The party of Lincoln resorts to pillaging

For decades, America’s opponents in Middle Eastern nations, Russia and elsewhere, and many on the Left in the United States, have accused the United States government of adventuring militarily into the Middle East for oil.

Over the years, U.S. administrations have consistently denied that charge. In fact, we went to war with Iraq in 1991 specifically to push Saddam Hussein back from his invasion of Kuwait, where his armies had sought to secure for his use the Kuwaiti oil fields.

At that time, George H.W. Bush and American generals pointed to international and U.S. law which makes it illegal for one nation to seize the natural resources of another. The defining word is “pillage.” 

Pillage has long been illegal under U.S. laws and regulations.

In the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln’s code of military practice forbade “all pillage.” After World War II in the Nazi trials at Nuremberg, a number of German ministers and industrialists were convicted of seizing oil, coal and iron ore from nations occupied by the Nazis. Japanese leaders were convicted of pillaging oil stocks from the Dutch East Indies during that war.

As an American tribunal at Nuremberg put it in 1948: “Just as the inhabitants of the occupied territory must not be forced to help the enemy in waging the war against their own country or their own country’s allies, so must the economic assets of the occupied territory not be used in such a manner.”

In the past decade, similar actions have been taken by other countries: Belgium against a businessman for pillaging diamonds from Sierra Leone; Switzerland against a refinery that pillaged gold from Congo; and the International Court of Justice against Uganda for military pillaging of Congo’s natural resources.

The Geneva Conventions ban such pillage, as do the 1907 Hague Laws and Customs of War on Land: “The pillage of a town or place, even when taken by assault, is prohibited.”

That has been American policy for many years — until now. 

Apparently, President Trump is bent on violating that code.

Trump recently shifted American troops out of northern Syria, where Turkey and Russia promptly moved in, and moved hundreds of them to eastern Syria to “guard” Syria’s oil fields against ISIS.

ISIS, which Trump has declared to be defeated, is in no condition to take over and use Syria’s oil fields, or any other territory or asset. ISIS can conduct guerrilla and suicide bombing operations, but that’s about all.

It’s more likely that Trump has other reasons for moving U.S. troops into Syria’s main oil producing region. In late October, he told reporters, “We are leaving soldiers to secure the oil. And we may have to fight for the oil. It’s OK. Maybe somebody else wants the oil, in which case they have a hell of a fight.”

He added, “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.”

On Oct. 29, he said, “You win the war and you take it. ... You’re not stealing anything. ... We’re taking back $1.5 trillion to reimburse ourselves.”

He’s been advocating grabbing Middle Eastern oil for some time.

In April 2011, talking about Iraq as a private citizen with Bill O’Reilly on Fox, Trump said, “In the old days, when you had wars you win, right? You win, to the victor belong the spoils.”

At that time, President Obama was pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq. O’Reilly asked Trump what he would recommend, and Trump said, “You stay and you keep the oil.”

In a 2011 interview with the Wall Street Journal, Trump said, “I’m only interested in Libya if we take the oil. If we don’t take the oil, I’m not interested.” He added, “I always heard that when we went into Iraq, we went in for the oil. I said, ‘Ah, that sounds smart.’ ”

Three weeks ago, speaking on the killing of ISIS leader al-Baghdadi, he spoke again about oil: “I always used to say ... ‘If they’re going into Iraq, keep the oil.’ They never did. They never did.”

Would Iraqis have welcomed our troops in 2003 if they thought that we were going to commandeer their oil?

It doesn’t make sense to use American troops to “protect” Syrian oil.

In the first place, Syria last year ranked 75th among the world’s nations in oil production; its output compared to that of the state of Illinois. 

Secondly, Syrian oil is of low quality, with a high sulfur content.

Thirdly, the United States now leads the world in oil production. It doesn’t need the relatively small output of low-grade oil that Syrian oil fields produce.

Nor do we need an action, stated openly by the American president, that appears to demonstrate to millions of Muslims that America is engaged in the Middle East to grab those nations’ oil resources. 

Syria’s oil belongs to Syria. Like the oil of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the other oil-producing nations, it’s not ours for the taking. 

That’s pillage, plain and simple.

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