At NBC’s Commander in Chief Forum, Donald Trump reiterated his proposal to steal Iraqi oil.
“We would leave a certain group behind and you would take various sections where they have the oil,” Trump suggested.
Like in any Trump interview, his explanation meandered in and out of focus without providing any details on how he would go about taking that oil—would he have a military presence, or just an old-fashioned, exploitative colony?—but Donald Trump did not get this far into Election 2016 by thinking things through and trekking through the weeds of political policy.
“We’re the only ones—we go in, we spend $3 trillion, we lose thousands and thousands of lives and then, Matt [Lauer], what happens is—we get nothing,” Trump said in justification of the thievery. “You know, it used to be ‘To the victor belong [sic] the spoils.’”
Trump’s politics have always been nationalistic and nativistic, but the idea to steal Iraq’s oil is truly unsympathetic to a country that America’s foreign policy has demolished.
The biggest debacle of George W. Bush’s debacle-prone administration was invading Iraq on false pretenses and then disbanding the civic government and military with mandatory de-Ba’athification. This effectively exiled all the Iraqis best able to help transition the country from Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship to a democracy, and left hundreds of thousands of soldiers unemployed. No wonder Iraq erupted into the sectarian civil war that continues to rage today. Militia fighting became the only opportunity for work and safety for many Iraqis.
ISIS is a lingering consequence of the civic chaos following de-Ba’athification, and for several years Iraq has functionally been broken up into several, autonomous sub-states: the Kurdish territory in the North, the Sunni territory in the west occupied by ISIS, and the government-controlled east allied with Iran. Iraq today might be best described as The Country Formerly Known As Iraq.
As you can imagine, putting the pieces of Iraq back together will be difficult—if the world is actually committed to Iraq’s pre-US invasion borders—and neither ISIS nor the Iranian-backed Iraqi government are eager for compromised unification. Iraqi Kurds are perhaps the most apathetic to Iraqi nationalism, as they have been persecuted for decades in genocide both ethnically and culturally, but have finally obtained a degree of self-sovereignty for themselves within the Iraqi and Syrian power vacuums.
Suppose, though, that ISIS is defeated, ethnic hatred cools, and Iraq is reassembled. How might Iraq go about reconstruction? Iraq’s economy is tied almost entirely to oil exports, and there is relatively little economic activity outside of oil that the Iraqi government can tax for expanding a national budget because Iraqi cities have been desecrated over 13 years of war. The incredible loss of life and exodus of refugees are substantial handicaps as well. Operation Iraqi Freedom, in hindsight, was very ironically named, but literally the only hope that Iraq has for freedom, national restoration, and economic recovery is in Mesopotamian oil… and Donald Trump wants to steal it.
Trump is factually correct when he explains that ISIS currently uses the oil for economic and political gain, but his idea that the oil should not be given back to the Iraqi government is counter-intuitive for America’s effort in Iraqi nation-building. Without oil money, Iraq’s government will hardly be a government at all, and if the bitter sectarian groups within Iraq cannot lay down arms in order to share the oil wealth there will be no reason for the violence to ever stop. The major sectarian players in The Country Formerly Known As Iraq have been warring for exclusive access and militant control of that oil, so if the US steals it the violence will be aimed at whatever “certain group” Trump would leave in Iraq’s “various sections.”
Is that what Donald Trump wants? Another can’t stay/can’t leave occupation of Iraq? More Iraqi death and destruction for oil money? Trump’s narrow focus on Iraq’s oil suggests he isn’t concerned with the welfare of the nation as a whole, and his idea to steal the oil would be akin to a trade war. Trump is no stranger to threats of punitive trade wars, but taking Iraqi oil would be like punishing Iraq for America’s decision to invade and occupy the country. Perhaps fittingly, Iraq War profiteer Dick Cheney plans to vote for Donald Trump in November, which suggests historically that Trump’s foreign policy ideas are bad for the national security of both Iraq and America.
If the world wants a functional, stable Iraq, Iraqi oil needs to stay with Iraqis. It would also help if Donald Trump loses Election 2016.