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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Trump’s bin Laden ‘Prediction’

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump exaggerates his prescience on the 9/11 terrorist attacks when he claims he “predicted Osama bin Laden” in a 2000 book.

Trump’s claim came during an interview on the Alex Jones Radio Show on Dec. 2 (starting at the 4:40-minute mark).

Trump, Dec. 2: I wrote a very political book years ago in the year 2000, “The America We Deserve,” and I said in that book that we better be careful with this guy named Osama bin Laden. I mean I really study this stuff. I really find it very interesting, and even though I’m a businessman I find it —  I’ve always found, I’ve always been involved in politics — I said we better be careful with Osama bin Laden. There’s a guy named Osama bin Laden. Nobody really knew who he was. But he was nasty. He was saying really nasty things about our country and what he wants to do to it. And I wrote in the book [in] 2000 — two years before the World Trade Center came down — I talked to you about Osama bin Laden, you better take him out. I said he’s going to crawl under a rock. You better take him out. And now people are seeing that, they’re saying, “You know, Trump predicted Osama bin Laden” – which actually is true. And two years later, a year and a half later he knocked down the World Trade Center.

The America We Deserve,” which was published in January 2000, makes a single reference to bin Laden. It doesn’t warn “we better be careful with this guy named Osama bin Laden.” It doesn’t say the U.S. “better take him out.” And Trump’s reference to bin Laden as someone “nobody really knew” at the time is wrong, too.

Here’s the lone reference to bin Laden in Trump’s book:

Trump, “The America We Deserve,” January 2000: Instead of one looming crisis hanging over us, we face a bewildering series of smaller crises, flash points, standoffs, and hot spots. We’re not playing the chess game to end all chess games anymore. We’re playing tournament chess — one master against many rivals. One day we’re all assured that Iraq is under control, the UN inspectors have done their work, everything’s fine, not to worry. The next day the bombing begins. One day we’re told that a shadowy figure with no fixed address named Osama bin-Laden is public enemy number one, and U.S. jetfighters lay waste to his camp in Afghanistan. He escapes back under some rock, and a few news cycles later it’s on to a new enemy and new crisis.

The book’s reference to bin Laden escaping U.S. jetfighters refers to an Aug. 21, 1998, attack ordered by then-President Clinton. The attacks were carried out in Afghanistan and Sudan in response to the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania earlier that month. They were designed to “disrupt bin Laden’s terrorist network,” as Clinton explained in a radio address.

Clinton, Aug. 22, 1998: Our goals were to disrupt bin Ladin’s terrorist network and destroy elements of its infrastructure in Afghanistan and Sudan. And our goal was to destroy, in Sudan, the factory with which bin Ladin’s network is associated, which was producing an ingredient essential for nerve gas.

So, bin Laden was well known by the time Trump’s book came out — even though Trump now says “nobody really knew who he was.” Also, the book doesn’t say the U.S. needs to redouble its efforts to “take him out,” as Trump now tells it.

Instead, the book criticizes the Clinton administration for its “haphazard” handling of “multiple threats.” Trump ends that section of the book by writing: “Yes, we do face multiple threats we didn’t face before. But this isn’t to say we are walking in the dark. Instead, we know who and what the threats are. The problem is that we’re totaling mishandling them.”

It does, in another part of the book, say that the U.S. is in danger of “the sort of terrorist attacks that will make the [1993] bombing of the World Trade Center look like kids playing with firecrackers,” referring to an earlier, less deadly attack in 1993. But he was not alone in that concern. As Trump writes in his book, “No sensible analyst rejects this possibility.” That was, after all, a reason why Clinton ordered the attack on bin Laden’s terrorism network in 1998. Clinton said he ordered the strikes to “protect our citizens from future attacks.”

But criticizing the Clinton administration for its handling of crises isn’t the same thing as “predicting Osama bin Laden.”

— Eugene Kiely and Robert Farley