It’s been a while since I directly debunked one of Trump’s moronic proposals. This is partly because I got tired of responding to his nonsense and partly because his team has had him on a tighter leash as of late. However, Trump recently ended his streak of anodyne non-statements by reaffirming his position that the United States should have “taken Iraq’s oil.” This argument is completely ludicrous, and I can’t ignore it any longer. Thus, here is a comprehensive review of why we shouldn’t “take the oil.”
First, what does Donald Trump mean when he says that we should have taken the oil? Does he mean that the United States government should have occupied Iraqi oil fields and extracted their hydrocarbon reserves, or does he instead mean that American petroleum companies should have been given drilling rights in Iraq? It’s honestly unclear, and I doubt even Trump knows the answer to this question because all of his proposals seem to emerge from his mouth half-baked and ill-considered. Both scenarios are problematic, though. If the U.S. government occupied the land, it would have to develop some means of extracting the oil. Given that the United States doesn’t have any nationalized oil firms, this could prove to be a major challenge. But even if the government was able to develop and deploy drilling technology on its own, there would still be political problems. After all, American and European oil companies would be none too pleased by the American government flooding the market with oil. Assuming that Trump understood these problems – a very big assumption I grant you – it’s still not clear that privatized drilling would be much better. After all, there would almost certainly be enormous political fights over which companies would receive the rights to drill. It’s also unclear that allowing private firms to drill would be in the interests of the United States: These firms would keep the profits, meaning that oil revenue would not meaningfully lower the costs of war, and it’s unlikely that these companies would be willing to just pull out after the war. Thus, U.S. soldiers would be forced to remain in Iraq indefinitely to act as security for private corporations.
There is a bigger problem with Trump’s proposal, though: it’s unethical and counterproductive. As difficult as it is for Trump to understand this, the United States does not wage wars simply for plunder. We aren’t living in the 1600s; international law and modern concepts of morality prevent us from unleashing marauding soldiers onto a land in order to seize resources and kill anyone who gets in the way. WWI demonstrates the dangers of imposing harsh peace terms on one’s enemies. Hitler was able to rise to power in part because he could point to the degrading Treaty of Versaille as an example of French and British oppression. The Entente’s overzealous prosecution of the German Empire led to resentment and animosity within German society, and this ultimately culminated in an even greater and costlier war down the road. It’s easy to draw parallels between the end of WWI and the end of the Iraq Invasion. An oppressive and extractive occupation regime would lead to backlash against U.S. forces, leading to higher numbers of U.S. casualties and more needless conflict. Stripping a country of its natural resources is also an awful idea if one is attempting to rebuild it and foster democratic stability and economic growth. It is simply absurd to assume that a depleted Iraq would be capable of sustaining liberal democratic institutions and meaningful economic success. Iraq faces enough challenges as it is. Just imagine the corrupt regime in Baghdad trying to combat ISIS with no infrastructure or natural resources. Needless to say, we would be dealing with an even bigger fiasco than the one we have now.
Trump apparently has not stopped to consider what “taking the oil” would entail, and unfortunately his “advisors” seem incapable of challenging his ludicrous ideas. For example, Giuliani recently declared that “anything’s legal in war.” No. It isn’t. What Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan did during WWII was not justified. What ISIS is doing to populations in Iraq and Syria is not justified. Just because a country is at war does not mean that it can abandon its moral code; this kind of logic is what leads to genocide and war crimes. If these are the kinds of beliefs held by Trump’s top advisors, we should all be very afraid.
In sum, Trump’s ideas are dangerous, and they are also counterproductive to American interests. Trump is seemingly ignorant of the fact that seizing another country’s oil would only make life more difficult for the United States. He doesn’t understand that fighting ISIS – something that appears to be very important to him – would be even harder than it is now if the United States had not worked to rebuild Iraq after the invasion. In short, he doesn’t seem to grasp the larger strategic implications of his policies. He just announces plans without any thought, and he has no interest in learning about areas and topics of which he knows nothing. This is incredibly troubling, and it portends all sorts of costly and destructive foreign policy debacles in the future if Trump were to move into the White House.