With a full fledged civil war now raging on in Libya, as predicted, Western powers smell blood. This is their best chance to topple the dreaded drag-queen in Tripoli. Libyan rebels are receiving support via Egypt and Western intelligence (seemingly American, Egyptian, French, British and Dutch) is also somehow involved in all this. The end-game, the ultimate intention, as usual, is to replace the ruling independent despot with another one that is willing to serve globalist masters in Washington, Brussels, London and, of course, Tel Aviv.
Despite their wish that Gaddafi is overthrown, policymakers in the West have a serious predicament on their hands. As much as they would like to intervene directly, a direct military intervention may not be the wisest option for them at this point in time. Energy reserves in Libya are simply not large enough to warrant such a massive and costly undertaking. Moreover, Western/NATO forces are already far too overstretched in troubled places like the Persian Gulf and Central Asia. Imposing a no fly zone over Libya also has its inherent problems and limitations. What's more, supporting the Libyan rebels directly may ultimately prove counterproductive. So, what to do with the opportunity that has presented itself? It seems that even members of the Council on Foreign Relations do not agree (see posted articles below). Nevertheless, I don't see Gaddafi's foes easily giving up on this historic opportunity to settle some old scores. Libya won't be the same after this.
And now, as Libya stands on the verge of suffering a Western organized aggression, we in the free world are already being bombarded by anti-Gaddafi propaganda. We are being told that we have a new dangerous tyrant on our hands that the freedom and democracy loving world simply needs to destroy - and the press in the West is doing its best to sell it to the public via disinformation and media hype.
In sharp contrast to what the Western alliance and their allies are doing in Libya, the popular uprising in Bahrain and Yemen for example (which has already claimed the lives of hundreds) continues to be all but ignored by the same nations that are so eager to protect civilian lives in Libya. Naturally, the reason for this is that the ruling depots in the two aforementioned Arabian nations are spineless puppets of the West. Moreover, those demonstrating against government corruption, oppression and discrimination in Bahrain are Shiites. In today's Middle East, Palestinians and Shiites are a disposable people. As a matter of fact, from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan, the killing of Shiites (as well as terrorism against Iran) is being encouraged throughout the region and the crimes against them are simply being swept under the political rug by Western officials and their subordinates in the Western press.
Nevertheless, what is currently occurring Libya is essentially what they want to occur in Armenia. The Egyptian and the Tunisian scenario where the old political systems remain intact is NOT what Washington is really looking for in Armenia. What Washington wants in Armenia is a - complete - regime change. They want Yerevan to make a 180 degree reversal. Simply put: it's not about freedom or democracy in Armenia - it's about Russia in Armenia. Thank God, Washington simply does not have the assets on the ground to carryout such a project - just yet. Thus far, all they seem to have in Armenia is a Levon and a Raffi and a bunch of self-destructive peasants willing to go to the streets for them. I personally do not think they will be successful. Washington will eventually find out that despite the political immaturity and/or ignorance of Armenians in general Armenians have nonetheless - a very refined sense of survival.
And Armenian survival in the Caucasus simply means sticking very close to Moscow.
Therefore, I have no doubt that Washingtonian machinations in Yerevan will prove to be a failure in the end. The worrying part for me, however, is what will its long-term impact be on Armenia's overall sociopolitical development? In my opinion, Armenia will continue to stagnate economically and remain vulnerable politically - as long as it remains the object of contention between Moscow and Washington. One side simply has got to give, I pray to God that it's the Western side.
'Taking down dictators neither democracy nor revolution' (RT video): http://www.youtube.com/user/RussiaToday#p/u/2/DRsKIpV2LLA
'Libya air attack footage looks fake, no facts in West media': 'Libya air attack footage looks fake, no facts in West media'
Biden wants Russian boost for Libya invasion? (RT video): http://www.youtube.com/user/RussiaToday#p/u/2/RWNDrjfWzNc
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The administration has already taken several steps to pressure Gadhafi to go. It has frozen $30 billion worth of Libyan assets in the United States, joined with the rest of the international community in banning members of the regime from traveling internationally and voted to suspend Libya’s membership in the UN Human Rights Council. None of these measures is likely to make a difference, at least any time soon. The travel ban and Human Rights Council suspension are purely symbolic. Sanctions could take months to pinch the regime, if at all.
