Public Enemy #1: OPEC

88814 reality check eric engberg
CBS
The oil producers of OPEC have now taken over the Public Enemy Number One slot in American political discourse, reports CBS News Correspondent Eric Engberg. Anywhere there's a microphone and a pol, there's tough talk.

"What we want to do is take the shackles off the Justice Department and off the FTC, and let them go after OPEC," said Rep. Michael Dewine, R-Ohio.

Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, said, "We have not threatened to withhold weapons and other foreign aid."

But in reality, striking back at the cartel isn't quite so easy.

Cutting off foreign aid to OPEC countries sounds tough, except that the grand total of U.S. aid going to Arab states in OPEC is zero, although the U.S. does have thousands of troops stationed in some of those countries.

Filing antitrust cases against OPEC is an idea the chairman of the House International Relations Committee wants to try.

"I think it's time we had some accountability from the oil producing nations," said Rep. Ben Gilman, R-N.Y.

The problem, as Bill Gates would tell you, is that antitrust cases take lots of time. And another problem is that OPEC companies don't operate in the U.S., under U.S. law.

A very popular remedy is reminding Saudi Arabia and Kuwait what we did for them in the Gulf War. But sovereign states don’t operate on nostalgia.

And Lee Hamilton, former head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said U.S. strategic interests are more important than gasoline prices.

"We can't approach the middle east simply as an oil problem and try to threaten all of these countries that are friends and allies of ours, whose support we need in order to keep Saddam Hussein in the box, in order for the peace process to go forward," said the former congressman.

The last congressional effort to punish OPEC died this spring when oil state congressmen—pleased with higher prices—and lobbyists for the defense industry—which sells to the Arab states—shot it down.

The reality is, talk about oil is far cheaper than…well, oil.