Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Washington, Manama… Ending the Six-Year Strain | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa at the Gulf Cooperation Council leaders summit in Riyadh, May 21, 2017. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY.

With six years of ongoing negligence of a key ally and overlooking Iranian interference to its record, US former president Barack Obama’s foreign policy chipped away at Bahrain’s security the most.

Following the Bahrain 2011 unrest and pursuant demands of overthrowing its monarchy, the Obama administration gave its Gulf ally a cold shoulder, allowing for a boundless inflow of Iranian propaganda, the spread of extremism and armament of militias.

Not only that, but Washington also loudly opposed and ‘aborted’ a Gulf intervention by the Peninsula Shield Force tasked with tuning the situation in Bahrain and preventing it from spiraling out of control.

To say the least, US disregard was a miscalculation given that its vital Middle East naval garrison –the Fifth Fleet– is based in Bahrain waters.

In her memoir, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton cites that the Peninsula Shield Force was the only force standing against Iran torching the entire region with anarchy that holds the potential to reign uncontained.

WikiLeaks also disclosed on illicit emails sent by Clinton showing negative meddling in the work of Bahrain’s independent investigation committee looking into the 2011 uprisings. Kindly put, declassified documents show that the Obama administration had fallen short on supporting an ally. Not to mention that it had conspired against Bahrain in a way that benefited Iran, a common foe!

President Donald Trump’s visit to Riyadh showed that his administration has caught up to Obama’s catastrophic blunders in Bahrain and would make amends by restoring the century-old relation to its pre-Obama norm.

Vowing to mend the strained ties, Trump held talks with Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa in which he outlined a new framework that focuses on backpedaling from Obama’s policy and on strengthening US-Bahrain ties. More so, Trump went as far as describing relations between the two countries as ‘wonderful.’

Restoring US-Bahraini relations is a strategic demand not for Bahrain alone, but for all Gulf states. The Kingdom of Bahrain has always been the seen as the first chip in a domino effect that would compromise the security and stability of neighboring countries. The Obama administration was sending mixed signals when failing to actively support its strategic ally, Bahrain.

Some Gulf States saw that it was a tactical pressure mechanism meant to influence policy—how else could it have been for the US to abandon the security of a key factor to regional stability and security?

The two countries have decided on extending their defense cooperation agreement—a critical step that the former US administration would have opted out on.

Trump seeks to salvage whatever is left of US alliances.

“Our countries have a wonderful relationship together, but there has been a little strain, but there won’t be strain with this administration,” Trump said during a photo session with Sheikh Al Khalifa in Riyadh.

“We’re going to have a very, very long-term relationship. I look forward to it very much – many of the same things in common.”

Despite Bahrain being the most to suffer from recent US policy, it wasn’t the only one affected by rising tensions.

It remains to be said that despite the bitter crisis, Bahrain sought serious reform to its security services. The kingdom has also pursued the option of holding discussions with the opposition, a way rare to the region.

However, the Obama administration turned a blind eye to all these efforts.

Bahrain’s Foreign Minister said that his country felt it was being persecuted for no clear reason, but for the mere risk we took for tackling issues encountered by all countries.

While the Obama administration suspended a central Bahrain arms deal, the Trump US administration dropped the inhibiting clause and announced its intentions to proceed with a sale worth up to five billion dollars of F-16 interceptors, 23 engines, and other related equipment.

Such a step confirms that Washington is on the right track to radically restore its relations with allies.

The historical Arab-Islamic-US summits recently held in Riyadh were not at the level of rudimentary protocol as many had hoped, but had carried new American weight and action 180 degrees different from than that of the Obama era– the era that had hurt Gulf people, as did no other US presidency.