one said :"" A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines."" No doubt U.S. statesman wishing to be big rather than little have taken Emerson to heart. While in Libya they not only impose sanctions and freeze the assets of Gadaffi but have taken to pumelling his armed forces all in the name of protecting the innocent etc.
Meanwhile back in Bahrain the king cracks down on protesters killing a number and inviting UAE and Saudi Arabian troops in to help restore order. Four of those arrested have died in custody. As a token of reform the regime is trying to dissolve the main opposiiton party.
The Obama administration has appealed for restraint by both sides of course.Clinton this week called for a political process that "advances the rights and aspirations of all the citizens of Bahrain." But the response is further repression. At the very least the U.S. could withdraw its ambassador in protest or threaten sanctions. But there is not even this degree of protest.
An opposition activist noted:"Even though the American administration's words are all about freedom and democracy and change, in Bahrain, the reality is that they're basically a protection for the dictatorship,"
So why the inconsistency? Fortunately an Obama official puts the situation quite clearly:"" We don’t make decisions about questions like intervention based on consistency or precedent,” said Denis R. McDonough, Obama’s deputy national security adviser “We make them based on how we can best advance our interests in the region.”
Talk of democracy, human rights, and no doubt protecting civillians, and about tyrants killing their own people is meant to be intereprested only as part of a strategy for advancing U.S.. interests. The talk has the collateral value of inspiring people to devote their tax dollars and even their own lives and those of their children to promote democracy, human rights, etc. or translated whatever the powers that be think are U.S. interests.
What are U.S. interests in Bahrain according to U.S. officials? First of all to avoid strain in its relations with Saudi Arabia which is a huge suppllier of oil and also a key ally in the struggle against Iran. The Saudis and the U.S. both fear the rise of Iranian and Shia power in the area. The Saudis want the Bahraini king to deal firmlly with any protests. This the king has certainly done.
Bahrain is also home of the U.S. fifth fleet. The Bahraini king has been supportive of the U.S. and its role in the region. No sense in having a democracy that might result in a government that was less favorable to U.S. imperial interests especially since Shia are a majority in Bahrain.
While the Saudis and the Bahraini king think that the protests are purely a function of Iranian influence and by radicals, it would seem that the U.S. has a more balanced view. But it does not really matter since the U.S. will support Saudi involvement and the Bahraini king anyway. However the U.S. is concerned with the optics of the situation.
a former specialist in the Middle East for the US State Dept said:"We need to worry about the human-rights situation deteriorating there," "It has a real impact on perceptions of American policy in the region." Note the manner in which this is phrased. What matters is the perceptions of U.S. politics in the region. It is not the reality of people dying in custody, or in protests, or political parties being dissolved but in the perceptions of U.S. politics in the region. What is important is U.S. interests. Human rights are understood solely in terms of whether advancing them advances U.S. interests. It is good to have official clarification on this issue and to find that officials being inconsistent in this manner obviously have minds with a great vision that is not depenedent on any consistency,
UPDATE: The U.S. has taken Rubin's remarks about optics to heart. It has managed to persuade the king against dissolving the main opposition party at least for now..