Trump to CIA: We now have 2nd Chance to take Iraq’s Oil

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Donald Trump has had a contentious relationship with the US intelligence community, in part over their conviction that the Russian Federation attempted to use cyber tradecraft to interfere in the US election on behalf of Trump.

His visit to the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters at Langley, Va., was probably intended by his handlers to begin the work of repairing that relationship. From all accounts it did not. The most alarming thing Trump said, however, regarded Iraq:

THE OLD EXPRESSION TO THE VICTOR BELONG THE SPOILS. YOU REMEMBER, YOU ALWAYS SAY KEEP THE OIL. I WASN’T A FAN OF IRAQ, I DIDN’T WANT TO GO INTO IRAQ. BUT I WILL TELL YOU, WHEN WE WERE IN, WE GOT OUT WRONG. I ALWAYS SAID, IN ADDITION TO THAT, I SAID IT FOR ECONOMIC REASONS, BUT IF YOU THINK ABOUT IT, MIKE, IF WE KEPT THE OIL YOU PROBABLY WOULDN’T HAVE ISIS BECAUSE THAT’S WHERE THEY MADE THEIR MONEY IN THE FIRST PLACE SO WE HAVE KEPT THE OIL. BUT, OKAY. MAYBE WE’LL HAVE ANOTHER CHANCE. BUT THE FACT IS, WE SHOULD HAVE KEPT THE OIL. I BELIEVE THAT THIS GROUP IS GOING TO BE ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT GROUPS IN THIS COUNTRY TOWARD MAKING US SAFE, TOWARD MAKING US WINNERS AGAIN. TOWARD ENDING ALL OF THE PROBLEMS. WE HAVE SO MANY PROBLEMS THAT ARE INTERRELATED, THAT WE DON’T EVEN THINK OF, BUT INTERRELATED, TO THE KIND OF HAVOC AND FEAR THAT THIS SICK GROUP OF PEOPLE HAS CAUSED. SO I CAN ONLY SAY THAT I AM WITH YOU A THOUSAND PERCENT. . .

The United Nations Charter and other treaty instruments that are part of US law actually abolished the principle of ‘to the victors go the spoils.’ Conquering states in a war are not allowed to annex territory from the vanquished as of 1945. That’s what is wrong with the Israeli creeping annexation of Palestine since 1967.

Given that the US has 6000 troops in Iraq, as Thomas Doherty pointed out, this kind of talk puts them in danger from Iraqi nationalists who may begin seeing them not as allies against ISIL but as stalking horses for a sinister imperialism. Trump just painted a big red target on the backs of our troops.

Thomas Doherty @dohertytjp:

“There are American troops in Iraq now, fighting Daesh. Talk like that increases risk to their lives, makes their mission harder.”

This isn’t speculation: the great Borzou Daragahi reports that the Iraqis are indeed ‘pissed’ and ready to fight for their oil.

Trump is also wrong that Iraqi petroleum fueled Daesh (ISIS, ISIL), or that the US could have “taken” Iraqi petroleum. This is because he does not know Iraqi geography or political geography. Most oil in Iraq is either down in Shiite territory at Basra (the vast majority of what is pumped) or up in Kurdish-held territory at Kirkuk. Daesh in Iraq had relatively little access to petroleum revenues, and the experts on it believe that contributions from Gulf supporters and taxes and plunder from local people (including on agriculture) were much more important. The situation is perhaps a little different in Syria, but we’re talking about Iraq.

Trump uses the phrase “take the oil,” apparently, to mean do a deal to handle the export of petroleum from a country. He said that Rex Tillerson, the CEO of ExxonMobil, goes to a country and “takes their oil.” I’m not sure whether he understands that this is typically a business deal negotiated by both sides rather than an act of coercion.

Any attempt by the United States to occupy Iraqi petroleum fields militarily and unilaterally would have resulted in massive bombings of them by Shiite militias in Basra, including Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army (‘peace brigades’). You can’t export a flammable material like petroleum from a country nowadays against its people’s will. They have too many bombs. Any small garrison of US troops at Basra would have been constantly under attack.

