Bill Maher is right about ISIS: New study confirms numbers in his controversial Hollywood Reporter piece

PolitFact digs into Bill Maher's numbers on ISIS and the Middle East -- and finds him mostly spot-on

Published February 23, 2016 4:42PM (EST)

"Real Time" host Bill Maher has been an outspoken opponent of ISIS, American involvement in the Middle East, and -- perhaps most controversially -- Syrian refugees. All this (and more) he laid out in a characteristically biting essay for The Hollywood Reporter.

On the matter(s):

How come Saudi Arabia didn't take in any Syrian refugees? ... Why don't they fight their own battles? Why are Muslim armies so useless against ISIS? ISIS isn't 10 feet tall. There are 20,000 or 30,000 of them. The countries surrounding ISIS have armies totaling 5 million people. So why do we have to be the ones leading the fight? Or be in the fight at all?

PunditFact, a branch of the fact-checking site PolitiFact, analyzed Maher's figures in a recent report and found that they're, by and large, on the mark.

With respect to ISIS's size, according to the report, "reliable estimates ... are hard to come by." However, "The latest U.S. estimate is 19,000 to 25,000 released by the White House on Feb. 4 ... So Maher is still in the ballpark."

Maher takes more liberties, however, in estimating the size of "countries surrounding ISIS." After learning from Maher's spokesman, Adam Schiff, that Bill was referencing Wikipedia data providing the total strength--active duty and reserve forces--of 13 Middle East countries' militaries.

The World Bank total includes both military and paramilitary personnel on active duty serving full time. The totals on the Wikipedia page add in reserve forces who are not active military but are available for mobilization if necessary. If they're included as part of a country's army, the total for those 13 countries Maher wants to include rises to 4.95 million, as Maher said.

In coming to his arguably inflated 5 million figure, the report concludes, Maher is "folding in five (countries) that don't share a border with ISIS' strongholds but nonetheless play key roles in Arab affairs."

As such, PolitiFact rated the statement "Mostly True."

Read the full report here.

Bill Maher on Hillary, Bernie, Trump and the 2016 Political Landscape

By Brendan Gauthier

Brendan Gauthier is a freelance writer.

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