Saudi Arabia-led OPEC Oil Production Cuts Strategic Effort to Hurt Biden

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Is Saudi Arabia’s oil price hike move against Biden an October surprise “ELECTION INTERFERENCE”? Some analysts argue that the Saudi-led OPEC oil production cuts are a deliberate strategy to raise prices for Americans. Are the Saudis working to get Trump re-elected and for the MAGA Republicans to win the midterm elections?

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Former US President Donald Trump, right, walks past Mohammed Bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, front row left, and Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, at the Group of 20 (G-20) summit in Osaka, Japan, on Saturday, June 29, 2019. [Kazuhiro Nogi/Pool/Bloomberg]

The Saudi Arabia-dominated Oil Cartel OPEC a Move Against President Joe Biden?

When Saudi Arabia said it would cut oil production by 2 million barrels per day just one month before midterm elections, the White House called it a “hostile act” and said the administration was “re-evaluating” its relationship with Saudi Arabia. It was the kind of harsh language that government officials rarely use to talk about the oil-rich monarchy, whose huge wealth has given it a lot of power in Washington.

When gas prices went up and Democrats in Congress were up for re-election, they were just as distraught. The usual response from Capitol Hill to the kingdom’s many human rights violations is “deep concern,” but this time, congressional Democrats fought back. They sought to stop weapons sales and even took the unprecedented step of introducing legislation to pull US troops out of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The bill’s backers linked their work to the war in Ukraine by pointing out that keeping oil prices high brings in a lot of money that can be used to pay for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s bloody invasion.

But experts think the price increases are more than just a geopolitical move. They said it was also an attempt by Saudi de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, or MBS, to get involved in U.S. electoral politics. They said it was a move by the Saudi-dominated oil cartel OPEC against President Joe Biden and in favor of Donald Trump.

Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, says that the Saudis are trying to get Trump re-elected and help the MAGA Republicans win the midterm elections.  “Higher oil prices will undermine the Democrats.”

Oil prices affect not only the price at the pump but also the cost of almost everything else in our fossil fuel-based economy. They are a major cause of inflation. Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., said, “There is no doubt that the Saudi-led OPEC oil production cuts are a strategy to hurt Americans at the pump and hurt the efforts to deal with rising costs.”

It’s well known that MBS likes Trump. Trump broke with tradition by making his first trip abroad as president to the capital of Saudi Arabia, where he signed a record-breaking $350 billion arms deal with the dictatorship. He also defended MBS over reports, including from his own CIA, that the crown prince ordered the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist for the Washington Post. “I saved his ass,” Trump is said to have said. “I was able to get Congress to leave him alone,” he said, referring to the three times he vetoed congressional resolutions that would have stopped billions of dollars in arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Even after Trump was no longer president, his friends, and the Saudis still got along well. Just six months after leaving the White House, Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and former top White House adviser, secured a $2 billion investment from the Saudi sovereign wealth fund at the request of MBS, who overruled objections from Saudi officials. According to a pitch deck that The Intercept got in April, Kushner would later brag about his influence with the Saudis in a pitch to investors for his investment firm Affinity Partners. The Saudi sovereign wealth fund also gave Steven Mnuchin’s company, Liberty Strategic Capital, $1 billion. Mnuchin is Trump’s Treasury Secretary.

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Jamal Khashoggi [Johnny Green/PA Images/Getty Images]

Saudi Arabia led-OPEC oil production cuts are a deliberate attempt to hurt Democrats’ electoral prospects.

Experts suppose that MBS’s decision to cut oil production is an attempt to hurt the Democrats’ chances of getting elected. Trita Parsi, the executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, said, “This is MBS’s October surprise.” “This is him meddling in the election. It forces Biden to choose: “Will he protect America’s democracy and Democratic lawmakers in Congress, or will he double down on a bad bet that says the US has to give in to Saudi Arabia to keep Riyadh from aligning with Russia?”

Khalid Aljabri, the son of Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief, Saad Aljabri, and a frequent commentator on Saudi affairs, also made the comparison to the October Surprise, a term that came about when Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter in 1980. Aljabri said, “Biden’s no-consequence policy and empty campaign rhetoric have given MBS confidence to make a Carter on Biden with OPEC’s October surprise. He knows that high gas prices and inflation affect U.S. politics at home.”

In a lot of ways, MBS’s decision to cut back on oil production is a response to Biden’s tense meeting with the crown prince in Jeddah this summer, when the two men bumped fists. The meeting happened after CIA Director William Burns talked about oil in secret backchannels with Riyadh. This went against Biden’s promise during the campaign to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah.”

“This is MBS’s October surprise. This is an illustration of him meddling in the election.”

There were several early signs that the meeting would not lead to the warming of relations that the administration had hoped for. When Biden landed in Jeddah, he wasn’t met by a top official, but by the governor of a province. This was a big diplomatic snub. Within minutes of Biden’s meeting with MBS, Saudi officials were leaking to the media to dispute Biden’s claim that he brought up Khashoggi.

The failure of the meeting to improve relations has made things worse between the White House and congressional Democrats, who think that the oil production cuts make them vulnerable in the upcoming election and that the administration isn’t doing enough to force Saudi Arabia to bring production back up.

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Brett McGurk at the National Press Club on April 02, 2019 in Washington, DC. [Paul Morigi/Getty Images]

Calls for a shake-up at NSC

Sources close to the administration, say that Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia was set up by Brett McGurk, who is the Middle East coordinator for the National Security Council. McGurk is the personification of Washington’s foreign policy consensus. He has served in every administration since President George W. Bush and has always pushed for warmer relations with Riyadh.

A member of the Democratic staff of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said that President Biden has been getting bad advice on Middle East policy for a long time, and this OPEC decision makes it clear that his trip to the area this summer will fail. “McGurk and other people are giving bad advice to the president, and this should be a wake-up call. “It would be irresponsible not to make any changes to the NSC.”

Rights activists who work in the Middle East agreed with the calls for changes at the NSC. “It’s no secret that Biden’s Middle East advisor Brett McGurk was the main person pushing Biden to give in to Saudi and UAE on arms sales, US forces and weapons in their countries, and of course meeting with MBS directly, on the lie that they would serve US interests,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of DAWN, the pro-democracy group started by Jamal Khashoggi. “It’s clearer than ever that this was just bad advice because all of Biden’s giving in has secured nothing but make him look bad in front of the whole world.”

Democrats have several policy options to use to get Saudi Arabia to stop cutting production. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-NJ, who is in charge of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on Monday that he would use his position to stop any future arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Menendez has asked the Biden administration to stop all cooperation between the US and Saudi Arabia, but the administration has only said in a vague way that it will look at the relationship again. In response to calls from Democrats in Congress to stop sending military aid to Saudi Arabia, the State Department said very clearly that it would not do so. Instead, reports say that the Biden administration is thinking about canceling an upcoming meeting in Riyadh about working together on air and missile defense.

“I suppose that’s barely a slap on the wrist,” a source close to the administration said, pointing out that MBS and many other high-level officials would not be at the meeting. “MBS won’t lose sleep because they didn’t show up to this meeting.”

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