So what are the White House’s next steps? Direct U.S. military intervention is off the table. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and senior U.S. military officials oppose sending U.S. troops into Libya. The American public feels likewise. Here is a figure to keep in mind: a majority of Americans – 58 percent according to the latest CNN poll – oppose the war in Afghanistan. Americans don’t want to get out of Afghanistan just so we can go into Libya. So what might the administration do instead? Here are the seven possibilities:
1) Impose a “no-fly zone.” This is what the U.S. did over parts of Iraq for more than a decade after the 1991 Gulf War. We could also go beyond that and bomb airport runways so they are unusable.
Neither of these steps would help the rebels much. The Libyan Air Force has been a non-factor in the fighting so far. A no-fly zone and cratered runways also would not help the rebels deal with the real threat they face, namely, artillery and multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS). These advanced weapons are capable of leveling entire neighborhoods.
2) Impose a “no-drive zone.” The White House could tackle the artillery and MLRS threat by bombing these and other heavy weapons. That, however, clearly makes the United States a participant in Libya’s civil war. A no-drive zone would also be ineffective if Gadhafi's forces have already dispersed their heavy weapons into cities and towns. Attacking them in place runs a high risk of killing and injuring civilians.
3) Push someone else to intervene in Libya. But who would volunteer? European countries don’t want to re-assume the colonial mantle. Most of Libya’s neighbors either lack the ability or desire to take on a peacemaking mission. Countries outside the region would prefer to worry about their own problems.
4) Directly arm the rebels. This policy is gaining support on Capitol Hill. But it may merely increase the carnage rather than give the rebels the upper hand. Sophisticated weapons require training to use, but no one is talking about sending in trainers.
Equally troubling, the weapons we want Libyans to use against Gadhafi could wind up in the wrong hands and be used against us down the road. What succeeds Gadhafi's regime may not be a stable, broad-based government but something that looks more like Somalia.
5) Ask other countries to arm the rebels. Unfortunately, that doesn’t solve the problem of weapons ending up in the wrong hands. Would the Saudis, for instance, be careful to make sure that weapons don’t fall in to the hands of Islamic extremists who are as mad at the West as they are at Gadhafi?
6) Provide tactical military intelligence to the rebels. Real-time information about the regime’s troops movements would help the rebels direct their own forces. But it would not be a game changer.
7) Provide the rebels with moral and humanitarian support but nothing else. Debates in Washington always presume that the White House has to do something. But it can choose to do nothing. That sounds cold-hearted, especially when cable news, YouTube, and Twitter will bring the fighting into our living rooms.
But the United States has stood on the sidelines many times before when people struggled to overthrow a tyrant. Moral outrage can give way to calculations of self-interest or political expediency. None of these options is appealing. That is why inside the White House officials are no doubt hoping that events will save them from having to choose among them.
Editor's Note: Dr. James Lindsay is a Senior Vice President of the Council on Foreign Relations (where he blogs), co-author of the book America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy and former director for global issues and multilateral affairs at the National Security Council.
The U.S. Should Keep Out of Libya
A good many people across the political spectrum—including some members of the Obama administration—are pressuring the president to intervene militarily in Libya. Much of the commentary has focused on establishing a no-fly zone, but there have been calls as well for enforcing a no-drive zone, or for arming or otherwise assisting regime opponents. Those making this case appeal to a mixture of morality and realpolitik. They argue that by intervening we will prevent the slaughter of innocents and at the same time demonstrate our willingness to make good on expressions of support for freedom and security.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has taken the opposite position. Testifying before Congress last week, Mr. Gates pointed out that the first step in establishing a no-fly zone that would ground Libyan aircraft and helicopters would be to suppress Libyan air defenses that could threaten U.S. or allied aircraft. This would entail attacking selected targets. In other words, to establish a no-fly zone would be to go to war. Mr. Gates was and is correct in reminding people of what implementing a no-fly zone would actually mean. But the reasons for questioning the wisdom of establishing such a zone, or taking other military action, go well beyond his warnings.
