“Do not taunt your neighbor with the blemish you yourself have,” the Talmud instructs us.
The human tendency to see our own flaws as failings in others was described by Sigmund Freud as “projection.” The Vienna psychologist viewed it as a phenomenon that arose when the ego could not accept thoughts, motivations, feelings, and desires and so split them off, projecting them onto others.
This was brought to mind by the Biden administration’s reaction on Wednesday to the news that the Saudis and Russians had arranged for the OPEC+ cartel to reduce its oil production limit by two million barrels a day. “The President is disappointed by the shortsighted decision by OPEC+ to cut production quotas while the global economy is dealing with the continued negative impact of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine,” the White House said in a statement.
The White House did not go into details about what is particularly shortsighted about the production cut from the perspective of OPEC+. The move has certainly contributed to a rising price for oil around the globe, which is in the interests of not only the Saudis, the Gulf State producers, and Russia but also of the lesser members who have been struggling to produce enough to meet their quotas. If you are already producing at maximum capacity but below your assigned quota—as Angola, Nigeria, and others are—a rising price due to quota reduction only adds to your revenues and profits. These additional profits create room for investment in more productive capacity, which is the opposite of shortsighted.
If anything, it is the policies of the U.S. and Europe that appear to be shortsighted. One of the Biden administration’s first actions was to halt the Keystone Pipeline, sending a signal up and down the energy sector that it was prepared to wage a war on fossil fuels. Throughout the government, Biden administration officials are implementing climate change plans meant to stymie oil, coal, and natural gas production. The Orwellian Inflation Reduction Act, which will actually contribute to inflation, doubled down on this by offering billions in subsidies for energy technology that competes with oil and gas. All of this comes on top of the tens of trillions of dollars of investment dollars that have been poured into environmental, social, and governance funds that shun carbon emission heavy sectors and businesses.
This has left the U.S. vulnerable to foreign cartel decisions on oil. Europe’s lack of investment in fossil fuel energy infrastructure has tipped it into an energy crisis now that the natural gas pipelines from Russia have been disrupted and possibly destroyed. Sanctions on Russian oil set to take effect in Europe later this year are increasingly viewed as a peril to the entire world as they will increase demand for non-Russian oil, causing global prices to soar. Behind the scenes, the Biden administration has actually been trying to convince the Europeans to ease back on sanctions that would bar providing insurance and other services for tankers moving Russian oil anywhere in the world.
The Biden administration’s spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said on Wednesday that “it’s clear that OPEC+ is aligning with Russia with today’s announcement.” We are a long way from the time when President Donald Trump led U.S. efforts alongside Russia and Saudi Arabia to stabilize oil prices by cutting production in 2020, when the pandemic had sent demand plunging form around 100 million barrels a day to 65 million barrels. Before Trump’s intervention, the Russians and the Saudis were waging a price war that had sent prices into a free fall. Now the U.S. is left out of the negotiations over global oil production, while the Saudis and Russians remain ever closer friends.
Jean-Pierre’s comments convey something of a threat, most likely intentionally. She said that OPEC+—and therefore the Saudis—are now considered to be aligning against the U.S. and its allies who are supporting Ukraine in its war with Russia. We’re waving not an olive branch but something closer to a barbed-wire strapped baseball bat. Even the term “shortsighted” is likely to be read as a threat that the U.S. will make OPEC+ come to regret this decision.
At the very least, the Biden administration could have included in its reaction a plan to increase U.S. oil production. Instead, the administration said it would “consult with Congress on additional tools and authorities to reduce OPEC’s control over energy prices,” continue with the already planned releases from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and spend plenty of taxpayer money on “clean energy.” The White House simply could not bring itself to admit we need more oil production at home.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ gave a parable that is a retelling of the Talmud’s command. “Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” He asked. The Biden administration’s fit over OPEC’s mote shows us that this is a lesson whose relevance has not faded with the passage of centuries.