Why the “Obama Doctrine” won’t help the Shia majority in Bahrain

What Khalidi remains critical of…  is what he sees as the Obama administration’s claimed “American

 values imperative” being made a mockery of whenever American “interests” are brought up to justify cherry picking which brutal despots get the ‘moderate’ or ‘reformer’ label while others are no-fly zoned and targeted for elimination for being “genocidal.”

By FRANKLIN LAMB

Columbia University Professor Rashid Khalidi passed through Beirut a couple of weeks ago and gave a terrific lecture at the American University of Beirut entitled “Preliminary  Historical Observations on the Arab Revolutions of 2011.”

In response to a student’s question, Khalidi disputed that there wasn’t any “Obama Doctrine” worthy of that label and he predicted the White House would be much more tolerant of human rights abuses in Bahrain than say, in Libya and some other countries whose despotism indexes are no worse than the 200 year ossified Al Khalifa dynasty’s war against its majority Shia population.

After his talk, I reminded Rashid in our brief encounter that we had not crossed paths since that fateful summer of 1982 in West Beirut where we and our mutual friend, American journalist Janet Stevens, who had introduced us, all shared a similar experience of trying to do research amidst the Israeli bombing and intermittent electricity and water cuts.

In those, now sometimes romanticized “summer of ‘82 days” Khalidi was an intense hard working young man and his 1982 research was published in his 1983 volume: “Under Siege: P.L.O. Decision making During the 1982 War.”

It was during this period that Janet (Rashid was in no way involved!) and I committed at least four felonies (I was just following orders!) and broke into the abandoned AUB cafeteria & AUB storage rooms and liberated maybe 500 cases of AUB bottled water and  perhaps 50 large cartons filled with that nasty orange powdered drink stuff.

Janet put me in charge of about 100 Fatah fighters who, wisely assuming the Israeli’s would think twice before bombing AUB, had 

set up a base under the Bayan trees on campus and we all used to share the AUB beach and swim together. The PLO fighters were under orders from their Commander Abu al-Walid, who was one of those in charge of the defense of West Beirut not to damage the AUB campus or enter AUB buildings. So the fighters demurred to the breaking and entering part of our operation and waited outside.

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It was only after the 20 year Statute of Limitations ran and I was living in Kerr Hall on campus that my conscience got the better of me and I finally blurted out my crimes to the AUB President. He laughed with delight and on behalf of AUB excused our egregious war time sociopathy. That being said, I heard not long ago that the US Embassy is looking into trying to open a case against me since USAID paid for the AUB water and the nasty orange powder juice and the Embassy is still insisting on accountability.

What Khalidi remains critical of, like many observers, is what he sees as the Obama administration’s claimed “American values imperative” being made a mockery of whenever American “interests” are brought up to justify cherry picking which brutal despots get the ‘moderate’ or ‘reformer’ label while others are no-fly zoned and targeted for elimination for being “genocidal.”

The Obama administration hypocrisy toward theunarmed civilians being killed in Bahrainis flagrant and runs deeply counter to American values.

Speaking on 4/13/11 at the U.S.-Islamic World Forum, a gathering sponsored by Qatar and the Brookings Institution, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton assured the World that “America’s core interests and values have not changed, including our commitment to promote human rights equally in every country.”

Clinton’s remarks prompted some groans from the audience, and one Georgetown University student impolitely blurted out “Tell that to the people of Bahrain and prove it lady!”

What the exasperated student, and others in the audience apparently found outrageous was Clinton’s comment that, “We know that a one-size-fits-all approach to American values doesn’t make sense in such a diverse region at such a fluid time” as she hailed Bahrain for what she called a “decades-long friendship which we expect to continue long into the future.” Referring to the government crackdown, she added that “violence is not and cannot be the answer.”

Clinton explained that the Obama administration will neither recall its ambassador to Manama nor threaten sanctions — a striking disparity that is fueling ­anti-U.S. sentiment among Bahraini opposition groups. The Obama Doctrinewords are all about freedom and democracy and change, but in Bahrain, the reality is that the Obama Doctrine amounts to a protection for the dictatorship.

