Morgan Roach wants Obama to leave Bahrain alone:
The Obama Administration has mistakenly treated Bahrain, which is governed by one of the most liberal governments in the Gulf, the same way it has treated other countries dominated by much more oppressive authoritarian regimes that have been affected by the “Arab Spring.” The Administration has hedged its bets in favor of the opposition. Such moves reveal how uninformed the Administration is to the events on the ground.
It’s true that Bahrain is “one of the most liberal governments in the Gulf.” It has been a relatively liberalizing monarchy, but it is still an absolute monarchy, and a government that is “one of the most liberal” in this region is still quite illiberal. Freedom House today classifies Bahrain as “not free” and it has political rights and civil liberties scores of 6 (on a scale where 1 is best and
10 7 is worst). According to the rankings, Bahrain is behind Qatar and Oman, and it has the same scores as Yemen and the UAE. Its scores from 2010 were the same as Egypt’s and only slightly ahead of Libya’s.
As a general rule, I don’t think the U.S. should be in the business of encouraging foreign opposition movements. That said, al-Wefaq was part of the official Bahraini opposition until it left parliament and boycotted last year’s parliamentary elections to protest the crackdown, so it is not entirely unreasonable for U.S. officials to be in contact with this group and to make recommendations to the government about how it might satisfy their demands. If al-Wefaq’s demands are ignored, any Iranian influence with Bahrain’s Shia population is more likely to grow than decrease.
If the administration is hedging its bets in favor of the opposition, why is it going ahead with a large sale of arms to Bahrain’s government? Pro-government Bahrainis think the U.S. should take a hands-off approach to Bahrain, but as long as Bahrain is a U.S. client the U.S. isn’t just going to ignore political unrest in a strategically important country. There’s no question of “sacrificing an ally” here.