The Trumpster fire is raging on so many fronts that it’s virtually impossible to parse every outburst of dangerous ignorance. But something he said last weekend, while riffing narcissistically at the CIA, warrants a close examination, because it shows us what happens when a loose cannon is anointed as commander-in-chief.
Some people say we shouldn’t take Trump literally, any more than we’d listen to the mentally-challenged guy who sleeps in the park. I disagree. Since he’s already trying to implement every idiocy that he uttered during the campaign, it behooves us to listen closely. And rest assured that when he free-associates his fantasies out loud, foreign leaders take him very seriously indeed. At the CIA, for instance, he said this:
“We don’t win anymore. The old expression, ‘to the victor belong the spoils’ – you remember. I always used to say, ‘keep the oil.’ I wasn’t a fan of Iraq. I didn’t want to go into Iraq. But I will tell you, when we were in, we got out wrong. And I always said, in addition to that, keep the oil. Now, I said it for economic reasons. But if you think about it, if we kept the oil you probably wouldn’t have ISIS because that’s where they made their money in the first place. So we should have kept the oil. But okay. Maybe you’ll have another chance. But the fact is, should have kept the oil.”
He said something similar last night on ABC News. Most Americans pay scant attention to foreign policy (unless it hurts their wallets or kills Americans), so it’s no surprise that Trump’s lust for Iraqi oil, and his remark that maybe we’ll “have another chance” to take it, made no impression or never got heard. That’s a pity. Because it just so happens that what he pines for is manifestly illegal, impractical, and ignorant of the facts on the ground.
In other words – and I know this will come as a shock – this guy has no idea what he’s talking about.
He’s been doing this take-the-oil thing since at least 2011, back when few cared about the musings of a reality TV clown. When he stepped up the talk in 2015, at the dawn of his candidacy, the conservative National Review magazine said that his “odd fixation” was a “bizarre, bellicose fantasy.” Last September, a military historian said that Trump’s idea is “so out of step with any plausible interpretation of international law that (it) should be dismissed out of hand by anyone with even a rudmentary understanding of world affairs.”
For starters, according to military historians and international law veterans, seizing the natural resources of another sovereign country is illegal under the terms of the Hague Convention of 1907, which bans pillaging. It’s illegal under the terms of the 1949 Geneva Convention. It’s illegal under the terms of a United Nations resolution that has been in effect since 1974. I doubt that Trump has heard of the Geneva Convention (he probably thinks it’s a hall that hosted a beauty contest), but America went to war against Saddam Hussein in 1990 precisely because Saddam’s seizure of Kuwait’s oil violated the international pact.
ABC News tried last night to bring up the illegality issue, but Trump refused to engage. His response: “Who are the critics who say that? Fools. I don’t call them critics. I call them fools.”
Glad we settled that.
But illegalities aside, Trump’s idea, if ever attempted, would be disastrous. He recently said that if we seized Iraq’s oil, we could keep it as long as we “leave a certain group” to guard it. But according to Middle East experts who actually know something, at least 20,000 American soldiers would have to be permanently stationed in Iraq – because it would take decades to extract Iraqi oil from underground reservoirs. And the entire export system would have to be guarded.
And that “certain group” of soldiers would be permanently targeted by Iraqis – understandably so, according to Douglas Ollivant, a former National Security Council specialist on Iraq who worked for Bush and Obama. Last fall, when Trump was again harping on his idea, Ollivant said: “You could probably secure the area if you’re willing to have a forever war…Taking oil from the Iraqis is akin to taking oil from Texans, coal from West Virginians or timber from Oregonians. This is the stuff their economy is based on and they would probably fight to keep it. If someone came to my country and stole my oil I’d probably shoot at them too.”
Plus, we have the ignorance factor. Trump keeps insisting that seizing Iraq’s oil foils ISIS. But the truth is, Iraq’s oil is mostly located at the southern end of the country – where ISIS has no presence. That’s because the Shia Muslims, who detest ISIS, control the south.
Perhaps I’m parsing a Trump dream that will never happen. But there’s a larger issue here: An unstable world is ill-served by an American poseur who’s a font of instability. The Iraqis have already spent much of this week wondering if we’re planning to re-invade; many have vowed to take up arms to protect their oil. And this is just one small episode.
Do we really need pointless provocations that create new potential enemies and unsettle our allies? Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, a Republican who worked for Reagan and both Bushes, says in a new book that the answer is no:
“The United States has to be wary of sudden or sharp departures in what it does in the world. Consistency and reliability are essential attributes for a great power. Friends and allies who depend on the United States for their security need to know that this dependence is well placed. If America comes to be doubted, it will inevitably give rise to a very different and much less orderly world.”
On the other hand, I was emailed yesterday by a Florida Trumpkin who said that his Leader’s “intentional chaos” is actually “strategic genius.”
You decide who makes more sense.