Monday, May 14, 2012

Foreign policy hypocrisy: Bahrain edition

Juan Cole has the details about our arms sale to the nation:

The United States government has blasted Syria over its repression of its popular movement for democracy, placing a series of sanctions on Syrian leaders.

The US has been virtually silent about the dirty little police state that is Bahrain and its outrageous tactics, such as trying physicians for so much as treating wounded street protesters. The US has not placed sanctions on Bahrain and has done no more than tut-tut the government violence.

It is now worse. The US is now selling Bahrain Coast Guard and F-16 jet equipment.

Just ask yourself if the US would sell coast guard and F-16 equipment to Syria today.

This unnecessary and pernicious arms sale has only one purpose, and it isn’t to beef up Bahrain’s defenses. It is to reassure the Sunni king and his uncle, the prime minister, that the US forgives them for their jack boot tactics and will continue to support them.

There is no difference between the US acting this way and Russia running interference for Syria. Each is following its geopolitical interest. Neither has any morality. They are great powers.

So US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice has just had her legs cut out from under her. When she goes to the UN and argues that Syria should be sanctioned, and she is blocked by Russia and China, you can be assured that Bahrain will be thrown in her face. The US is trying to make a case to other countries for the principled character of its stand. The Obama administration has just made itself a laughingstock in that regard, and I should think its Syria position will be a cause for snickering given that it is selling arms (albeit not crowd control supplies) to Bahrain.

I quoted a lot from that because I don't have much knowledge about the specifics of the Middle East. That's one of the drawbacks of splitting your time in political science between American politics and International Relations. You don't have time to get into the details in every significant place our foreign policy reaches. Anyway...

I think the problem is pretty clear. The lack of respect for the safety and human rights of the people of Bahrain is bad enough. Sometimes you can make an argument that we have a larger strategy to keep in mind that could be undermined by supporting the people over an oppressive gov't. Though I'm not sure I'd ever buy that argument. In this case I don't see much of an argument to be made.

This annoys me because it's such a constant in regards to foreign policy with this country. It doesn't matter which party is in office. They don't implement a logically sound foreign policy across the board. Sure, sticking blindly to a rigid policy can have big problems. But it's not like they are completely clueless as to what a decent policy would look like. They spell it out with their rhetoric all the time. And that rhetoric is often in support of the human rights approach I would support. They just don't support it because in cases like Bahrain, they are (for some reason) worried about pissing off a gov't that treats is people like shit.

And as Juan points out, it has the effect of making us look ridiculous at the UN. I'm not sure that it would convince nations like Russia to rethink their decisions is we weren't constantly being hypocritical. But it would give us the moral high ground when discussions take place. And if we do decide to act without the full consent of the UN it would provide us with some cover that we gave a good faith effort to solve the problem with the help of the rest of the UN.

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