President Donald Trump said the quiet part out loud at a press conference before a White House meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi on Aug. 20.
“As you know, in Syria we’re down to almost nothing, except we kept the oil,” Trump said of U.S. troop levels in the country. “But we’ll work out some kind of a deal with the Kurds on that. But we left, but we kept the oil.”
One can only imagine what was going through al-Kadhimi’s mind as the U.S. president casually boasted right in front of him to the press about the American military lingering in a Middle Eastern country for no other reason than to get its hands on that country’s natural resource wealth.
In case you were wondering if there was some existential threat that could serve as a viable pretext for the continued U.S. presence in Syria, Trump cleared that right up. He said the threat of ISIS taking over the country and establishing a caliphate is over.
“We defeated the ISIS caliphate in Iraq and Syria, and it’s − that has been defeated very strongly,” Trump said.
All right then. How about the Syrian Kurds? Virtually the entire national security establishment clutched its pearls when Trump announced in December 2018 that the U.S. would withdraw troops from Syria. It was reportedly the reason Gen. James Mattis abruptly resigned as secretary of defense within hours of the announcement.
For anyone wondering about the current status of those concerns:
“We did it with Mike Pence, went over and met with the various parties and very successfully, and we removed our troops,” Trump said. “Nobody was killed. Nobody. And now they protect their own border like they have been for hundreds of years, and we’ve left. But we did keep a small force, and we kept the oil. And we’ll make a determination on that oil fairly soon.”
Trump is way off the conventional U.S. national security script. The first rule of oil fight club is that you don’t talk about oil fight club. Instead, you talk about how there are good guys who need to be protected from bad guys − halfway around the world, and typically in a place floating on oil. Funny how that works, isn’t it?
The Iraqi prime minister sitting beside Trump as he explained how U.S. troops will continue to guard Syria’s oil until America can exploit it must have been shocked by the brazen honesty of it all.
Or not. Because Trump had outlined a similar vision for Iraq right in front of the prime minister. It would involve pulling out troops in exchange for oil deals.
“But we were there and now we’re getting out. We’ll be leaving shortly,” Trump said. “The relationship is very good. We’re making very big oil deals. Our oil companies are making massive deals and that’s basically the story.”
The U.S. presence in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East has nothing to do with lofty virtues, either. At least not anymore. It’s now all about the looting of wealth − or “pillaging,” which is technically a war crime that can be prosecuted at The Hague. It’s also expressly prohibited in various U.S. military handbooks. If an individual U.S. soldier seized public property belonging to another country, he would be court martialed.
But if the U.S. president brags about using the cover of war to steal another nation’s resources, it’s apparently not even worthy of a follow-up question. Not one journalist present at Trump’s press conference with the Iraqi prime minister called out, “Sir, did you know that keeping Syrian oil is a war crime?” It apparently also sounded legit to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was in attendance.
Trump is constantly talking about how he’s the law-and-order president and condemning lawless behavior in urban America. But he fails to see how he’s given himself license to engage in looting on an international scale, using conflict as an excuse to smash the windows of other nations and grab whatever wealth he thinks America is entitled to. It’s one of the very few issues on which the national security establishment hasn’t derided him. That should tell him everything he needs to know about how wrong this is.
Rachel Marsden is a columnist, political strategist and host of an independently produced French-language program that airs on Sputnik France. Her column is distributed by Tribune Content Agency.