Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Is There a U.S. Human Rights Policy?

by Elliott Abrams
September 18, 2011

Now in its third year in office, the Obama Administration has never championed the cause of human rights. Its slow reaction in June 2009 to the stealing of the election in Iran and the birth of the “Green Movement” there, and its delay in backing the rebellions in Egypt, Libya, and Syria, are evidence of this problem. But two recent news items show just how bad the situation has become.

In Bahrain, American silence and inaction in the face of human rights abuses has produced resentment toward the United States. Here is what the New York Times reported last week:

As the status quo endures — some believe that the king may introduce reforms this month, while others remain skeptical — anger among many Shiites toward American policy has deepened. Though some appreciated President Obama’s criticism of the crackdown in May, many lament what they see as a double standard. In contrast to the treatment of Syria and Libya, they point out, no administration official is calling for sanctions against Bahrain, a country where the United States has its largest regional naval base, for the Fifth Fleet. “Democracy isn’t only for those countries the United States has a problem with,” said Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights.

Last week as well, the Obama Administration made an astonishing kow-tow to China and intervened in free elections in Taiwan. The Financial Times of London reported this:

The Obama administration has warned that a victory by Tsai Ing-wen, the Taiwanese opposition leader, in the island’s January presidential election could raise tensions with China. A senior US official said Ms Tsai, the Democratic Progressive party leader who is visiting Washington, had sparked concerns about stability in the Taiwan Strait, which is “critically important” to the US. “She left us with distinct doubts about whether she is both willing and able to continue the stability in cross-Strait relations the region has enjoyed in recent years,” the official told the Financial Times after Ms Tsai met with administration officials.

What a picture! We intervene in Taiwan where there are free elections, and remain far too quiet on Bahrain where there are manifold abuses. When Bahraini human rights activists see a double standard, they are close to the truth: the Obama Administration appears to have no coherent human rights policy at all. If human rights NGOs were not mostly on the Left they would be protesting far more vociferously against this abandonment of principle.

The resentment felt in Bahrain can be dangerous to U.S. interests; indeed in the future it can endanger the presence of the Fifth Fleet there. I recall well the Nixon Administration’s support for the Greek coup in 1967, an act for which the people of Greece have still not forgiven us. One lesson of the Arab Spring must surely be that our relations with rulers cannot be allowed to displace our concern for the fate of the peoples they rule—who will remember whether we were with them or against them as they sought to end oppression and direct their own destinies.

Post a Comment 36 Comments

  • Posted by Nabeel - Not Rajab

    Mr. Abrams, you and Nabeelo Rajab are so far removed from the truth and have no right to judge us Bahrainis and our human right record. If you are that much a pro human rights then you should talk about the abuses inflected upon the Palestinians for almost half a century. But that is a different story, let’s stick to Bahrain, why do you not tell your readers that this movement is fueled and financed by the Iranian regime? Why don’t you tell them that the so called opposition is nothing but an arm of Hizbuallah? Why do you not tell all of us the truth that this opposition want the establishment of an Islamic state in Bahrain, a mini version of their idol Iran? Why don’t you tell your readers that Nabeel Rajab is not recognized as the head of any so called human rights group? And you may want to mention that he is getting paid by Iran, that would be interesting now would it not!!?? You yourself wrote couple of weeks ago about his best friend Saed Shahabi , and if it walks like a duck , am sure you can finish it and come a conclusion.

    Sir, Bahrain is split down the middle, we are on the verge of the biggest sectarian divide ever witnessed in this small country with the biggest heart ever. But this is all about to change, thanks to Nabeel and his friends. We now see neighbor turning against neighbor and a friend against friend. Worse yet, I was a witness on a divorce of a Shiat man and his Sunni wife of less than 2 years , their wedding failed due to instigators like Nabeel.

    You should come and witness for yourself the atrocities committed nightly by the friends of Nabeel, they block roads, stone civilian cars, reek havoc, terrorize neighborhoods and I can keep going on and on.
    Mr. Abrams, 2 nights ago, my wife dodged a flying Molotov on her car with my kids in the back seat. It was thrown at her by random – am guessing , but I wonder if you will speak out in support of her human rights? Would you please sir !?

