A Confused Syria Policy Gets Even Worse

Originally appeared at The American Conservative.

U.S. troops sent into Syria on an illegal and pointless mission to “take the oil” don’t know what they are supposed to be doing:

US military commanders overseeing Syria operations are still waiting for precise battlefield orders from the White House and Pentagon on their exact mission to protect oilfields in eastern Syria, according to a defense official directly familiar with the matter.

Nearly three weeks after President Donald Trump ordered troops out of northern Syria, publicly declaring he was taking “control” of the oil and sending troops and armored carriers to protect it from ISIS, US commanders lack clarity on the most basic aspects of their mission, including how and when troops can fire their weapons and what, exactly, that mission is.

The lack of precise orders means troops are on the ground while critical details are still being worked out — exactly where they will go, when and how they will stay on small bases in the area, and when they go on patrol.

Perhaps most crucially, there is no clarity about exactly who they are operating against in the oilfields.

Everything the Trump administration has done in Syria has been horribly confused, so it makes sense that the latest version of the policy would be baffling to our own troops. U.S. commanders lack clarity about the mission because it was cooked up to appeal to the president’s desire for plundering other countries’ resources. It was thrown together on the spur of the moment as an excuse to keep U.S. troops in Syria no matter what, and now those troops are stuck there with no instructions and no idea what they are expected to do. This is the worst kind of unnecessary military mission, because it is being carried out simply to keep a U.S. foothold in Syria for its own sake. The “critical details” aren’t being worked out so much as a plausible justification after the fact is being conjured out of thin air. There is no reason for these troops to be there, and there is nothing that they can do there legally, but the administration will come up with some bad argument to keep them there anyway.

Meanwhile, Trump is very proud of his clownish, illegal Syria policy:

Trump labors under the delusion that the oil is ours to “distribute.” which everyone else knows to be false. The oil belongs to the Syrian government, and that oil can’t be sold and revenues from those sales cannot be used without the permission of the government that owns it. Syria’s oil resources are not that great, and the infrastructure of many of the fields has been damaged or destroyed, so if it were legal to loot the spoils there wouldn’t be very much to loot. The president thinks that seizing Syrian oil is worth boasting about, but in reality it is one of the most absurd and indefensible reasons for deploying troops abroad. In addition to damaging the country’s international standing with allied and friendly governments with this open thievery, Trump’s “take the oil” fixation is a propaganda coup for hostile governments and groups. As Paul Pillar pointed out last week, it plays into the hands of jihadist groups and aids them in their recruitment:

Trump’s Sunday appearance before the press played right into this theme. Referring back to the Iraq War, Trump described as his own view at the time that if the United States was going into Iraq, it should “keep the oil.” As for Syria’s oil, he said it can help the Kurds but “it can help us because we should be able to take some also. And what I intend to do, perhaps, is make a deal with an Exxon Mobil or one of our great companies to go in there and do it properly.” A propagandist for ISIS or al-Qaeda would hardly have written the script differently.

Keeping troops in Syria to “take the oil” is divorced from genuine American security interests just like any other unnecessary military intervention. The president is exposing U.S. military personnel to unnecessary risk, and he is also putting them in legal jeopardy by ordering them to commit what is essentially the war crime of pillaging. The president has managed to take a Syria policy that was already incoherent and chaotic and he has made it even worse.

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at The American Conservative, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and is a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Dallas. Follow him on Twitter. This article is reprinted from The American Conservative with permission.

9 thoughts on “A Confused Syria Policy Gets Even Worse”

  1. Trump has possibly lost his patience with a monster that he never really had control over anyway. The policy is not confused at all. It quite neatly puts the US’s real mission into the limelight for once. The one they’ve been fulfilling all along. It’s not conspiracy theory when there’s video evidence of the infamous tanker truck convoys, now protected by the US military. He feels threatened by the establishments running under the moniker of “deep state” and is causing problems for them wherever he can. Make these clowns come out of the closets and justify themselves in public.

  2. “…Syria policy that was already incoherent and chaotic and he has made it even worse.”

    Don’t see how it is worse. The withdrawal, despite the confusion, has enabled the Syrian army to advance. I am fine with that. The confusion is not caused by Trump, either. His decision was opposed by the entire Washington foreign policy establishment, including Congress. If Trump did what they wanted, we’d never get out. And, if soldiers don’t know what they’re supposed to do, good. They haven’t done anything good in the MENA during the past 30 yrs. That’s not their fault; it’s the fault of those who direct them.

    In the end, they will leave simply because there really is nothing good they can do.

    1. “In the end, they will leave simply because there really is nothing good they can do.”
      It does not get more clueless than that. For all of their horrific activity, the Taliban were sincerely Puritanical when it came to drugs and alcohol- even the U.N. had to admit they had largely eradicated the poppy fields. Today, American troops are GUARDING those fields- and for what? There is no sign they will be removed any time soon. But like John McCain bombing North Vietnam, the troops “sustaining” the oil fields of Syria must realize that if captured they can expect none of the protections of the Geneva Convention.

      1. “Today, American troops are GUARDING those fields- and for what?”

        To increase drug addiction in Iran and Russia.

        1. When you show up in your Class A’s to report this to the grieving GI’s mother, make sure to wear your bulletproof vest.

        2. When you show up in your Class A’s to report this to the grieving GI’s mother, make sure to wear your bulletproof vest.

        3. No. It is to finance CIA and Pentagon nefarious crimes that can’t be publicly financed. The CIA has been THE drug mafia since they were smuggling heroine from Vietnam in GI coffins. The Iran Contra scandal exposed the plane loads of drugs imported into Mena Arkansas, an operation protected by Gov. Bill Clinton. Protected by GIs the heroine profits from Afghanistan grew by some estimates as much as 700 times.

  3. I don’t see what is confusing about trump Syria policy. He promised in the campaign to carpet bomb ISIS cities, and win with his “secret 30 day plan”. That mission ,except the time promise, was accomplished. Northern Syrian cities and infrastructure rubbled, millions of refugees someone else will have to deal with. So, he abandons that bankrupt policy and moves operations to fresher climes in eastern Syria where he wont have to hear about the wreck he left behind.

  4. I blame the troops. By illegally occupying Syria, they’re violating their enlistment oath. They’re supposed to be supporting and defending the U.S. constitution, not mindlessly following the unconstitutional orders of the criminally insane zionist jihadi holed-up in the white house.

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