More Evidence on Bahrain

Who is the US betting on in Bahrain?

Yesterday I penned a piece discussing the various consequences of GCC troops being deployed in neighboring Bahrain in order to put down the brewing protests there. My conclusions, briefly: “For Bahrain, the introduction of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) force indicates a possible schism between the Crown Prince and the prime minister as well as a clear intention not to give in to the demands of the protesters. Likewise, the introduction of Saudi troops is a statement heard in Riyadh and Tehran that Shi’ite unrest will not be tolerated in the Gulf. The recent developments put the United States in a tight place diplomatically as the suppression of the Shi’ite majority by two major allies in Bahrain runs counter to all America rhetoric while the internationalization of the protests could result in similar Arab interventions in other countries.”

Several pieces came out since yesterday that seem to back up my points:

  • Collins Dunn and BBC speak about the split between the Prime Minister and the Crown Prince. Both authors also mention the death of the moderate possibility of negotiation between the regime and the protesters. From Dunn:

there is growing speculation…of splits in the ruling Al Khalifa family. Several accounts now suggest that the Crown Prince, Prince Salman, was about to negotiate a reform deal that would bring the opposition into talks, when Sunday’s violence erupted and brought the GCC intervention on Monday.

  • Jonathon Wright mentions the importance of US interests in Bahrain as well as the role of Iran in Saudi Arabia’s decision to enter Bahrain:

*  The Obama administration, spooked by the Saudi reaction to its position on Egypt, may indeed be less sympathetic towards another Arab uprising against a friendly ruler who provides useful geostrategic services to the United States: a base for the Fifth Fleet in the case of Bahrain, overflights right and quick passage for US warships through the Suez Canal in the case of Egypt.
* The Iran factor is crucial, in the eyes of both the United States and Saudi Arabia. No one doubts that a truly representative Bahraini government would be less hostile towards Iran, even if it does not embrace Tehran wholeheartedly. Any crack in the wall Washington has tried to build around Iran would be interpreted as a strategic defeat, including at home, where anti-Iranian sentiment runs high.

  • Nicholas Kristof wonders about how Obama can push for the removal of Mubarak and Qaddafi, but not the al Khalifa family:

It is heartbreaking to see a renegade country like Libya shoot pro-democracy protesters. But it’s even more wrenching to watch America’s ally, Bahrain, pull a Qaddafi and use American tanks, guns and tear gas as well as foreign mercenaries to crush a pro-democracy movement — as we stay mostly silent.

  • The Leveretts underline the importance of US assets in Bahrain (and Saudi) and how the importance of the alliance is corrupting American policy:

The real difference is this: Qaddafi is never going to carry America’s water again.  But, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are key to America’s ability to project military power in the Persian Gulf.  If Bahrain got a government that actually represented the sentiments of its people, the U.S. Fifth Fleet might not get kicked out immediately—but, for sure, that government would not allow U.S. military forces operating out of Bahrain would to be used in an attack against Iran.  And that would mean the Obama administration could no longer credibly claim that “all options are on the table” against Iran.

  • Marc Lynch has a great piece on the secularization of the conflict by the regime. Yet he notes the longterm consequences of the Saudi-Bahraini crackdown:

The road to political compromise and meaningful reform — which appeared to have been within reach only a few days ago — now appears to be blocked, which places the long-term viability of the Bahraini regime in serious question.

The Gulf just got really interesting and the longer the US takes in condemning the violent crackdowns (see Sullivan for videos) the difference between Obama’s Egypt/Tunisia/Libya responses and the Gulf responses with become more evident. As this difference becomes more evident, the more the US will look like it is complicit in the brutality against protesters. As I – and nearly all the authors above – mentioned, this is not a sustainable stance. Eventually, the al Khalifa family – and those supporting the monarchy (US and Saudi) – will have to face the consequences of its actions. Meanwhile, by resorting to such brutal suppression and – as Lynch notes – by secularizing the conflict, once moderates will be pushed to extremes and, perhaps inevitably now, towards Iran.

Photo from CFNews13/AP

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5 thoughts on “More Evidence on Bahrain

  1. De Maupassant, who was a reporter in Algeria in the 1850s before becoming a great French writer, and Camus, who was a reporter in Algeria before becoming a world-famous novelist, both traced the way France was always behind the curve. Camus in particular shows the steady French move over the decades before it lost Algeria toward the Algerian position – but always too little, too late. It is tragic that Washington decision-makers know so little history that they have failed to learn this lesson.

    1. You know, I studied French literature in university, and I have to say, I am ashamed that I didnt know any of that about De Maupassant or Camus. Shameful. But you make a good point, though the situations are very different between the old French and the US today. Despite the differences, it does seem like the US is behind on everything, much like the French were. Too little too late is a good way to put it (at least for the French) – in the Gulf, the US has not even done too little yet…

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