    We are demanding that Nabeel – if he is indeed a humanist and not a wolf in sheep’s clothing – to speak out in support of all people violated, if he can’t at least speak the truth , if that is not at all possible then maybe he should try and remain quiet.

  • Posted by Sick of Hypocrisy

    Guess what else is cause for resentment & you never bother to mention it? The US’s uneven treatment of Israel & Palestine when it purports to be an honest broker of peace. The US will continue to be distrusted around the world until this ceases.

  • Posted by Mariam Janahi

    Bahrain’s demographic map is very simple. It consists of Sunnis, Shiites, Christians, Jews, Baha’is, and other minorities. Nabeel Rajab nor his so called Centre for Human Rights represent all those people. And for that matter I believe he does not represent many Shiites by CONSENT.

    Therefore, you should really check the credibility of your sources before you judge the whole State and its Government of practicing Oppression and tyranny against its people.

    Indeed the situation in Bahrain is not very stable and we are all suffering from this instability. However, you need to understand that the reason for this is not the government, but the doing of some MISLED youth who are following the directives of some religious and political fanatics.
    Also please stop using the alibi that the US is using double standards with Bahrain because it’s housing the 5th fleet. Has it occurred to you the reason they are not imposing sanctions maybe due to not having sufficient credible reasons for doing so?? The average Bahraini is sick and tired of the Western press using this reason to defame and attack the countries legitimacy and right to take corrective measures to protect its citizens and accomplishments. (I didn’t see you or your fellow writers condemn Britain’s recent crackdown on those they called hooligans). Most of us welcome the day we say “bye bye” to the fleet so that you guys stop using this as a blackmailing strategy.

  • Posted by Grumpy Old Man

    Nothing is more ludicrous or shameful than a Zionist apologist nattering about human rights. Our No. 1 human rights task is to stop subsidizing, arming, and vetoing for the Israeli ethnostate, with its constant robbery of land and water, blockade of Gaza, and oppression of the West Bank. The US has no real interest there, and it is a moral and strategic albatross.

  • Posted by Ali Asghar

    Wow, what’s with the comments? What are all the Bahraini government shills doing here?

  • Posted by Nouf

    Human rights you say? More like human WRONGS… When someone watches people and property get harmed as a result of a “peaceful” protest I believe that is wrong. When someone cries double standards when he ignores the plights of other humans he is supposed to be vehemently protecting I believe it is wrong. When he participates in denying humans the right to access, a basic human right, I believe it’s wrong. When he denies children education by calling for and supporting a teachers’ boycott I think that’s wrong. When he participates and helps organize protests at the entrance of the emergency room of the best public hospital in bahrain thus denying the right to medical care I believe it’s wrong. When they dismiss a police murder as a dummy planted by the government and ignoring the fact that he has left behind a wife and children whobare VERY real just to keep the guise of “peaceful” alive for you and others like you to see I think it’s VERY WRONG. And you know what else I think is wrong? Is people like you who settle for half truths.. And in this case you’ve settled for no truth at a…

  • Posted by Matthew Royer

    If only Elliot Abrams had been as outspoken about the human rights policy of the Reagan administration, which Abrams dutifully served as it gave political and material support to Latin American death squads, whose murder, torture and rape–of priests and American nuns, among other victims– make the GCC intervention in Bahrain look almost benign by comparison.

  • Posted by Satish

    Mr Elliot Abrams article has truely highlighted the delimma & the paradox of US adminstration foreign policy towards Arab Spring, full support to Libya, Syria while complete silence on Bharain.
    Bahrain in addition to tyranny regime is facing a vicious McCarthyism worst than US has faced in the 50S, ugliest type of apartheid with damaging consequences due to failure of US adminstration to take a stand & worst of all hypocricy & double standard. Democracy is allowed everywhere with exception to Bahraini people despite their peaceful revolution. Peaceful pro democracy protesters desrve to US admn two things extermination or vicious propoganda of devilization.

