Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on State Department and Foreign Operations, has called on the US State Department to review its aid to the military of Bahrain after it cracked down on anti-government protests.
“To a watching world, the vicious and orchestrated attacks on civilian protesters and journalists in Bahrain, Libya, Iran and elsewhere in the region are repugnant,” Sen. Leahy said. “They deserve condemnation by other governments and official actions that are appropriate to these deplorable offenses against commonly held principles.”
“US law prohibits aid to foreign security forces that violate human rights, and there is evidence to apply the law today in Bahrain,” the senator continued. “I have asked the State Department to consider the application of our law and I urge a prompt decision. Attacks on civilians calling for political reform and on the press are assaults on the human rights and dignity of all people.”
As political unrest shakes its tiny Gulf ally Bahrain, much more is at stake for the United States than just the fate of the US Fifth Fleet’s base, analysts said.
Also in play are Washington’s extensive strategic ties with Bahrain’s influential oil-rich neighbor Saudi Arabia and efforts by US arch-foe Iran to spread its influence from across the Gulf, they said.
In many ways, the unrest in Bahrain “is much more dangerous” for the US than the current state of affairs in Egypt, more than a week after mass protests forced president Hosni Mubarak to step down, said analyst Aaron David Miller.
To be sure, Egypt has greater weight than Bahrain, said Miller, a former State Department analyst and negotiator who is now an analyst with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
It is the largest and most powerful Arab state, has a peace treaty with Israel and receives $1.3 billion in US military aid each year.
And the Egyptian-US alliance remains intact, at least for now.
However, Bahrain’s vulnerability “to more convulsive change and the impact that it could have vis-a-vis Arab policy for Iran, Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf makes it … a more hot-button issue right now,” Miller told AFP.
The Sunni Arab leaders of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, who govern over restive Shiite Arab populations near Shiite but non-Arab Iran, fear Washington’s push for reform will sow greater instability, said analyst Patrick Clawson.
They strongly opposed Washington’s pressure on Egypt for a transition to democracy to ease out Mubarak, according to Clawson, deputy director for research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
“The perception in the (Gulf) region is that democracy means either the complete chaos you had in Iraq or else the stasis and bickering you had in Kuwait,” he said.
And if needed, the Saudis may be prepared to repeat their intervention in Bahrain in the 1990s, when they sent armored personnel carriers across the causeway linking the neighbors.