To begin with, there is no reason to believe a no-fly zone would be decisive. In fact, we have every reason to believe it would not be, given that aircraft and helicopters are not central to the regime's military advantages. The regime could defeat the opposition without resorting to attack planes and helicopter gunships simply by exploiting its advantages in terms of foot soldiers and light arms. What about other military steps outsiders could take? To impose a no-drive zone—which would aim to limit the government's ability to use tanks and armored personnel carriers—would require far more extensive military force than a no-fly zone. And even if it were implemented, no number of Western aircraft on patrol could stop the movement of every military vehicle. The only way to level the battlefield would be to put trainers, advisers and special forces on the ground.
There are political reasons to question the wisdom of the U.S. becoming a protagonist in Libya's civil war. It is one thing to acknowledge Moammar Gadhafi as a ruthless despot, which he has demonstrated himself to be. But doing so does not establish the democratic bona fides of those who oppose him. And even if some of those opposing him are genuine democrats, there is no reason to assume that helping to remove the regime would result in the ascendancy of such people. To the contrary. Removing Gadhafi and those around him could easily set in motion a chain of events in which a different strongman, with the backing of a different tribe, took over. Or it could create a situation in which radical Islamists gain the upper hand. Either way, significant areas of the country would be beyond any government control, creating vacuums exploitable by al Qaeda and similar groups.
The wisdom of arming regime opponents is questionable for the same reason. Pre-9/11 Afghanistan offers something of an object lesson here, as the U.S. armed individuals and groups to defeat the regime backed by the Soviet Union. This policy worked in realizing its immediate goal, but in the years that followed it empowered individuals and groups who carried out an agenda hostile to U.S. interests. Arms transferred become arms over which control is forfeited. There are many reasons to avoid making Libya the center of U.S. concerns in the region. Libya is far from the most important country in the Middle East—both in terms of political influence and its impact on the oil market. American policy makers would be wiser to focus on what they can do to see that Egypt's transition proceeds smoothly, that Saudi Arabia remains stable, and that Iran does not.
Intervening militarily in Libya would be a potentially costly distraction for the U.S. military. It is already overextended in Iraq and Afghanistan. The last thing it needs is another vaguely defined intervention in a place where U.S. interests are less than vital. To say that U.S. interests in Libya are less than vital is not to argue for doing nothing, but rather for making sure that the actions we take are commensurate with the stakes. In the case of Libya, asset freezes, arms embargoes, threatened prosecutions for war crimes, and the creation of humanitarian safe harbors inside the country or just across its borders would be appropriate.
Under this set of policies, Gadhafi could well survive the current challenge—regimes that are willing and able to attack domestic opponents often do. But, over time, such policies would weaken the regime while strengthening the opposition. Such an approach will not be enough for some. But it does have the advantage of being consistent with the scale of U.S. interests in Libya and what can realistically be done to promote them
Mr. Haass is president of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Less than a dozen years after NATO bombed Yugoslavia into pieces, detaching the province of Kosovo from Serbia, there are signs that the military alliance is gearing up for another victorious little “humanitarian war”, this time against Libya. The differences are, of course, enormous. But let’s look at some of the disturbing similarities.
As “the new Hitler”, the man you love to hate and need to destroy, Slobodan Milosevic was a neophyte in 1999 compared to Muammar Qaddafi today. The media had less than a decade to turn Milosevic into a monster, whereas with Qaddafi, they’ve been at it for several decades. And Qaddafi is more exotic, speaking less English and coming before the public in outfits that could have been created by John Galliano (another recently outed monster). This exotic aspect arouses the ancestral mockery and contempt for lesser cultures with which the West was won, Africa was colonized and the Summer Palace in Beijing was ravaged by Western soldiers fighting to make the world safe for opium addiction.
The “we must do something” chorus.
As with Kosovo, the crisis in Libya is perceived by the hawks as an opportunity to assert power. The unspeakable John Yoo, the legal advisor who coached the Bush II administration in the advantages of torturing prisoners, has used the Wall Street Journal to advise the Obama administration to ignore the U.N Charter and leap into the Libyan fray. “By putting aside the U.N.'s antiquated rules, the United States can save lives, improve global welfare, and serve its own national interests at the same time,” Yoo proclaimed. And another leading theorist of humanitarian imperialism, Geoffrey Robertson, has told The Independent that, despite appearances, violating international law is lawful.
