Political Notebook

The Energy 202: Trump’s desire ‘to take’ Syrian oil presents a barrelful of problems

CHICAGO — President Trump took the occasion of an address to a national conference of police chiefs here to tee off on the city’s police superintendent and highlight its ongoing challenges with crime, claiming that Afghanistan ‘‘is a safe place by comparison.’’

Ahead of Trump’s appearance Monday at the gathering of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson announced that he would not attend because he felt ‘‘it just doesn’t line up with our city’s core values.’’

Trump seized on those comments early in his remarks, telling the crowd: ‘‘There’s one person who is not here today. This person should be here because maybe he could learn something.’’


He then identified Johnson by name and cited his remarks about ‘‘values.’’

‘‘That’s a very insulting statement after all I’ve done for the police,’’ Trump said. ‘‘I’ve done more than any other president has done for the police.’’

‘‘Here’s a man who could not bother to show up for a meeting of police chiefs,’’ he continued. ‘‘He’s not doing his job.’’

Claiming that Chicago’s violence is ‘‘embarrassing to us as a nation,’’ Trump took aim at Johnson in remarkably personal terms, saying Chicago’s police ‘‘are entitled to a police superintendent who has their backs and knows what he’s doing.’’

Trump rattled off several statistics about crime in Chicago, the nation’s third-largest city, which had 530 murders last year.

‘‘Afghanistan is a safe place by comparison,’’ Trump said.

In a news conference after Trump’s remarks, Johnson said that ‘‘facts matter,’’ highlighting the city’s efforts to reduce violence and homicides in recent years.

‘‘We’ve had double-digit reductions in crime for the last 3 years,’’ Johnson said, adding that he disputed what he described as ‘‘the national narrative of Chicago as a city on fire.’’

The city’s violence has drawn national attention and concern in recent years as it rose in 2016 to levels Chicago had not seen in two decades, though it has declined since that point. Since 2016 — when Chicago had more homicides than New York and Los Angeles combined — the number of homicides and shootings have both fallen.


According to statistics tracked by the Chicago Tribune, 436 people were killed in the city through Saturday, 46 fewer than a year earlier. More than 2,310 people were shot as of Sunday, according to the Tribune’s database, down 223 from a year earlier.

Chicago, in particular, has been a recurring feature of Trump’s remarks and Twitter feed.

During his speech Monday, Trump repeated a variation of a story he’s told in the past, claiming that he spoke to ‘‘a really powerful, strong-looking’’ officer in the city years earlier who had told him police could fix the city’s violence ‘‘in one day, sir.’’

Asked about this on Monday, Johnson said that the police department searched extensively for whoever this officer might be but ‘‘we were never able to identify him.’’

‘‘We spent a lot of time trying to identify this person,’’ Johnson said. ‘‘Because if there’s somebody that can stop crime in a day, then I would bow down to them and say bring it on.’’

Writing on Twitter shortly after Trump spoke, Chicago’s mayor, Lori E. Lightfoot, denounced his “insulting, ignorant buffoonery.”

“Rather than belittle Chicago’s communities with hateful and dishonest rhetoric, he needs to go back to D.C. and face his fate,” Lightfoot wrote, adding that she stood by Johnson.


Washington Post/
New York Times

Trump’s desire for Syrian oil fraught with legal problems

WASHINGTON — President Trump was persuaded to keep a number of troops in Syria partly so the United States could have some of its oil. But the idea of seizing petroleum in the war-torn country presents big barrel of problems.

Trump explained Sunday that one of the reasons he decided to keep a contingent of about 200 US troops in Syria was to prevent the oil fields in the eastern portion of the country from being retaken by the Islamic State, which had once used them as a source of income. The president made the about-face after enduring withering criticism from within his own party about pulling US troops from Syria’s border with Turkey.

‘‘We’re protecting the oil, we’re securing the oil,’’ Trump said during a news conference about the death of Islamic State commander Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi during a US military operation in Syria.

But Trump’s rationale did not stop there. The oil, he added, ‘‘can help us because we should be able to take some, also.’’

There are a number of legal and strategic challenges for the United States, or any US firm, to get that oil, according to a several experts. Trump’s suggestion that the oil can be taken by the United States is the latest in a long list of legally dubious proclamations the president has made while in office.

To start, the United States has no legal claim to the oil in the first place. Pillaging the natural resources of another nation is a violation of the Geneva Conventions, according to Ryan Goodman, a professor at the New York University School of Law who once served as special counsel to the general counsel of the Defense Department.


Further complicating matters is the fact that the United States claims it is not in an armed conflict with the Syrian government. ‘‘So Syrian property is not enemy property that might be taken, even for military purposes, as spoils of war,’’ said Sarah H. Cleveland, a professor of human and constitutional rights at Columbia Law School.

Washington Post