Speaking in swing state Ohio, Trump also said his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton lacks the "mental and physical stamina" to take on the Islamic State. He said destroying the terror group would be the centerpiece of his foreign policy and he would partner with any countries that share that goal — specifically singling out Russia as a nation the U.S. could have a better relationship with.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks in Youngstown, Ohio, on Aug. 15, 2016. (Photo: Gerald Herbert/AP)
"Any country that shares this goal will be our allies," Trump said. "We can never choose our friends, but we can never fail to recognize our enemies."
Ahead of Trump's address, Clinton and Vice-President Joe Biden vigorously challenged the Republican nominee's preparedness to be commander in chief. Biden called Trump's views "dangerous" and "un-American" and warned that Trump's false assertions last week about President Obama founding the Islamic State could be used by extremists to target American service members in Iraq.
"The threat to their life has gone up a couple clicks," he said.
While Trump has been harshly critical of Obama's handling of the threat posed by the Islamic State, his own policies for defeating the group remain vague. His most specific prescriptions centred on changing U.S. immigration policy to keep potential attackers from entering the country.
"We can never choose our friends, but we can never fail to recognize our enemies."
Trump's campaign aides said the new ideological test for admission to the United States would vet applicants for their stance on issues like religious freedom, gender equality and gay rights. The government would use questionnaires, social media, interviews with friends and family or other means to determine if applicants support American values like tolerance and pluralism. The U.S. would stop issuing visas in any case where it cannot perform adequate screenings.
Trump did not clarify how U.S. officials would assess the veracity of responses to the questionnaires or how much manpower it would require to complete such arduous vetting. Nor did the campaign say whether additional screenings would apply to the millions of tourists who spend billions of dollars visiting the United States each year.
The Republican nominee's foreign policy address comes during a rocky stretch for his campaign. He's struggled to stay on message and has consistently overshadowed his policy rollouts, including an economic speech last week, with provocative statements, including his comments falsely declaring that Obama was the "founder" of the Islamic State.
Blames Obama, Clinton for ISIS
Trump spent much of the speech building a case that Obama and Clinton are to blame for the creation of the terror group that has roiled the Middle East and carried out attacks in the West. He specifically highlighted the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq in late 2011, arguing the move created a vacuum for terror groups to thrive.
Reiterating a favourite criticism of Republicans, Trump also panned the Obama administration for not using the phrase "radical Islamic terrorism" to describe sympathizers.
Obama, Clinton and top U.S. officials have warned against using that kind of language to describe the conflict, arguing that it plays into militants' hands.
Set to release list of 'terror countries'
Trump's immigration proposals were the latest version of a policy that began with his unprecedented call to temporarily bar foreign Muslims from entering the country — a religious test that was criticized across party lines as un-American. Following a massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in June, Trump introduced a new standard, vowing to "suspend immigration from areas of the world where there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe or our allies, until we fully understand how to end these threats."
That proposal raised numerous questions that the campaign never clarified, including whether it would apply to citizens of countries like France, Israel, or Ireland, which have suffered recent and past attacks. Trump had promised to release his list of "terror countries" soon. But aides say the campaign needs access to unreleased Department of Homeland Security data to assess exactly where the most serious threats lie.