The specter of “crimes against humanity” and “genocide” is evoked to justify war.
As with Kosovo, an internal conflict between a government and armed rebels is being cast as a “humanitarian crisis” in which one side only, the government, is assumed to be “criminal”. This a priori criminalization is expressed by calling on an international judicial body to examine crimes which are assumed to have been committed, or to be about to be committed. In his Op Ed piece, Geoffrey Robertson made it crystal clear how the International Criminal Court is being used to set the stage for eventual military intervention. The ICC can be used by the West to get around the risk of a Security Council veto for military action, he explained.
“In the case of Libya , the council has at least set an important precedent by unanimously endorsing a reference to the International Criminal Court. […] So what happens if the unarrested Libyan indictees aggravate their crimes - eg by stringing up or shooting in cold blood their opponents, potential witnesses, civilians, journalists or prisoners of war?” [Note that so far there are no “indictees” and no proof of “crimes” that they supposedly may “aggravate” in various imaginary ways.) But Robertson is eager to find a way for NATO “to pick up the gauntlet” if the Security Council decides to do nothing.]
“The defects in the Security Council require the acknowledgement of a limited right, without its mandate, for an alliance like NATO to use force to stop the commission of crimes against humanity. That right arises once the council has identified a situation as a threat to world peace (and it has so identified Libya, by referring it unanimously to the ICC prosecutor).”
Thus referring a country to the ICC prosecutor can be a pretext for waging war against that country! By the way, the ICC jurisdiction is supposed to apply to States that have ratified the treaty establishing it, which, as I understand, is not the case of Libya – or of the United States. A big difference, however, is that the United States has been able to persuade, bully or bribe countless signatory States to accept agreements that they will never under any circumstances try to refer any American offenders to the ICC. That is a privilege denied Qaddafi.
Robertson, a member of the UN justice council, concludes that: “The duty to stop the mass murder of innocents, as best we can if they request our help, has crystallized to make the use of force by Nato not merely ‘legitimate’ but lawful.”
Twelve years ago, most of the European left supported “the Kosovo war” that set NATO on the endless path it now pursues in Afghanistan. Having learned nothing, many seem ready for a repeat performance. A coalition of parties calling itself the European Left has issued a statement “strongly condemning the repression perpetrated by the criminal regime of Colonel Qaddafi” and urging the European Union “to condemn the use of force and to act promptly to protect the people that are peacefully demonstrating and struggling for their freedom.” Inasmuch as the opposition to Qaddafi is not merely “peacefully demonstrating”, but in part has taken up arms, this comes down to condemning the use of force by some and not by others – but it is unlikely that the politicians who drafted this statement even realize what they are saying.
The narrow vision of the left is illustrated by the statement in a Trotskyist paper that: “Of all the crimes of Qaddafi, the one that is without doubt the most grave and least known is his complicity with the EU migration policy…” For the far left, Qaddafi’s biggest sin is cooperating with the West, just as the West is to be condemned for cooperating with Qaddafi. This is a left that ends up, out of sheer confusion, as cheerleader for war.
The mass of refugees fleeing Kosovo as NATO began its bombing campaign was used to justify that bombing, without independent investigation into the varied causes of that temporary exodus – a main cause probably being the bombing itself. Today, from the way media report on the large number of refugees leaving Libya since the troubles began, the public could get the impression that they are fleeing persecution by Qaddafi. As is frequently the case, media focuses on the superficial image without seeking explanations. A bit of reflection may fill the information gap. It is hardly likely that Qaddafi is chasing away the foreign workers that his regime brought to Libya to carry out important infrastructure projects. Rather it is fairly clear that some of the “democratic” rebels have attacked the foreign workers out of pure xenophobia. Qaddafi’s openness to Africans in particular is resented by a certain number of Arabs. But not too much should be said about this, since they are now our “good guys”. This is a bit the way Albanian attacks on Roma in Kosovo were overlooked or excused by NATO occupiers on the grounds that “the Roma had collaborated with the Serbs”.
Osama bin Laden.
