I am old enough to remember the days when the entire world stopped dead in its tracks as one Middle East autocracy invaded a tiny neighboring state, and the US corralled a massive coalition to repel it. From that moment on, because in part of the threat Saddam's invasion of Kuwait posed to the Saudi oil fields, the US was far more deeply enmeshed in the Middle East's military and political equation than ever before.
Now fast forward to a thousand troops with tanks streaming over the causeway that connects Saudi Arabia with Bahrain. Now, obviously this is different in as much as the Sunni Bahrainian royalty invited the troops to come in to protect them from the protests of the Shiite majority. But to my mind, that makes it just as bad. A military from one Sunni country has invaded another to suppress democracy, because it might reflect, for the first time, the wishes of the Shiite majority, rather than Sunni despots. And it has not been a merely symbolic action:
Demonstrators and security forces faced off from mid-morning in the Sitra area on the outskirts of Manama. Bystanders reported the sound of gunfire and the scent of teargas by early afternoon, followed by the familiar cacophony of ambulance sirens as they sped casualties towards the city's two main hospitals. By late afternoon, there were numerous reports of clashes inside Shia villages throughout Manama that had led to dozens of injuries.
At least nine people were admitted to hospital with moderate to serious injuries. Hospital officials reported that two victims had what appeared to be gunshot wounds. Many more appeared to be unconscious as they were wheeled into wards amid chaotic scenes.
This strikes me as more significant regionally than Libya's internal revolts. Since when does the international community stand by as one country's military invades another and kills some of its citizens? The answer is a pretty simple one: when the invading country controls 25 percent of the world's oil supply. Room For Debate considers Saudi Arabia's stability here. Bernard Haykel makes the obvious point:
Saudi Arabia cannot become unstable without the world coming literally to a standstill. The kingdom is in a category by itself with respect to energy markets and its role in the global economy. One need only look at the behavior of financial markets whenever its fate is in question to know this with certainty.
But what if nothing can quite prevent the forces of democracy and revolt from reaching the Saudi theocracy? Will the West have to occupy the oil fields?
(Photo: An anti-government protester steps on a torn poster of King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa in Manama on March 13, 2011. By James Lawler Duggan/AFP/Getty.)