Carnegie: The Precarious Ally: Bahrain’s Impasse & U.S. Policy
The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace published a paper by Frederic Wehrey titled “The Precarious Ally: Bahrain’s Impasse & U.S. Policy.” Wehrey describes Bahrain as “a broken country, wracked by simmering violence and social polarization.” He argues that “breaking through Bahrain’s impasse is not just a matter of promoting human rights but mitigating potential security challenges to U.S. assets and people.” Wehrey acknowledges that U.S. options are limited, but says that it “must find more creative ways to push for deep structural reforms.”
Wehrey describes Bahrain’s crisis and blames the continued impasse on divisions within the country’s three main camps. Among the Shia, the loosely organized February 14 Youth Coalition, which rejects negotiating with the regime, is usurping al-Wefaq’s support. Meanwhile, groups that broke off from the relatively moderate, loyal Sunni opposition are actively confronting Shia protests. Within the al-Khalifa family, the royal court minister and the commander of the Bahrain Defense Forces (BDF), both hard-liners, have gained power at the cost of the more reform-minded crown prince. Wehrey concludes that each of these developments has made productive negotiations less likely.
Wehrey finds that the U.S.’s attempt to make its military aid conditional failed because of poor scoping, timing, and communication of goals. Wehrey makes three U.S. policy recommendations. First, he says the U.S. should promote “attitude change within the BDF,” withhold high-end defense items, and prepare “plans for the gradual relocation of the Fifth Fleet’s assets and functions.” Second, Wehrey advocates for key leader engagement, including public praise and criticism. Finally, he suggests using economic leverage and multilateral attention to human rights abuses to pressure the regime. Wehrey concludes that “those who contend that U.S. concerns over human rights and democracy promotion should take a backseat to hardnosed realism and strategic imperatives will soon find their arguments overtaken by Bahrain’s steady but inexorable descent.”