Trump echoes one of his favorite lies: 'We kept the oil'

Trump's insistence that the U.S. "kept" Syrian oil is quickly becoming one of his favorite lies, but its repetition does not make it any less false.
Image: A U.S. soldier sits atop an armoured vehicle during a demonstration by Syrian Kurds against Turkish threats at a US-led international coalition base on the outskirts of Ras al-Ain town in Syria's Hasakeh province near the Turkish border
A U.S. soldier sits atop an armored vehicle at a US-led international coalition base on the outskirts of Ras al-Ain town in Syria's Hasakeh province near the Turkish border on Oct. 6, 2019.Delil Souleiman / AFP - Getty Images file
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By Steve Benen

During Donald Trump's town-hall event on Fox News last night, the president turned his attention to the Middle East, where he thinks he has a positive story to tell.

"[W]e did leave soldiers [in Syria]. We left soldiers because I kept the oil. And I was always against Iraq -- going into Iraq. I think it was one of the worst -- maybe the worst decision ever made. But I used to say, once they were in there, keep the oil. They never kept the oil. We have an oil area in -- near Syria and in Syria, we kept it. So the only soldiers I have over there, they're guarding the oil. We kept the oil. So we kept the treasure. That's OK."

The idea that Trump was "always against" the 2003 invasion of Iraq is clearly one of his favorite lies, but its repetition does not make it any less ridiculous.

But the Republican's insistence that the United States "kept" Syrian oil is quickly becoming one of the president's other favorite lies.

Clearly, he seems to enjoy saying this. As regular readers know, Trump started boasting months 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 in October 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.)

There's no real defense for this -- it's illegal for a country to send troops into another country to take its natural resources -- but the president continued to echo his message, boasting at a series of campaign rallies about "keeping" Syrian oil.

When Trump spoke at the Economic Club of New York in November, Trump said, in reference to Syrian oil fields, "We kept the oil. You know, we kept the oil." Soon after, sitting in the Oval Office alongside Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Trump echoed the line, boasting, "We're keeping the oil."

Eventually, a Pentagon spokesperson felt compelled to explain that the United States is not, in reality, keeping Syrian oil for ourselves.

And yet, he just keeps saying it.

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 prefers to simply lie uncontrollably because he thinks taking another country's resources makes him appear "strong" in the eyes of his most rabid followers?