By Pepe Escobar
United States Defense Secretary Robert Gates visits Bahrain to meet King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa on Saturday. Saudi Arabia invades Bahrain on Monday. This has got to be just a coincidence; Gates and the king were obviously discussing the fortunes of Ferrari and MacLaren in the (postponed) Formula 1 Grand Prix in Bahrain....
Moreover, this walks like an invasion, talks like an invasion, but it's not really an invasion, as White House spokesman Jay Carney confidently reassured world public opinion. It helps that said opinion happened to be conveniently narcotized, transfixed by the heartbreaking post-tsunami drama in Japan to the point of ignoring some distant rumblings in a tiny Gulf kingdom.
Let's imagine that neo-Napoleonic French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Silvio "Bunga Bunga" Berlusconi decided to send North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops to help not the Libyan rebels but Muammar "King of Kings" Gaddafi to protect his "sensitive installations". After all, as Gaddafi assured the world, these rebels are "terrorists".
That's exactly what happened with the House of Saud sending armored carriers, tanks and 1,000 troops - part of "Peninsula Shield" forces - to Bahrain to repress an unarmed, civilian, domestic opposition (al-Qaeda or Iran "terrorists", take your pick) demanding political reform.
While the whole West - plus the Arab League - was involved in the dead-end no-fly zone debate concerning Libya, the Gulf neighbors ensured an all-drive zone through the causeway linking Saudi Arabia to Bahrain's capital Manama. Gates must have been jet-lagged to oblivion; he had said he was convinced the al-Khalifas "are serious about serious reform".
"The US and world community must show they will not stand by while this thug al-Khalifa uses tank power to murder fellow Bahrainis."
Substitute Gaddafi for al-Khalifa, airpower for tank power, and Libyans for Bahrainis, and these are the exact words pronounced in outrage by US Senator John Kerry. But outrage is for the "thug" in Libya; the al-Khalifa and the Saudis are our "valuable allies".
One thing is already certain. These two paragons of equanimity - the House of Saud and the Sunni al-Khalifa dynasty - have just helped to reconfigure a peaceful mass movement towards a constitutional monarchy in Bahrain into a full-fledged revolution. The ignominy extends to auditioning for mercenaries in Lahore, Pakistan; the al-Khalifa's methods are Gaddafi's methods (see the details here ). Bahrain's revolutionaries will now settle for nothing less than the overthrow of the al-Khalifas.
Time to call the cavalry
Whatever the spin, Saudi Arabia could not have invaded Bahrain without Washington's assent (and this even after Gates told the al-Khalifas there was "no evidence" the bogeyman, Iran, "started any of these popular revolutions or demonstrations across the region".)
Both Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are Washington's solid client states. Details of Bahrain's subservience, especially to the Pentagon, abound in WikiLeaks cables - here, here and here. There's also this one here laying down the law; "As the smallest Gulf state, Bahrain has historically needed closer security ties with a Western patron than any of its neighbors ... we can use our close security ties with Bahrain to continue pushing the envelope for GCC-US security cooperation."
GCC is the Gulf Cooperation Council, the US-protected umbrella of regional paradises on Earth (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates). Since the start of the protests in the Pearl/Lulu roundabout in Manama, Bahrain has revealed itself to be the GCC's weak link; a 70% Shi'ite majority living as third-class citizens under a corrupt 200-year-old Sunni dynasty.
If the pro-democracy movement succeeds in Bahrain, the next in line will certainly be the minority Shi'ites in the eastern oil provinces of Saudi Arabia (which had their "Day of Rage" last Friday). That, in the long run, could spell out anything from the end of Bahrain as a prime parking lot space for the US 5th Fleet to the end of Saudi Arabia's "stability" - the other pillar, along with the Egypt, of US foreign policy in the Middle East since the 1970s.
Once again, it's the al-Khalifa regime that has sought a clash. Bahraini journalists and tweets tell the campaign of civil disobedience was stepped up this Sunday, with roadblocks set up across the highway in front of the Bahrain Financial Harbor. The police fired tear gas; then followed protesters to the Pearl roundabout, launching stun grenades, more tear gas, and possibly using live ammunition. Street battles ensued. Bahrainis tweeted the crackdown offered images similar to those on the bridge near Tahrir Square in Cairo when Hosni Mubarak had ordered the Internet all across Egypt to be shut down.