  • Posted by smile

    this is not new of u.s and people in the region are very familiar with that. not for bahrain but in lybia ,ejipt,etc and the suprising point is that their analysts are claiming they have intervened in lybia for the sake of human rights.

  • Posted by Mohammed

    From the replies I see that the royal family have sent it’s PR machine this way 😉

  • Posted by Nouf

    Satish? I take it you’re originally from India or so… Do you know what these so-called peaceful protesters did to expats and naturalized citizens? They became the target of their contempt their lives have been threatened and some even killed. You, Sir would not be saying this if you were living in bahrain. In the US practically everyone is naturalized except for the native americans. Obama himself is naturalized too. So I’m not surprised if he doesn’t support a racist revolution.

  • Posted by noor

    Is this all about U.S’s frustration on Not being able to legally intervene in Bahrain’s affairs? I mean is U.S still looking for valid reasons to destabilize Bahrain further?
    This article is a desperate attempt at defaming Bahrain, its wise Leadership, the true Loyalist majority and twisting the facts further…just another means to a sorry end.
    You say U.S failed to show support in Egypt and Libya..as a matter of fact it’s because of America’s interference and encouragement that the Egyptians dug their own hole!
    Today the Egyptians and Libyans are in the worst ever state that they were in to begin with. The countries are raped by their own people under the so-called ‘Democratic’ revolutions! Thanks to the ‘Divide and Rule’ policy of the west.
    This is all a bunch of excuses that U.S is making to further fuel hatred and divide in the arab region and because Bahrain has proven to be stronger and managed to survive the horrific iranian agenda,and still standing firm, the U.S. is unable to digest it!
    I can only say that the U.S and hypocrites like Nabeel Rajab should stop raping the word ‘Human Rights!’

  • Posted by mohannad9119

    Human rights serve the US-Israeli policy. Where human rights from the massacres of Iraq by Muqtada al-Sadr and the massacres against Ahwaz. By iran and the massacres against the Palestinian people by israel army Why human rights are silent about the massacres and crimes carried out by the Shiite community everywhere in iraq-iran-ahwaz- lebanon- bahrain Do they agree with the administration of the U.S. and Israeli. Should be ashamed of the human rights of the constant lying because the world knows the truth about this organization and especially Arabs. Human rights attacked the government of Bahrain and stood with the opposition despite the crimes committed by terrorist opposition still loyal opposition to Iran committed crimes and human rights political organization that serves Israel, Iran and usa . Support terrorist opposition in Bahrain
    I am against the human rights who lack humanity. And fear of authority

  • Posted by R.Mohammed

    Nabeel – Not Rajab , Maryam Janahi, Nouf, I totally agree and cannot say more than you have already said.
    Now in its third year in office, the Obama Administration has never championed the cause of human rights because MOST of the human right NGO’s are not the real supporters of human rights but their own political agenda rights.
    As a “Senior Fellow” member for Middle Eastern studies, I would have thought you would explore the middle east more and stand up for the truth not for the fabricated fake revolution and lies of February the 14th.
    I would take more time Mr Eliott to write about Ahwaz and the atrocities the people face each day by the brutal Iran Regime. And I would spend a page on Syria where deaths accountable and unaccountable have reached more than 3,000 in the last few months.
    In Iran at least 18 people are executed each month and all you write about is the “elections” in 2009?!
    I would study my source well, Nabeel Rajab is not a human rights activist but a political activist who works under the guise of human rights.
    I would suggest you take a few seconds of your day to watch the “human rights” man you promote and the man you support:

