Dateline Bahrain: US Foreign Policy & the Turmoil in the Middle East
Even the best Hollywood screenwriters could not have concocted a more improbable, mind-boggling story. Nor could the best minds at the US State Department have imagined a more sinister but resplendent regime change plot.
Who would have thought that the self-injurious action of a lone fruit vendor protesting the unjustified confiscation of his wares and the unnecessary harassment and humiliation that he allegedly suffered in the hands of corrupt Tunisian municipal officials by setting himself on fire would become the fodder for a people’s revolution that would span an entire region and leave several toppled regimes in its wake?
That Muhammed Bouazizi’s self-immolating act and the change it wrought are unprecedented is without question. I would even personally wager that Bouazizi is undoubtedly deserving of consideration not just for Time magazine’s 2011 Man of the Year but perhaps other more spectacular accolades---the Nobel Prize or a United Nations ‘Champion of Change Award.’
As was initially the case with Tunisia, then Egypt, Algeria and now Libya, Jordan, Iran, Yemen, Iraq and Bahrain, the anti-government protests have effectively enveloped much of North Africa and the Middle East.
However, Bahrain seems particularly noteworthy for its critical military importance for US Foreign Policy interests in the region: our unending, unnerving penchant for hypocrisy and duplicity.
Spurred by the events elsewhere in the region, although protesters first took to the streets of the capital city, Manama, about a week ago calling for governmental reform and the institution of a constitutional monarchy in Bahrain, the grievances of the protesters have since grown to include the ouster of the royal family and other long-standing demands like an end to discrimination, unemployment and corruption.
But unlike Tunisia and Egypt, the reaction to the demonstrations by constituted authority in Manama has been unrelentingly swift and brutal.
All through the week, the security forces, police and military, responded to defenseless protesters at the Pearl Roundabout in the heart of Manama with teargas canisters and volleys of gunfire leaving nearly a dozen dead and scores more wounded.
And the crackdown is not abating. Even crowds of protesters gathered at funerals planned in honor of the dead have not been spared. Demonstrating Bahrainis are continuing to be pestered with pellets, rubber bullets, tear gas and live ammunition!
Interestingly, the reaction from the US government has, for the most part, been unabashedly tepid and coolish. Official Washington’s condemnation of the violence has been lacking in fervour, forthrightness and conviction.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton merely reportedly expressed "deep concerns" about the crackdown; declaring that future protests should "not be marred by violence."
But how can one truly reconcile this rather lukewarm chiding and the US’ apparent overall chumminess with the authorities in Manama with our traditional claims of righteousness and devotion to freedom and democracy? Where in our idea of liberty and justice can one find justification for the wanton, unprovoked attack on sleeping protesters in make shift tents whose only crime was having the chutzpah to publicly express dissent against their government?
The only logical explanation is that, as has always been the case, our commitment to these so-called sacrosanct principles have been critically conditioned by interests that are infinitely self-serving and myopic.
Bahrain is easily the US’s staunchest ally in the Middle East. It is also widely known to be our priciest asset in the region; one that we can ill-afford to let slip through our fingers, regime change or not!
Beyond it’s strategic location, nestled between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which places it directly close to nearly half of the global oil traffic in the Persian Gulf, Bahrain is home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet---which in the immediate, serves as a lynchpin to US operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan; but prognostically, could function as a bulwark against a future nuclear Iran.
Truth is, the US would rather let hundreds, even thousands, of Bahrainis perish fighting for freedom than countenance the likely compromise of its strategic military interests that the possible overthrow of the regime of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa would naturally portend. That is sadly the cold dividing line between our unremitting lip-service to liberty/justice and the realpolitik!