Oil occupies a special place in the world of international trade and in the public lore. No other commodity carries the political, strategic and tactical power of petroleum. Since it became the world’s primary fuel less than two centuries ago, oil has played a major role in shaping world events, triggering trade embargoes and colonial wars, making and breaking political alliances and always offering a justification, real or imagined, for international conflicts.
It’s hardly surprising, then, that the recent precipitous drop in global oil prices has generated a flurry of conspiracy theories.
Speculation about “the real cause” behind the current slide has been making the rounds for some time, but it entered the realm of respectable analysis when New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman told his tale of cloak-and-dagger maneuvers that might be moving the markets. “One can’t say for sure whether the American-Saudi oil alliance is deliberate or a coincidence of interests,” he wrote, “but, if it is explicit, then clearly we’re trying to do to President Vladimir Putin of Russia and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, exactly what the Americans and Saudis did to the last leaders of the Soviet Union: pump them to death.”