President Trump dropped a stunner during his rambling press conference, on Sunday, after announcing the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State leader, in a U.S. raid. In a major policy flip-flop, the President said that he is not only keeping American forces in Syria to “secure” its oil fields, he is willing to go to war over them. “We may have to fight for the oil. It’s O.K.,” he said. “Maybe somebody else wants the oil, in which case they have a hell of a fight. But there’s massive amounts of oil.” The United States, he added, should be able to take some of Syria’s oil. “What I intend to do, perhaps, is make a deal with an ExxonMobil or one of our great companies to go in there and do it properly,” he said. The goal would be to “spread out the wealth.”
The President was wrong on so many counts. Seizing the oil, after twice ordering all U.S. troops out of Syria, violates a basic international treaty on war. It may amount to pillaging—even piracy, according to legal experts and former senior military commanders. “Bring in US oil companies to modernize the field. WHAT ARE WE BECOMING…. PIRATES?” General Barry McCaffrey (Ret.), who commanded a mechanized Army division in Iraq during the Gulf War, tweeted.
Trump’s new policy may also violate the military authorization from Congress which allowed the United States to enter Syria. It certainly violates Syrian sovereignty. “If ISIS is defeated we lack Congressional authority to stay,” McCaffrey tweeted. “The oil belongs to Syria.”
Trump’s suggestion that the U.S. could expropriate a portion of Syria’s oil “sounds like the international crime of pillage,” Ryan Goodman, a former special legal counsel at the Department of Defense who is now at the New York University School of Law, said. Any such move is prohibited by the Geneva Conventions and by the precedents set by the United Nations war-crimes tribunals that the U.S. helped establish in Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone. “U.S. military commanders who engaged in pillaging Syria’s oil would risk criminal liability under the U.S. War Crimes Act,” Goodman said. The international rules of war, he added, were designed “to deter nations from engaging in predatory wars to seize other countries’ natural resources.” [Continue reading…]