The decision by oil producing countries to cut production levels this week has infuriated Democrats in the United States, some of whom are now openly calling for retaliation against Saudi Arabia.
With just weeks to go until crucial midterm elections in November, the White House and Democratic candidates are worried that the move by the group of oil exporting countries will result in higher petrol prices as polling day approaches.
Having clawed their way back into contention in the election over the summer, there are now strong fears that rising petrol prices will put Democrats on the back foot once again.
The chair of the Democratic progressive caucus in the House of Representatives, Pramila Jayapal, accused Russian leader Vladimir Putin and Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman of “essentially trying to interfere in our election through these actions, using Opec”.
Others want to use the the military security the US provides to countries in the Gulf as leverage. The US has about 5,000 troops and missile defence systems in the Gulf to protect Saudi Arabia and its oilfields.
Democrats in Congress have now proposed legislation to end this US military protection for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates..
Three members of Congress, Sean Casten, Tom Malinowski and Susan Wild, said the move by Saudi Arabia and the UAE to cut oil production represented a hostile act against the United States. They questioned why US troops should continue to provide existing security arrangements.
“This decision is a turning point in our relationship with our Gulf partners. If Saudi Arabia and the UAE hope to maintain a relationship with the United States that has been overwhelmingly beneficial to them, they must show a greater willingness to work with us – not against us – in advancing what is now our most urgent national security objective: the defeat of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.”
The Biden administration has limited direct control over the price of petrol in the garage forecourt. However it knows that if costs rise, people will blame the president. They also know the opposition Republicans and their allies in conservative media will amplify such sentiments.
Critics of the administration will also argue that the Opec production cuts represent a clear failure of foreign policy by the White House, which had lobbied strongly against such a move.
Republicans are already claiming president Joe Biden’s appeals had been rejected by “dictators” to produce more oil when his policies were restricting such production at home.
After petrol prices surged to over $5 per gallon in June, the White House took steps to bring down costs including releasing millions of gallons of oil from the US strategic reserves. The administration strongly promoted the fact that petrol prices had fallen for nearly 100 days in a row on foot of its initiatives.
Prices at the forecourt have fallen by more than $1 a gallon since the peak but in recent days have begun to tick up again. In some western states prices have risen more significantly due to refining capacity issues.
In the summer Mr Biden changed policy and travelled to Saudi Arabia to meet Mohammed bin Salman as part of a drive to urge him to increase production and bring down prices.
As a candidate for the White House, Mr Biden had promised to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” over the kingdom’s role in the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
However, to the annoyance of some in his party, Mr Biden decided that “realpolitik” demanded that relations with Riyadh be rebuilt to try bring down petrol prices for consumers and to isolate Russia.
However the Opec decision showed US lobbying was unsuccessful as exporters instead concentrated on shoring up global oil prices.
On Wednesday the president said he was concerned at that Opec move and that it was “unnecessary”. On Thursday he said he was “looking for alternatives”.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan and the head of the National Economic Council Brian Deese said the administration would “consult Congress on additional tools and authorities to reduce Opec’s control over energy prices”.