The bloodthirsty leader of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia loves his dictatorial soul-mate Donald Trump and is today setting the stage to intervene in November’s election in a big way, much like he did with a smaller test run during the fall of 2022 when he drove US gas prices up above $5, forcing President Biden to release oil from the U.S. strategic petroleum reserve.

As Stanley Reed reported for the Business pages of The New York Times recently:

“Saudi Arabia, the de facto leader of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, said that it would extend [their one-million-barrels-a-day] cuts in oil production through June, noting that it was acting ‘in coordination with some’ other states.”

That “other state” would be their OPEC+ partner Russia, which also announced last weekend a simultaneous production cut of 471,000 barrels a day. Putin wants Trump back in the White House, too.

This time, though, because Trump refused to block the sale of America’s largest gasoline refinery to Saudi Arabia in 2017 (completed in 2019 with Trump’s blessing), no matter how much oil Biden releases from the reserves will be irrelevant: if the Saudis shut down their Port Arthur, Texas refinery this October “for maintenance,” U.S. gasoline prices will explode.

It’s the largest refinery in America, as Foreign Policy magazine noted in May 2017:

“Port Arthur, referred to as the ‘crown jewel’ of U.S. refinery infrastructure, can process 600,000 barrels of oil a day.”

That alone is enough to radically swing gasoline prices in the US.

So, get ready: it’s coming this fall. And unless the administration acts quickly, there will be nothing they can do about it. Gas at $6 a gallon could easily throw the election to Trump, as Biden will take the blame (just like in November 2022) and Fox “News” and rightwing hate media will hang gas prices around his neck like a flaming tire.

MBS and his sovereign wealth fund have funneled literally billions of dollars into the Trump family, between Jared’s investment company and Trump’s golf courses and the LIV Tour, in addition to giving Trump himself additional hundreds of millions over the years renting and purchasing Trump properties.

During Trump’s presidency, MBS funneled additional millions directly into the Trump family’s pockets via Trump’s DC hotel and NYC properties in clear violation of the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

In exchange, Trump broke with the U.S. tradition of new presidents visiting democratic allies and made Saudi Arabia his first overseas destination, blowing away congressional concern about MBS having ordered the brutal murder and dismemberment of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi and elevating the international status of that country beyond anything ever done by any U.S. president.

Trump followed that up by organizing a 2019 sale of $8.1 billion in U.S. weaponry in clear violation of U.S. law (such sales require congressional approval). When the Senate voted to block the sale, Trump killed their effort. As Frontline noted in a July 2019 report:

“Both chambers have registered their disapproval of the emergency declaration — the Senate voted to block the sale in June. President Trump, however, has pledged to shoot down the measure when it arrives at his desk.”

When Saudi Arabia and Russia tried to screw Biden and the Democrats by cutting oil production — in October leading up to the midterm 2022 elections — President Biden was furious. Russell Baker wrote about it for The New York Times on October 11, 2022:

“President Biden vowed on to impose ‘consequences’ on Saudi Arabia for teaming up with Russia to cut oil production, signaling a rupture in the relationship between two longtime allies and a reversal of his own effort to cultivate the energy-rich kingdom.

“Amid deep anger over last week’s decision by the Saudi-led OPEC Plus, Mr. Biden’s staff announced that he would re-evaluate the entire relationship with Saudi Arabia and expressed openness to retaliatory measures offered by congressional Democrats such as curbing arms sales or permitting legal action against the cartel.

“‘There’s going to be some consequences for what they’ve done with Russia,’ Mr. Biden told CNN’s Jake Tapper in an interview broadcast in April.”

Weighing in for Democratic Senate leadership, Illinois Senator Dick Durban added on an October, 2022 CNN appearance:

“Let’s be very candid about this. It’s Putin and Saudi Arabia against the United States.”

The Saudis are well aware of the power of gas prices over U.S. politics. Retired Saudi Oil Ministry Adviser Ibrahim Al-Muhanna wrote in his book Oil Leaders: An Insider’s Account of Four Decades of Saudi Arabia and OPEC’s Global Energy Policy:

“During the midterm election in 2018, President Trump pushed for lower oil prices—meaning gasoline—and he succeeded, but he used completely different methods. In the middle of June 2018, the oil price was about $75 and the gasoline price in the United States was more than $3.50 in some states. Trump was worried that the Republican Party might lose the majority in both houses of Congress. …

“The OPEC+ group, led by Saudi Arabia and Russia, decided in June 2018 to increase their production by 1.2 MBD. Saudi Arabian production in November rose to more than 11.3 MBD, its highest ever.”

For reference, Saudi oil production right now is standing at around 9 million barrels a day, and they just announced a million-barrel-a-day production cut to kick in this summer/fall just in time for the presidential election. So, what can President Biden do?

One step would be to nationalize the Port Arthur refinery, the “crown jewel” essential to U.S. energy security that never should have been sold to a foreign nation. The process of nationalization would require congressional approval and would probably take more time than Biden has before the November election.

Nonetheless, it would be a shot across the bow of Saudi Arabia and may get their attention sufficiently to stop their intended manipulation of U.S. gas prices this fall. And it’s the right thing to do, even if it takes a year or more.

Another would be to take America back to the oil export policy that was put into place during the Nixon administration, prohibiting the export of any U.S. crude petroleum products. U.S. oil production is higher today than it has ever been in history, and in 2019 America achieved technical energy independence, as noted by the U.S. Energy Information Administration:

In 1973, at the height of the Arab Oil Embargo, President Nixon and Congress put into law legislation that banned the export of U.S. crude. It stood until December, 2015, when Congress and President Obama, under pressure (bribes legalized by 5 Republicans on the Supreme Court) from the fossil fuel industry, repealed the ban.

American oil companies are currently exporting a bit over 4 million barrels a day, while we’re only importing around 900,000 barrels a day from Saudi Arabia and 290,000 barrels a day from Russia (yes, it sounds wacky). Ending exports would cut the tie between U.S. oil prices and Saudi and Russian production. (Which only leaves that Port Arthur, Texas refinery owned by the Saudis as the weak link MBS could use to manipulate U.S. elections via gas prices.)

While it would be challenged in court, there are emergency powers the president has that may allow him to reinstate that ban, at least temporarily, by executive order. Both The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times have argued in editorials that banning exports and lifting such a ban are both within the president’s powers.

Finally, President Biden could get ahead of the Saudis and Putin by exposing what they’re up to. They increased production (lowering U.S. gas prices) in 2018 to help Trump and the Republicans in that year’s midterm elections, and cut production (raising U.S. gas prices) in 2022 to hurt Biden and the Democrats in those midterms. Arguably, they got a Republican-controlled House of Representatives out of that effort.

Most Americans are probably unaware of this, and letting them know how our system is being manipulated by these two malevolent foreign powers would take some of the political sting out of the high gas prices that we can expect to see this fall.

And even if Biden chooses not to engage in this kind of public and high-stakes brinkmanship with MBS and Putin, you and I can. Tell everybody you know what is happening and how we can expect it to play out: it may well begin to bleed through to the mainstream media if enough of us raise hell.

Susan Walsh (AP)

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