How do the US officials keep a straight face when they preach democracy?
How the United States looked the other way while Bahrain crushed the Arab Spring’s most ill-fated uprising.
After massive protests shook the tiny Gulf state last February and March, Bahraini authorities swept in with the backing of foreign troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, clearing the streets of demonstrators and imposing martial law. Since then, government forces have engaged in a long and ruthless crackdown, effectively burying hopes of real reform. If any Arab Spring revolt can be pronounced a failure thus far, this is it.
Not coincidentally, Bahrain’s ill-fated uprising stands out in another way, too. The United States, which took a forceful stance on other Arab revolts, remained relatively passive in the face of the kingdom’s unrest and crackdown. To many who are familiar with the region, this came as no surprise: of all the Arab states that saw revolts last year, Bahrain is arguably the most closely tied to American strategic interests. The country hosts the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, a key watchdog in some of the world’s busiest oil-shipping lanes, waters that also border Iran. In the past five years, the U.S. has sent close to $100 million in military aide to Bahrain—a hefty amount for such a small country—much of it earmarked for “stabilization operations” that include training and equipping police and paramilitary forces. And Bahrain’s leadership is intimately linked to that of Saudi Arabia, America’s greatest ally in the region.
“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. And its epicenter is in Bahrain,” says Toby Jones of Rutgers University.
Distance, hug gap, gaping void. How does it matter?