One of the most concerning and vague statements made by the president in his speech on Afghanistan was this: “. . . . We are going to participate in [Afghanistan’s] economic development to help defray the cost of this war to us.”
This brief comment, coming toward the end of his speech, could be easily overlooked but it bears close scrutiny. Evoking memories of similar statements made during the presidential campaign and after his inauguration, it requires clarification – and the sooner the better.
The repugnant notion that our country should replenish its coffers at the expense of countries in which we are militarily engaged harkened back to a predatory time of conquest and colonization. How can other nations trust our motives when our president has repeatedly lamented, for instance, our failure to take Iraq’s oil?
Almost a year ago, as the freshly minted GOP nominee, Trump argued that the Iraq War was a mistake, but he seemed most frustrated that the U.S. did not take Iraqi oil after invading that country. “The U.S. should have kept the oil. I was saying this constantly and to whomever would listen, ‘keep the oil, keep the oil, keep the oil!”
Then, the day after taking the oath of office, Trump spoke at CIA Headquarters, complaining that our country erred in not taking Iraq’s oil when we had the chance. He longingly recalled the ancient expression “‘to the victor belong the spoils."
Then, just a month later, in a meeting at the White House with airline executives, Trump again groused that we had not benefitted economically from the Iraq War: “We’ve got nothing. We’ve got nothing. We never even kept a small, even a tiny oil well. Not one little oil well. I said, ‘Keep the oil.’”
With those ill-considered comments still resonant, we find it important to ask: Which of Afghanistan’s resources does he want to acquire? How much tribute would be sufficient to "defray the cost of the war?" How are the Afghanistan people, already so impoverished, to understand the president’s remark? What are the men and women of our armed forces to think about the true purpose of our mission?
Sadly, the president’s statement permits the inference that the U.S. now looks at Afghanistan as a potential source for pecuniary gain. In light of his long-standing obsession over our failure to "take" Iraqi oil, it is not a stretch to think so.
In some respects, this comment would have been less concerning had the president not been reading from a teleprompter. Then we could chalk it up to Trump's penchant to shoot from the hip and make things up on the fly. But this speech was clearly vetted to a fare-thee-well by the generals, on whose advice he was acting. And that may be the most worrisome thing of all.