Thursday, January 05, 2012

US policy on Bahrain: a gap between American interests and American values

I was glad to hear NPR's Kelly McEvers report on Bahrain this morning:

'Bahrain's uprising didn't get quite as much attention as some of the others in the Arab world last year. But it was one of the first, beginning on Feb. 14.

...At first the protesters asked for things like an elected Parliament, a new constitution. But then when demonstrators started getting killed, tens of thousands of Bahrainis converged on a place called the Pearl Roundabout to call for the fall of the ruling Al Khalifa family.

Bahrain State TV called protesters traitors and agents of Iran, which is nearby and also has a Shiite majority.

...And so Bahrain became the one Arab country whose uprising was definitively put down. One reason, argues Toby Jones, a professor of Middle East history at Rutgers University, is that the United States and its allies wanted it that way.

For all America's talk during the Arab Spring about supporting those who seek freedom, Jones says, Bahrain was different.

"If there is a place globally where there is not just distance but a huge gap between American interests and American values, it's in the Persian Gulf," Jones says. "And its epicenter is in Bahrain. Bahrain is ground zero for the Arab Spring in the Persian Gulf. And the United States has chosen sides. It has decided that it wants to see the Bahraini regime survive and endure. And that's important not only for the American relationship with Bahrain but for Saudi Arabia."

The U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet is based in Bahrain, giving the U.S. a major presence that has only increased in significance following the U.S. withdrawal of forces from Iraq.

In addition, Saudi Arabia didn't want protests in its own backyard, Jones says. And it didn't want a Shiite-led uprising to encourage its archrival, Shiite-dominated Iran.'

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