March 20, 2011

Our Dictator in Bahrain

President Obama claims that the US has gone to war against Libya for humanitarian reasons:

I want the American people to know that the use of force is not our first choice and it’s not a choice that I make lightly. But we cannot stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people that there will be no mercy, and his forces step up their assaults on cities like Benghazi and Misurata, where innocent men and women face brutality and death at the hands of their own government. (NY Times)

Of course, anyone who’s been following the news for the past two months must smell the hypocrisy here.  If Obama really cared about protecting innocent men and women from tyrants, then his administration would have also declared war against the tyrant in Bahrain, a.k.a. King (read Dictator) Khalifa. 

That King Khalifa a brutal dictator is beyond dispute.  Although he periodically allows parliamentary elections, these elections are essentially meaningless.  First of all, he can veto any legislation he likes, without any recourse on the part of parliament.  He can also dismiss parliament at will (Stephen Zunes).  His government is repressive in many other ways, as well; even the State Department acknowledges that it “restricts civil liberties, freedoms of press, speech, assembly, association, and some religious practices” (Mark LeVine).

This February 14, activists took to the streets in Bahrain, demanding a series of political reforms.  Although the protests were nonviolent, the government responded with brutal force, wounding dozens of protestors and killing one (Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Al Jazeera).  The following day, security forces fired on protestors during the funeral service for the man who had been killed the day before and in the process killed another protestor.  Despite this, the protests grew as thousands moved into Pearl Square, a roundabout in Manama (NY Times).

Although the protests were by and large nonviolent, the government continued responding with brutal force, attacking, not just peaceful protestors, but also children and paramedics (NY Times, HRW, HRW, HRW).  On February 18, the New York Times released video footage showing “the moment that Bahraini protesters, holding their hands in the air and chanting ‘peaceful, peaceful,’ were shot at close range by soldiers” (NY Times).  Since then, government atrocities have continued (Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, BBC, CNN, NY Times).

And how has the Obama administration, which purports to be so concerned about human rights violations in Libya, responded to the atrocities committed by the Bahraini government?  Did it declare war on the king?  Did it announce that it would no longer be sending the king “large quantities of military materiel, ranging from trucks and aircraft to machine-gun parts and millions of rounds of live ammunition”? (Nick Turse). No, and no.  What it did instead was simply call upon the king to exercise restraint (Hilary Clinton) and to respect the “universal rights” of his people (Obama) (Telegraph, CBS).

And then on February 23, Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with King Khalifa and Crown Prince Salman and, according to his spokesman, “reaffirmed [America’s] strong commitment to [its] military relationship with the Bahraini defense forces” and even thanked the men “for the very measured way they have been handling the popular crisis here” (Stephen Zunes).  A few weeks later, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates met with the two men and, according to Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell, offered them “reassurance of our support” (Nick Turse). 

Morally speaking, there are obviously no good reasons why the US, which claims to be so concerned about Libyans, continues supporting the dictator in Bahrain.  Although the king has long claimed that his opponents are Iranian lackeys, a 2008 WikiLeaks memo reveals that US diplomats have never taken this charge seriously (Guardian).  Bahraini Shias, as Stephen Zunes writes, tend to be fiercely independent and most of them do not follow ayatollahs.  Although the king wants to portray the uprising as a “fundamentalist Shiite revolution, the protests in Bahrain have the support of both the progressive Sunni and secular populations. This pro-democracy movement is as legitimate as the popular struggles in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. Signs and chants at the demonstrations indicate that they eschew sectarianism, emphasizing Shia-Sunni unity in the cause of democracy” (Zunes).

By continuing to support the king, Obama has further shown the world that he has absolutely no regard for human life. He doesnt care about the lives of Americans, and he certainly doesnt care about those living overseas. Like most American politicians, he only cares about perpetuating the American Empire and the giant corporations that profit from it.


erik_tootell said...

The first thing that these despots say when their people begin to demand freedom is that they are just a few young people being influenced by the meddlesome USA.
Were the US to give credence to that dismissive allegation by taking unlimited aggressive actions without collaborating with other countries,
the despots could whip up more support for their regimes. Obama wisely avoids this, as he did in Iran some months ago. Nevertheless he was roundly criticized at the time by some.

Don Emmerich said...

So Obama is continuing to provide Bahrain with weapons in order to help the protestors?

And the fact that Obama is vocally and militarily helping the rebels in Libya means that he's really on the side of Qadaffi?

Anonymous said...

Since when did moral considerations matter in Realpolitik, anyway? Even among the assorted thugs running the show in the Muslim world Gaddafi has few friends and many enemies (including the assorted international religious-militant networks), and further unlike many he doesn't roost in a very problematic and sensitive region (like, say, the Middle East) where pretty much everybody treads very carefully and tries to not upset things too much. Also unlike most of his peer wrangling domestic unrest in their countries (who mainly have to deal with angry students and similar) he has a wholesale armed revolt to deal with, and not a few elements of his own army defected to the rebels...

So it's quite understandable from a purely practical point of view that "the West" would feel rather more inclined to intervene in Libya in a fashion they wouldn't even dream of elsewhere.

On another note, methinks you're being a bit too harsh on Barack given that the impetus for intervention seems to have very much come from Paris this time...

Don Emmerich said...

"So it's quite understandable from a purely practical point of view that 'the West' would feel rather more inclined to intervene in Libya in a fashion they wouldn't even dream of elsewhere."

I don't follow your argument here.

* * * * *

"On another note, methinks you're being a bit too harsh on Barack given that the impetus for intervention seems to have very much come from Paris this time..."

That doesn't follow. If Bob starts mugging an old lady, and then I come along and help him, it doesn't follow that I'm not a criminal and louse.