You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

The logistics of “taking” ISIS’s oil seem pretty hard.


As Jeet Heer noted, “taking” Middle Eastern oil is one of Donald Trump’s longstanding obsessions, and one of the focal points of his new campaign ad, which reiterates his promise to “quickly cut the head off ISIS and take their oil.”

Trumpism is largely a cultural phenomenon, but to the extent that it also involves substantive policy promises, this is its purest expression. Much more farfetched than the notion that we could make Mexico pay for a wall along the southern border. Much more impractical than forced deportation of 11 million immigrants. Born of more conceptual confusion than anything else on his agenda.

It’s almost as if Trump thinks oil exists in things called “barrels” that can be easily loaded on to trucks and ships, and doesn’t get that a “barrel” of oil is just an arbitrary unit of volume measurement, not a description of how oil is stored.

Some oil does end up in actual barrels and barrel-shaped objects, but the oil that ISIS controls isn’t generally kept in a vast, fortified cellar filled with oil drums. It sits deep under the ground in Iraq and Syria, some of which ISIS controls, where it must be extracted. Short of occupying those countries indefinitely, and stealing the oil on behalf of American companies, in the face of global condemnation, this isn’t going to happen. I assume Trump knows this and is intentionally pandering to people who don’t. But sometimes I wonder.