GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump has repeatedly said he has a secret and “foolproof” plan for defeating ISIS. This is not to be confused with his “detailed” public plan for crushing ISIS released by his campaign. In that public plan, Trump states, “My administration will aggressively pursue joint and coalition military operations to crush and destroy ISIS.” (That happens to be President Barack Obama’s current plan.) Trump’s public plan does not say anything about sending US combat troops into Iraq and Syria to engage ISIS. In fact, it includes no proposals related to the level of US troops in the region. But in a 2015 interview with Fox News host Bill O’Reilly on the day Trump entered the Republican presidential contest, the celebrity mogul indicated that he would deploy US combat forces to battle ISIS directly in order to grab oil fields that would then be handed over to US companies.
During this conversation, which was filmed in Trump’s office, O’Reilly asked the reality television star what he would do to beat back ISIS. Trump first answered with rhetoric: “I would hit them so hard your head would spin.” And he claimed, “I said in ’04, we should not go in and do that whole thing with Iraq.” (That was inaccurate—and the invasion of Iraq was in 2003.)
Then O’Reilly asked if Trump would send American ground troops into Syria. Trump replied with a vague statement: “I have a way that would be very effective with respect to ISIS.” O’Reilly pushed him on this: “You’d put American ground troops in to chase them around?” This exchange ensued:
Trump: Take back the oil. Once you go over and take back that oil, they have nothing.
O’Reilly: But how do you take it back?
Trump: You have to go in. You have to go in.
O’Reilly: With ground troops?
Trump: Well, you bomb the hell out of them, and then you encircle it, and then you go in.
This was a clear signal that Trump favored sending in US ground troops to fight ISIS to gain control of oil facilities. After that, he said, US oil companies could move in and seize the oil. “Once you take that oil,” Trump noted, “they have nothing left.” It seems obvious, though, that US oil companies—which actually are transnational companies—would only be able to “take that oil” if large areas of the region were secured by a great number of US ground troops.
Throughout the campaign, Trump has insisted that the United States should “take the oil” from Iraq and areas controlled by ISIS—an idea widely derided by military, international law, and energy experts—without ever explaining how this could happen. The idea of deploying US combat troops (after a bombing campaign) to fight ISIS and then win and control territory with oil facilities in Syria and Iraq—essentially, a US invasion—does not appear in Trump’s public plan. But it’s what Trump had in mind during his O’Reilly interview. Perhaps this is the big secret Trump has steadfastly refused to share with American voters before the election.