There has been a deluge of opinion emanating from Washington in the past few days on the subject of the decision by the OPEC+ producers’ alliance to reduce oil output by 2 million barrels a day from November. The nature of that opinion— ranging from intelligence-insulting assumptions to merely inaccurate information — leads to the inevitable conclusion that it is now extremely hard to take anything said on this issue by any US official seriously.
According to the White House’s National Security Council spokesman John Kirby, the Saudi view of events — defined with admirable clarity in a statement on Thursday by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which said that the oil output decision was a consensus of the whole alliance in the interests of global energy market stability — is no more than “spin.” But in truth, all the “spin” is coming from Washington, which has been on an embarrassing spree of self-contradiction.
For example, despite all the angry rhetoric from Democratic lawmakers who assumed that Saudi Arabia had backed away from its oil price commitments to President Joe Biden, the president himself told CNN on Wednesday that oil was actually NOT discussed during his visit to Saudi Arabia in July, which was rather about US strategic interests in the whole region.
Furthermore, Tom Cotton, the Republican senator from Arkansas, revealed that the White House had no objection in principle to a cut in oil output — but merely wanted an announcement later so as not to influence the US mid-term elections in November. That view was indirectly confirmed by the Saudi Foreign Ministry statement, which said the US had been consulted about the decision and had asked for it to be delayed for a month, but not canceled.
So what we have here is a clear case of the Democratic Party putting its own interests first, dressed up as concern for both Ukraine and the global economy; and if that’s not spin, I don’t know what is.
Despite their dire warnings about the OPEC+ decision “making no economic sense” — in other words, that oil prices would soar — in fact, precisely the opposite has happened.
What genuinely makes “no economic sense” is Biden’s contention in his CNN interview that he does not expect a recession in the US. Perhaps the president knows more than the 70 per cent of leading academic economists polled by the Financial Times, who believe the US economy will tip into a recession next year.
For real “spin,” however, it is hard to beat the assertion that in cutting oil output Saudi Arabia is somehow supporting Russia in its war against Ukraine. Seriously? The same Saudi Arabia that voted at the UN on Wednesday to condemn Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territory in the Donbas? The same Saudi Arabia whose principled position earned the gratitude of the Ukrainian ambassador to the Kingdom? The same Saudi Arabia that was thanked by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — in this very newspaper — for its role in a brokering a prisoner swap?
In the end, if Biden and other US politicians wish to say that Saudi Arabia is serving its own interests, or that OPEC+ is serving the interests of the global oil market, then that is not an accusation — it’s a compliment. The Kingdom and the oil alliance would merely be doing their job.
What is not their job is to help one particular US political party to achieve success at the ballot box, at the expense of the stability of the global oil market. The sky will not fall in if either house of the US Congress changes political hands. But if we lose control of energy markets, the impact could be truly terrible.