    On the 13th of March 2011, Bahrain’s capital was locked down by a group of protesters which dragged the country to a halt, placing lives at risk with locals and expats being attacked (and in some cases severely leading to death).
    For your information Mr Elliot Nabeel Rajab was there and he was the “operations manager”.
    Closure of the schools occurred and the main hospital was blocked and only operating for protesters.
    Food supplies were at a standstill (with food storage facilities taken hostage by the protesters) and the distribution of food and basic supplies was at a halt- apart from the protesters who had supplied the nation’s food supplies to themselves.
    Closure of the financial district and the banking services were shut down, access in and out of the public and private sectors were blocked to the extent that even emergency services like fire stations were blocked and could not serve the public.
    The citizens had had enough of being forced into their homes, restricted from reaching their families, forced to live in fear while feeling threatened in their own homes in many cases attacked while also being restricted from having access to health care and now even worse going without the basic food items.
    Citizens and expats living in the Capital stayed home with their lights turned off to avoid being noticed or targeted and just sat watching at their windows for any movements outside.

    You weren’t here Mr Elliot, we were. We are the eyes and ears of the fake political self-gaining revolution.
    As for the threatening constant “fifth fleet”, let them go, we don’t need them.
    At one point during the fake revolution that you constantly compare to the rest of the “Arab Spring”, they left us; the US Fifth fleet did not protect Bahrain’s boarders and pulled away from the shores many miles away.
    Yet regardless and without the assistance of the Fifth Fleet , we are alive, breathing and placing a comment on your bias post.
    Oh and by the way, the Fifth Fleet is not based in Bahrain to protect the interests of Bahrain, They are here to protect the interests of the United States of America.

  • Posted by M sh.

    5th fleet Shiite majority sunni minority rule are all over stated claims that have been processed by media to extreme levels. Ofcourse they also lack reality and true prospective. On the note of claimed human rights abuses the kingdom is going through an investigation of these claims to show truly if they took place or not(a move highly praised by the UN high commissioner for human rights). The truth is that no sanctions are needed against Bahrain as the reality of the situation isn’t what some may depict in some one sided articles. There are no human rights breaches of the nature you speak of and if they do exist the commission will find that through investigation and we as Bahrain are ready for the outcome and needed action. We are a country of great ranking in the region for matters of human rights and before that we are an educated well established society that believes thoroughly in all universal human rights. At this point I would ask you to ask around and see who the “oppressor” is many have endured countless true monstrosities at the hand of the opposition so the question who are the proposed sanctions against?

  • Posted by Fred Williams

    The resentment felt in Bahrain can be dangerous to U.S. interests;

    I would like Elliott Abrams to elaborate on this particular statement. Firstly just which part of Bahrain society is he referring to; as a long term resident of nearly 30 years I can assure him that America has no better ally in the Gulf than Bahrain and its people. And secondly with so many American living quite happily here in Bahrain, silent witnesses to events, maybe the Whitehouse is just slightly better informed than Mr Abrams as a consequence.

    I suggest he and other readers read the following article for a more balanced account of events in Bahrain. http://www.cejiss.org/editors-desk/fourteenth-province-irano-bahraini-conflict-perspective

  • Posted by Stormy

    Neocons like Elliot Abrams learnt nothing from their experience in Iraq, where they promoted Ahmed Chalabi as a ‘human rights activist’ and the authentic voice of Iraq’s opposition. This was despite being warned by Iraqis and opponents of the war about Chalabi’s relationship with Iranian intelligence. It was only after Chalabi was found to be giving intelligence information to the Iranians that resulted in the murder of American soldiers that he was eventually dropped by the neocons.

    Now Abrams is quoting the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, whose longtime head Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja was active in the 1980s with the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain, a front of for Iranian intelligence. The IFLB wasn’t even headed by a Bahraini but an Iraqi ayatollah who was appointed by Khomeini. Why not even mention this as the context for the Nabeel Rajab’s human rights advocacy? Instead what we get is the neocons going down the same path as with Iraq.

