During his bizarre speech to the CIA on Saturday, President Donald Trump lamented that the U.S. military didn’t steal Iraq’s oil during the second Iraq war. He also suggested the military might get another opportunity.
“We should’ve kept the oil… maybe you’ll have another chance,” Trump said.
“We should've kept the oil … maybe you'll have another chance,” President Trump tells the CIA about Iraq pic.twitter.com/RNFVWioqRF
— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) January 21, 2017
The comment echoes a talking point Trump frequently invoked on the campaign trail. During a presidential forum in September, Trump outlined a strategy for defeating ISIS that essentially amounts to modern-day colonialism — leaving U.S. troops in the region and granting them control of oil reserves.
“I’ve always said we shouldn’t be there, but if we’re gonna get out, take the oil,” Trump said. “If we would have taken the oil, you wouldn’t have ISIS, because ISIS formed with the power and the wealth of that oil.”
Asked how that would work, Trump said, “You would leave a certain group behind, and you would take various sections where they have the oil.”
But plundering a country’s natural resources is a war crime according to the Hague Conventions, which prohibits destroying or seizing an enemy’s property, and the Geneva Conventions, which simply states, “pillage is prohibited.” The U.S. is a signatory to both.
On Monday, Press Secretary Sean Spicer was given a chance to walk back Trump’s comments about taking Iraqi oil. Instead, he said Trump won’t “take options off the table.”
“We want to make sure our interests are protected. And so if we’re going into a country for a cause, I think [Trump] wants to make sure that America is getting something out of it for the commitment and sacrifice we are making,” Spicer said. “He’s been very clear throughout the campaign that he is committed to making sure that America, the American people, the American taxpayer see some benefit, and ensure that our interests overseas aren’t just sending blank checks — that we’re doing something that either protects America or is in our economic interest.”
Trump "wants to make sure that America's getting something out of it" for sacrifice if we go into a country —Spicer, on Trump/"keep the oil" pic.twitter.com/loRy9qJKtz
— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) January 23, 2017
Spicer’s comments echo the “America first” refrain Trump repeatedly invoked during his campaign and inauguration address.
“We assembled here today our issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power, from this day forward, a new vision will govern our land, from this day forward, it’s going to be only America first,” Trump said during his inaugural address. “America first.”
During the campaign, Trump endorsed breaking international law by bringing back waterboarding and other forms of torture that are “a hell of a lot worse.” In a series of written responses to the Senate Intelligence Committee were made public on Saturday, Trump’s nominee for CIA director, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS), signaled a willingness to bring torture back, writing that he’s open to revising the Army Field Manual that currently prohibits waterboarding and other forms of torture.
“If confirmed, I will consult with experts at the Agency and at other organizations in the US government on whether the Army Field Manual uniform application is an impediment to gathering vital intelligence to protect the country,” Pompeo, who is widely expected to be confirmed, wrote.
But Defense Secretary James Mattis has taken a stronger stance against torture. In November, Trump, describing a conversation he had with Mattis, said Mattis told him he doesn’t believe torture produces good intelligence.
‘“Give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I’ll do better,”’ Mattis said, according to Trump.
Mattis’ view echoes the conclusion reached by a nonpartisan group of former national security, law enforcement, and interrogation professionals, who last year wrote a letter asking all Republican presidential candidates to reject torture.
“Torture is not only illegal and immoral; it is counterproductive,” they wrote. “It tends to produce unreliable information because it degrades a detainee’s ability to recall and transmit information, undermines trust in the interrogator, and often prompts a detainee to relay false information that he believes the interrogator wants to hear. It also increases the risk that our troops will be tortured, hinders cooperation with allies, alienates populations whose support the United States needs in the struggle against terrorism, and provides a propaganda tool for extremists who wish to do us harm.”