Moreover, the Iraqi government would never have permitted it, so you’d have to overthrow that government and re-occupy Iraq. Likewise, if the US ‘took’ Iraqi petroleum in any way that reduced profits for Iraqis, it would de-fund the Iraqi state and military, which are already woefully weak, and actually help Daesh attack an enfeebled Baghdad! Trump is arguing for a policy that enthrones Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as Caliph of Iraq!

In any case, ExxonMobil passed on Iraqi oil bids because the Iraqi ministry of petroleum put too many conditions on them and made them relatively expensive. China’s oil companies did some contracts, in contrast. If Dick Cheney really did overthrow Saddam Hussein to allow US petroleum companies to get at Iraqi oil, he may as well not have bothered. China’s economy has slowed so much that world thirst for oil stopped growing so fast, which put enormous downward pressure on prices. Also, US petroleum companies pioneered hydraulic fracturing to get oil out of fields like Bakken. The fields are probably shallow but for the moment the US isn’t importing as much petroleum as it used to.

So the fact is, the US petroleum companies probably don’t want to “take” Iraqi petroleum, don’t need it, and wouldn’t want all the massive security problems that would cause.

There is another calculation here. Oil is only used for transportation in the US, not for electricity generation (except in Hawaii). There are already 500,000 electric vehicles on US roads, and the number is about to spike exponentially. These vehicles can be fueled by solar and wind power. US demand for petroleum is about to fall off of a cliff, over the next decade, even setting aside the fracking issue.

Still, Trump’s team is talking about swinging into military action against Daesh in Iraq and Syria, and so are planning to add yet another war to all the overt and covert ones being fought by the United States (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan’s tribal belt, Somalia, Libya, Yemen, etc. etc.) This will be Trump’s war for Oil and against Daesh. Such a war is quixotic. The Iraqi forces are near to finishing Daesh off in Mosul, its last major Iraqi stronghold, anyway. And the US doesn’t need or want Iraqi petroleum.

The problem with thinking about Daesh as primarily a military problem with a direct US military solution is that that strategy ignores the dual character of Daesh as also a terrorist organization, to which it will revert as it loses on the battlefield. How it is rolled up is important.

Trump meandered all over the place at Langley, talking about how young he is at heart (his narcissism would not let him get past the phrase ‘When I was younger’ and so he had to spend a lot of time dancing around being elderly). He talked at length about how he campaigned, how many rallies he held, all of this inappropriate in a room full of analysts and field officers.

He unwisely stood in front of the wall at Langley HQ that lists the over 100 CIA field agents killed in the line of duty. He only acknowledged them in a sentence.

Trump at one point said, “BUT THE MILITARY GAVE US TREMENDOUS PERCENTAGES. WE WERE UNBELIEVABLY SUCCESSFUL IN THE ELECTION WITH GETTING THE VOTE OF THE MILITARY. PROBABLY ALMOST EVERYBODY IN THIS ROOM VOTED FOR ME, BUT I’LL NOT ASK YOU TO RAISE YOUR HANDS.”

CIA personnel have standing instructions, like many US government employees, not to speak at the level of policy, only of analysis. Policy, they feel, is above their pay grade. Trump bringing up whether they voted for him, in this teasing way, apparently set off loud alarm bells inside the agency, according to ex-CIA chief John Brennan. The last time intelligence was highly politicized, the pressure came from Bush-Cheney and produced a faulty National Intelligence Estimate on Iraqi ‘weapons of mass destruction’ that the Agency has never lived down.

