"One mess at a time by P O Neill
A salient fact about the US Navy anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, one of which ended the Richard Phillips hostage situation today, is that they are run from US Fifth Fleet HQ in Bahrain. The base there is essentially a successor to a British base and it’s clearly a, shall we say, interesting part of the world in which it’s reasonable to expect that you’d need to have some naval firepower around. But it does add to the distances in terms of projecting power into the eastern Arabian sea — the French base in Djibouti makes a lot more sense in that regard. But perhaps a bigger concern for the Americans would be any domestic political instability in Bahrain in which their presence or ease of operation in the country might become an issue.
Hence what are likely sighs of relief in Washington DC today at news of a major amnesty program by King Hamad, specfically designed to defuse Shia tensions (in a majority Shia country), tensions which risked interacting with the impact of the financial crisis in the country. We’ll never know for sure, but given the tendency of the people around Barack Obama’s predecessor to see everything through an Iran prism, the previous advice to the King might have been hang tough and blame Iranian saboteurs for everything.
It goes without saying that the road of squelching dissent till it blows up in your face is a well-trodden one for US foreign policy. But in this case, with the prospects of any other country (especially in Africa) agreeing to host the US Navy probably not so good, and Bahrain thus necessary for the foreseeable future, the softer touch at home seems like strategic common sense."