Another resemblance between former Yugoslavia and Libya is that the United States (and its NATO allies) once again end up on the same side as their old friend from Afghan Mujahidin days, Osama bin Laden. Osama bin Laden was a discreet ally of the Islamist party of Alija Izetbegovic during the Bosnia civil war, a fact that has been studiously overlooked by the NATO powers. Of course, Western media have largely dismissed Qaddafi’s current claim that he is fighting against bin Laden as the ravings of a madman. However, the combat between Qaddafi and bin Laden is very real and predates the September 11, 2001 attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Indeed, Qaddafi was the first to try to alert Interpol to bin Laden, but got no cooperation from the United States. In November 2007, the French news agency AFP reported that the leaders of the “Fighting Islamic Group” in Libya announced they were joining Al Qaeda. Like the Mujahidin who fought in Bosnia, that Libyan Islamist Group was formed in 1995 by veterans of the U.S.-sponsored fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Their declared aim was to overthrow Qaddafi in order to establish a radical Islamist state. The base of radical Islam has always been in the Eastern part of Libya where the current revolt broke out. Since that revolt does not at all resemble the peaceful mass demonstrations that overthrew dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, but has a visible component of armed militants, it can reasonably be assumed that the Islamists are taking part in the rebellion.
Refusal of negotiations.
In 1999, the United States was eager to use the Kosovo crisis to give NATO’s new “out of area” mission its baptism of fire. The charade of peace talks at Rambouillet was scuttled by US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who sidelined more moderate Kosovo Albanian leaders in favor of Hashim Thaci, the young leader of the “Kosovo Liberation Army”, a network notoriously linked to criminal activities. The Albanian rebels in Kosovo were a mixed bag, but as frequently happens, the US reached in and drew the worst out of that bag. In Libya, the situation could be even worse.
My own impression, partly as a result of visiting Tripoli four years ago, is that the current rebellion is a much more mixed bag, with serious potential internal contradictions. Unlike Egypt, Libya is not a populous historic state with thousands of years of history, a strong sense of national identity and a long political culture. Half a century ago, it was one of the poorest countries in the world, and still has not fully emerged from its clan structure. Qaddafi, in his own eccentric way, has been a modernizing factor, using oil revenues to raise the standard of living to one of the highest on the African continent. The opposition to him comes, paradoxically, both from reactionary traditional Islamists on the one hand, who consider him a heretic for his relatively progressive views, and Westernized beneficiaries of modernization on the other hand, who are embarrassed by the Qaddafi image and want still more modernization. And there are other tensions that may lead to civil war and even a breakup of the country along geographic lines.
So far, the dogs of war are sniffing around for more bloodshed than has actually occurred. Indeed, the US escalated the Kosovo conflict in order to “have to intervene”, and the same risks happening now with regard to Libya, where Western ignorance of what they would be doing is even greater. The Chavez proposal for neutral mediation to avert catastrophe is the way of wisdom. But in NATOland, the very notion of solving problems by peaceful mediation rather than by force seems to have evaporated.
That’s when the excuses started, as the troops insisted that they were unarmed and the diplomat said they were looking for a hotel. The first claim was an extremely unwise one, as it turned out the troops were armed to the teeth, and also had explosive caches with them for some reason. This riled up the militia, who turned them over to the rebel leadership.
Which probably didn’t seem like that big of a deal – after all, the diplomat was supposed to make contact with the rebel leadership. But after a solid week of warnings from the rebels against foreign military intervention, the unannounced arrival of the heavily armed unit wasn’t greeted with nearly the welcome they hoped, and the entire unit found itself locked in a military brig until their expulsion earlier today.
Ultimately the rebels, which are basically the de facto government of Eastern Libya at this point, would likely have welcomed an offer of diplomatic contact. They were annoyed at the unscheduled arrival and infuriated by the armed troops roaming around their capital city’s outskirts, an understandable position. Or at least understandable to everyone except British officials, who still seem not to understand what went wrong. Some of the officials talked about the rebels “trying to make a point,” but with Foreign Secretary William Hague suggesting another team would be dispatched to Benghazi “in due course,” it is a point that apparently was lost of them.
