FILE - In this May 20, 2017, file photo, President Donald Trump shakes hands with Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman in...
Evan Vucci

Trump admin won’t defend Trump’s claim about troops in Saudi Arabia

At a White House cabinet meeting yesterday, Donald Trump boasted, “We’re bringing our soldiers back home from the endless wars. We’re doing great.” In reality, of course, the president isn’t actually withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria, despite his claims to the contrary, and he’s deploying additional U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia.

On the latter, however, Trump has an amazing defense. Saudi Arabian officials, the Republican declared last week, have “agreed to pay for the cost of those troops. They’ve agreed to pay fully for the cost of everything we’re doing over there…. Saudi Arabia is paying for 100 percent of the cost, including the cost of our soldiers. And that negotiation took a very short time – like, maybe, about 35 seconds.”

In other words, there were private negotiations – which the White House had not previously disclosed – between the Trump administration and Saudi officials, and as part of those talks, Saudi Arabia agreed to pay “for 100 percent of the costs” of the American troop deployment, “including the cost of our soldiers.”

To hear Trump tell it, this will be the first time in American history that U.S. troops have been deployed abroad at literally no cost to taxpayers. It led the Washington Post to wonder what in the world the president was talking about.

White House officials would not explain what Trump meant. So, we checked with the Pentagon for more details on the supposed payment arrangement. Officials at the Defense Department deflected our inquiry. […]

We checked with the relevant committees in the House and the Senate – Defense, Foreign Affairs and Appropriations – and none could report an understanding of the president’s claim. The Saudi Embassy did not respond with an explanation, either.

Eventually, the State Department gave the Post a vague statement about “burden-sharing among partners,” which shed no light on whether the president’s odd claim had any bearing on reality.

All of which suggests the Trump administration wasn’t sure how best to explain the president’s strange claim.

I realize, of course, that “Trump peddles bizarre lie” is a routine headline, but in the not-too-distant past, an American president caught saying something untrue about U.S. troop deployments would expect to face a significant controversy.

In 2019, against an avalanche of presidential falsehoods, it’s the sort of claim that leads to a lot of shrugged shoulders.