It is doubtful that the report, however needed, will be a game-changer. Two entrenched, increasingly sectarian narratives have crushed any goodwill and middle ground. The battered opposition is struggling to devise a political strategy and contain its frustrated youth, some of whom risk being radicalized. The opposition last week released a new platform, the Manama Document, which restates its demands but is unlikely to inspire its base. The Sunni ruling elite, confident that it won this round decisively and restored a measure of normalcy, is displaying as much complacency as intransigence.
For the U.S., too, this is an uncomfortable moment. It has been mostly silent on Bahrain recently, though President Obama's mentions of Bahrain (and his pointed naming of Al-Wefaq, the largest Shia opposition group) in a May speech and again at the UN last month have ruffled the government and comforted the opposition, which fears the U.S. will ultimately side with the royal family.
For many in Bahrain and the U.S., though, this falls short of U.S. responsibilities to Bahrain. Criticism of the U.S. administration over Bahrain has abounded. The plight of Bahraini workers, teachers, and medical professionals has attracted attention from the international media and from Congress. Influential NGOs and a handful of U.S. congressmen are trying to block the arms sale to the kingdom.
At this time, however, direct U.S. diplomacy can achieve little and it would be unrealistic to expect the U.S. to be able to redress all that has happened in Bahrain or to block an arms sale at the risk of upsetting watchful allies in the region. In fact, the U.S. can hardly play a bridging role between protesters and the monarchy at this point. Many in the Sunni community, a minority here that includes the royal family, see the U.S. as a protector of opposition group Al-Wefaq, which Obama mentioned by name in his UN speech. This explains the Bahraini parliament and media's silly campaign against Tom Krajeski, the newly appointed U.S. ambassador to Manama. The parliament voted "no confidence" in the ambassador (who has not yet arrived in Bahrain) after he met with opposition groups.* "This diplomat has a volatile agenda against Bahrain and the nation and we can't accept having him here," member of Parliament Ali Ahmed said.
Some of the opposition's charges, such as that the U.S. has given Saudi Arabia carte blanche to interfere in Bahrain or that it keeps silent out of sheer strategic expediency, are simplistic. A better characterization is that Washington, having supported the daring but failed secret dialogue talks of Bahrain's crown prince, folded after Saudi Arabia intervened in March.
However chastened, the U.S. is still trying to help, scoring an important (if overlooked) win in April when it pressured the government against banning Al-Wefaq. To be sure, Al-Wefaq is a sectarian, socially illiberal movement headed by clerics (though this characterization equally applies to a number of Sunni groups). It made, by its own admission, significant mistakes during the secret dialogue (the Manama Document makes several references to the terms the crown prince had offered in March); failed to contain radicals at key junctures (though most remained peaceful, some protesters did resort to violence and intimidation); botched its outreach to Sunni groups; and misread regional dynamics.