Syrian government soldier stands next to a well at Jazel oil field, after retaking the area from Islamic State fighters on March 9, 2015. Recent US-led coalition air strikes have frequently targeted oil facilities run by IS.
Photo by STR/AFP/Getty

Has no one told Trump we’re not ‘keeping the oil’ in Syria?


On Tuesday, Donald Trump spoke at the Economic Club of New York and fielded a question about his plan to address some of the recent economic headwinds. The president gave a long, rambling answer, which veered off in a variety of directions, including some commentary on his national security policy in the Middle East.

“We kept the oil,” the Republican said, referring to Syrian oil fields. “You know, we kept the oil.”

Yesterday, sitting in the Oval Office alongside Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Trump echoed the line.

“We’re keeping the oil. We have the oil. The oil is secure. We left troops behind, only for the oil…. But again, we’re keeping the oil.”

To be sure, the American president certainly seems to believe this. As regular readers know, Trump boasted two weeks ago that the United States has “taken” Syrian oil and he’s prepared to “militarily stop” those who try to claim it.

Reflecting on the Syrian oil’s value, Trump went on to say that the United States “should be able to take some,” adding, “[W]hat I intend to do, perhaps, is make a deal with an ExxonMobil or one of our great companies to go in there and do it properly.” (In context, “it” appeared to refer to extracting oil.)

It’s a tough dynamic to defend – it’s illegal for a country to send troops into another country to take its natural resources – but the president continues to echo his message, boasting at recent campaign rallies about “keeping” Syrian oil.

The trouble is, he’s plainly wrong.

Indeed, Trump’s Defense Department has already explained that the United States is not, in reality, seizing Syrian oil for ourselves.

On Thursday, the Pentagon’s top spokesperson told reporters in no uncertain terms that the US would not be keeping any of the revenue from those oil fields.

“The revenue from this is not going to the US. This is going to the SDF,” Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman said, using an acronym for the Kurdish-led, US-allied Syrian Democratic Forces.

I checked with others in the government to ensure that was actually the policy. Turns out that it is. “The SDF is the sole beneficiary of the sale of the oil from the facilities they control,” a senior administration official told me.

Note, nearly a week after Trump’s Pentagon contradicted the president’s rhetoric, Trump continued to peddle the same bogus line.

Circling back to our earlier coverage, all of this reinforces some awkward questions. For example, does Trump know what the Trump administration’s position is? Does he intend to change it?

Have White House officials, eager to placate the easily confused president, told Trump that the United States is keeping Syrian oil, knowing full well that we won’t do anything of the kind?

Or does Trump know the facts and prefer to simply lie uncontrollably because he thinks taking another country’s resources makes him appear “strong” in the eyes of his most rabid followers?