Meanwhile, in the University of Bahrain - the largest public university in the kingdom - protesters were attacked by al-Khalifa loyalists. According to eyewitnesses, many pick-ups carrying baltajiyya (thugs)- a la the last days of Mubarak - a lot of them masked, entered the campus with sticks and swords and attacked protesters. And once again, the government used mercenaries against Bahrainis; this is generating a worrying series of revenge attacks on South Asian residents.
This is all essential to debunk the Western corporate media narrative of "violent protests" that must be "contained" by Saudi intervention. It is the al-Khalifas who are fostering violence - a la Mubarak. To top it off - another cheap stunt - Western media were "invited" to leave the country on Monday, so as not to report on the Saudi invasion.
The frightened al-Khalifas did call the cavalry - in the form of Saudi tanks and troops. The House of Saud - as the GCC's top dog - was just itching for such a fight; if France and Britain are itching to intervene in Libya, what would prevent Saudis from intervening in Bahrain? Western corporate media depicting "Saudi Arabia's reluctant emergence as the key regional policeman" is nothing but cosmic disinformation; there's nothing "reluctant" about it, it's a question of fear mixed with ruthlessness, as in the survival of both repressive regimes at stake.
To compound the advanced wave of hypocrisy, while Europe debated no-fly in Libya the House of Saud came up with its "all-drive" and sped to Manama in the dead of night. al-Wefaq, the largest Shi'ite party in Bahrain, now describes Saudi Arabia as an occupation force. Imagine the outrage in the "international community" - and the calls to start carpet-bombing right away - if this was Iran invading Lebanon.
No fly? No; no drive
By the way, GCC members - also part of the Arab League - support no-fly in Libya (not because they love the eastern Libya revolutionaries, but because they hate Gaddafi's guts). Yet abandon all hope those who expect the Barack Obama administration to support a no-drive zone in Bahrain (for Saudi tanks).
Great swathes of Arab public opinion are absolutely right on the money; Western elites are staging just an illusion of action in Libya. The objective is to create a firewall between the revolutions in northern Africa and the repressive Gulf petro-monarchy clients. No fly against "evil" Gaddafi? Why not? No drive against strategic Saudi Arabia? Don't even think about it.
The West really doesn't care much about a bunch of kids with guns in Libya, those that have been grabbing a Kalashnikov and wrapping a keffiyah (checkered scarf) around their heads, rushing to the front in sports utility vehicles to fight for a better life. Yet this is Homage to Catalonia revisited, George Orwell on the Spanish Civil War, with Benghazi as the new Barcelona - an outburst of revolutionary fervor that may be crushed by the heavy weaponry of a northern African neo-fascist army.
Yet a no-fly zone in Libya won't change a single fact on the ground. A game-changer would be to support the eastern Libyan council to force a no-drive zone on Gaddafi's tanks and armored personnel carriers; and to arm the rebels with weapons and intelligence. That's exactly what they're asking of the West (and not a North Atlantic Treaty Organization invasion). So the first step would be for the Obama administration to immediately recognize the "rebels" as the legitimate government of Libya. Then cause havoc on Gaddafi's communications system (a cakewalk for the Pentagon). And then tell the rebels what Gaddafi's command and control are up to. All this at virtually zero cost - and no US boots on the ground.
Invading you softly with my tanks
While the pro-government daily al-Ayyam talked about hundreds of Bahrainis "welcoming the Saudi forces", Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, Bahrain's answer to Saif al-Gaddafi (the relative "modernizer") still talks of dialogue, including electoral reform, "a government representing popular will", investigations on corruption and the end of "political naturalizations" (Bahrain naturalizes scores of Sunnis to dilute the Shi'ite political representation).
The absolute majority of the population doesn't believe a word of it anymore. Not with the Medieval House of Saud having supported Mubarak to the end, welcoming Tunisia's Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali as an exile, supporting Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen and now invading Bahrain - with the White House virtually begging Riyadh to pump just a little more oil to make up for the shortfall in Libya.
Everything one needs to know about the House of Saud is in these words by Minister of Interior Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz, King Abdullah's half-brother and the de facto Minister of Pain. On the oily family hacienda having survived this past Friday's "Day of Rage", Prince Nayef said, "Some evil people wanted to spread chaos in the kingdom and called for demonstrations that have dishonorable goals." But in the end the House of Saud managed to thwart this "deeply nefarious plot". They certainly did; just in time to invade a neighbor.
