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The Bahrain Crack-Up

12:29 PM, Aug 8, 2011 • By LEE SMITH
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Matar was in Washington three summers ago on an exchange program sponsored by the State Department’s Middle East Partnership Initiative, and was named a leaders for democracy fellow. If the government of Bahrain believes that the State Department is backing Bahraini terrorists allied with Hezbollah and Iran, they should make their case—otherwise, it is clear that they don’t have a case. Rather, it would seem that they’re arresting members of the Bahraini opposition who have more American friends than a government whose allies threaten U.S. diplomats

In an Al Jazeera interview, Matar explained that he wants Bahrain to be a secular democracy, where “everyone can express his beliefs.” What he wants from the United States, he says “is a strong relationship… an opportunity for the progress of democracy in Bahrain.”

There have been rumors afloat the last few weeks that Washington may seek to relocate the Fifth Fleet’s homeport, with the UAE being talked about as one alternative. In the end, that would be a bad move, since it would signal to the Iranians that the U.S. can be forced out of a difficult position, and rather than take the reins and shape political outcomes, Washington will pull up its stakes when the going gets tough.

Bahrain is not high on the American agenda right now—even in the Middle East, Libya, Afghanistan, Iraqm and even Syria must take precedence. It’s perhaps understandable why the administration has let the Khalifa have their way without much ado. However, the situation must be repulsive to any U.S. policymaker—an alliance with a regime that treats more than half its citizens like slaves. In this case, at least the policy cannot steer too far from the ethics of the matter. In the long term it will only become clearer where American interests lie, and it is not with a repressive government that threatens our diplomats and jails our friends. 

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