The New Yorker:
In the past two and a half years, we have got used to a level of foreign-policy incoherence from the Trump Administration. Donald Trump’s statements about North Korea, NATO, and other subjects have often contradicted what other officials have said, and sometimes contradicted what Trump has said himself. But, even by Trump’s standards, the past couple of days have been jarring.
On Sunday evening, the day after the attacks on oil installations in Saudi Arabia, Trump tweeted, “There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification.” On Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported that American officials had informed the Saudi government that, according to U.S. intelligence reports, “Iran launched more than 20 drones and at least a dozen missiles at the Saudi oil facilities on Saturday.”
By then, though, Trump’s tone had changed. Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office, he reiterated that the evidence indicated that Iran was responsible, then added, “I don’t want war with anybody. . . .With all that being said, we’d certainly like to avoid it.” Other Administration officials sought to walk back his Sunday-night tweet—or that’s what it looked like they were doing. “I think locked and loaded means several things,” Marc Short, the chief of staff to Vice-President Mike Pence, told Fox Business. “One thing it means is that America today under this President is far better prepared to handle these sorts of events because we’re now a net exporter of oil.”
What changed between Sunday and Monday? One thing was that the financial markets opened, and the price of a barrel of crude oil shot up about nine dollars, or roughly fifteen per cent—the biggest jump in more than a decade. The attacks had prompted Saudi Arabia to reduce its daily output of crude by about 5.7 million barrels, or roughly fifty per cent. When supply falls, prices rise. This price adjustment, which occurred even though Trump said over the weekend that he would release oil from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve “to keep the markets well supplied,” demonstrated two things.
First, it punctured the myth, assiduously propagated by Trump, Short, and others, that the fact that the United States is now the world’s biggest producer of crude oil (it’s all that fracking) means the economy is protected from turmoil overseas. Trump’s rhetoric about oil independence has “led to a misperception that the U.S. is somehow energy independent and insulated from the global disruption in global oil markets,” Jason Bordoff, a former Obama Administration official who is a professor at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, told my colleague Robin Wright. “Consumers at the pump are about to be reminded that oil prices are set in the global markets.”
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