Trump says US troops may not need to be in the Middle East because 'we're producing more oil now'

James Mattis

  • President Donald Trump suggested the US military’s presence in the Middle East is tied to the region’s oil in an interview with The Washington Post published on Tuesday.
  • The idea, which he repeated on several occasions, reportedly earned him a rebuke from his national security advisers.
  • Trump has teased the idea of allied nations compensating the US for its military presence.

In an exclusive interview with The Washington Post, President Donald Trump suggested the US military’s presence in the Middle East is tied to the region’s oil, an assessment that reportedly earned him a strong rebuke from his national security advisers last year when he mentioned it on a different occasion.

In a lengthy interview with the newspaper, Trump indicated the continued presence of US troops in the Middle East would depend on movement in the price of oil.

“Now, are we going to stay in that part of the world,” Trump asked. “One reason to is Israel. Oil is becoming less and less of a reason because we’re producing more oil now than we’ve ever produced.”

“So, you know, all of a sudden it gets to a point where you don’t have to stay there,” Trump added.

The US became the world’s largest producer of oil this year after rolling back drilling regulations and rebuilding its oil-producing infrastructure since 2011. Texas leads this charge and may soon produce more oil than Iraq or Iran, shrinking the US’s reliance on foreign oil.

Goldman Sachs predicts the US will become energy independent — exporting more than it imports — by 2019, and oil independent in 2021, according to CNBC, which also reported that progress toward energy independence had slowed under Trump, following a decade-long sprint that began during the Obama administration.

Trump has reportedly associated US military presence in the Middle East to oil on numerous occasions. During a phone call with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in 2017, multiple source confirmed that Trump raised the idea of having Iraq reimburse the US for its war efforts.

Read more: South Korean officials seek clarification after reports suggested Trump was considering pulling US troops out of the country

Donald Trump

“It was a very run-of-the-mill, low-key, meeting in general,” a source familiar with the call said in an Axios report. “And then right at the end, Trump says something to the effect of, he gets a little smirk on his face and he says, ‘So what are we going to do about the oil.'”

“What do you mean,” al-Abadi asked, according to Axios’ source.

“And Trump’s like, ‘Well, we did a lot, we did a lot over there, we spent trillions over there, and a lot of people have been talking about the oil,” the source added.

After another phone call with al-Abadi in which Trump repeated his request, then-national security adviser H.R. McMaster rebuked Trump for tarnishing the US’ reputation: “We can’t do this and you shouldn’t talk about it. Because talking about it is just bad,” McMaster said, according to a source.

Trump’s interest in the Middle East’s oil had also reportedly vexed his defense secretary, James Mattis, who reportedly asserted it would be physically impossible, violate international law, and demoralize allies.

Throughout his presidency, Trump has publicly teased the idea of allied nations compensating the US for its military presence. However, in closed-door meetings, Trump reportedly cited inadequate trade deals and was seriously mulling the idea of drastic withdrawal of US troops from countries like Germany and South Korea.

“We have a very big trade deficit with them, and we protect them,” Trump said in March, referring to South Korea. “So we lose money on trade, and we lose money on the military.”

“We have right now 32,000 soldiers on the border between North and South Korea,” Trump added. “Let’s see what happens.”

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