What makes Bahrain different than Libya or Syria?
The answer is easy. The Saudi ally gets the pass; the others get invaded. But “pass” is too mild a word, because after bombing Libya into submission, while preparing to do the same thing to Syria, the Obama administration has actually resumed arms sales to Bahrain. And the only real reason those arms sales were originally halted, was because of objections from Congress.
What’s the difference between Libya, Syria and Bahrain? Not all that much. All three had rulers widely hated by the people for being unrepresentative tyrants. All three responded to domestic protests with armed force. In Syria, there is a Sunni majority being ruled over by a Shiite splinter group minority, while in Bahrain, there is a Shiite majority being ruled over by a Sunni minority. Why pick one over the other? Because Saudi Arabia is the big brother of the Bahraini monarchy, and so a Sunni tyranny over a Shiite population is legitimized, while a Shiite tyranny over a Sunni population is delegitimized.
While the Obama administration is dancing around the edges of arming the Syrian rebels, it is also arming the Bahraini government. While the United States participates in the Friends of Syria group, whose goal is to overthrow the Syrian government and replace it with the Muslim Brotherhood, it has renewed security cooperation with Bahrain. While Syrian diplomats were being expelled from Washington, the Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa came to Washington and met with Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and Leon Panetta—nearly every important foreign policy figure in the administration with the exception of Obama.
The optics of having Obama shake hands with a tyrant while handing out Medals of Freedom might have come off as a little tacky, even from an administration that jumps when the House of Saud tells it to, without asking how high. But while the Crown Prince may not have left with Obama’s fingerprints on his palm, he is leaving with Seahawk helicopters, AMRAAM missiles, F-16 parts, a frigate and an option on some armored personnel carriers, for the next time things get hot down in Manama.
What’s even more extraordinary is that the State Department’s press statement on the renewal of arms sales to Bahrain appeared to blame both protesters and Bahraini authorities for the violence, and even teetered on the brink of placing the weight of the blame on the protesters.
“We are concerned about excessive use of force and tear gas by police. At the same time, we are concerned by the almost daily use of violence by some protestors,” the statement reads. “We urge all sides to work together to end the violence and refrain from incitement of any kind, including attacks on peaceful protestors or on the Bahraini police.”
The statement could hardly have had more wriggle room or a softer condemnation of the regime, if it had actually been written by the Crown Prince or one of his flunkies. It is all the more startling to compare this to State Department bulletins on Libya and Syria, which lack any such moral ambiguity or strained refusal to take sides in the conflict between government and anti-government forces.
The deciding factor isn’t Bahrain’s reliability as a regional ally or base space. If that was the issue then Mubarak wouldn’t have been sold out to the Muslim Brotherhood and Yemen’s President Ali Saleh would have enjoyed the same backing as the Crown Prince of Bahrain. Not to mention lesser allies like Tunisia’s President Ben Ali, whom the Obama administration triumphantly jeered to the exit only to see him replaced by Islamist Al-Nahda terrorists. It’s not about how good an ally of America a given country is, but how good an ally of Saudi Arabia it is.
The only Arab Spring resister to earn a shrug from the Obama administration was Bahrain. When Saudi tanks rolled into Manama, there were a few uncomfortable shrugs in Washington D.C., but no fiery speeches or demands for action. Obama did not take to the airwaves to announce that he would be violating the War Powers Act, with a sustained bombardment of the Saudi Peninsula Shield Force, which was doing the killing. It would have been far easier for Obama to force the Saudis to take their tanks and go home, than it was to bring down Gaddafi or than it will be to bring down Assad. And the fact that it was not done reveals who really pulls the strings on foreign policy in the White House.
The limited suspension of arms shipments to Bahrain was not met with an equivalent suspension of arms shipments to Saudi Arabia, because the United States is not allowed to tell the Saudis what to do. Instead it’s the Saudis who slapped Uncle Sam around by suspending their arms purchases as a sign of displeasure. The myth that Saudi weapons are defensive is used to give the regime a blank check in Washington D.C., but it’s so much nonsense. Saudi Arabia’s military is there to expand its territory, whether in Bahrain or Yemen, with timely interventions from a military machine supplied and trained by the United States. The House of Saud has always been imperialistic and it has never had a problem with killing civilians.
Bahrain is the first country on the menu for inclusion into a Saudi super-state. The tanks in Manama were the leverage to push Bahrain into that union. A union that is the dawn of a planned Caliphate, carried out with American weaponry. The United States has counted on the Saudis to secure the region, but the House of Saud is only interested in securing the region for itself. It has always been imperialistic, but its most reliable tool of empire building has not been military, but political. The local monarchies have ably bought or co-opted a sizable percentage of Western political, diplomatic and military elites into building their empire for them.
The Arab League, Saudi Arabia’s puppet, backed the invasion of Libya and is championing regime change in Syria. If the Obama administration goes along with this latest war cooked up in Riyadh, that will be the fourth war that the United States has fought for Saudi interests. And the wars never seem to end. While the great hypocritical cry of the humanitarian interventionists in Washington and London goes up over Syria, no sanctions are leveled against the Saudis, and no matter how many people end up under the treads of Saudi tanks, no arms shipments are interrupted.
Truly the Obama administration has the best foreign policy… that Saudi money can buy.
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