If U.S. troops are going to stay in Syria, President Donald Trump thinks that Saudi Arabia should pay for it. You heard that right.
During a Tuesday news conference, the president said the United States and its regional allies will soon decide how much longer U.S. troops should remain in Syria.
“Saudi Arabia is very interested in our decision,” Trump said. “I said: ‘Well, you want us to stay, maybe you’re going to have to pay.’”
It’s likely that Trump’s statements are the kind of very public negotiation with allies, similar to what he has pursued with NATO, that many other administrations have made less publicly and forcefully. The National Security Council did not immediately respond to a question from Task & Purpose about whether the United States has asked the Saudis to throw in some cash for U.S. troops in Syria.
The White House has released a statement of the president’s conversation Monday with Saudi King Salman, which did not include any reference to Trump hitting up the Saudis for money.
“On Syria, the President and the King discussed joint efforts to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS and counter Iranian efforts to exploit the Syrian conflict to pursue its destabilizing regional ambitions,” the statement says.
Trump has said publicly that the U.S. military will leave Syria soon. The United States’ mission to defeat the Islamic State terrorist group in Syria is nearly completed, he told reporters on Tuesday.
“I want to get out; I want to bring our troops back home; I want to start rebuilding our nation,” Trump said at the news conference. “We will have as of three months ago [spent] $7 trillion in the Middle East over the last 17 years. We have nothing – nothing – except death and destruction. It’s a horrible thing.”
The president also criticized past administrations for not taking over the Iraqi oil industry and using it as a revenue source, while ISIS smuggled and sold Iraqi oil on the black market to fund its activities.
“We should have kept the oil then,” Trump said. “We didn’t keep the oil.”
As Trump was speaking, the head of U.S. Central Command was at a separate event in Washington, at which he said the fight against ISIS in Syria is not yet finished.
Speaking at the United States Institute for Peace, Army Gen. Joseph Votel indicated that U.S. troops should remain in Syria for the immediate future.
“The hard part, I think, is in front of us, and that is stabilizing these areas, consolidating our gains, getting people back into their homes,” Reuters quoted Votel as saying. “There is a military role in this. Certainly in the stabilization phase.”
However, Trump left no doubt Tuesday that he wants U.S. troops to return from Syria at the earliest opportunity.
“It’s a time,” Trump said. “We were very successful against ISIS. We will be successful against anybody militarily, but sometimes it’s time to come back home and we’re thinking about that very seriously.”