The government of Bahrain acted swiftly to shut down the growing protest movement this morning. Demonstrators were served a light breakfast of “tear gas, clubs, and rubber bullets” in the predawn hours, followed by an entertaining display of tanks and helicopters. Longtime observers described the spectacle to the Washington Post as “an unusually severe crackdown.” They probably leave the tanks parked in their garages during the ordinary, everyday, humdrum crackdowns.
ABC News announced the first journalist beating has already taken place, involving its reporter Miguel Martinez. Three people have been killed, according to CNN, along with at least 225 injuries.
It will be fun watching the Obama Administration declare itself “on the right side of history at every turn,” in Bahrain, as they did in Egypt. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was lavishing radiant praise on the monarchy as recently as December, pronouncing their “glass half-full” of a “commitment to democracy.” Today she was muttering something about how the Administration’s “support for democracy and human rights is not about siding for, or against, governments or citizens.” No, their “support for democracy” is all about declaring support for the winning side, after they see the results on CNN.
Bahrain represents everything that was so maddeningly complex about Egypt, distilled into one little island package. Brutal dictatorship? The Sunni monarchy rules over a restless Shiite population that outnumbers Sunni Muslims 2 to 1. This morning was not their first crackdown. Foreign intrigue? There’s no complex Muslim Brotherhood puzzle here to give clueless Director of National Intelligence James Clapper a migraine. A Shiite takeover would make Bahrain a satellite of Iran, pure and simple. It’s only a few hundred miles across open water from Bahrain to the Iranian coast.
American interests? The U.S. Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain, protecting the flow of oil through the Persian Gulf. We’ve had a close working relationship with the monarchy for many years. Another crucial ally, Saudi Arabia, has close ties to the King of Bahrain, and might even feel compelled to intervene if his regime is about to fall, as they grow nervous about their own stability. I’m sure the Navy and Air Force commanders based in Bahrain will be delighted to learn their Commander-in-Chief is voting “present” on who controls the country beneath their feet.
Bahrain has long presented itself as a peaceful, forward-looking, stable hub for international business investments. Riots in the streets will swiftly devastate its economy. It’s an ugly mess over there, and it would be nice to think someone associated with the White House realized this could be one consequence of their decision to throw Mubarak under the bus. You can rest assured the rulers of Iran have been thinking about it, long and hard.