Since he made the abrupt decision allowing Turkey to invade northern Syria earlier this month, President Trump has not appeared to lose any sleep over the catastrophe he helped cause. Hundreds of Kurds have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced, but the president has dismissed any humanitarian concerns in his usual surreally glib style, comparing the Turks and Kurds to brawling children. He has waved off concerns about ISIS prisoners escaping with the unnerving assurance that most of them were recaptured.
But there is one thing about the chaotic situation that does seem to preoccupy the president: oil. Precious, precious oil. Over the past weeks, through tweets and public statements, he has made it clear that he considers the protection of it a very high priority.
CNN reported on Thursday that the U.S. would send tanks and troops to an area of eastern Syria to reinforce Kurdish defenses guarding oil fields there. As The Guardian notes, “It is quite likely it would take more troops to deploy, maintain, supply and protect armoured units in the middle of the eastern Syrian desert than the roughly 1,000 that were in the country before the Turkish invasion.”
The question of why the U.S. has the right to another country’s oil — especially as it is supposedly completely withdrawing from that country — has received surprisingly little attention amid the ongoing disaster in Syria. But the notion that American’s central goal in the Middle East is plunder of natural resources recalls conspiracy theories around the U.S. invasion of Iraq. And Trump’s current obsession with this point recalls his own sentiments about that war (which he falsely claims not to have supported). In 2013, Trump tweeted, “I still can’t believe we left Iraq without the oil.” Axios reported last year that Trump repeatedly floated the ludicrous idea to Iraq’s prime minister that the country should repay the U.S. — in oil — for the favor of having invaded it.
As the Washington Post explains, oil production in Syria has plummeted during the course of its devastating civil war, which began in 2011. But the country is still rich in the resource — that ISIS managed to turn into a moneymaking enterprise when it swept across parts of the country in 2014. The Kurdish force that was until recently backed by the United States still controls oil fields in the northern and eastern parts of the country; in 2018, hundreds of Russian mercenaries and pro-government Syria forces were killed when they clashed with U.S. soldiers and Kurds in an attempt to wrest some of the oil fields away. But it’s not clear whether the Kurdish-controlled fields are currently functional.
On Thursday, Trump tweeted, “Perhaps it is time for the Kurds to start heading to the Oil Region!” — seeming to suggest that the staunch U.S. allies should wholly relocate from the region they’ve fought and died to secure and instead focus their energies on helping the Trump administration out with its narrow interests a little more. This suggestion was reportedly not greeted warmly.
Nevertheless, Trump was at it again on Friday, attempting to justify his unjustifiable foreign-policy blunder by citing the securing of oil fields (and, oh yeah, bringing U.S. troops back home).
As the Kurds try to regroup amid the death and destruction around them, they can comfort themselves by knowing that the commander-in-chief of their erstwhile ally has his heart in the right place.