Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Bigger Fish to Fry on the Arabian Peninsula

With all the news about Libya, it’s easy to forget that there two other countries in protest- both of which are very important to U.S. security, Bahrain and Yemen. The catch is, they are also very important to Iran.

In Yemen, Protesters are calling for the resignation of President Salih. His term ends in 2013, but there are concerns that he may change the laws to allow himself another run. For updates on protests on Yemen, go to Aljazeera English.

In Bahrain, a constitutional monarchy, protesters are calling for the royal family to implement reforms that would open up more benefits for the majority Shia population. At the moment, most of the social benefits run to the Sunni elite. For more see the Christian Science Monitor.

Protests are being planned in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia as well.

See this map.

Notice the strategic locations both of these nations possess. Both are located on important trade routes for oil and natural gas. The Gulf of Aden has suffered in importance as of late because of Somali pirates. But it is still important for shipping.

Iran is watching all of this unrest in Yemen and Bahrain with great interest, I am sure. With the U.S. scheduled to leave Iraq in December, the Iranians are biding their time. Unless the Iranian opposition is successful (highly unlikely, I am afraid- moderate Hashemi Rafsanjani has been forced to step down from his post as chairman of the Assembly of Experts, signaling the tighter grip of hardliners), the Iranian government is sure to take advantage of the instability in Iraq. In fact, I’d speculate that they are covertly contributing to it by providing funding to opposition groups and clerics. They would also like to see Saudi Arabia destabilized. One way to do this is to covertly stir the pot in places like Yemen and Bahrain.

Iran wants to be a regional power. At the moment, it has to do little to achieve that goal. Since it has the Western World wrapped up in its nuclear game, it can play quietly on the side, sowing dissension. So, we should be watching these two nations more closely than we are Libya. Libya is all about internal forces whereas Yemen and Bahrain potentially involve external forces. Getting involved in Libya would be unwise as it would divert even more attention and resources from the bigger kettle that is simmering further south. The potential risk to US security would be much greater there than Libya.

UPDATE: March 14th

Saudi Arabia, along with other nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council are sending troops into Bahrain to quell protests. Saudi sent 1000 troops on Sunday, March 13. Secretary Gates was in Bahrain March 12th. According to reports from STRATFOR, Gates encouraged the Bahrainis to speed up implementation of reforms, warning that Iranian interference would become a greater possibility if Bahrain fails to do so.

Barhaini Shiites are now split into two factions. The Wafa and Haq blocs have formed a coalition with the Haq bloc headed by Iranian supported Hassan Mushaima. The Al Wefaq movement is the other side and has been trying to negotiate with the regime for reforms.

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Raised By Republicans said...

I get that there are large numbers of potential Islamists in a desperately poor country like Yemen. But I really have to wonder how many Shia in Bahrain look across the gulf and say, "Gee, I wish Bahrain was just like that." Sure there are going to be some radicals but I would imagine that most Bahraini Shia want what the Sunni Bahrainis have not what the Iranian Shia have.

I mean, if you are a Shi'ite street demonstrator in Bahrain you are probably at least as aware of the dissatisfaction of the Iranian people with their government as you are about the dissatisfaction of the Egyptian people with theirs.

Yemen is a different story. It looks a lot more like Somalia than it looks like Egypt or Bahrain. Yikes. All I can say is "don't go sailing in the Gulf of Aden."

uswest said...

I think you misunderstood my post. Either that or you are making a different point. I didn't mean to imply that the Bahrainis want what Yemeni's or Iranian have. Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the world, so I agree that Bahrain's really don't want that. Yemen may be headed to "failed" state status. Average Bahrainis do want what the Sunni elite have in Bahrain. Nor was I meaning to imply that we should be concerned about Islamists.

Islamists are a mere distraction. My point is that the instability in both Yemen and Bahrain will allow Iran and entry into those nations simply to promote themselves as the main power in the region. We should be more concerned about these nations than we seem to be. And maybe we should be less concerned with Iran's nuclear plans than its other plans for a regional hegemony.

Raised By Republicans said...

