Bahrain has been in the political doghouse in Washington ever since its government crushed Arab Spring-inspired popular protests in February 2011, leading to a political crisis between the government and the opposition that has deepened over the past few weeks. So, it was not surprising when the Bahraini government justified its latest crackdown against Al Wefaq, the largest Shiite opposition faction in the country, its explanations fell mostly on closed American ears.
Washington’s challenge with Bahrain is a familiar feature to relations with most of its Middle Eastern security partners: Encouraging them to broaden and speed up reforms, which is so crucial for internal stability, without alienating their national leaderships and upsetting whatever political balance exists in their countries, or risk losing their critical intelligence and counterterrorism cooperation. Finding the perfect mix of negative and positive incentives in US policy toward partners in the Middle East has been extremely difficult.
In “Bahrain’s Inconvenient Truths,” Bilal Y. Saab, Resident Senior Fellow and Director of the Middle East Peace and Security Initiative, argues that a more effective US-Bahrain policy requires first, a more nuanced understanding of the political crisis in the country, and second, a realization of the limitations of both Manama and Washington. A US approach that provides Bahrain with tailored assistance to implement its reforms more effectively has a better chance of succeeding.