  • Posted by Mohammed

    Elliot Abrams calls the following actions peaceful:

    1. hijacking the main hospital
    2. disrupting education all over the country by force
    3. abusing CHILDREN by making them PROTEST EN MASS and surround the ministry of education after transporting them from their schools to the protests locations by TRUCKS: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ePKp84JE-MU
    4. enforcing civil disobedience by the means of force, main roads blockage, and threats
    5. attacking expat workers (mainly working in jobs that NO single protester will accept to do): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbQzF1dSltg&feature=related&skipcontrinter=1
    6. mass use of Molotov Cocktails: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=COsIdY4WArE
    7. mass use of LPG cylinders as bombs in populated civil areas: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=614Om5PFeTE
    8. crushing policemen by cars:
    9. chanting DEATH all the time
    I lived in the USA and the UK for years, and I am pretty sure that I know what the words “peaceful” means. Here I find Elliot Abramas misunderstanding a simple GLOBAL word. A big failure really.

    The writer also failed in illustrating the difference between natural civil demands, from a group of people and foreign entities abusing the mass, to gain benefits and political power.

    We have Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Lebanon’s Hizbulla (Iran’s arm in Leboanon), Iraq’s Islamic Dawa Party (Iran’s arm in Iraq), plus other smaller entities, which, are all funded and supported by Iran. A sane human being doesn’t need lots of intelligence to link those centrally controlled bodies. All of the above mentioned entities supported the riots in Bahrain aggressively. Fail.

    Another thing, the writer, mentioned Nabeel Rajab as a human activist, and also mentioned Bahrain Center for Human Rights. Neither Nabeel nor his BCHR fulfills the requirements to be categorized as a human rights activists. Such politicized organizations react only to sect-biased cases. For example, this case will never find a place in Nabeel’s shelf:


    simply because the victim is not represented by Nabeel’s sect. Human Rights? or Sect Rights?

    Nabeel and similar so called activists, represent pure sectarian and politicized organizations. Once again, I believe there is a huge difference in what defines Human Rights by the global understanding and the writer’s. Fail.

    I am middle class Bahraini.
    I don’t have ties or benefits with the royal family of Bahrain.
    I have friends from both main sects of Bahrain.
    I will benefit from any reform.
    But also, I am against any false movements, aggressive actions, radical thinking, or any single thing that will touch my beloved country.

    Mr. Elliot, please try to focus on your government and country, the big apple alone had over 110,000 people sleeping homeless last year. At least you would make more correct statements since you live there.


  • Posted by Nouf

    Haha looooved mohammed’s comment about us being the royal family’s PR machine. Quite honored that he thinks so highly of us. It’s still a lame attempt to discredit anyone who doesn’t agree with this sorry excuse for a revolution. But this is what they say about anyone who opposes them no surprise there…

  • Posted by Mohammed

    One more thing Mr. Abramas, since you are a foreign policy specialist, and currently a fellow for middle eastern studies, I believe you understand how the Iranian regime works.

    A single man of god (the Supreme Leader), stands on top of the governmental pyramid unrivaled, as he in the Shiite philosophy, represents god.

    The head of the Bahraini revolts is Shaikh Isa Qassem, a high scholar in the Shiite system, who represents the Iranian Supreme Leader.

    Religious figures and religious entities do not control a single developed world democracy. If you do not wish to link the actions of Bahrain to foreign hands, i.e. Iran, then how about sectarian religious hands? This is not a movement towards democracy, is it?

  • Posted by Mohammed Arad3000

    mmmm ok there is another Mohammed up there 😐

    please consider both of my comments of

    September 19, 2011 at 10:59 am
    September 19, 2011 at 11:21 am

    under this new signature: Mohammed Arad3000

  • Posted by Umar Mohd

    The roundabout protest was supposedly about jobs, housing and poverty! To talk about poverty here is ludicrous! Tell me what other country in the world is tax-free, vat-free, has free hospitals, free dentistry, free medicine, free education, scholarships for all Bahrainis who make the grade, cheap petrol, groceries, fruit, vegetables and government subsidised meat!

    The free’s are endless. Electricity and water bills are issued, but Bahrainis are not forced to pay, so continue to use the services free as penalties or disconnection doesn’t occur – unbelievable! They even have their rubbish bins emptied on a daily basis for free – something we dream for in the UK!

