After announcing a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, President Donald Trump signaled this week some may actually stay behind to protect… oil.
SOUNDBITE (ENGLISH) U.S. PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP, SAYING: “A small number of U.S. troops will remain in the area where they have the oil, and they’re going to be protecting it, and we’ll be deciding what we’re going to do with it in the future.” And on Friday U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper told a news conference at NATO that the United States will strengthen its military presence in Syria to prevent Islamic State fighters from seizing oil fields and revenue.
(SOUNDBITE) (English) U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY, MARK ESPER, SAYING: "We're also considering how we might reposition forces in the area in order to ensure we secure the oil fields.
We are now taking some actions - I am not going to get into the details - to strengthen our position at Deir al-Zor to ensure that we can deny ISIS access to the oil fields because we want to make sure that they don't have access to the resources that may allow them to strike within the region." Democratic Senator Brian Schatz questioned the logic behind the move.
Tweeting, “This is nuts.
We are abandoning our allies, abetting ethnic cleansing, allowing ISIS prisoners to be released, then we are going to protect oil fields hundreds of miles away?” It’s just the latest twist in Trump's confusing policy on Syria.
The U.S. president had been softening his pullout plans for Syria after a backlash from Congress, including among key Republicans, who say he enabled a long-threatened Turkish incursion against U.S.-allied Kurdish forces in Syria.
That offensive displaced thousands of people and led to the escape of some Islamic State militants.
And the vacuum left by Trump's partial withdrawal has also created an opening that Russia exploited by moving forces into the area.
U.S. officials worry that Iran-backed forces in Syria could also capitalize on the chaos.
All this seems to be damaging his party’s reputation on foreign policy.
A new Reuters/Ipsos poll found that only about half of all Republicans - 54% - said their party has a better Syria plan than Democrats, Independents or others.
That is down 12 points from a similar poll that ran in April.