New US Administration Will Do Well to Court Bahrain

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Just as Donald Trump is settling down to the prospect of taking over the reins of the US government in a month and Bahrain is marking its 45th National Day this week, a leading
American newspaper has come up with some sage advice for the incoming US administration. And the advice is based on some very sound arguments. One only hopes Trump takes it. That should do the US policy-makers a lot of good.

The Washington Times’ advice to the US President-elect is to make Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa a key ally in the region. While there is no denying that Bahrain is a tiny island [so is the economic powerhouse Singapore], if one closely looks around the Arabian Gulf and the Middle East region, one discovers that Bahrain stands head and shoulders above the rest of the countries on a range of counts and is almost in a class apart in terms of its liberal economy and social life.

Thus, the countries in the upper reaches of the region called Arabian Gulf, for example Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Palestine and Israel, and even Turkey are embroiled in a variety of destabilizing situations ranging from the influence of ISIS to spurts of terror attacks. Iran, despite having ostensibly made peace with the West on account of its nuclear deal, remains a region which is still looked upon with suspicion by most of the West and remains a definite trouble-maker for its Arabian Gulf neighbours. Yemen is burning, Egypt is yet to find complete peace and stability since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak while post-Gaddafi Libya continues to smoulder.

Bahrain national day.As for the six Arab Gulf nations – Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates – Bahrain alone can claim to offer the level of religious freedom and tolerance seen in the US which is an important value the two nations share. As Washington Times states: “Unlike most other Muslim countries, Christians, Jews, Bahais and Hindus live side by side in peace and harmony in Bahrain. Even when the Iranian regime tries to undermine Bahrain’s stability by highlighting the Sunni-Shi’ite divide, King Hamad has risen above this sectarianism by emphasising the oneness of all faiths.”

Apart from the unique cultural, economic and geopolitical features that deserve the next US administration’s immediate attention, the paper asserts that “The second point that makes Bahrain unique is that it shares Washington’s goal of uninterrupted flow of oil and gas from the region to international markets. Today, the free flow of oil and gas across Bahrain’s waterway plays a critical role in Western energy security. Unlike Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who has threatened to close down the Gulf on numerous occasions, Bahrain’s responsible and reliable king has been a consistent champion of keeping these strategic waterways open.”

Indeed, apart from the fact that Bahrain is the headquarters of the largest American naval base outside America, the kingdom has been embraced by other superpowers as well, notably Russia and Britain; the latter has re-established its naval base close to the US one after many years. Thus even the defence goals of Bahrain are in consonance with those of America which include keeping the Arabian Gulf’s waterways free for the move of oil tankers despite sporadic threats from Iran.

Reaffirming America’s closeness with Bahrain as the new President takes over will do a lot of good for the US policy-makers, thus enabling them to meet their long-term economic, political and strategic goals.

Brij Sharma is an Indian journalist and editor based in Bahrain. Brij tells us the interesting stories we don’t usually hear from the middle east country.