American naval base provides legitimacy for the autocratic Bahraini
regime, reinforces our problematic reliance on the Gulf, and may be
After months of popular protests against the regime, Bahraini officials are desperate to convince anyone who will listen, and most importantly to their long time allies in Washington, that the Persian Gulf island nation is returning to normal. On Tuesday, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa visited the White House, where he offered assurances that the regime is serious about political reform and engaging in a "national dialogue" with the country's beleaguered opposition. Although it has directed muted criticism toward the Bahraini government, the Obama administration has offered repeated reassurances that it intends to stand by the ruling family. The White House appears to believe, or is banking on hope, that the Crown Prince is both willing and able to shepherd the country through the current crisis. But it may be time for the U.S. to reconsider its largest commitment to the Bahraini monarchy -- the massive U.S. Fifth Fleet docked on the island -- and the complicated relationship of mutual dependency that got us here in the first place.
Whatever opening there was for real dialogue in Bahrain, it appears to have closed. While the Crown Prince is busy touring Europe and the U.S. promoting himself as a force for moderation, it's the hardliners in the royal family who currently hold power. Rather than reconciliation, their priority continues to be to oppressing -- and often punishing - the protesters calling for a more representative government. The regime has taken extreme, frequently violent measures to destroy the country's political opposition and defeat the forces of democracy.