Former President Donald Trump, who is now running for president again, made an inaccurate claim on Wednesday about his successor’s response to the Russian war in Ukraine. Trump said in an online video that President Joe Biden is “now doing what he said 10 months ago would lead to World War III: he is sending in American tanks.”
Such claims had already spread widely on social media in the wake of Biden’s announcement last week that the US would send Ukraine 31 M1 Abrams tanks. As of Thursday morning, there were more than 18.5 million views on a single Tuesday tweet of a meme image that claimed to quote Biden as saying on March 11, 2022: “The idea that we’re going to send in tanks to Ukraine, that’s called World War III.”
But that isn’t a complete Biden quote.
Facts First: Both Trump and the viral meme omitted key words from the remark Biden made on March 11, 2022. In reality, Biden didn’t make an unqualified declaration that sending tanks to Ukraine means World War III. Rather, he said that sending American troops into Ukraine with tanks and other military vehicles means World War III.
Biden made the comment in a speech to the House Democratic caucus on March 11, 2022. You can watch the full video here.
In the lead-up to the comment, Biden said, “We’re gonna make sure Ukraine has the weapons to defend themselves from [the] invading Russian force.” He said “we will defend every inch of NATO territory, every single inch.” He spoke of how he had moved thousands of US troops to areas along Russia’s borders with NATO members (Ukraine is not a NATO member). He said, “Granted, if we respond, it is World War III, but we have a sacred obligation on NATO territory – a sacred obligation, Article 5.”
Biden added, “Although we will not fight the Third World War in Ukraine.” Then, after vowing that the war on Ukraine would never be a victory for Russian President Vladimir Putin, he made the comment that is now being stripped of key words by his critics.
Biden said: “But, look, the idea – the idea that we’re going to send in offensive equipment and have planes and tanks and trains going in with American pilots and American crews, just understand – and don’t kid yourself, no matter what you all say – that’s called ‘World War III.’ OK? Let’s get it straight here, guys. That old expression – ‘Don’t kid a kidder.’”
The “going in with American pilots and American crews” part of the quote is plainly essential in assessing whether Biden himself had previously warned that the actions he is now taking would mean World War III. While Biden said last week that the US would send some tanks to Ukraine, he has remained consistent in ruling out the idea of American troops fighting in Ukraine.
Trump’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
The viral Twitter meme that left out the important words from Biden was posted by a user who goes by the handle “TaraBull.” The meme was given oxygen by billionaire Twitter chief executive Elon Musk, who posted a reply to “TaraBull” in which he asserted that the war in Ukraine is escalating quickly.
Twitter’s “community notes” feature later affixed a fact check directly to the “TaraBull” tweet.
“TaraBull” criticized fact-checkers in another meme tweet on Tuesday. Asked for comment by CNN on Wednesday, “TaraBull” responded with questions that conveyed concern about how the US might be affected by Putin’s possible reaction to Biden’s decision to provide the tanks.
Regardless, the supposed Biden quote that has now been seen by millions of people didn’t accurately convey what Biden said.