The National Interest: In Bahrain, Confrontation for the Sake of Confrontation
2017-04-07 - 4:07 p
Bahrain Mirror: The Trump administration has decided to remove any conditions regarding human rights from sales of F-16 fighter aircraft and other arms to Bahrain. The rationale for doing so is the idea that hard power considerations ought to come before softer concerns for the rights of someone else's citizens, explains Paul Pillar in an article on The National Interest website. Pillar further states that Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker, in applauding the decision, said arms sales should be decided by American strategic needs and not commingled with any pressuring of "allies" to change domestic behavior.
He highlights that in the case of Bahrain "there also is a misconception, implied by Corker's comments, that the human rights issue is an entirely separate consideration that conflicts with strategic objectives," adding that this is a misconception is apparent from reflecting on the political, social, and demographic circumstances of Bahrain.
"Like the other five Arab countries along the south edge of the Persian Gulf, Bahrain is ruled by a Sunni monarchy. Unlike any of the others, the country has a Shia majority. An unhappy Shia majority, which the regime has given plenty of reason in recent years to become even more unhappy," says Pillar. He further stresses that the human rights situation in Bahrain is bad, and specifically bad for the Shia, pointing out that the State Department's human rights report on Bahrain has plenty to talk about, including lack of due process, arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, and curbs on freedom of expression. Underlying many of the abuses is systematic discrimination against Shia citizens. The independent watchdog organization Freedom House ranks Bahrain among the worst ten percent of countries worldwide in overall personal and political freedom.
"The main point for all this regarding the thinking that has gone into U.S. policy is that this is exactly the kind of situation that is ripe for exploitation by outsiders. The more repression and curtailment of human rights, the more fertile is the ground for an outside power to exploit it for influence."
With Bahrain, Pillar's article notes that the obvious outside power to fill that role is Iran, the big Shia-dominated state right on the other side of the gulf, adding that what is clear is that the worse the human rights situation gets in Bahrain, the more opportunities there are for Iran to enhance its influence. He; however, underlines that those F-16s will do nothing to help keep Iran out of Bahrain, "neither will the Fifth Fleet, for that matter, because conventional armed intervention is not the route of Iranian influence there." He further stresses that "the one outside power that has intervened in Bahrain with military force during recent years has been Saudi Arabia, whose armored vehicles rolled across the causeway in 2011 to help the Manama regime put down an especially large set of mass protests." Pillar says that intervention underscored not only how fragile is the domestic standing of the Bahraini regime but also which power in the Gulf region-and it's not Iran-has been most willing to use military force to interfere in the internal affairs of neighbors, even when it means suppressing the will of the majority.
Concluding his article, Paul Pillar goes on to say that the decision on arms sales to Bahrain is only one of several attributes of the Trump administration's policy so far in the region that appears driven by the urge to seek confrontation with Iran, noting that "while any confrontation-seeking is hazardous, this instance of it, like some of the others, also is counterproductive." Underlying all this policy misdirection is a repeated failure to consider carefully what U.S. interests are or are not at stake, and what Iran is or is not doing to oppose those interests, he adds, "so we have confrontation for the sake of confrontation."
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