In the midst of the outrage over Donald Trump picking a powerful Oil Baron with disturbingly close ties to Russia is the much less reported on oil war being waged against the United States. OPEC and Russia just signed a deal to lower their oil production explicitly to drive prices up and less explicitly to corral American fracking and tar sands oil industries.
This all sounds boring and hooray for crippling domestic fossil fuel production but this silent war will be a key indicator as to how Donald Trump views his job as president. Is he going to work in the country's best interest or in his own? If he quietly lets Russia and Saudi Arabia continue to attack US oil production or, worse, takes steps to help them slow it down, we will know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we are now at war with our own government. And in all likelihood, that's what we're going to see happen.
The calculus here is simple, if unappealing to the left: 2 years ago, OPEC flooded the market with oil. This was a direct result of "drill, baby, drill" being an effective economic weapon against Russia and the oil states in the Middle East. Yes, it's insanely bad (and potentially fatal) for the environment but it was a powerful tool to undermine our geopolitical adversaries and we used it. The price of oil had risen so high that fracking and mining tar sands became economically viable where before it wasn't profitable enough. With help from the Obama administration, the United States became the world's largest oil and natural gas exporter, sending OPEC into a blind panic.
By flooding the market, the price of oil dropped from an all-time high of $100 a barrel to around $30 before creeping back up to the mid-40s. The hope was that American oil production would bottom out. It was essentially a staring contest and even though American production dropped, it wasn't by enough and OPEC blinked.
Or did they?
By selecting Rex Tillerson to be Secretary of State, Trump is sending a clear signal to Russia and the other oil states that he's on their side, not ours. Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon Mobil, has spent decades turning his company into a multinational corporation that owes no loyalty to any country. There is little chance that Tillerson is going to work to contain Russia's ambitions and it's far more likely he will help broker deals to benefit ExxonMobil and its oil state partners.
With a friendly administration that won't keep pushing domestic energy production at the same pace, OPEC can breathe a sigh of relief and get back to poisoning the planet for obscene profits. Russia's oil-dependent economy will comfortably rebound and Putin's investment in Trump will have paid off in spades.
The question remains as to how will Trump square hurting domestic oil production to favor Russia. Will he blame the Chinese somehow? Or will he give fossil fuel companies massive tax breaks and subsidies (even more than they already receive) to "convince" (read as: "bribe") them to ease up on fracking and tar sand exploitation? This last tactic would be the easiest way to do Russia's bidding while keeping American companies happy. Sure, it would eliminate a lot of American jobs but the stockholders won't feel a thing.
Pay careful attention to how Trump reacts to oil prices going up. Don't listen to what he says, watch what he does. If the steps he takes benefit Russia and OPEC more than they do American workers, that's something we should be screaming from the rooftops. Aside from his overt racism, Trump appealed to the white working class by promising to be on their side. Here's his chance to prove it or to prove that he's little more than Putin's puppet.