The Leader Who Refuses to Lead: Bahrain

Made even worse when the world is watching.

From the New York Times:  “I wish the Americans would help us,” she said. “But the day after your defense minister came here, the Saudi troops came in. What is the United States doing to end this situation?”  A day later King Hamad declared a three-month state of emergency and yesterday troops moved in and cleared the protesters from Pearl Square.  Power and the internet have been cut and first aid stations are being set up in Mosques and homes because the “military has blockaded a hospital in the capital.

A month ago the President had this to say about Egypt

“We believe that the universal rights of the Egyptian people must be respected, and their aspirations must be met. We believe that this transition must immediately demonstrate irreversible political change, and a… path to democracy. To that end, we believe that the emergency law should be lifted. We believe that meaningful negotiations…should address the key questions confronting Egypt’s future: protecting the fundamental rights of all citizens; revising the Constitution and other laws to demonstrate irreversible change; and jointly developing a clear roadmap to elections that are free and fair.”

Earlier President Obama stood with the people of Tunisia,

“The United States stands with the entire international community in bearing witness to this brave and determined struggle for the universal rights that we must all uphold, and we will long remember the images of the Tunisian people seeking to make their voices heard….”

Tunisia was easy – we had no interests there.  There wasn’t a reason the President wouldn’t have supported the Tunisian people.  Egypt was a little more complicated, because of our 30 years of propping Mubarak up and our reliance on Mubarak’s Egypt to help us with our wars and other interests in the Middle East.  Still, the Administration bungled the response a bit, even though the President put us on the right side of History after a week or so.

Then we came to Bahrain, Libya, and Yemen.  The White House is “concerned about increasing reports of provocative acts and sectarian violence on all sides…”  All sides.  “All sides” makes it sound like the protesters have guns too and are firing on security forces.  “All sides” implies that the opposition called upon their allies to provide thousands of extra soldiers.  “All sides” is a way of letting King Hamad know that we’re not going to do much because the Fifth Fleet is more important than democratic change.

We have an opportunity in Bahrain, because it is home to the Fifth Fleet, to show the people of the Middle East that it’s not just about oil or military assets for the United States.  Bahrain is our chance to show that we trust the people and we actually believe that the people of a nation should have a hand in how they are governed and a voice in the future of their country.  We have spent the past decade “bringing” stability and democracy to the Middle East with the barrel of a gun. Bahrain is a chance for us to trust the people and let them decide.

If we’re not careful and not more forceful with our ally, this will become a proxy fight between Iran and Saudi Arabia.  The Saudis organized the infusion of troops from the Gulf Co-Operation Council because the Shia majority was making the Sunni rulers in Bahrain nervous.  Bahrain is home to the largest Shia population outside of Iran yet face restrictions and discrimination in Bahrain.  The sectarian violence that the White House is concerned about has been at the expense of the Shia protesters.   Iran is supporting the protesters, from afar, but Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are concerned that Iran could become more engaged.

That would be bad for the region and would turn this into a much more global issue.  We have the ability to de-escalate the situation if we would only stand up for principle, if our President would only lead.  We have been making trade-offs for far too long.  The weapons the the security forces are using are American.  The reason that the King can declare a three-month state of emergency, while attacking the protesters and blocking access to hospitals, is because we are calling for calm on “all sides”.  We are equivocating and pretending that both sides are to blame for the violence.  We say “baby steps” are not enough, but don’t back it up.  We are proving to the people, the ones who matter, that the only thing of concern to the U.S. is our military and our concerns.

We need our President to stand up and say “enough is enough.  We support the people, not the unelected King we pay to host our base”

Pic Via | Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters

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