In response to the recent OPEC+ decision to cut oil output by two million barrels per day, the Biden administration has warned that there will be “consequences” for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia when Congress returns to Washington, DC, in mid-November. This tough talk comes not long after President Biden himself visited Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to ask for support with the US domestic energy crisis and was refused. But a statement from the Kingdom’s foreign ministry suggests the talk of retaliation is perhaps not solely based on the move to cut production, but rather because the petroleum-exporting organization declined to hold off until after the crucial midterm elections.
A Failed Midterm Gambit?
President Biden has been under pressure from the American public to deal with skyrocketing gas prices, an issue that poll after poll suggests is high on the list of voter priorities for the November elections. And yet it seems the president’s chief concern was not to set a long-term energy strategy in place. Instead, according to the Kingdom, Team Biden had been pushing for a one-month delay on the news in order to avoid a cost increase that could be potentially damaging to Democrat political interests.
In response to the administration’s accusation that the Kingdom had sided with Russia in the Ukraine war, the Saudi Foreign Ministry wrote:
“The Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would also like to clarify that based on its belief in the importance of dialogue and exchange of views with its allies and partners outside of OPEC+ group regarding the situation in the oil markets, the Government of the Kingdom clarified through its continuous consultation with the US Administration that all economic analyses indicate that postponing the OPEC+ decision for a month, according to what has been suggested [emphasis added], would have had negative economic consequences.”
A Mere Coincidence?
Naturally, Team Biden has pushed back at such assertions, saying that any retaliatory action will not be based on political calculation. “It’s categorically false to connect this to U.S. elections,” a National Security Council spokeswoman said. “It’s about the impact of this short-sighted decision to the global economy.” According to The Wall Street Journal, “U.S. officials said, the Biden administration is weighing whether to withdraw from participation in Saudi Arabia’s flagship Future Investment Initiative investment forum later this month.”
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) called for the administration to cut all ties with Saudi Arabia. He said on Tuesday:
“The United States must immediately freeze all aspects of our cooperation with Saudi Arabia, including any arms sales and security cooperation beyond what is absolutely necessary to defend U.S. personnel and interests … As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I will not green-light any cooperation with Riyadh until the Kingdom reassesses its position with respect to the war in Ukraine. Enough is enough.”
It should be noted that such sanctions would only be applied to Saudi Arabia, which is just one member of OPEC+. If the damage to the global economy were the prime reason for retaliation, surely all nations in the group – who voted unanimously for the cut in production – should be facing President Biden’s wrath.
Tipping the Scales
Asking a foreign nation to hold off on a decision for what appears to be nothing but home team political gamesmanship displays a stunning bravado on behalf of the president. The midterm gambit was unsuccessful, and yet the chutzpah required to even try and punt the inevitable gas price hike past November 8 reveals a level of self-serving duplicity that few political watchers believed this administration capable of executing.
It increasingly becomes clear that the Biden administration’s priorities are not to get the cost-of-living crisis or energy prices under control, but to operate a business-as-usual strategy that will secure two more years of congressional control. And the lives and livelihoods of the average American be damned.
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