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Being adopted into the Saudi royal family is no small event in the transplanted Connecticut Yankee WASP's life. After all, there are an estimated 5,000-plus Saudi princes, each one of whom is given $500,000 at birth as a sort of start-up fee. The family propagates at the extraordinary rate of 35 to 40 princes a month. The founding King Ibn Saud kept four wives, four concubines, and four slaves, whose numbers he replenished frequently. He married into 30 tribes, deftly building the country by tying it together into a network of mothers and children.
The bedrock of the relationship between the U.S. and the Saudi royal family is Aramco, which began as a joint venture between the international oil giants Standard Oil and Texaco for exploration and development of the kingdom's immense oil and gas reserves, a business endeavor producing billions of dollars in revenues for the royal family. That money is turned right around and paid to American defense contractors for armaments of all types. Woodward says Bandar realized that Bush would need to show some economic progress before the 2004 election and that meant getting Saudi help in dropping the price of oil. "They're high," Woodward told 60 Minutes, referring to oil prices. "And they could go down very quickly. That's the Saudi pledge. Certainly over the summer, or as we get closer to the election, they could increase production several million barrels a day and the price would drop significantly."
Of course, the Saudis aren't talking about a drop in prices to Joe Six Pack, the prince's term for the American public. It means a drop in price to the American oil men in an effort to inflate their profits, because, after all, they are major supporters of Bush and have been pumping money into his campaign.
However, what the prince told Woodward, and what was going down in Washington after 9-11 are two different things. Flooding the market with oil can mean different things to different people at different times.
As Bush was ramping up for the Iraq war, OPEC feared that the U.S. would use its expected new-found control of Iraqi oil to hurt the cartel's power. In the fall of 2002, Saudi oil people in Washington were speculating (i.e., warning) that should the U.S. invade Iraq and then turn around and flood the market with Iraqi oil in an effort to wreck OPEC, Saudi Arabia was prepared to open the gates and together with Iran, the region's other big producer, flood the world oil markets, forcing prices downward. The last thing on anyone's mind was helping out consumers. As always, the suckers were paying top dollar for gasoline, home heating oil, and natural gas purchased from the big international companies, which still control international markets because of their clamp on refining and distribution.
If the Saudis decided to let the so-called free market take over, flooding the globe with crude and sending oil prices into a steep dive, then the U.S. would be faced with a true nightmare. Lower prices would finish off not only smaller international companies that had been enticed into the oil play by high prices, but could wipe out the domestic oil companies in the U.S. , causing sheer political hell for President Bush in his little oil bastion of Houston.
Additional reporting: Phoebe St John