Saturday, April 9, 2011

Anti-Government Protests in Bahrain = Nuclear Missiles in Cuba

That is the jist, anyway, of this enlightening op-ed in the Boston Globe today by--who else?--a former assistant secretary at U.S. Homeland Security. It is enlightening for the extent to which it reveals the current Iran-inspired hysteria surrounding Bahrain, which seems to be casting a blinding light that obstructs all other competing observations.

First the setup:
"THE COLD War had a line in the sand. America and the Soviet Union could wage proxy battles in Vietnam, Latin America, and Europe. But when the Soviets made a move that was too aggressive, the United States threatened real war in order to preserve the previous ground rules. That moment was the Cuban missile crisis. People throughout this Sunni Arab kingdom talk now of their own Cuban missile crisis."
I'm going to have to stop right here to ask: Is this even true? Could someone from Bahrain please leave a comment to say whether you've ever heard anyone use the word "Cuban missile crisis" in the last 3 months?

Next, after a bit of background, and instead of offering some evidence that this is indeed the view from inside Bahrain, we get a view from an anonymous U.S. official:
“In Bahrain, we could see a Shia government aligned to Iran form, a civil war unleashed, or we could support stability,’’ one senior government official told me. “We had only one move. There is no fourth option.’’
Well presumably there is a fourth option because none of these three makes much sense. First, no one apart from the al-Haqq-led "Coalition for a Republic" was calling for the wholesale overthrow of the Bahraini government, and they have been saying that for the last, what, 10 years? The second option--civil war--would by definition require two armed groups of people engaged militarily. So unless the protesters could have fought a civil war with Molotov cocktails and burning tires, there was never going to be a civil war in Bahrain.

The third option, which the U.S. is said to have chosen, is stability. Here we need to distinguish between outward stability and underlying stability. To the extent that none of the socio-political grievances that gave birth to the present crisis have been addressed--and indeed have been compounded by several orders of magnitude--we must conclude either that a) Bahrain was in fact "stable" before February 14, and somehow became "unstable" overnight; or that b) Bahrain was not then nor is now "stable."

Then we get to a bit of Wikipedia speak:
"Western commentators often argue that the Arab uprisings show the errors in our deal with the devil. ..."

"The Obama administration often reminds us ..."

"But Americans would be short-sighted not to understand that much of the Arab world also views these changes as part of an ideological war that could alter the balance of power in favor of Iran."
So we've got a lot of different, indistinct subjects and verbs here. Allow me to translate: "Western commentators" [people I disagree with]"; "the Obama Administration" [people I agree with and my former employer]; "Americans" [people who don't know much about Bahrain but hear that there are some pretty nasty things going on there]; and "much of the Arab world" [the part of the Arab world that agrees with me].

But then we get to the best and most confusing bit. Referring again to this "much of the Arab world" that is afraid of Iranian influence, she writes,
It may be that these attitudes in the Gulf are incorrect. But they are strongly held. And our silence has made these nations confused by US policy. As the present ambassador ends his post here, Obama should immediately appoint a person who can speak for and be accessible to the White House.
I have to admit that I don't really understand this paragraph, since the third sentence doesn't seem to follow from the first two, nor the last from the third. But it seems to be something like: "It might be that those in the Gulf who view Bahrain as a Iranian-proxy state waiting to happen are wrong, but they REALLY, REALLY believe they are right. And thus should the U.S. make sure that its next ambassador to Bahrain is better able to address these probably-unfounded fears." (Seemingly a nice swipe at the current ambassador, by the way.)

Perhaps the sort of fear-assuaging the writer has in mind is the acknowledgment from Gates reported yesterday that: "We already have evidence that the Iranians are trying to exploit the situation in Bahrain. ... And we also have evidence that they are talking about what they can do to try and create problems elsewhere as well." In other words, the U.S. believes that Iran may be talking about trying to think about things they might be able to do.

Ipso facto, anti-government protests in Bahrain equals nuclear missiles in Cuba poised to start a global nuclear holocaust. That sounds about right, no?

To end on a more serious note, the problem with this entire line of argument is that it is stuck in the events of a month ago. "Western observers" are not dismayed that the U.S. government would support its ally in the midst of a popular uprising, but at its response in the month that has followed. That it has remained silent throughout the extended and ongoing political witch-hunt that has been prosecuted by Bahraini authorities--speaking up only when a prominent blogger was arrested--is a separate issue entirely. The U.S. can promote "stability" in Bahrain without standing by while its government exacts group-wide punishment on those who would dare to oppose it.

But, please, for my sake, don't click on the link above to this op-ed. For a better overview of the views of the "much of the Arab world" alluded to above, read this article in the Telegraph instead:

"Saudi Arabia: there has been 'no crackdown' in Bahrain."

Update: Also read this extended article from the New York Times on Mansur al-Jamri, founder and former editor of Al-Wasat.

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