It’s one of his more hysterical stream-of-consciousness ramblings, from a man for whom bloviation is his signature. President Donald J. Trump, arguably the most powerful person on earth, doubled down on his assertion that the US should have stolen Iraq’s oil, this time in a meeting with CIA officials.
His primary argument is that by taking the oil, ISIL would have been starved of the revenue which enabled the group to flourish. During an election speech on August 15 last year he stated: “I was saying this constantly and consistently to whoever would listen. I said, ‘Keep the oil, keep the oil, keep the oil. Don’t let someone else get it.’”
Less than a month later, in a Presidential debate, he repeated the claim. “I’ve always said, shouldn’t be there, but if we’re going to get out, take the oil. If we would have taken the oil, you wouldn’t have ISIS [ISIL], because ISIS formed with the power and the wealth of that oil.”
And so on Saturday, as he introduced Rep. Mike Pompeo as his pick for head of the CIA, Trump returned to his familiar refrain: “Now I said it for economic reasons. But if you think about it, Mike, if we kept the oil, you probably wouldn’t have ISIS because that’s where they made their money in the first place, so we should have kept the oil.”
He then added: “But, OK, maybe we’ll have another chance.”
That final remark echoes how he signed off his previous thoughts on the matter. “In the old days, when we won a war, to the victor belonged the spoils,” Trump said in August. “Instead, all we got from Iraq – and our adventures in the Middle East – was death, destruction and tremendous financial loss.”
Taking “another chance” would lead to nothing but more death and a resurgence of extremism.
Draping his ambitions of sovereign robbery in an ISIL flag does nothing to conceal the truth. The new President is so swollen with avarice that he maintains Iraq’s oil is, in fact, owed to the US as spoils of war. Such international banditry is outlawed under the Annex to the Hague Convention of 1907 on the Laws and Customs of War, and the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Times of War.
Once the evidence of weapons of mass destruction was revealed to be fabricated, many believe that the 2003 invasion was in truth launched to quench the unslakable US thirst for fossil fuels. Trump’s disdain for renewable energy, claims that climate change is a conspiracy cooked up by the Chinese, and the low price of oil rendering fracking economically unviable suggest that he will continue to cast envious glances at Iraq.
However, even this serial bankrupt is unlikely to see illegally occupying and robbing the country as desirable.
Andrew Bacevich, a retired colonel and professor of history and international relations at Boston University, explained the idea to the Washington Post as “beyond goofy.”
“To ‘take the oil’ would require the United States to occupy Iraq. We tried that after 2003 with something approaching 200,000 troops and it did not work. What would effective occupation actually require? A minimum of a half-million troops, perhaps more.
“Presumably, Trump would have them stay until the oil runs out, which would entail an occupation running into decades. The total cost? Probably more than the value of the oil itself.”
Barnett Rubin, associate director of New York University’s Centre on International Cooperation, was even more scathing in a September 2016 interview with Politifact.
“Insofar as Mr. Trump’s proposals are coherent enough to be subject to analysis and judgment, they appear to be practically impossible, legally prohibited, and politically imbecilic.”
Building a safe Iraq is dependent on the country’s mineral wealth. For all his posturing and immediate executive orders, Trump’s insensitive, naïve remarks yesterday (and all the way back to 2007) are unlikely to signal fresh conflict – one which would be not only prohibitively expensive and domestically unpopular, but also illegal.