I’ve always said,” Donald Trump told Matt Lauer at the Commander-in-Chief Forum on Sept. 7, “take the oil.” It was a rare instance of Trump not exaggerating. Seizing Middle Eastern oil has always been one of Trump’s favorite foreign-policy refrains. In addition to the Sept. 7 forum, he voiced virtually the same words during the first presidential debate on Sept. 26, at a foreign-policy speech in Youngstown, Ohio, on Aug. 15, and in numerous campaign rallies during the spring and summer. And the pattern stretches back long before the presidential campaign.
Every time Trump utters the phrase today, his wording is essentially the same: While occupying Iraq, we should have seized its oil. This, of course, does not yet amount to a coherent foreign policy. But Trump’s nomination by the Republican Party obliges the American public to try to understand it as one — and to acknowledge that Trump is not the first prominent figure to propose the violent seizure, by U.S. military forces, of Middle Eastern oil fields. Reckless though the policy is, previous administrations have tiptoed to the precipice of pursuing it.
Trump has offered several justifications for seizing Middle Eastern oil. In the debate on Sept. 26, he claimed that doing so in Iraq before the final U.S. troop withdrawal in 2011 would have prevented the formation of the Islamic State, as that oil “was their primary source of income.” (This neglects that the Islamic State controls only Iraq’s northern oil fields, while U.S. forces were largely clustered around its southern fields.) More often, however, Trump’s intent has been predatory: to confiscate Iraqi oil as a legitimate reward for defeating Saddam Hussein and occupying the country. “In the old days, you know when you had a war, to the victor belong the spoils,” he told George Stephanopoulos in 2011, referring to Iraqi oil. “You go in. You win the war, and you take it.”