Saddam Hussein must be kicking himself in his tomb. If only he'd been slightly more subtle while invading Kuwait (which, by the way, was part of Iraq before the British Empire decided it wasn't). There would have been no no fly zone, no shock and awe, no US wasting a trillion dollars, and on top of it he'd be hailed today as a pillar of "stability" in the Middle East, as well as a "valuable ally". As valuable as those irrepressible democrats, the al-Khalifas and the House of Saud. ....
Disinfo from CFR....
Our benevolent exporters of finished goods in the East have met their Waterloo, and our benevolent exporters of oil in the Middle East have met theirs...
A perfect storm.....
Looks like we are nearly there.... 1848 in Europe? (look it up). A wave of insurrections not connected except for a general desire for greater opportunity, Is this it? Clinton as Metternich? That would seem strange. What price loyalty?
Saudi troops in Bahrain, Salih resolute in Sanaa. Qaddafi advancing in Libya....
This sounds to me as though the "dog whistles' have sounded in Washington. Stability over all!! Whose whistles are these?
- Oil companies...
- Israel...[ The CIA/MOSSAD/AMAN/DIA Siamese Twins...]
- The Arab despots...
- State Department gutlessness....and utter corruption to the core....
- US Armed forces unwillingness to do more (read moral illiteracy...)-
- US Civilian unwillingness to do more (read "I've been bull shitted too often")
You are on your own in Arabia....MENA and Beyond....
Here is how I sum it up about the USA....
1. The United States has been a patron power of the status quo. In the current setting, we are transformed into a reactionary power. All and sundry from the Arab 'street' to the Arab divan see that. Only the American political class doesn't. Only they believe that jerry-built structure is seismic resistant.
2. The underlying reason is our three obsessions: Terrorism, Iran and Israel - as alluded to in an earlier post. Nothing that is happening has made the slightest qualification in that mindset. Hence, we quietly bless Mr. Saleh and the Bahraini royal family as we did Mr. Suleiman and the fading memory of the dying Mr. Mubarak. Mr. Gates did not fly to Bahrain to bid a fond farewell to anyone but rather to be in on the establishment of a GCC protectorate to keep those Iran inspired Shi'ites in their deferential place. From now all, all our rhetoric bout democracy & freedom in the region will cause acute digestive revulsion....
For a decade, we have looked like players of a bizarre arcade video game where the goal is to shoot yourself in the foot as many times as possible. Extra points for a disabling injury. At this pastime, we are nonpareils....
In response to a question, "That [establishing a new modernism with freedom and economy] seems unlikely does it not? "
The short response is that the establishment of a new modernism is probably unlikely, but there may be hope.
I have been to MENA.... and, I have watched hours and hours of interviews with very modern Middle Easterners who have a deep hunger for freedom. I have seen hours and hours in the last few weeks of young people speak their desires for a modern world where their nations are not totally backwatered. I have seen the fall of the Soviet Empire with mixed results--some nations becoming really free and modern while others lapsed into dictatorships. I have read hundreds of blog posts written by people from the MENA countries who seem to exhibit the core values necessary to create a modern society in MENA. I have spent hours talking with friends who have come from Iran, Lebanon, and Palestine who have the values and education of an educated middle class that could support a more modern MENA unburdened by the radicalism many fear.
My sense is that there is a near-critical cultural mass that could support some sort of new modernism for the region.
I have been an amateur radio operator for many years. During the Soviet era, Amateur Radio was a very popular sport in the USSR. When I first started making radio contacts with the Russians, all they would speak about was their rigs, the weather, and radio propagation. Never would anyone ever speak about politics or anything that was a comment on their society because a radio operator would be sanctioned and lose his ability just to speak to the outside world. As Gorbachov began to come into his own, with the concepts of glasnost and perestroika, things began to open up. The code word Glasnost ("openness") had great power. Suddenly, I was listening into and participating in some really profound conversations. Russians were openly talking about how they wanted disarmament and how they had long ago turned against nuclear weapons. [I had been taught from elementary school that the Russians wanted to blow up the world.] They began talking about how their societies were changing and their personal hopes and fears. Then, almost overnight, Soviet communism collapsed and these people began moving toward a much more open society.
The old Soviet system simply broke. It broke not only at the bottom and with the educated middle class, it broke at the highest level and all other levels. The people of the USSR simply decided collectively that communism did not work and they were no longer going to follow its rules. The collapse of the Idea was complete, finished. The building of a much more open society began. The current Russian government is not perfect, but it is much better than before if you are young enough to participate. For the old pensioners and the displaced it, like all capitalist systems, had been very difficult.
