Saturday, February 19, 2011

Bahrain, a strategic American ally?

I've heard both left wing (NPR) and right wing (Fox) newsies call it that. "A strategic naval base", "important ally", and some other vague phrases. This talk has sprung up in the past few days after anti government protests started happening in Bahrain. The US Navy does have arrangements with Bahrain for docking ships in the harbor.
Bahrain may be a nice place, but it's too small and too far up the Persian Gulf to be a "crucial ally" or "strategic partner". Bahrain is a smallish island (290 square miles) a few miles off the coast of Saudi Arabia. That makes it only a few minutes flying time from Iran, not a clever place to keep expensive Navy warships. A Pearl Harbor style air strike from Iran could be launching Exocet missiles before even the fastest computers could respond. The Persian Gulf is a bottle, with a very narrow neck at the Straits of Hormuz. Iranian artillery and missiles can shoot clear across the straits, giving the Iranians the option of becoming very unpleasant should the mood strike them. The Gulf is not the place to station ships for operations against Somalia or pirates.
Bahrain is a fairly prosperous place. They have a population of only 738,000, some oil, same industry built with oil revenues, a lot of tourists and a GNP of $7.8 billion. That comes out to $10,000 a head, not too shabby, even by US standards.
It is a nice enough place to attract Michael Jackson as a permanent resident.
Nice place and all, it's not a crucial interest to the United States, not like Eygpt or Israel is. Too bad the newsies don't understand that.
And, it's a good bet that the political unrest will settle out with a reasonably pro-American regime in charge. The Bahrain tourist trade is too important to drive off the well paying American tourists.

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