True to campaign form, the Obama administration has relied upon a rhetorical arsenal to contain the Arab revolutions.
U.S. officials are willing to do and say nearly anything to deflect criticism away from the administration’s response. Under the cover of “universal rights” and “supporting the people,” military councils are propped up, transitional councils are corrupted, and a toxic “dialogue” with murderous regime is peddled in areas of heightened interests. A rolling “concern” is also deployed over friendly regimes, sparing them from harsher condemnation.
Yesterday several journalists decided to call the State Department out.
Hours earlier Bahraini police had opened fire upon the funeral of Ali Hasan al-Dehi, father of Al Wefaq’s deputy-general (Hussein al-Dehi). Nabeel Rajab, head of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, reported that Bahraini police blocked roads leading to the Shi'ite district of al-Daih “so people do not take part in the funeral.” When the existing protesters began moving towards Pearl Square, Bahrain’s most coveted battlefield, “security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets, and used police cars to try to run over protesters.”
Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland would “call on everybody to exercise restraint,” as if Bahrain’s peaceful protesters were shooting at their own funeral. Unable to digest this response, one reporter counters, “they’re [the Bahraini government] not exactly heeding your call for restraint,” to which Nuland replies, “We are urging restraint privately. I am urging restraint publicly here today.”
Unfortunately U.S. officials have “urged restraint” in Bahrain for months, without any consequence to King Hamad’s regime. A weapons packaged from the Pentagon would have sailed through the administration if concerned members of Congress didn’t raise an outcry, and no immediate plans exist to move the 5th Fleet’s base in Manama. Not that Bahrain’s opposition wants Washington to relocate Naval Support Activity Bahrain (NSA Bahrain). Its leadership believes that their uprising would receive even less attention without a U.S. military presence.
Another journalist at the State Department agrees: “The feeling in the region is that when it comes to Bahrain, or even to a lesser degree Yemen, there seems to be not as much enthusiasm from the podium of the State Department to really call for an urgent end to this or an urgent change for that and so on. Do you agree with that?”
Nuland naturally disagreed, and “vehemently disagreed” to the assertion that Bahrain “gets a free pass.” She proceeded to argue the usual U.S. line: “we are in support of reform, openness, meeting the needs of the people, and particularly support for the universal human rights of individual citizens.” Nuland then transitioned to Bahrain’s “Independent Commission of Inquiry,” where the administration has kept its focus for the last month. Whenever new abuses are committed, U.S. officials simply respond (if they do respond) that they want to see a transparent investigation of these abuses. However the Ministry of Health already denied allegations that al-Dehi was beaten to death, saying he cut his face after feinting from a heart attack.
"Such actions by Bahraini authorities take place on and on again despite the presence of an inquiry commission in Bahrain," one opposition figure, Matar Matar, told the AFP. "The Bahraini government feels that it has been given international immunity. This is why it continues in this direction."
Demands for political reform (and “Down with Hamad”) are muted in the process.
Denying that a double-standard exist in U.S. foreign policy will only fool so many people, and very few in the hypocritical epicenters of Bahrain and Yemen. Nuland never responds to Yemen’s inclusion, where the Obama administration has systematically ignored a revolution since January; most action occurs behind closed doors. When U.S. officials do confront Ali Abdullah Saleh, they usually put on kid gloves instead of an iron fist. On September 15th Nuland expressed “encouragement” that Ali Abdullah Saleh would sign a power transfer orchestrated by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a statement that preceded a massacre in Sana’a.
The GCC’s initiative is widely denounced as a violation of the revolution, but Nuland and other U.S. officials falsely claim that Yemen’s people support it.
The Obama administration also acknowledges that Saleh has repeatedly refused to sign the document, yet patiently waits for him to do so. The latest rumor indicates that Saleh insist on remaining “honorary president” until an election can be held “in weeks,” two giant red flags carried by Western and Gulf states. Saleh’s latest speech sounded identical to his previous speeches: “come back to the dialogue table,” “time-agreed mechanism,” “implementation of the GCC initiative as soon as possible.” Such lies have been pandered to and swallowed by the international community for months.
Saleh demonstrates no intention of authorizing his vice president of 19 years, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, to sign the GCC’s proposal for him. This proxy-arrangement is another red flag anyway. Saleh also employed his usual slander against the oppositional Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) - the only political party he agrees to negotiate with - in his efforts to invalidate the GCC’s initiative. After accusing “opposition forces” of sabotage and the spreading of terror with al-Qaeda, he promised not to transfer power “if the opposition rebels and their supporters of the defected army continue to wage violence against government institutions and state troops."
While armed oppositional elements of Hashid chief Sadiq al-Ahmar and defected general Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar have interfered with Yemen’s popular revolution, they are not responsible for state violence against the protesters. Furthermore, Saleh’s personal units constantly attack oppositional forces in order to draw them deeper into armed conflict, giving him pretext to null a political settlement.
These measures ultimately keep national and international attention on the GCC’s illegitimate proposal. Yemen’s revolutionaries, on the other hand, cannot be fooled by U.S.-Saudi support for his regime.
The contrasting rhetoric used against al-Assad offers further evidence of Washington’s double-standard. When Saleh promises to sign only to backtrack and murder, U.S. officials may voice their concern and urge him to sign the GCC’s initiative. On October 26th Saleh called in Ambassador Gerald Feierstein to assure him of his good intentions, even though his security forces were busy shooting protesters (including women). Nuland’s response: “we haven’t yet tasted a good pudding.” When al-Assad breaks his promises though, U.S. officials flank out for a brute assault.
“We have a long, deep history of broken promises by the Asad regime, and we seem to have that streak unbroken here – or broken again... the President’s made clear that he thinks it’s time for Asad to step aside, that we do not think that he is capable or willing of leading this transition that has to happen in Syria.”
Because of AQAP, the Obama administration considers Saleh to be capable of leading Yemen’s “transition” to his own vice president. This is not the definition of “universal rights,” only Washington’s skewed version, and one of many reasons why China and Russia don’t trust the West. Nuland would address Syria every day of the week compared to Yemen’s single warning - but death tolls shouldn’t matter in a world of universal rights.
Given that the Arab revolutions are over 10 months into their quest for regime change, the U.S. government is unlikely to take full advantage of the situation. The Obama administration believes that it chose a “bold” strategy of “supporting the people,” when the main risk comes with a safe play. U.S. policy continues to hinge on the Middle East’s status quo; this position is already sinking and may stunt U.S. interests in the long-term. By viewing the revolutions through a counter-terrorism lens, America’s double-standard also keeps al-Qaeda’s ideology alive and attractive.
A universal policy - in Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, Syria and across the region - would threaten military assets in several countries, but non-military gains may exceed these losses. U.S. foreign policy needs its own revolution.