US hypocrisy on Arab Spring clear with arms sale to Bahrain

Bahraini army vehicles occupy Pearl Square in Manama, Bahrain (AP)

Schizophrenic is one way to describe the position of the US on the Arab Spring. Another perhaps more accurate word would be hypocritical.

The disconnect between the rhetoric and actions of the US government regarding the uprising throughout the Middle East and North Africa this year can be no more clearly seen than in its position towards the pro-democracy movement in Bahrain.

The nonviolent protests continue every day in Bahrain, as Bahraini journalist Nada Alwadi reported for WNV last month, as does the bloody crackdown. In response, the US has taken a stand—once again, on the wrong side. When President Obama said in his speech at the UN last month that the US is a “close friend of Bahrain,” he wasn’t referring to the people of Bahrain but the dictatorial regime of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

This can be seen most clearly in the fact that the Pentagon has just proposed a $53 million arms sale to Bahrain, which would include armored vehicles, missiles and night vision gear. In it’s notification of the sale, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) justified the move by claiming it:

will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a major non-NATO ally that has been, and continues to be, an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East.

The proposed sale will improve Bahrain’s capability to meet current and future armored threats. Bahrain will use the enhanced capability as a deterrent to regional threats and to strengthen its homeland defense.

Really? Bahrain is a “force for political stability?” These armored vehicles will help with “homeland defense?” Against whom? Such language doesn’t fool anyone.

In addition to a strongly worded editorial against the sale in the Washington Post, and criticisms from many other media outlets, more than a dozen human rights and arms control groups—including Human Rights Watch, Freedom House and the Arms Control Association—have sent a letter to lawmakers urging them to block the sale. The letter argues that:

the Government of Bahrain has taken no meaningful steps toward accountability or political reform. And if their primary external ally resumes arms sales as though circumstances had returned to normal, Bahrain’s rulers will have no reason to do so. Moreover, people across the Middle East will not take U.S. statements about democracy and human rights in the region seriously when, rather than hold its ally Bahrain to account, it appears to reward repression with additional weapons.

Blocking this sale would not only be the moral thing to do, it’d also be a wise move strategically for the US. Give the consistent track record of Congress and the Obama administration on selling weapons to repressive governments around the world, however, I wouldn’t hold my breath until they see the light.

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