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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Bahrain: Clinton Flubs an Opportunity

by Elliott Abrams
December 17, 2011

December 16 was Bahrain’s “National Day” and the secretary of state duly released a congratulatory statement. Here it is in its entirety:

On behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States, I am delighted to congratulate the people of Bahrain as you celebrate your National Day. Our two countries have shared a long history of partnership built on mutual interest and mutual respect. The United States values this friendship, rooted in the history of our people-to-people ties dating back to the early years of the 20th century. We look forward to working closely with the Government of Bahrain and all Bahrainis on the important endeavor of building a prosperous, secure, and peaceful future for your nation.

Two months ago, when he spoke to the UN General Assembly, President Obama said more:

In Bahrain, steps have been taken toward reform and accountability, but more are required. America is a close friend of Bahrain, and we will continue to call on the government and the main opposition bloc — the Wifaq — to pursue a meaningful dialogue that brings peaceful change that is responsive to the people. And we believe the patriotism that binds Bahrainis together must be more powerful than the sectarian forces that would tear them apart.

In the interim the Bahraini Commission of Inquiry delivered its searing report, and the king suggested that he accepted all its conclusions and would implement them. Will he? That report may be the last chance for real reconciliation in Bahrain, and the British government used a visit to London by the king this week to push him in that direction: Prime Minister Cameron “urged the king to deliver swiftly on the commitments he has made to implement the recommendations from the inquiry and to drive forward reform and reconciliation in the country, engaging with the opposition as part of that process.”

So the secretary’s National Day statement was a foolishly wasted opportunity. The word “democracy” is blatantly missing, as are “reconciliation” and “reform.” The absence of such terms will be seen by the Bahraini opposition as a possible shift in the U.S. position, and why not? I bet that the secretary never saw this statement before it was issued (she is reasonably busy), but I do wonder why the Near East bureau drafted it that way and why the Human Rights bureau let it slide. She ought to find out.

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