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Image: Donald Trump, Mohammed bin Salman
President Donald Trump shakes hands with Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman.Evan Vucci / AP

Pentagon contradicts Trump again, this time on Saudi Arabia

Trump said Saudi Arabia has already "deposited $1 billion in the bank" to pay for a U.S. troop deployment. The Pentagon said ... something different.


Donald Trump continues to dispatch American troops to the Middle East, though in recent months, the president has peddled a line he seems to think casts his decision in a more favorable light: Saudi Arabia, Trump keeps telling us, is paying for our deployments.

"Saudi Arabia, at my request, has agreed to pay us for everything we're doing," the Republican said in October. "That's a first.... And we appreciate that." He made similar comments a month earlier, bragging about the Saudis' willingness to "pay cash."

As we discussed at the time, among the problems with this was the president's suggestion that there's a direct connection between the United States' willingness to use military force in the Middle East and the money foreign countries are prepared to give us -- as if our military could be rented.

But late last week, Trump went a little further, telling Fox News about Saudi Arabia paying us for our troop deployments, and describing a conversation he claimed to have had with officials in Riyadh: "I said, 'Listen, you're a very rich country. You want more troops? I'm going to send them to you, but you have to pay us.' They're paying us. They've already deposited $1 billion in the bank."

It wasn't at all clear what he was talking about, and as it turns out, the Defense Department appeared to contradict Trump's boast in a statement to Vox.

...Pentagon spokesperson Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich said, "The Department of Defense has engaged Saudi Arabia on contributing to US activities that support regional security and dissuade hostility and aggression."

But the statement did not specify whether any sort of financial transaction took place -- on the contrary, it said that "discussions are ongoing to formalize these contributions."

There is, of course, a significant difference between Saudi Arabia already "depositing $1 billion in the bank" and "ongoing" discussions with Saudi Arabia about formalizing the country's "contributions."

And while it matters that Americans have a president who seems to lie quite routinely about the U.S. military, it's also worth stepping back to appreciate the frequency with which the Pentagon publicly contradicts Trump.

Last week, for example, after the American president talked about committing war crimes by targeting Iranian cultural sites, Defense Secretary Mark Esper explained on the record that the U.S. military would not be doing that.

As we discussed at the time, it was not an isolated contradiction. Indeed, it was just a couple of months ago when Trump boasted that the United States has "taken" Syrian oil, and he intends to partner with the private sector to extract even more. Soon after, the Pentagon's top spokesperson insisted that we would absolutely not be taking any Syrian oil.

A few months earlier, the president tried to defend his ban on allowing transgender Americans to serve in the military, arguing that in the military, servicemembers are "not allowed to take any drugs," which in his mind, necessarily meant there could be no transgender troops.

This was wrong for all kinds of reasons, including the fact that Trump was misstating DOD policy on medications. A Pentagon spokesperson explained, "The Military Health System covers all approved medically necessary treatments and prescription medications. If a service member has a hormone deficiency for any reason (such as hypogonadism, hypothyroidism, menopause, etc.), he or she would be prescribed hormones."

Has any government agency been more willing to publicly contradict Trump than the Department of Defense?

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