On Friday afternoon, Donald Trump tried again to defend his highly controversial policy in Syria, telling reporters, "We've taken control of the oil in the Middle East, the oil that we're talking about; the oil that everybody was worried about. We have -- the U.S. has control of that."
The comments sparked a series of questions, since no one seemed to know what the president was talking about. My guess was that Trump might've been referring to U.S. troops being deployed to Saudi Arabia, where local oil facilities were recently attacked, but I had no idea whether the guess was correct.
Apparently, Trump had a different country's oil in mind. He published a tweet yesterday that read:
Mark Esperanto, Secretary of Defense, "The ceasefire is holding up very nicely. There are some minor skirmishes that have ended quickly. New areas being resettled with the Kurds." USA soldiers are not in combat or ceasefire zones. We have secured the Oil. Bringing soldiers home!
The president eventually deleted this, probably because his Defense secretary's name is Mark Esper, not Mark Esperanto. But that wasn't the only problem with the missive.
For one thing, the quote Trump attributed to the Pentagon chief appears to have been made up. No one heard Esper say anything like this to anyone, and a Washington Post reporter added that administration officials were "confused" by the president's tweet.
For another, the assertions Trump tweeted appear to be completely wrong. The "ceasefire" hasn't stopped the violence; the "skirmishes" haven't ended; the Kurds still have nowhere to go; U.S. troops are not out of harm's way; and American servicemen and women are not on their way "home."
But as important as these falsehoods were, note that Trump again echoed the point he emphasized on Friday, tweeting, "We have secured the Oil." (In the deleted tweet, the president asserted this on his own; in a subsequent tweet, he attributed this directly to Esper, despite the fact that there's no evidence of the Pentagon secretary making the claim.)
So, what's he talking about?
NBC News reported this morning that some U.S. troops are "still present" in northern Syria "to ensure oil fields do not fall into the hands of the Islamic State group or other militants."
This certainly helps explain Trump's confusing rhetoric, though it's not much of a defense of his overall policy. For example, the president keeps telling Americans that he's bringing troops home from Syria, which is plainly false, especially if some U.S. troops are "still present" in northern Syria to secure oil fields.
What's more, it's a reminder that Trump is willing to support a troop deployment for oil, but not for our Kurdish allies.