Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, when asked if he believes the Middle East would be better today if Muammar Qaddafi of Libya and Saddam Hussein of Iraq were still in power, responded, “It’s not even a contest.”
He related the situations in both of those countries with what is currently happening in Syria and seemed to endorse a stronger Bashar Assad, even while admitting that he is “probably a bad guy.” “You can make the case, if you look at Libya, look at what we did there – it’s a mess – if you look at Saddam Hussein with Iraq, look what we did there – it’s a mess – it’s [Syria] going to be same thing,” the real estate mogul said.
This is a sentiment that Trump took with him on Saturday to a rally in Franklin, Tennessee, where he recalled the U.S. strategy of arming rebels during the days of Qaddafi’s reign. Trump told about 1,500 in an event hall: “Then the rebels killed our ambassador in the worst way, what happened to him. And three other people, and many other people by the way. Okay? Remember that.”
In regards to Iraq, Trump echoed a familiar line from his campaign. “Don’t forget, ISIS came out of Iraq,” Trump recalled, calling the terror organization “the leftovers that didn’t get taken care of.”
He also told the Franklin audience that during the time of Saddam Hussein’s “vicious” rule in Iraq “there were no terrorists in Iraq.” “You know what he used to do to terrorists?” Trump polled the crowd. “A one day trial and shoot him … and the one day trial usually lasted five minutes, right? There was no terrorism them.”
And in light of recent bombing campaigns by Russian forces in Syria, Trump says that he likes “that Putin is bombin’ the hell out of ISIS” not because he trusts him, but because he realizes that Putin “doesn’t want ISIS coming into Russia.” Trump still predicts that Putin will “get bogged down there” much like many other nations who have interceded in Middle Eastern affairs. “Everybody that’s gone to the Middle East has had nothing but problems.”
But should Trump’s policy positions earn him anything but favorability in the polls, he seemed comfortable telling Chuck Todd that he’d be just as happy back in his business. “If I were doing poorly, if I saw myself going down, if you would stop calling me because you no longer have any interest in Trump because ‘he has no chance,’ I’d go back to my business.” Trump said that when he looks at the state of the Republican field at large there are some hopefuls who “should not be running any longer” because “they’re not gonna make it.”
“If I felt I was in that position, I’d get out,” he told NBC News. “But in all fairness, I think I’m in the exact opposite position right now.” NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist polling has Trump at the top of the latest polls out of Iowa and New Hampshire.
This story originally appeared on NBCNews.com