On Tuesday, President Obama took a victory lap on his handling of the crises in Egypt. “Without revisiting all the events over the last three weeks, I think history will end up recording that at every juncture in the situation in Egypt that we were on the right side of history,” Obama said in a press conference. “At each juncture I think we calibrated it just about right. And I would suggest that part of the test is that what we ended up seeing was a peaceful transition, relatively little violence, and relatively little, if any, anti-American sentiment, or anti-Israel sentiment, or anti-Western sentiment. And I think that testifies the fact that in a complicated situation, we got it about right.”
History may be less kind when it comes to Bahrain. As reports of violence increase, President Obama has yet to make a public comment. And the reports are clear: As Reuters now reports, “Bahraini troops shot at protesters near Pearl Square on Friday and wounded many, a former Shi’ite lawmaker said, a day after police forcibly cleared a protest camp from the traffic circle in Manama.” [TIME’s Aryn Baker has a great eyewitness account here.] As in Egypt, those troops are largely supported by U.S. aide. The U.S. military has a major naval base and an air base in Bahrain, a country that has been a major recipient of military aide in recent years. As the Congressional Research Service reports (see full pdf here):
To assist Bahrain’s ability to cooperate with the United States on regional security issues, Congress and successive Administrations, citing Bahrain’s limited income, have supported military assistance to Bahrain’s small force. The main recipient of such assistance is the relatively small Bahrain Defense Force (BDF), which has about 13,000 personnel (plus about 1,200 National Guard).
The regime in Bahrain is clearly hoping that it will be able to get away with the crackdown. “Our leadership is committed to dialog,” the Bahrain regime’s special envoy to the U.S. Abdul Latif Bin Rashid Al Zayani told CNN midday Friday. But in the next breath he justified the beatings and shootings of his own citizens. “We had to take action, and action was taken by the law,” he said. “The King is really committed to democracy.”
History will not judge those words well. Al Zayani was defending beatings and shootings of peaceful protesters, and the murder of a doctor trying to help. He is excusing the violent crackdown on protesters from the Shia religious majority, who have had their political rights regularly repressed for years. As the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof, who has been reporting on the carnage, put it, “When a king opens fire on his people, he no longer deserves to be ruler.”
President Obama will no doubt condemn the violence, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has already done. But if events continue on this course, that will not be enough to keep Obama and the United States on the right side of history.
UPDATE by Adam Sorensen at 1:32 p.m. ET:
Painting in broad strokes, President Obama condemned violent crackdowns against protesters in the Arab world on Friday. In a statement issued to reporters by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, Obama declined to single out one nation in urging restraint and called for security forces to respect the protesters’ right to assemble. “I am deeply concerned by reports of violence in Bahrain, Libya and Yemen,” he said. “The United States condemns the use of violence by governments against peaceful protesters in those countries and wherever else it may occur.” Carney said President Obama is receiving regular updates and continues to follow the situation closely.