Donald Trump Lashed Out at Military for Not Making Money on Libya's Oil

President Donald Trump repeatedly came into conflict with national security officials as he struggled to understand the motivations of the military on a variety of policy issues, and instead pushed commanders to make money for the U.S., according to Bob Woodward’s new book, Fear.

In July 2017, then-National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster asked the president to sign an order related to Libya, but Trump lashed out and said the military wasn’t doing enough to make money from the country’s oil reserves, the book said.

“I'm not going to sign it, Trump said. The United States should be getting oil. The generals aren't sufficiently focused on getting or making money. They don't understand what our objectives should be and they have the United States engaged in all the wrong ways,” the book, which was obtained by Newsweek, stated.

This wasn’t the only time that the president’s priorities clashed with those of the military because of the president's focus on making money. A National Security Council meeting in January 2018 reportedly turned heated when Secretary of Defense James Mattis had to explain to the president why the U.S. relationship with South Korea was important for U.S. national security. Trump demanded to know why the U.S. maintained a friendly relationship with Taiwan and South Korea when Washington got so little in return.

605719272-594x594 Forces opposed to Libya's unity government ride a truck in the Zueitina oil terminal on September 14, 2016. President Trump allegedly berated the U.S. military for not using Libya's oil to make money. Abdullah Doma/AFP/Getty Images

“Mattis and General Dunford once more explained that the benefit was immense. We get a stable democracy in a part of the world where we really need it, Mattis said. South Korea was one of the strongest bastions of free elections and a vibrant capitalism,” the book said. “Mattis showed signs that he was tired of the disparaging of the military and intelligence capability. And of Trump's unwillingness to comprehend their significance. ‘We’re doing this in order to prevent World War III,’" Mattis said.

Mattis was “at the end of his rope,” Woodward wrote. Nevertheless, Trump continued to argue that countries such as China and South Korea were stealing from the U.S. by maintaining large trade surpluses and said the U.S. was losing out by maintaining military partnerships with these nations. He also said the U.S. was getting “played” by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The president’s refusal to acknowledge the importance of U.S. military alliances left top national security officials irritated, according to the book.

“Among the principals there was exasperation with these questions. Why are we having to do this constantly? When is he going to learn? They couldn't believe they were having these conversations and had to justify their reasoning,” the book said. “Mattis was particularly exasperated and alarmed, telling close associates that the president acted like—and had the understanding of—‘a fifth or sixth grader.’” 

As for Libya, it continued to be plagued by violence as competing factions struggled for control of the country. In 2017, reports suggested that the U.S. was considering increasing its presence in the country to try to broker a peace deal between warring factions. The country currently does not have a U.S. ambassador because the situation on the ground is considered too unstable. The country has one of the largest oil reserves in Africa, but oil field output has dropped since conflict broke out in 2011.

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