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Related video:

Fox 10 Phoenix: “FULL SPEECH: Donald Trump CIA Headquarters Statement”

21 Responses

  1. Well, the American people better be prepared for more anger and hatred from Muslim nations, and grin and bear it when there are more attacks against us, for this animosity, and arrogance shown by the orange idiot, by openly stating he wants that oil, and also for moving the US embassy to Jerusalem to please the zionists, but anger the Muslim world. There must be good reason why democrat and republican Presidents did NOT move the US embassy. This is going to be the end of the Palestinian’s chance for any freedom from oppression and their chances of survival.
    Trump is behaving like an ugly, arrogant, greedy American. We should all be ashamed.

  2. Llinos Sartori

    I hate to say this but he actually doesn’t say that.His exact words are “maybe we’ll have another chance”.Accurate quotes v imp.

  3. robert hall

    If the ordinary security clearance criteria were applied to Trump, would he even qualify for a Top Secret clearance?

    • Having had a top secret code word clearance myself, I think the short answer is no. His business dealings make him suspect and too vulnerable. Throw in his questionable personal behavior as well and we have a loser.

  4. FYI – On Wednesday, London because the 15th European city to have direct freight rail service with most Chinese cities. While trump is running around causing trouble, China is quietly building a global web of interdependence.

    This will NOT end well for the USA

    link to money.cnn.com

  5. There are Professor Cole’s facts and there are president Trump’s “alternative facts.” Take your choice.

  6. Let’s not overlook the fact that Trump is all in with Netanyahu and backs him completely and wants to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. There’s a good chance that the US standing in the Arab world will be even lower under Trump than under Bush. And where are those people who said Clinton was worse? Will you believe me now?

    • Gary, you are back to the “lesser of the two” theory. I for one preferred to ‘throw’ my vote away. It is a sad state of our ‘democratic’ system when those are the only choices we are presented.

      PS: I do believe that he will be less of a war-monger than Hillary, though he will cause chaos. I did vote for Obama twice.

  7. Trump seems to like to make incendiary statements to rile up the media. I hope he is just trying to push media buttons. Anyway, its pretty obnoxious.

  8. A propos Trump and the CIA reconnect, A De Special article quotes from ‘one of his (Trump’s) many books’

    At the end of the chapter called “Revenge,” Trump advises his readers to constantly seek to take revenge. “Always make a list of people who hurt you. Then sit back and wait for the appropriate time to get revenge. When they least expect it, go after them with a vengeance. Go for their jugular.”

    link to spiegel.de

    • I’m glad to see you’re researching what Trump actually is, instead of reading into him what you want to see.

      Of course, we Americans are the ones who must live under this abuser.

  9. Trump’s fiasco at the CIA reminds me of the imaginary worlds created in the novels of Latin America’s “magical realism” writers such as Borges, except in their clever phantasmagorical creations, history with all of its violence, clearly constrains the future and places the present in a state of interminable confusion, limiting the impetus for progressive change.

    Trump, like Putin, is a master at misdirection.
    link to theguardian.com

    Trump has allowed journalists and the general public people to argue over trivial things such as the size of the his Inauguration crowd compared with Obama’s and the number of people participating in the national and global protests on Jan. 21st.

    And while we were distracted, fewer people engaged in serious scrutiny of how his team convinced Senator Marc Rubio to vote for Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, the consequences of Trump firing all US ambassadors abroad (with no replacements); and the impact of Trump’s largely theatrical but still ominous act of signing Presidential Executive Orders repealing Obamacare and announcing there will be no hiring of new federal employees and imposing a gag rule on international NGO’s receiving U.S. funding that provide abortion and reproductive support services for women in developing countries. link to theguardian.com

    It remains unclear how the Pentagon under Gen. Mattis can resist increasing the number of jihadists operating in the Middle East and seeking soft targets throughout Europe while supporting Saudi Arabia and Egypt as well as dealing with the Turkey’s internal terrorism and external support for war against the Kurds in Turkey, Syria and Iraq.

    Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdo─čan, has now created a religious-infused authoritarianism that is undermining its secular political system which was very tolerant and liberal and safe from terrorism (if we discount the way Turkey has treated its Kurds and the rise of Kurdish militias fighting Turkey along with ISIS).
    link to theguardian.com

    One issue that has generally gone unremarked, is that Erik Prince, the brother of Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, and founder of a mercenary firm responsible for assisting Dick Cheney’s secret assassination program similar in aim to the Phoenix program during the Vietnam War (via Blackwater and its various name changes), is advising Trump behind the scenes.
    link to democracynow.org

    What I find quite worrying is that Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kusher, has been cleared to serve as a Trump senior advisor despite rules against nepotism. Kusher has been part of a group financing the illegal construction of settlements on Palestinian land. link to chicagotribune.com
    link to theguardian.com

    So, now on day 4 of the Trump era, our new American President and his inner circle are openly supporting the reactionary and corrupt Prime Minister of Israel who has built more illegal settlements than his predecessors (and who has just announced that he will build another 2500 homes in the West Bank).
    link to theguardian.com

    Many of Trump’s inner circle also have have close ties with leaders of fragile political states in the Middle East and North Africa that have troubled relations with Israel and not unsurprising, actively support conservative religious groups which in turn covertly sponsor jihadist groups.

    In his 8 years as POTUS, Obama never found a way to reduce these contradictory elements of a foreign policy inherited from the Camp David Peace Accords in 1979 shepherded under former President Jimmy Carter.

    And with Turkey emboldened by joining Russia and Syria in peace talks, and Iran in a coalition with Russia, the fissures will increase as will violence and greater political instability.

    In this scenario, control over oil is less of a factor than an expanded and protracted series of overlapping wars that will exacerbate the crisis of failed and weakened states; and this will likely occur even if violence decreases in Syria as a consequence of Russia’s triumph in Syria in defiance of the U.S.
    link to talkingpointsmemo.com

    The era of ISIS as a distinctive quasi-political war machine in search of the status of a stable theocratic state, might very well end sometime in 2017… but there are dozens of other allied and independent militia-political groups with enough experience in fighting in asymmetric wars who can easily obtain U.S. weapons shipped to our Gulf state allies.

    So, even without the threat of stealing Iraqi oil, the Trump team will likely further accelerate chaos in a region where the invasion and destruction of Libya under Obama/HRC, (which directly created the European refugee crisis in Europe) is now cynically and conveniently being exploited to gather more support for Europe’s most reactionary neo-populist groups (who just convened in Koblenz, Germany).
    link to theguardian.com

    • “One issue that is generally gone unremarked……..is that the brother …..of Betsy DeVos ……is advising Trump behind the scenes……………”

      It has not gone unnoticed, nor has what has been humorously described as west Michigan’s “Dutch Mafia”, a clique of right-wing wealthy Dutch-Americans from west Michigan, is reaching their long sought after mega-influence in a GOP-controlled White House.

      Pete Hoekstra, a former U.S. Congressman and ex-chair of the House Intelligence Committee, numbers himself amongst that clique and underscores their influence in the U.S. intelligence community. Blackwater had received 600 million dollars in contracts from the Central Intelligence Agency and was linked to highly controversial events in Iraq.

    • ISIS is not the first nor will it be the last Islamic movement which claims that all worldly Muslim leaders are Godless apostates. Come to think of it, they are probably close to correct on that one. Mohammad would probably be appalled by the riches horded by the clan of Saud.

    • A scenario that was of concern to the Obama administration and could occur during Trump’s tenure is that ISIS or Al Qaeda takes over Saudi Arabia.

  10. The opening sentence should dispel any doubt that President Trump implies a renewed war with Iraq and the committing a war crime. Here is why.
    The Geneva Conventions on Warfare do allow an occupying force to take as much of the natural resources of the occupied land as it needs to maintain its occupying forces but not more.
    Currently Iraq is an independent country and the US armed forces there are not an occupying force. Hence Trump proposes not only to restart the war with Iraq and occupy it but also to commit a war crime.
    Trump is also incapable of producing a coherent analysis.

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