by Finian Cunningham
September 18, 2011
Finian Cunningham is a Global
Research Correspondent based in Belfast, Ireland. He was expelled
for his critical journalism on
18 June 2011.
The persistence of pro-democracy protests in Bahrain in the face of
repression may be giving Washington second thoughts about its unwavering
support for the royal rulers of the strategically important Persian Gulf
Are we about to witness a cosmetic ‘regime change’
- not so much
for the genuine sake of democratic rights in Bahrain, but more to save
Washington’s vital interests across the region?
The tiny island situated between Saudi Arabia and Qatar serves as the base
U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet. The Fifth Fleet, comprising 16,000 personnel
and 30 vessels, is a staging ground for U.S. military projection across the
Middle East and Central Asia. It also monitors the sealanes of the Persian
Gulf through which some 30 per cent of the world’s total supply of traded
oil passes every day.
Since the mainly Shia population of Bahrain took to the streets on 14
February in protest against the unelected Sunni monarchy of the
dynasty, Washington has given unrelenting support to the regime - invariably
describing Bahrain as “an important ally”.
Apart from the U.S. Fifth Fleet, the U.S. has a free trade agreement with
Bahrain, it sells some $20 million in weapons every year to the kingdom, and
Bahrain is a financial hub for American and global capital.
Bahrain returned all these favors by lending Washington and its NATO allies
diplomatic cover for the military intervention in Libya to oust Muammar
Gaddafi. Bahrain, along with the other Gulf monarchies of Saudi Arabia,
Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, lined up dutifully behind the U.S./NATO
intervention to give it a veneer of Arab approval, and thus head off charges
that the aerial bombardment of Libya is a Western imperialist war of
The Gulf Arab monarchies have also performed the same political
function of providing diplomatic cover for the U.S./NATO sanctions and threats
of intervention against Syria.
Bahrain and the other Gulf dictatorships (despite the irony of that) have
thus played an important propaganda function. They have helped underpin the
premise that the U.S. and NATO involvement in Libya and Syria is guided by
"defence of human rights and democratic freedoms."
But now here’s the rub. Bahrain stands out as a glaring contradiction to
stated U.S. government claims regarding its interventions in Libya and Syria.
The fact that some 40 people have been killed in Bahrain for peacefully
demanding democratic freedoms and basic human rights is an unmitigated
damning indictment of the U.S.-backed regime. Thousands have been injured - many horribly mutilated
- from regime forces firing at unarmed peaceful
The apparent glaring contradiction between U.S. foreign policy towards Bahrain
and its espoused concerns for the people of Libya and Syria makes Bahrain
under the Al Khalifa regime a serious liability to Washington’s
the ongoing persecution against Shia workers (over 3,500 sacked)
preposterous use of military show trials to prosecute dozens of doctors,
nurses, teachers, lawyers and athletes
the widespread condemnation by human
rights groups of illegal mass detention and torture
the targeting of
independent journalists and bloggers
the expulsion of hundreds of students
...the liability of the Al Khalifa regime to Washington’s
foreign policy credibility grows ever more unwieldy by the day.
Added to these barbarities against peaceful civilians is the recent massive
teargas deployment in Shia villages that are deemed to be supportive of the
pro-democracy movement. Every night, villages are smothered in teargas by
regime forces firing thousands of canisters into streets and homes. Local
people have described the deployment a deliberate policy of “toxic
terrorism” and “collective punishment”.
At least eight people have died from asphyxiation after regime forces fired
teargas into homes.
The latest victim was Jawad Ahmed (36). He died on 14
September, succumbing to teargas fired into his home in the village of Sitra.
Relatives did not want to take the victim to the hospital out of fear that
he would be arrested by regime forces - as is common in Bahrain where the
hospitals have been under military command ever since the Saudi-led invasion
to crackdown on the protesters in March.
Only days before Jawad Ahmed’s
death, a boy, Ali Jawad (14) was killed when he was shot in the head at
close range with a teargas canister. 
The insoluble dilemma for the regime is that such fierce repression has
signally failed to quash the pro-democracy protests.
