Yemeni Houthi rebels, believed in part to be funded by both the Iranians and, oddly, the North Koreans, disrupted nearly half of Saudi Arabian oil exports today by drone strikes alone. This cut in Saudi oil production means a lot to the world, but the absurdly Saudi-friendly Trump administration is particularly agitated. Pompeo has already blamed the Iranians, and everybody’s favorite belligerent Wal-Mart greeter, Lindsey Graham wrote “It is now time for the U.S. to put on the table an attack on Iranian oil refineries if they continue their provocations or increase nuclear enrichment.” But don’t think this means we’re going to war anytime soon. Trump is too scared of political fallout to do that.
First off, Trump is worried increased oil prices will ruin the stuttering economy. His poll numbers took a dramatic dive in recent weeks as market volatility has greatly increased. Turns out that relying on one substantive thing for approval isn’t the finest “strategery.” Secondly, Trump’s firing of John Bolton gives a fairly clear indication that Trump isn’t actually all that interested in going to war. If he wanted to go to war, he would have had Bolton the war-fetishist call the shots behind the scenes and hide behind him should anything have gone wrong.
Trump probably, and rightly, sees that the optics of another war would be devastating, at least among voters. On top of that, the lack of leadership and literal lack of filled positions in the Trump administration would make just waging a war something of an internal quagmire in the administrative branch.
What less Saudi oil means in the long-term is unclear, but in the short term, we’re in for a rollercoaster. I suspect Trump will use this opportunity to justify his pursuit of leasing land in an otherwise pristine Alaskan refuge for drilling, as well as an excuse to further buddy-up with the “poor Saudis.” The tweets write themselves. What this highlights is the Trump administration’s remarkable lack of negotiating power. The combination of self-interest conflicting with policy and having over-ripe potato Mike Pompeo lead negotiations means that securing US interests that substantively improve our situation in the world is an uphill battle.