US Arms Deal with Bahrain as Crackdown Continues
Robert Naiman: US plans $53 million arms sale as suppression of democracy movement gets a "seal of approval"
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington.
There’s a report last week of a new U.S. arms sale to Bahrain. Now joining us to talk about that is Robert Naiman. He’s the foreign-policyâ€”I should say policy director at Just Foreign Policy. Thanks for joining us, Robert.
ROBERT NAIMAN, POLICY DIRECTOR, JUST FOREIGN POLICY: Good to be with you.
JAY: So what do we know about this arms sale, and what do you make of it?
NAIMAN: Well, it was reported on Friday that the Obama administration has informed some people in Congress that he intends to sell new weapons to Bahrain. This comes in a context where a previous package that the administration put forward was paused after congressional opposition because of human rights concerns in Bahrain.
Since this report came out last week, some members of Congress have objected. Senator Wyden and Representative McGovern are circulating a letter to their colleagues asking them to contact Secretary of State Clinton saying, you know, despite promises of reform, the government of Bahrain hasn’t delivered. They’re still attacking peaceful demonstrators. They’re still blocking human rights observers like Human Rights First and Physicians for Human Rights from entering the country, contrary to their promises, and that this sends the wrong signal to government in Bahrain and people in Bahrain of tacit U.S. support for the Bahraini government’s crackdown on peaceful protesters.
JAY: And the crackdown continues, both in terms of repression, people being sentenced to fairly long sentences for protesting. The abuses were very serious. But there was always quite a double standard, including virtually nothing said against the Saudis’ intervention in Bahrain. Do you think there’s enough force in Congress to actually stop this arms sale? And then what’s pushing the Obama administration to do this at this time?
NAIMAN: Well, I think the scary view of the timing is that we’re coming up on the anniversaryâ€”February 14 is the anniversary of the uprising in Bahrain, and it’s expected that there’ll be protests on the anniversary. So people look at the timing of this and say, well, you know, why is the government in Bahrain looking for new weapons now? Because there’s going to be another crackdown. I think that’s the scary view.
The Obama administration, as you said, mostly since the beginning has been very mute in its response to the crackdown, partly because of its relations with Saudi Arabia, partly because in the Washington view this is all part of a chess game with Iran, and that’s how we should view governments in the region. Are they a part of theâ€”are they on our side of the anti-Iran coalition or not?
But there’s another view among many in Washington, including these members of Congress and others, who do, I think, sincerely and genuinely care about democracy and human rights concerns. You see this now in the debate over U.S. military aid towards Egypt, where Congress has put real conditions on U.S. military aid to Egypt and is now saying that if the administration follows the law, there’s no way the U.S. military aid to Egypt can go through. They blocked the arms sales to Bahrain before.
And so, you know, I can’t say how it’s going to go now. It depends on, you know, how many people speak up. But there is a precedent now for Congress blocking arms sales to Bahrain. So I think it’s possible that they could do so.
JAY: Thanks for joining us, Robert.
NAIMAN: Good to be with you.
JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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