After nearly six months
of state terrorism, the Bahraini protests against the regime have become
more determined with 200,000-300,000 out of a population of less than
600,000 participating in demonstrations every week.
In June, Bahrain’s King Hamad Al Khalifa promised a return to “normal” with
a raft of initiatives that were hailed, and quite possibly formulated, by
Washington as a positive move for reform: these included,
lifting of the state of emergency
a process of “national dialogue”
independent probe into human rights violations
the transfer of all prosecutions from
military to civilian courts
However, unfortunately for the U.S.-backed monarchy, these initiatives have
not bought off the opposition, which continues to take to the streets
calling for the downfall of the regime.
Hence the regime has reneged on its
initiatives and is resorting to full-on repression, which in turn is only
emboldening the pro-democracy movement even more.
The unreformable Bahraini regime thus presents Washington with a thorny
Not only is the U.S. government being shown to be on the side of
tyrants in Bahrain, but its support of such a regime is exposing a chasm in
Washington’s rhetoric about human rights in Libya, Syria and elsewhere
across the Middle East. Bahrain may only be a tiny territory, but the
reality of state terror and repression against unarmed civilians is blowing
a huge hole in the U.S. façade of protecting human rights and democratic
In this way, is the Al Khalifa regime in Bahrain in danger of hitting a
threshold, which the U.S. government can no longer tolerate because of its
public relations liability?
Recall how Washington supported to the last hour
the dictatorships of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Ben Ali in Tunisia. But when
the public relations conundrum of supporting these tyrants became
insufferable they were duly dispensed with.
Could we be about to witness the
same cynical abandonment of Washington’s tyrants in Bahrain?
The first sign of this shift may be gleaned from the remarkably critical
coverage recently of the Bahraini regime in the New York Times and
Washington Post. Given that these papers, along with other mainstream media,
have so far given scant coverage to the violations in Bahrain, it is notable
that these organs of U.S. government thinking have come out with such
unvarnished description of repression in the “important ally”.
September, the New York Times
ran a front-page story headlined:
Boils Under the Lid of Repression
“American willingness to look the other
way has cast Washington as hypocritical,” bemoans the Times as it goes on to
list a litany of human rights violations.
“Backed by the armed intervention
of Saudi Arabia, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa declared martial law in
March, and though it was repealed June 1, the reverberations of the
repression still echo across the island.”
In an editorial piece on 10 September, the Washington Post
went further and
hinted at official U.S. strategic concerns over Bahrain:
“The regime… hasn’t
delivered - and now it is risking a new explosion of unrest that could
destabilize not just Bahrain but the region around it… If Bahrain blows up,
vital U.S. interests will be at risk. The [Obama] administration should use
its influence now.”
The vital U.S. interests at stake under the increasingly unreliable Al Khalifa
regime in Bahrain are high.
They include the U.S. naval command of the Persian
Gulf oil trade; the spillover of Shia unrest in Bahrain into top oil
producer Saudi Arabia; and the boost that this would give Iran’s influence
in the region.
But just as important is the ongoing damage that the Al Khalifa regime is
inflicting on Washington’s carefully crafted claims of supporting human
rights and democracy across the region - and in Libya and Syria in
particular. Bahrain nails the lie in Washington’s rhetoric; it throws a
clunking big spanner in U.S. foreign policy wheels.
We shouldn’t be surprised therefore if the U.S. Air Force is loading gold
bullion for the hasty departure of King Hamad to Saudi Arabia.
Ralph Schoenman, author of a
Hidden History of Zionism, points out:
“The Al Khalifa feudal kleptocracy in Bahrain stinks in the nostrils of all
Its barbaric mode of rule has reached a point where the
imperial masters shop furtively for a bourgeois surrogate to calm the storm
before the mass struggle assumes armed and revolutionary proportions.
“Yet every tenuous attempt by U.S. rulers to locate less tainted and
detestable, if pliable figures, to extend the life of a fragile imperial
hegemony will but hasten the mass uprising that this classic maneuver is
designed to forestall.”
Bahrain: U.S. Ally Kills Children… So When Is NATO Intervening?