Trump’s Stated Plan to Loot Syria’s Oil Reserves ‘Would Be a War Crime,’ Critics Say

“He’s pulling back that curtain and just telling you the truth.”

By Julia Conley, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 10-28-2019

An oil refinery in Homs, Syria. Photo: High Contrast Wikimedia/CC

While announcing that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had been killed over the weekend, President Donald Trump made explicit the longstanding U.S. military policy of securing oil reserves in the Middle East regardless of the human lives that are lost in the process, a number of critics said Monday.

Trump told reporters in his Sunday press conference that the U.S. is entitled to Syria’s oil following the withdrawal of troops from the northeastern region of the country bordering Turkey. The president pulled soldiers out of the area earlier this month, while deploying troops to other parts of the country to protect oil fields from ISIS.

On Monday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told the press that the United States’ current objective in eastern Syria is “to secure the oil fields,” but did not share how many troops would be deployed.

“The oil is, you know, so valuable,” Trump told reporters Sunday. “It can help us, because we should be able to take some also. And what 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…and spread out the wealth.”

“He’s pulling back that curtain and just telling you the truth,” journalist Jordan Chariton of Status Coup said. 

The administration’s statements amounted to an admission that Trump plans to commit war crimes, wrote a number of critics on social media.

“Just to be clear: despite Trump’s statements, oil in Syria does not belong to the United States or to Donald Trump,” tweeted political scientist Brian Klaas.

“International law seeks to protect against exactly this sort of exploitation,” Emory University professor Laurie Blank told Reuters Sunday.

The condemnation echoed the words of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who denounced Trump’s plan, announced last week, to keep troops in Syria in order to protect the country’s oil from ISIS.

“Last I checked, Congress never authorized U.S. forces to be deployed to secure Syria’s economic resources,” wrote Sanders. “Putting U.S. forces in harm’s way for this purpose is illegal and unconstitutional.”

Trump’s plan to seize oil reserves won approval from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who joined the bipartisan outcry earlier this month against the president’s withdrawal of troops from Syria—a move that was widely viewed as an abandonment of the Kurdish fighters who had helped the U.S. defeat ISIS in Syria.

When asked by reporters Graham whether the U.S. has any “legal right in international law” to take Syria’s relatively small oil supply, the senator said, “We can also use some of the revenues from future oil sales to pay for our military commitment in Syria”—repeating Trump’s stated belief that “the spoils” of war should go to so-called “victors.”

“Where Lindsey and I totally agree is the oil,” Trump told the press on Sunday.

Radio host Dean Obeidallah called on the U.N. to condemn Trump’s attempts to plunder Syria’s oil.

At the New Republic, Adam Weinstein wrote that peace advocates in the U.S. are all too familiar with the perennial U.S. quest for oil reserves being wrapped up in military operations.

“It’s why, even as U.S. tanks and infantry rolled into southern Iraq in spring 2003, Americans joked that the war should have been called ‘Operation Iraqi Liberation,’ or OIL; it’s why we clamored to know the closed-door energy allegiances and outside compensation schemes of Vice President Dick Cheney, the war cheerleader and former Halliburton CEO,” wrote Weinstein.

Now, he added, the president has openly stated “his vision of America’s goal in the Middle East: loot and plunder.”

“The United States is now officially the globe’s hired muscle for commodities protection; its explicit foreign policy is now ‘Yes, blood for oil!'” Weinstein wrote. “To Trump, it’s great personal and international leverage, more valuable than values; more valuable, in fact, than Syrian or American lives.”

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