Donald Trump, indifferent to the consequences of his decision, recently announced a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, and spent weeks assuring Americans his radical shift was “strategically brilliant.”
It wasn’t. Not only did conditions on the ground quickly turn catastrophic, but the Republican president isn’t really withdrawing. As the New York Times noted last week, “[T]he total number of United States forces in Syria is expected to be about 900 – close to the 1,000 troops on the ground when Mr. Trump ordered the withdrawal of American forces from the country.”
Trump has defended his foreign policy reversal – actually, the latest in a series of foreign policy reversals – by saying he intends to keep troops on the ground to get Syrian oil. Indeed, last week, he boasted that the United States has “taken” Syrian oil and are 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.
Trump’s rhetoric, however, is wholly at odds with Trump administration’s policy. As Vox reported yesterday:
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.
All of which raises some awkward questions.
Does Donald 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?