Earlier, the contradictions of the Czarist state collapsed at the beginning of the last century. The 1917 Revolution was a disaster for 70 years, but it finally the revolution against the Czarists ended in 1989 and 1990 with a modicum of modern freedom. As TTG remarked on an earlier post, revolutions take time. Our own took a full generation or more and the French took decades.
In Turkey, Attaturk created a new paradigm of modernism upon the fall of the Ottoman Empire and fought and won against the Allied forces to create the modern Turkish state.
In each of these cases and for a long line of other historic revolutions, old paradigms fall and new ones are created by the emergence of code words that provide tools for people to use to conform their tacit and explicit realities. I am impressed by the words of a young woman protester in Egypt who stated to the effect, "We are not Muslims or Copts, we are Egyptians! We want to be free of the dictator and the corrupt ones." This is a powerful thought that the nation's bounty should be shared and that no one has the right to create a police state.
In our revolution, the code words shouted at the Boston Tea Party was "No taxation without representation," "freedom of the press and speech," and "Liberty." At King's Mountain, if was "Give 'em Tarleton's Quarter!" and "Give them Buford's play." My guess is that if you got a half-dozen patriots together to define these terms, there might have been fisticuffs, but as long as no one was too specific those terms united and freed a people.
I see the necessary language or organizing code words developing. These words will resonate at all levels of the authoritarian governments, even in Saudi Arabia, and especially if there is a brutal reprisal for the uprisings. Sooner or later, in the face of modern communications, the language will begin to emerge.
The fundamental Idea that countries belong to the people, all of the people, and not to families is emerging in MENA from a long dormancy in Islamic thought. I do not know Arabic, so I cannot pick up the lingo, but there is evidence in English that it is emerging. Once the Idea that no family or small group of families can own a country and that a country is owned by all of its people becomes imbedded in the tacit perception of the People, the Authoritarian regimes will fall on their own. Perhaps this is already happening in Egypt and in Tunisia. The Idea is pregnant and cannot be aborted by any crackdown. It may be ready for birth or may need more time for gestation, but the idea now seems fully to impregnate the MENA cultures. Like a human birth, once started, the birth of the new Idea is an urgent and non-stoppable event.
The system of authoritarianism is breaking in the MENA states including in Iran. The old system of Islamist Monarchs and old-line Islamist states seems to be nearing the end.
As Americans and westerners, we must be vigilant to the linguistic emergence that gives the people of the region a tool to reframe their reality. Our present government, particularly the Republicans and those within the White House and within the Beltway are simply tone deaf as we auger our own polity into the ground by moving towards a more authoritarian mode.
Contrary to the common lie that a more surveyed and controlled society will make us more free. Obama and the Republicans are simply moving our country in the wrong direction. They have perfected the legal infrastructure of a fully totalitarian and authoritarian corporatist society if the “leaders” ever decide to turn on the people. With the Fortune 400 most wealthy in the US owning more wealth than the bottom half of all citizens, our wealth distribution is becoming more and more skewed. The information distributed by the highly concentrated mainstream media is simply Pabulum. Real information about the actual functioning of our government is very hard to come by. National elections after Citizens United conducted on totally hackable electronic voting machines are more and more a joke. [I had a conversation about the voting machines one time with one of the Carter Center people who monitor elections who opined that our election system would not come close to the standards they apply when they monitor elections] We are rapidly developing a security police in the DHS that is going to extremes "trying to keep us safe" while conditioning us behaviorally to be quite submissive. We are creating a large underclass of uneducated and unemployable youth as the Republicans and Tea Partiers do everything they can do to destroy public education. We have forgotten that the reason we have government and are taxed to run it is because government mediates the rampant greed and selfishness of the polity. These trends are having very negative consequences on our future and current liberty.
While the MENA people struggle to move from authoritarianism, we in the US, rush rapidly toward a fully corporatist corrupt society more perfectly surveyed and, perhaps soon, more perfectly controlled in the finest detail than ever in history.
I hope that there is some likelihood of a more moderate MENA, but the chances remain slim as long as men like Obama, Pelosi, Reid, McConnell, and Boehner have much to do with it. They seem irrevocably to be on the side of the monarchical families at home and abroad.
We live in interesting times....