U.S. Wrong to Approve Saudi Invasion of Bahrain

The Obama Administration is complicit in the Saudi invasion of a neighboring sovereign country.

The Saudi incursion into Bahrain was apparently requested by the ruling Bahraini monarchy—to protect itself against its own people. Imagine if East Germany’s Erich Honecker had successfully requested a Soviet invasion in 1989. Or, to take a more contemporary example, imagine if Muammar Qaddhafi got one of his very few friends to invade in order to defeat the armed rebellion. And then imagine the global outrage.

The Saudi venture happened after the day after Secretary of Defense Robert Gates supped with the Bahraini ruling family in a show of support, neglecting to meet with pro-democracy protesters who had been demonstrating since mid-February by the thousands.

The ruling family “probably bugged [Gates] that they need to use force to suppress this,” Husain Abdulla, director of Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain, told Democracy Now! “And next day, immediately after he left, the Saudi troops came to Bahrain. This is no coincidence. This is all planned.”

Apparently, a mix of security considerations, Iranophobia, and that omnipresent element in Middle East policymaking—oil—compelled the Obama folks to abandon even any pretensions of being on the side of democracy and self-determination.

First, oil. Bahraini oil is not that vital to the United States, but Saudi crude is. The Saudis have been annoyed that the United States backed away from Hosni Mubarak at the last moment. Plus, they’re very nervous about the contagion of democracy spreading to their kingdom (the horror!). The Saudis are evidently too important to the United States for the Obama Administration to object to their invasion of Bahrain.

Then, geostrategy. The U.S. Fifth Fleet is stationed in Bahrain. The American military presence is so disproportionately large that the United States controls an astounding one-fifth of the main island the country is situated on. So, of course, the United States has long considered the ruling family to be a real close friend. Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral William Crowe once told Professor Stephen Zunes that Bahrain was “pound for pound, man for man, the best ally the United States has anywhere in the world.” Bahrain’s free-market and free-trade orientation (the Heritage Foundation deems it to have the “freest” economy in the region and tenth globally) has further endeared it to the United States, which rewarded it in 2005 with a free-trade agreement, the first for a Gulf country.

Finally, Iran. The Bahraini monarchy seems to have spooked the United States by linking its restive population to its Persian neighbor. The complicating factor here is that the majority population is Shiite (as is Iran), while the ruling family is Sunni. The governing clique has long discriminated against the Shiites in everything from jobs to housing, and the grievances are longstanding and genuine. The idea that the protesters are puppets of the Iranian government is absurd.

“Having been conquered by the Persian Empire for periods of their history, [the Bahraini Shiites] cherish their independence and reject calls by some Persian ultranationalists to reincorporate Bahrain into Iran,” writes Zunes. “Despite some fear-mongering from some pro-authoritarian elements in the United States and elsewhere who seek to depict the Bahraini uprising as a fundamentalist Shiite revolution, the protests in Bahrain have the support of both the progressive Sunni and secular populations.”

But Bahraini propaganda seems to have found willing ears in Washington at the top levels. Between expressing “reassurance of our support” (through a Pentagon spokesperson) and commiserating with the ruling monarchy for being “between a rock and hard place,” Gates joined in the Iran-bashing. “There is clear evidence that as the process is protracted—particularly in Bahrain—that the Iranians are looking for ways to exploit it and create problems," he claimed.

The Bahrainis and the other Gulf countries mounted a strong lobbying campaign in recent months that has yielded them successful results.

“Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton emerged as leading voices inside the administration urging greater U.S. support for the Bahraini king coupled with a reform agenda that Washington insisted would be have to be credible to street protesters,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “Instead of backing cries for the king's removal, Mr. Obama asked protesters to negotiate with the ruling family.”

Now, repression is in full force. The Bahraini monarchy has declared martial law, and security forces have cleared the main square in the capital Manama that had been occupied by demonstrators for weeks. Protesters are being attacked, sometimes lethally. Ambulances have been prevented from operating. One person killed had tire marks on his body from being run over by the security forces.

“It's obvious that the Saudi and Bahraini regimes are cynically exploiting the world's grief over the tragedy in Japan,” says Abdulla in an Institute for Public Accuracy press release. “The U.S. has 6,000 soldiers in Bahrain. The U.S. is in a position to put a stop to these atrocities now.”

Instead, the United States is issuing lame statements calling for “calm and restraint on all sides.” Yet again, the United States has shown that it is not on the side of freedom and democracy.

If you liked this article by Amitabh Pal, the managing editor of The Progressive magazine, please check out his article entitled "Calamity Reveals Folly of Nuclear Power."

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