From Gal Luft
Four months and thirty extra dollars a barrel later, President Bush is again in Saudi Arabia trying to persuade the Saudis to open the spigot and increase OPEC production. Last time the answer was a resounding no. Not even a gift of 900 precision-guided bombs helped convince the Saudis to show more oomph at the pump. The lesson for the Administration: speak softer and wave a bigger gift. This time the United States has agreed to help Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, develop “civilian” nuclear power.
Of course the Saudi interest in nuclear power has nothing to do with energy production but with Iran and the Sunnis’ fears of Iranian hegemony. Does President Bush really believe that helping the Saudis with nuclear technologies would cause Tehran to pull the plug on its nuclear program?
Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi insists that the oil market is well supplied, blaming the high prices on hedge funds and speculators. Considering the fact that OPEC production level is not much higher than its level thirty years ago and that Saudi output is lower than it was two years ago, putting the entire blame on speculators is utter nonsense.
The Saudis have always taken pride in their role as swing producers, claiming to own over 2mbd in spare capacity. But what good is this liquidity mechanism if they are not prepared to use it? When last month Nigeria’s production fell by 330,000 bpd, OPEC did not lift a finger to compensate for the loss. At what level will they provide us with liquidity? $200? $300?
If the Saudis are right and it’s all about the speculators, why not put this to test? This is exactly what Bush should have suggested: pour some oil into the market for a limited period of time and let’s measure the effect on prices so we can determine who is the culprit. With projected revenues of $400 billion this year, the Saudis can surely afford to embark on such an experiment and clear their name once and for all. But as I wrote here in January, we’d rather beg than blame.
The spectacle of an American president begging for oil every few months only to be rewarded with a slap in the face is getting a bit tedious. What’s next? Naming one of our aircraft carriers USS Ibn Saud?