Bahrain and US Elections: Betting on a Losing Horse Again
2020-11-04 - 1:12 am
Bahrain Mirror (Exclusive): Millions around the world are holding their breath until Tuesday, the date the US elections will take place, which seems to be pivotal this time, in a heated race in which Democratic candidate Joe Biden has a (slight) advantage over White House candidate Donald Trump, whose numbers appear to be declining in most US polls.
Like all US elections, the Gulf States (like other countries), through their "indirect" financial donations, lobbies and media platforms are trying to support a presidential candidate, and in case he wins, it would mean support for their agenda from the world's most influential superpower for the next four years.
But the sharp Gulf divide led to a divergence of views, which were divided into three:
The first view considers the reelection of Trump to be necessary, given the huge investments made during his tenure in the White House (billions of dollars were pumped into US arms projects and purchases in exchange for support, protection and political cover for their agenda) that have been reflected in their interest and strengthened their positions in the region. These countries are Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain. Trump, of course, supported the three countries in their dispute against Qatar, which he accused of supporting terrorism, which later forced Qatar to invest tens of billions in the United States to create a balance in the White House in its approach towards the Gulf dispute.
The second view favors Biden coming to the White House to rebalance US international politics. This view is backed by Qatar, Turkey and Iran, who are seeking to curb the Saudi and UAE grip in the region (despite Biden's criticisms of Erdogan, calling him a dictator).
The third one favors Biden's arrival in order to remove any undue advantage Saudi Arabia and the UAE have in the region. However, this group's interests will not be harmed and will not feel a regional weakness if Trump remains. This view is supported by Oman and Kuwait, the two countries that have so far succeeded in not getting involved in the Gulf crisis, even though they were indirectly a source of support for Qatar in the face of the others.
Four years ago, Bahrain was enthusiastic and decided to support Hillary Clinton. Leaked documents from the State Department revealed at that time that Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad had donated $32 million to the Clinton Foundation while she was Secretary of State in the Obama administration, and how those funds were followed by meetings with Clinton and an increase in arms sales to Bahrain, which was fiercely suppressing pro-democracy protests.
In August 2016, Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa congratulated Hillary Clinton for accepting the Democratic presidential nomination, in a rare move that went beyond established diplomatic protocols. Reports at the time pointed out Saudi lobby activity in support of the Democratic candidate against Trump.
Bahrain as well as Saudi Arabia bet on a losing horse. Trump won, and they were insulted, but they quickly understood what they had to do to avoid further pressure. Gulf States (mainly Bahrain, only two weeks after Trump's win) rushed to book a hotel owned by the new US president in Washington to hold embassy events, in an effort to flatter him and warm up to him.
Mohammed bin Salman, Mohammed bin Zayed and Salman bin Hamad left for Washington at various times to meet with Trump and offer him obedience. In a record period (just two weeks) Bahrain signed contracts worth $8 billion (signed other contracts later), Saudi Arabia prepared historic deals with Trump estimated at $100 billion, as did the UAE. In return, Trump gave important support to these countries, and chose Saudi Arabia to be his first foreign stop as president of the United States, which means significant support for the oil-rich Gulf kingdom.
One day after Bahrain king's first meeting with Trump (on the sidelines of his Riyadh visit), government forces stormed the town of Diraz and killed five citizens who were holding a sit-in outside the home of the spiritual leader of Bahrain's Shia, Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim, whose house was raided and who was put under house arrest.
The relationship between Trump and the Gulf rulers was clear, and no further explanations were needed. However, in exchange, the Gulf rulers tried to pass their projects, and they scored great success in the fields concerning Iran and Qatar in particular, and the continuation of their war on Yemen.
Nonetheless, Trump will continue to blackmail them until the end of his term, as was the case with the issue of normalization with Israel. Trump, the seeker of achievements, has forced the UAE and Bahrain to give him a free electoral gift, even if he did not get what he had hoped for from the electoral move.
As many expected, normalization with Israel was not a big deal for the American voter. It's an event barely covered by the US local press and media, but the American voter has shown no interest at all (US opinion polls have been devoid of topics like "Peace in the Middle East" or "Relations with Israel"). Only a few days are left before the election. All polls show Biden's lead over Trump, even those conducted by the US right-wing Fox News Network.
It seems that Bahrain has once again decided to bet on a losing horse. It is true that Biden is a traditional politician and his victory will not strain Washington's relations with allies, but will certainly restore Washington's interest in the human rights file that Trump has neglected. This could be translated into pressure on countries with a poor human rights record such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE. Biden's victory will also mean that resolving complex issues such as the Gulf and Iranian nuclear conflict will only be through dialogue and consensus.