USS Ponce and USS Kearsarge get closer to Libya
Two U.S. amphibious warships, the USS Ponce and the USS Kearsarge, passed through Egypt's Suez Canal on Wednesday and arrived in the Mediterranean, a canal official said. The officials said the USS Kearsarge is carrying 42 helicopters. The United States had said on Monday it was moving ships and planes closer to Libya. The arrival of the warships came as forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi moved to recapture control of Brega, a key oil port in eastern Libya, and reverse the tide of an opposition uprising. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the ships, along with an extra 400 Marines, would be ready to give humanitarian relief and perform emergency evacuations from Libya.
The USS Kearsarge and the USS Ponce entered accompanied by tugs to secure their passage, the canal official also said. Helicopters can take off from and land on the Kearsarge. Even as warships got closer to Libya, U.S. defense leaders expressed caution Tuesday about military intervention, warning that enforcement of a no-fly zone would require scarce air assets, domestic political approval and international authorization.
Foreign leaders, and some U.S. officials, have said a no-fly zone is under active consideration, and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said the Pentagon was preparing "a lot of options and contingencies" for President Obama. But Gates said military measures could have indirect consequences that "need to be considered very carefully." He suggested any intervention in Libya could drain U.S. forces from the war in Afghanistan and questioned the wisdom of the United States engaging in military action in another Muslim country.
LIBYA: Captured Dutch marines, seized helicopter shown on state TV
Viewers were then shown dramatic nighttime footage of the helicopter and its interior, as well as guns,mobile phones, bullets and ammunition, military-fatigue body armour and a Sony digital camera, among other things. The presenter painted a sinister scenario, saying the Dutch Navy Lynx helicopter was armed when it entered Libyan airspace and that it had entered Libya "without authorization" in clear "violation of international norms."
The report went on to lash out at pan-Arab news network Al-Arabiya, saying the TV station had alleged that the Dutch helicopter had entered Libya to assist "so-called refugees." The announcer hailed the Libyan armed forces for taking charge of the helicopter, which was "armed with machine guns, electronic rifles, live ammunition, satellite communication equipment ..." At the end of the report, Libyan soldiers were shown celebrating by the seized chopper. Talks are reportedly under way to free the trio.
The Proxy Battle in Bahrain
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has demonstrated one lesson learned from the course of pro-democracy uprisings across the Middle East: The world may cheer when autocrats resign, but it picks carefully which autocrats to punish for opening fire on their citizens. That cynical bit of realpolitik seems to have led the king to send troops last week over the causeway from Saudi Arabia to Bahrain, where they backed up a violent crackdown on unarmed protesters by Bahrain’s own security forces.
The move had immediate consequences for Middle East politics, and for American policy: It transformed Bahrain into the latest proxy battle between Iran and Saudi Arabia for regional dominance. And it called into question which model of stability and governance will prevail in the Middle East, and which Washington will help build: one based on consensus and hopes for democracy, or continued reliance on strongmen who intimidate opponents, sow fear and co-opt reformist forces while protecting American interests like ensuring access to oil and opposing Iran.
For Saudi Arabia, the issue in Bahrain is less whether Bahrain will attain popular rule than whether Iranian and Shiite influence will grow. Iran and Saudi Arabia have sparred on many fronts since the Iranian Revolution of 1979 — a Shiite Muslim theocracy in Tehran versus a deeply conservative Sunni Muslim monarchy in Riyadh — in a struggle for supremacy in the world’s most oil-rich region. The animosity was evident in Saudi Arabia’s support for Iraq during its war with Iran, and it still shows in Iran’s backing for Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Now, after a decade that seemed to tilt the regional balance toward Iran, Saudi Arabia decided that Bahrain was the place to put its thumb more heavily on the scale. It sent troops under the auspices of the Gulf Cooperation Council to help crush pro-democracy demonstrations because most of the protesters were Shiites challenging a Sunni king. “If the political opposition in Bahrain wins, Saudi loses in this regional context,” said Mustafa el-Labbad, director of Al Sharq Center for Regional and Strategic Studies in Cairo. “Saudi is regarding itself as the defender of Sunnis. And Iran is trying to defend Shiites in the region.”
The problem for the United States, however, is that Bahrain, at Saudi urging, chose to resolve its fears with force, rather than by addressing the protesters’ demands for democratic reform, as American officials had publicly encouraged. And for that reason, the military deployment may now have a profound impact on the United States and its primary strategic interest in Bahrain, the Navy base it maintains there.