"My point is that the instability in both Yemen and Bahrain will allow Iran and entry into those nations"

But this is what I think is not really as serious a threat as you suggest. I don't think even a majority of Shia in Bahrain - should they gain real power, which itself is not guaranteed even as he current regime reforms - would welcome Iranian influence except to the extent that a new Shia Bahrain might be more open diplomatically to them while still being a US ally - something like France is.

Yemen I think is facing a decline into failed state status. So to the extent Iran would benefit from that I agree.

Anonymous said...

If Bahrain were to become too unstable, Saudi may very well take direct action there. Bahraini instability would further threaten Saudi stability. Already, the Saudi government has taken measures to try and prevent the revolution contagion for spreading.

If Saudi were to act in Bahrain, that would internationalize the situation and make it more possible for Iran to also take action. I doubt Iran will negotiate and work with local Shia officials. What is more likely is that it will pay local clerics to rabble rouse, creating little insurgencies to irritate the American military that is located in the country as well as the existing government of Bahrain. This is pretty much what it did, and may still be doing in Iraq. I am long ago convinced that it wasn't the "surge" that really worked in Iraq, but that the Iranians pulled strings with their local thugs to go underground.

Bottom line: Libya is about Libya. But Bahrain and Yemen are about training routes, oil, and the security of our rather unsavory, but necessary allies in the region. So I think we should be more concerned about the Arabian peninsula than Libya.

I would like to point out something that no one seems to mention: the cost of our international commitments in Iraqi and Afghanistan isn't doing much to ease costs at the DoD. So if we want to cut military costs, one sure way to do that is to avoid getting into no-fly zones in Libya.

Raised By Republicans said...

"So I think we should be more concerned about the Arabian peninsula than Libya." Absolutely we should be more concerned. I guess I'm just less alarmist in my concern. I doubt Iran would take on Saudi Arabia directly (or even via a proxy insurgency in Bahrain). And I'm cautiously optimistic about the moderate signals now coming from the Bahraini royal elite. So there may be a reformist option more or less within the existing regime in Bahrain that doesn't exist in Egypt, Yemen or Libya.

And anonymous is correct that being bogged down and exhausted by Iraq and Afghanistan limits the US military options should it come to to that.

But frankly, I'm not convinced even Iranian control of the straights of Hormuz would be as dire for US interests as Joe Liberman et al would have us believe.

USwest said...

I'm the anonymous. I had trouble getting my comment up today. So . . .

Raised By Republicans said...

"Barhaini Shiites are now split into two factions. The Wafa and Haq blocs have formed a coalition with the Haq bloc headed by Iranian supported Hassan Mushaima. The Al Wefaq movement is the other side and has been trying to negotiate with the regime for reforms."

This may be an encouraging development. If we presume that the overwhelming majority of Sunis and non-Muslims (who are a notable minority) would be opposed to the Iranification of Bahrain, and we see that Shiites themselves are split on the issue, then I think there is probably a sizable majority overall that would oppose establishing something like we see in Iran in Bahrain.

That combined with the obvious willingness of neighboring militaries to intervene to preven that and the willingness of the US to pressure the regime to reform more quickly, makes me think that a worst case scenario of a Shiite Islamist state in Bahrain is unlikely.

USWest said...

Well, the Saudi intervention definitely presents a quandary for Iran. The key will be if Iran tries and succeeds in pushing the Bahraini Shittes to resist the Saudi's and the other Gulf Cooperation Council troops.

I am working from the premise that Iran really wants to destabilize the region so that it can become a local hegemony, which is also a direct challenge to the U.S. and other Western nations who have important interests in the Middle East.

They key now is to calm Bahrain and then wait and see what move the Iranian's make. It's a massive game of chess with high stakes.

Raised By Republicans said...

Well, my cautious optimism for a reformist approach in Bahrain is ebbing quickly. The Saudi intervention seems to have sparked a violent crackdown. The security forces are acting like thugs (random, unprovoked attacks, apparently random vandalism by uniformed officers etc).

The only good I can see coming from this is that after the crack down, the government may embark on genuine reform. This would be the "China Strategy" where after a massacre at Tianamen Square, the government did actually start down a gradual path of reform. Chinese society today is significantly more open than it was in 1989. But for now Bahrain looks like a bloody mess.

I guess the Bahraini royals decided Saudi paranoia was a bigger influence than American moderation.

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