By contrast, Obama has repeatedly justified military attacks in Libya, saying: “Innocent people were targeted for killing. Hospitals and ambulances were attacked. Journalists were arrested. These acts are against core American values.”   But while the same human rights abuses noted by Obama are happening in Bahrain, the Obama Doctrine is not on the Presidents teleprompter.

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It appears that core American values aren’t so important when the regime being reformed houses the Fifth Fleet and has Saudi neighbors, themselves afraid of potential protests, according to the Wall Street Journal.

What the rude Georgetown student at Clinton’s speech this week understood, is that as Joe Stork, Deputy Middle East Director at Human Rights Watch noted a couple of days ago concerning yet another brutal Khalifa government killing of unarmed civilians, “Four detainee deaths in nine days is a crime, not a coincidence. The government tells families of detainees nothing about their whereabouts or well-being while they are alive, or about the circumstances of their deaths. “Emergency laws should not be used as a cover for brutality.”   Stork reminded the Obama administration that torture and killing of the peaceful protesters in Bahrain at the hands of both the Bahraini armed forces and the additional forces provided by Saudi Arabia are not supported by the American public.

Obama administration officials, like most of the US media, have been playing a game of criminal silence about the situation in Bahrain. Political institutions have been trying to stoke the fire of Shi’a-Sunni sectarianism instead of trying to resolve the real issues – the barbaric actions and unfair political and economic policies of the ruling family in Bahrain, a state of forceful repression.

More than 70% of native Bahrainis are Shi’ites, while the ruling family and most elites are Sunnis. This state of affairs has led to an apartheid mentality among the ruling family. Shi’ites are not allowed to work in the army, the intelligence service, or the police force, nor are they fairly represented in top-level governmental positions. In addition to jailing activists and banning Shiite-led opposition parties, Bahraini authorities fired civil servants and even professional athletes who participated in demonstrations. The country’s only independent newspaper was taken over last week and its editor forced to resign. On 4/14/11 the Bahrain government moved to ban the largest political party, the Shiite-dominated al-Wefaq, along with a smaller Shiite party.

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When they apply for jobs, the Shia in Bahrain experience in some ways what the Palestinian refugees suffer in Lebanon. They may be offered a job but it is quickly withdrawn when the prospective employer learns that the applicant is Shia.  As Nicholas Kristof wrote of the Khalifa’s attitude toward Shi’ites in his New York Times Blog: “the language of the ruling party sounds a lot to me like the language of white South Africans [MS3]— or even like the language of white southerners in Jim Crow America, or the language of militant Israeli settlers in the West Bank. There’s a fear of the rabble, a distrust of full democracy, a sense of entitlement.”

 The “American humanitarian values” based “Obama Doctrine” offers no protection for the majority Shia population of Bahrain. They’re vulnerable. They are expendable. The Fifth fleet is not. Nor are Saudi interests for they represent for Washington’s neocons a strategically important bulwark against “Iranian power” in the region.

The “Obama Doctrine” offers no police, security or judicial system to protect them. In the past few days the Khalifa regime has intensified attacks on this community – harassment on the streets, demolishing mosques and Husseiniyyas  , housing and job discrimination, and systematic attacks in the media.

The Obama administration appears to be trying to use the Iran issue in a way similar to how the Arab regimes use Israel in order to deny justice to their people and prevent them from participating in the government.

At the same time, the “Obama Doctrine” ignores recent polls showing that nearly 60% of Americans support the uprising in Bahrain and the region even if the uprisings lead to regimes more likely to oppose US policies in the region including US support for Israel.  The poll released by the Universityof Marylandand the Brookings Institutionthink tank found that a majority of Americans, 57 percent, are supportive of the uprisings seen across the Arab world, “even if they lead to regimes more apt to oppose US policies,” noted the forum organizers.

These polls of American public opinion reflect true American values.
The “Obama Doctrine” as selectively applied, does not.

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