Because Washington did not ultimately support the protesters’ demands — as it came to do in Egypt and as it has now, very late in the game, come to back foreign intervention in Libya — many protesters believe that the Saudi troops were sent in with American complicity, or at least with an expectation of American acquiescence. So, among the protesters, who turned out by the tens of thousands, the crackdown may well yield animosity toward America and its Navy when events finally settle down.
One American expert in the Persian Gulf who advises policymakers in Washington said the Saudi king’s action was taken without regard for what might happen if it fails — if the violence leads only to more violence. The Saudi policy, he said, “is risky and could potentially draw us into conflicts we have not looked for.” “What if the Bahrain venture fails, who will bail them out? It will have to be us.”
Saudi Arabia’s supporters acknowledge that this confrontation can escalate, but they tend to place the responsibility on Iran. “It can lead to that direct conflict if Iran were to interfere and use this as an excuse to interfere,” said Abdulaziz O. Sager, chairman of the Gulf Research Center, which is based in Dubai. “I hope Iran can understand that any interference will not be acceptable.” There has been no evidence that Iran played a part in Bahrain’s uprising, which was led by young Bahrainis from the Shiite majority. Still, many protesters have said, it is reasonable to expect Shiites to be more receptive to Iran if they do gain power. There is little doubt, they also say, that a Shiite-led government would be less receptive to the Saudis.
Even some of the Iranian regime’s harshest critics are saying the Saudi military venture in Bahrain will change the narrative of the region in Iran’s favor. Abbas Milani, an Iranian who went into exile after the 1979 revolution and is now director of Iranian studies at Stanford University, put it this way: “Iran, as the most brutal authoritarian regime in the region, will now have the chance to seem to stand with the democratic aspirations of the people, and against authoritarians clinging to power.”
The Saudi king’s decision to back King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa’s crackdown in Bahrain also underscored the challenge the United States often faces with its closest allies in the Middle East, where some interests align — like protecting the flow of oil — and others do not, like financing global terrorism. Saudi Arabia has moved aggressively to cut off radical Islamic terrorism within its own borders, but it has addressed the global phenomenon with far less conviction, many American experts have said. One of those experts was Richard C. Holbrooke, the United States special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan. Shortly before his death last year, he was asked if heroin was the top source of funds for the Taliban. The answer was no. “It’s the gulf,” he said, meaning cash from sources in Saudi Arabia and another American ally, Kuwait.
One effect of the crackdown was to underscore President Obama’s failure to close the gap in expectations between his talk of democracy during his historic speech in Cairo in 2009 and his actions on the ground. The contortions needed to preserve the old model of stability while supporting aspirations for democracy were strikingly evident in a comment by Senator John Kerry, an ally of the president. “They are not looking for violence in the streets,” the senator said of the Saudi troops moving into Bahrain. “They would like to encourage the king and others to engage in reforms and a dialogue.”
Time quickly proved him wrong. The violence started the next day, and it was not only Iran that blamed Washington. “Where are the Americans, where are the Americans, why are they allowing this, they are killing us with heavy guns, where are the Americans?” shrieked Hussein Muhammad, 37, a bookstore owner and political activist, in a breathless phone call Wednesday from Manama. When the tear gas cleared, the streets of Manama were littered with canisters that said, on their side, that they had been made in the United States.
While Washington has pressed for restraint, it has also continued to support the monarchy. “My guess is that there are probably very significant parts of our government that were happy with this,” said Daniel C. Kurtzer, a professor at Princeton who was ambassador to Egypt under President Bill Clinton, and to Israel under President George W. Bush. “Although they are not able to say it, because other parts of our government see it as destabilizing. I think parts of our government are looking at the Iranian threat and the possibility of Bahrain being the first dominoes in the gulf to fall.”
Mr. Kurtzer pointed to an irony in that line of thought: the decision to support Bahrain’s king this time may undermine short-run interests the United States thought it was protecting. For 60 years, the United States has based the Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain. It operates openly, and its personnel have enjoyed largely unrestricted freedom of movement around the kingdom. But last week, the Navy authorized family members and nonessential personnel to leave. The question now is: How safe will United States ships and personnel be surrounded by a population that may see Americans as complicit in the crackdown?