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Gunboat diplomacy: How US military support aids Bahrain’s dictatorship

Afshin Rattansi
Afshin Rattansi is a journalist, author of “The Dream of the Decade – the London Novels” and an RT Contributor. Afshin Rattansi began his journalism career on The (London) Guardian in the late 1980s as one of the newspaper’s youngest ever columnists. He went on to work for Britain’s Channel 4, BBC, Al Jazeera Arabic, CNN International and Bloomberg Television and many other media. In the run-up to the Lehman Brothers crash of 2008, he published a collection of four of his novels as “The Dream of the Decade – The London Novels.” As US pressure increased on Iran, Afshin moved to Tehran to anchor the news on the new satellite TV channel, Press TV which was later banned in Britain. He set up Alternate Reality Productions in London in 2010 making Double Standards, a comedy satire show as well as other TV news commissions. His writing has also appeared in the New Statesman; Counterpunch; The Oldie; Plays and Players; Mitchell Beazley’s Encyclopaedia of 21st Century; The Journal of the British Astronomical Association; Association of Lloyd's Members Journal; Critical Quarterly; Makers of Modern Culture (Routledge, 2007); “Brought To Book” (Penguin, 1994); Flaunt; Attitude. He is a founder member of the Frontline Club in London and he won the Sony Award for outstanding contribution to international media in 2002.
Gunboat diplomacy: How US military support aids Bahrain’s dictatorship
For now, Bahrain is where America wants to stay, crushing the hopes and dreams of anyone wanting an “Arab Spring” in the Persian Gulf.

One of the largest warships in the world, the USS Nimitz, docked in the Persian Gulf country of Bahrain in the past few days. The timing is instructive – pro-democracy protestors are preparing to demonstrate for human rights in the capital, Manama. The Nimitz, lead Flat-top of President Obama’s Carrier Strike Group 11, rolled into harbor as if to say out loud: “The United States will not tolerate democracy in this island kingdom, home to the US Fifth Fleet. The USA supports the dictatorship installed here in the 18th century.”

Confident of American support, the dictatorial Bahraini regime soon prepared deportation orders for an American human rights activist, Erin Kilbride. This month, Bahrain’s King introduced new legislation to stifle dissent. Amnesty International called the decrees “draconian measures [that] will be used in an attempt to legitimize state violence as new protests are being planned for 14 August.”

It is no surprise that US President Barack Obama continues to support anti-democratic regimes: the hallmark of his presidency has been double talk. For his political base, there is rhetorical flourish penned by his speechwriters – usually paeans to the virtues of democracy. Yet simultaneously, Obama uses federal agencies to fight unconstitutional wars against Americans and ever more brutal terror abroad against the weak, the poor and those fighting for democracy. The result of foreign policy made by Democrats in the 21st century Oval Office is clear to see: America had to shut down around 20 of its embassies for fear of attack from Al-Qaeda – groups that the USA has given succor to, via their military policies in Syria, Pakistan, Yemen and Afghanistan.

It is now well known – except perhaps to the media-tranquilized swathes of America’s heartland – that US policy consistently supports nebulous militancy under the banner of Al Qaeda. And it has done so since the 1980s. But President Obama’s de facto support for Al-Qaeda today has reached new dimensions. Washington is now not only recruitment sergeant for the perpetrators of 9/11, it is now active in doing the public relations, strategic planning and even resource provision for “Al Qaeda,” too. As the USA, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Qatar attempt to destabilize the secular government of Syria, so do their weapons end up in the hands of those who wish to do harm to America and Americans. That is why so many US ambassadors had to run for the hills in the past few days.

As yet, there is no provision for “pivoting” US policy away from supporting those who wish for either an international Caliphate or perpetual royal dictatorships in the energy-rich Middle East. There are now no moves to reposition the US Fifth Fleet base. And while Bahrain’s people may weep, it is at least a bonus for Africa. For some time now, Obama’s neocon National Security Advisor Susan Rice has cast a shadow over Africa, with rumored plans of the Fifth Fleet boosting the Italian-based Sixth Fleet. The intention was to prop up Washington’s continuing destabilization efforts courtesy of US Africa Command (AFRICOM). But for now, Bahrain is where America wants to stay, crushing the hopes and dreams of anyone wanting an “Arab Spring” in the Persian Gulf.

Reuters / Hamad I Mohammed

Anti-apartheid comparisons

So what should Bahrainis, targeted by massive US military might, do to free their country from dictatorship? So far, they have opted for largely peaceful protest as their main strategy. Should they become more violent?

Peaceful protest was the strategy of the pre-Nelson Mandela African National Congress in South Africa during the fight against US- and Israeli-backed apartheid. There are parallels because South Africa had a non-white majority and Bahrain has a majority opposed to its US-backed dictators. Mandela, however, championed violence as the way to break apartheid in marked contrast to the liberal left who favored peaceful protest and trade union strike action. The rationale of the anti-apartheid protest movement before Mandela’s call to arms was that a non-white majority in South Africa could win because the people were with them. With Mandela’s rise, the armed struggle involved the killing of civilians and collaborators, employing a “by any means necessary” approach to revolution against US-backed injustice. 

Given the routine arrest, imprisonment, kidnapping and torture of Bahrainis, the tactics of the Persian Gulf’s revolutionaries are in the spotlight. Today, if Obama did not aid Bahrain’s killers, a peaceful strategy would surely still be an option. But there was a US-backed mass murder of protesters in the capital Manama in February 2011. We know from a report commissioned by the Bahraini dictatorship itself that arrests in the wake of pro-democracy protests demonstrated a pattern of behavior "designed to inspire terror in the arrested persons."

Unsurprisingly, given US (and British) support for the killing, the report outlined the use of torture to extract confessions. Torture – as we know from the case of whistleblower Bradley Manning – is becoming a hallmark of the Obama administration.

An unnamed former US government official quoted by the Reuters news agency has said that the military aid package Obama signed last year tends to communicate "business as usual" to Bahrain’s dictators. What does business as usual mean? Well, the US State Department said one year ago that exports of materiel to kill people in Bahrain totaled $1.4 billion since the beginning of 2000.

Since the protests began, Bernie Ecclestone’s Formula 1 Grand Prix races have been held on the island and as for Bahrain’s dictators, they were welcomed on the international stage at the White House and at Buckingham Palace.  August 14th 2013 may be one of the last times that peaceful protest can be tried as a means of catalyzing a democratic revolution in Bahrain. If the protestors are met with the violence of old then an urgent re-evaluation of the tactics of those fighting for liberty and revolution in Bahrain must surely be in order. If it is not violent insurrection, before all the country’s human rights leaders are killed or detained it might be sensible to apply a campaign of naming and shaming Bahrain’s Western friends.

Those wanting to see democracy in Bahrain could do worse than study those Western companies being paid by the regime to launder the nation’s reputation so that no one ever hears about this ongoing struggle. According to Bahrain Watch (https://bahrainwatch.org/pr/) run by Bahraini activists, since February 2011, the following firms have helped sanitize the slaughter: In London - Bell Pottinger, Cloud Media Entertainment, G3, Mark Stewart Productions, M&C Saatchi, New Century Media, Olton; In Washington - BGR Group, Hill + Knowlton Strategies, Joe Trippi & Associates, Potomac Square Group, Qorvis Communications, Sanitas International and Sorini, Samet & Associates.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.