Kausfiles Special

Dick Cheney: Cheerleader for OPEC

“I am impressed by the extent to which OPEC seems to have got its act together. For the first time in a long time there is optimism.”

Who said that? The Venezuelan oil minister? A high-ranking Saudi official? No. It was Dick Cheney, the GOP’s expected vice-presidential candidate, speaking at an oil-drillers’ conference in May 1999. What was he optimistic about? He was optimistic that the oil cartel would succeed in carrying out an agreement to cut world oil production, causing a rise in prices, which would benefit the oil services company of which Cheney was chairman and CEO. Cheney had said the same thing about a month earlier at an energy conference in New Orleans. (“There is a changed attitude inside OPEC. They might not get to 100 percent, but a certain amount of short-term optimism is justified.”)

Cheney, of course, was only doing his job by rooting for OPEC. It’s one of the larger dirty secrets of American life that many U.S. corporations, and the economy of much of the state of Texas, benefit when the international oil cartel succeeds in jacking up oil prices. But consumers in the rest of the United States, who must pay those higher prices–and who have been doing so, especially in the Midwest–may not appreciate this fine point.

Cheney’s pro-OPEC statements would seem to give genuine ammunition to the Democrats. They fit in perfectly with the “Whose side are they on?” theme-making of Gore’s consultants. They give Gore a killer debating point, especially in the heavily contested Midwest. They’re even a legitimate target, in this sense: Lots of businessmen have an interest in higher prices, and that’s an interest their customers might not deeply appreciate. But what Cheney was cheerleading for was something–collusion to raise prices–that would normally be illegal under the antitrust laws if it took place on American soil. What would happen if the CEO of a Detroit carmaker gave a speech saying he was “optimistic” that a production-cutting deal negotiated by the Big Three would hold? He might go to jail. He certainly wouldn’t be nominated for vice president.

And to think the pundits said that high gas prices made Energy Secretary Bill Richardson electoral poison! Richardson has at least been trying to bargain OPEC down. Cheney apparently actually held meetings with Venezuelan officials–Venezuela being a country that in the past has “cheated” on OPEC by boosting production and upsetting the cartel’s price-fixing regime. What did he tell them?