    The protesters at the roundabout were Shi’ite – yet not even 20 per cent of the population were there. What is ironic is that Shi’ites here are among the wealthiest.

    The protesters didn’t sacrifice their home comforts, they erected tents, TVs and dined out on three free buffets a day, plus snacks, and conducted their protest – with full bellies – via their BlackBerry phones. Poor People! They don’t know they are born!

    Like in every country, there are poorer, middle and richer. The people who fall into the poorer category are typically families of men with four wives who father as many as 30 to 40 children! Is it not the father’s responsibility to educate and feed his children? Oh No – the attitude here was it’s the governments fault – ‘give us more for free’.

    Unbelievably, His Majesty King Hamad was trying to accommodate their demands, but when the goals kept getting moved back, it was obvious something more sinister was on their agenda.

    The opinions of the majority here have been ignored, even if you dismiss the opinions of the Sunnis, speak to the British, Indians, Pakistanis, Filipinos, Europeans, Americans, Jewish, to name but a few of the nationalities living here, believe me we are to talk! Or do we not count? Is the truth not sensational enough?

    Where are our human rights? The problem here is Iran’s interference. We know it, you know it, and the world knows it! Acknowledge this and support this country in a positive way to move on. All other stories are a smoke

  • Posted by Abdulla

    We feel here that the American dose not really care about the Arab liberty or freedom and will not allow us to have a democratic governments.
    You are happy with the way things are.
    Why should bother unless the dictators be come a danger to your interest. But dictators always a danger to every one.

  • Posted by Dean Smallwood

    President Obama seems to think that his Nobel Peace Prize ( which he didn’t earn ) takes care of his Human Rights obligation .

  • Posted by Lilly

    Thank you, Mr Abrams. I think the term “feudal kleptocracy” sums up Bahrain. Many regime supporters are oblivious to human rights, ignorant and fearful about democracy and seem to be, at the core, a cruel group of people. Fortunately, this does not apply to all Sunnis in Bahrain.

  • Posted by Mohammed Arad3000


    I am a Sunni, and I am by no means a Regime supporter or puppet, I have my remarks on the government. But I am strongly against the false statements and fake demands the “Roundabout Opposition” is trying to show.

    I quote you saying “fearful about democracy”. well, apparently you do not know that currently, election candidates’ centers in Bahrain are being attacked, death threats are being issued to the candidates, and similar other feudal methods are being used against anybody oppose their opinion of boycotting the elections. who’s fearful of democracy? who’s fearful of “the other opinion”?

    Does democracy mean “my way or the highway”?

    You are never to be blamed, as any neutral observer will always take side with who is calling for better living and equality, whether a true statement or not. But, for anyone who wants to give an opinion, the norm is to do at least little research, or do what the foreign media failed to do: speak to the other part of the population ,which doesn’t share the “Roundabout” ideas 100% and listen to their story as well.

  • Posted by hussain

    really we feel sorry about that. becuase the USA don,t say any words for bahrain Goverment and they give green line for King to killing the people

  • Posted by ali

    i feel that we shouled have help from USA becuase the Goverment every day start killing new person and all the world silent.

  • Posted by ali

    In Bahrain today, the protestors where let down by Iran and where left in the firing line I was against the govt in a lot of staff. But know I realized that the people we followed just wanted a share of the pie; the king has helped the people of my country a lot in the last 10 years and today we feel that we let him down!!
    So today I just want to tell the truth…….

  • Posted by Mohammed Arad3000

    I didicate this brutal scene again and again to the world…


    I am still mind boggled when the rioters, foreign media, and foreign observers call what’s happening in Bahrain: peaceful


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  • Posted by Mohsen

    If it is Iran fuleing the unrest in Bahrain & they are happy with the so called king then why thousands come to the street every day ? The fact is we did that soviets & Sadam in Afghanistan , Poland ….so stop talking none sense . You are from the ruling elite & know what’s coming.g

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