Trump has been more blatant in explaining why the United States has been interfering in countries in the Middle East, compared to previous presidents. According to MSNBC, on October 18, Trump stated “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.” He went on to tweet a couple of days later that “USA soldiers are not in combat or ceasefire zones. We have secured the Oil. Bringing soldiers home!” These have not been the only times Trump has suggested taking “control” of oil fields in the Middle East and some of those comments have coincided with comments about taking some oil as a reward.
While Trump has not recently said that we would take the oil, despite having blatantly said it in the past, there is no other reason for securing the oil fields. The Trump administration has implied in their statements that they would hand control of the oil fields over to the Syrian Democratic Forces or the Kurds. This does not make sense because as ABC points out, most of the oil that both groups have sold in the past has been bought up by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Since the United States opposes his regime, it is unlikely they will relinquish control unless a deal is reached between the SDF and the United States.
The only other option would be for the U.S. to keep the oil for itself. The issue with this, is that taking the oil would be pillaging, which is illegal under international law. Since the oil is in Syrian lands and the U.S. won’t have a deal with Assad that allows the U.S. to take the oil, it would result in a violation of Syria’s sovereignty. NPR points out that the U.S. is a member of many legally binding international treaties, including the Fourth Geneva Convention, which expressly prohibits pillaging. According to Politico, however, Donal
According to the New Yorker, even just defending the oil fields without Syrian consent is legally dubious. “Legally, the United States has pushed the envelope since 2014 by relying on the Authorization for Use of Military Force originally passed by Congress, in 2001… Critics have long argued that both the Obama and Trump Administrations needed a new A.U.M.F. for campaigns in Iraq and Syria.” The fact that the legality is flimsy will not deter Trump from pursuing it and though many current and former military leaders have spoken out against this, they were also opposed to pulling U.S. troops from Syria. The complaints are likely more about the blatant-ness of the statements and not so much the actions of the military.
Assad, for his part, has responded to Trump’s many comments on October 31, with the Global News reporting him as saying that Donald Trump is the “best American president” because of his “complete transparency.” This would sound like praise if it weren’t for the subject matter and the fact that Assad continues by saying “All American presidents commit crimes and end up taking the Nobel Prize and appear as a defender of human rights and the ‘unique’ and ‘brilliant’ American or western principles.” Assad is not wrong. America has been more than willing to intervene in the domestic politics of other nations in the past. The only difference here is that Trump is saying the implied part out loud.