico-Debate Transcript, 10/20/16)
    • “I am going to instruct the Department of State to immediately suspend the Syrian refugee resettlement program and develop plans for the construction of a safe zone in the region.” (Real Clear Politics, 09/06/16)
    • “The problem is, we don’t [know] if they’re Christian or not,” Trump said. “I would certainly say that (the screening test) would be superior. … We have no idea who the people are. They have no papers. They have no paperwork. You can get forged documents very easily in Syria.” (ABC News, 11/16/15)
    • “I’m putting people on notice that are coming here from Syria as part of this mass migration, that if I win, they’re going back!” (MSNBC, 10/1/15)
    • “I hate the concept of it, but on a humanitarian basis you have to [allow in refugees].” (Guardian, 9/9/15)