THE SAUDI-AMERICAN RIFT OVER BAHRAIN: A COMMENT
"QUESTION: When you look at what’s going on in Libya and in Bahrain, it seems to me that – or it seems to a lot of people that the lesson from the Egyptian revolution is quite clear, a lesson that Arab leaders can draw: Don’t give an inch to the protestors, unleash your fire power, or you’re out the door like President Mubarak.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that’s a wrong reading of history. I think the --
QUESTION: But isn’t that what these leaders are doing in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, they may be taking short-term measures that will not have the long-term effects they are seeking. I think the situation in Bahrain is alarming. We have made it very clear at the highest levels of the government there that we think they’re on the wrong track, that they need to resume immediately a political dialogue. We deplore the use of force against demonstrators, and we deplore the use of force by demonstrators. We want a peaceful resolution. We also would remind the Bahraini Government to protect medical facilities and to facilitate treatment of the injured, and we have called on our friends in the Gulf – four of whom are assisting the Bahrain security efforts – to force through a political solution, not a security standoff.
QUESTION: But they’re your allies, and they’re not listening to you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I wish we could get everybody in the world to do what we ask them to do. I think that would make for a more peaceful world, but countries make their own decisions. But the United States stands very clearly on the side of peaceful protest, nonviolent resolution, political reform. And I think that what happened in Egypt and Tunisia are really the models of what will happen. It may take a little longer, but there is no turning back the tide of democracy and the universal human rights of every person to have freedom and an opportunity to fulfill his or her own dreams.
QUESTION: So what leverage do you still have on countries like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia? They’re your allies. You – they – you train their armies. You supply them with weapons. And yet when the Saudis decided to send troops into Bahrain – and I believe Washington made clear it wasn’t pleased about that – they said, “Don’t interfere. This is an internal GCC matter.”
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, they are on notice as to what we think. And we will intend to make that very clear publicly and privately, and we will do everything we can to try to move this off the wrong track, which we believe is going to undermine long-term progress in Bahrain, to the right track, which is the political and economic track".
American Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, "Interview with Kim Ghattas of BBC," 16 March 2011, in www.state.gov.
"Some US officials say Washington and Riyadh have been at odds in the Middle East since the Middle East since the protests in the region began, but in recent days tensions have reached new heights....While Washington has been urging its allies to reform, Saudi Arabia has been giving the opposite advice, urging governments to stay in control. On Sunday, as Saudi Arabia was preparing to send troops to Bahrain, the White House issued a statement calling on the Bahrani government 'to pursue a peaceful and meaningful dialogue with the opposition rather than resorting to use of force'. US officials say the Saudi and Bahrani governments have greatly overstated fears that the island state's Shia majority would move the country closer to Iran [Persia]. 'The Saudis and the Americans are not on the same page about events in the region'"
Daniel Dombey, "Tensions run high between Washington and Riyadh," The Financial Times. 15 March 2011, p. 6.
The evident tensions between Washington and Riyadh over how to deal with situation in Bahrain are symptoms of a wider disagreement about the likely future evolution of events in the wider Near and Middle East. As far as one can make out, the Americans are now (verbally at least) committed to the idea of an 'Arab Spring' akin to a 1989 in 2011. And while not willing to actively assist the new regimes in Egypt or Tunisia (or for that matter the opposition in Libya), the Americans since the latter part of January, have tended to see things in the so-called 'democratic openings' in a positive frame of mind. And consequently, as we saw in Egypt, strongly deprecated any resort by the Mubarak regime to the use of force in order to remain in power. Something which has also been true of course in Libya and so far in Bahrain. On the other hand, Riyadh has from the very beginning of the crisis in the region, tended to view events in the in a very negative light. With various diplomatic leaks purporting to claim that the Saudis have been critical of the Americans failure to support Mubarak. Something which also has no doubt been at work in Bahrain as well. In addition to which, and perhaps even more important is the fear by Riyadh, that any change in the position of the Shiites in Bahrain and indeed in any of the Gulf states in general, will stir up further discontent with the Kingdom's own population of Shiites. Hence, the Saudis willingness to actively intervene to stabilize the situation on behalf of the Bahrani royal family. Washington's caveats, and now with American Secretary of State Clinton's comments to-day, public criticism notwithstanding. What does one make of this situation? To my mind, the fact of the matter is, that while in the short-term, the Saudis are probably wrong in terms of the situation in Bahrain, the reality is that it is the Americans and not the Saudis who need diplomatic and other support, to shore up the Western position, vis-`a-vis Persia and its allies in the coming years. And it has been the Americans and not the Saudis, who has been seeking allies in the region, to confront Tehran, in particular over its nuclear processing programme. Given the public American caveats and criticism over Bahrain, I for one can well imagine that in the future, Riyadh will respond coolly to any future American demarche to assist Washington to confront Persia. Particularly, since the Saudis may well ask, what type of support will Washington offer them if in fact there is a serious crisis in the Kingdom in the future? The essentially qui bono / quid pro quo nature of the Saudi-American relationship, appears to have escaped our amateur Diplomat-in-Chief, and her advisers. I fear however that they & we will soon learn that in diplomacy as in life, one cannot run with the hares and hunt with the hounds with impunity.