Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Morally Usurped by Brutal Monarchs

Published in 2011 (Some dead links were deleted, and due to the update this was pushed to the top).
Matthew Mainen

President Obama entered office pledging to restore America’s moral standing in the world. But his response to the Arab Spring has thus far has left much to be desired. This week, however, the president allowed the U.S. unprecedented embarrassment as it stood on the sidelines as two of the world’s worst human rights violators – Saudi Arabia and Bahrain – along with Kuwait withdrew their ambassadors from Syria following its intensified crackdown. It’s time to reclaim the initiative.

The president’s cautious position is understandable. His predecessor’s hawkish Mideast policy in response to the unprecedented environment created by the September 11 attacks and rise of international Islamic extremism challenged ties with Europe and temporarily destabilized Iraq.

Obama’s policies, however, are far from dovish, and have not adequately mended ties with the Muslim world. He reneged on his campaign pledge to close Guantanamo Bay. He intensified drone attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan, killing many civilians. And in an insult to American values, he personally approved Bahrain’s brutal crackdown on pro-democracy activists behind closed doors.

Some may argue that prudence with respect to containing Iran, despite the long-term consequences of enraging Bahrain’s population, determined the administration’s Bahrain policy. And containing al-Qaeda dictates the U.S. position in Yemen. But there’s no excuse for continued foot-dragging in Syria, which has killed over 2,000 protesters and has, this year alone, transported tens of millions of dollars worth of weapons to Hezbollah, a terrorist organization claiming the lives of hundreds of Americans and allied citizens.

Last month U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford visited Hama. This month, Syria laid siege to the city, killing 100 people in one day. Since his visit, Ford has remained generally confined to Damascus and nowhere near the protests. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait have sent a clear message to Syria, however, by withdrawing their ambassadors.

The move was politically motivated but nonetheless calculated to gain international sympathy. Syria is Iran’s only Arab-state ally, and an isolated Syria threatens Iran. A collapsed Syria hastens Iran’s demise. By taking a strong stand against Syria’s human rights violations, these states pursue their aims against an enemy regime under a humanitarian guise. They also hide their own transgressions.

In Bahrain, hospitals were converted to torture chambers where even doctors were not spared. Shia school girls were randomly selected and sexually threatened. Politicians were disappeared. And internationally renowned human rights activists such as Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, Hassan al-Mushama, and Professor Abdul-Jalil al-Singace sit in jail for life.

Bahrain’s crackdown was orchestrated by Saudi Arabia, a medieval regime that practices lashing, beheadings and amputations for relatively mundane crimes. Lebanese citizen Ali Sabat sits on death row for hosting a show in which he predicts the future. Hadi al-Mutif has spent the past 13 years and will spend the rest of his life in jail for making a joke about the Prophet Mohammad. Women are banned from driving, voting and traveling without a man’s permission. Shia are banned from government posts and judicial positions.

These aren’t the headlines in the mainstream media for these countries, though. An al-Jazeera article bylines the ambassadors’ withdrawal followed by a quote from Saudi King Abdullah: “What is happening in Syria is not acceptable…” When the words of an octogenarian absolute monarch match those of our secretary of state, the administration should up the ante. When that same absolute monarch is a chief human rights violator and has applied greater moral pressure, the administration is in trouble.

Prior to President Obama’s tenure and the Syrian crackdown, the American ambassadorship to Syria was left vacant by the Bush Administration. Syria was an ally of Iran, a sponsor of terror and a brutal dictatorship. This was not a country deserving of America’s highest local representative. Nothing has changed, except for the small fact that the Syrian people are now in a deadly struggle for freedom claiming scores of lives daily.

Ambassador Ford must be recalled, today. But to reclaim the moral high ground, the administration must go a step further by becoming the first country in the world to publically proclaim that it no longer views Syria’s Ba’athist regime as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. U.S. relations with the Muslim world will soar and America, not the world’s leading dictators, will make headlines for their humanitarian positioning.

By Matthew Mainen

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Decision Time for Qatar

Published in 2011 (Some dead links were deleted, and due to the update this was pushed to the top).

It’s no secret that Qatar seeks regional leadership and influence. Last year, former Egyptian foreign affairs committee chairman Mustafa el-Feki went so far as to publicly accuse Qatar of attempting to inherit Egypt’s role as the Arab world’s powerbroker.

Qatar’s strategy has largely rested on its ability to dominate neighboring countries’ news media through its al Jazeera network. In a pan-Arab hearts and minds campaign unseen since the days of Nassar, Qatar uses al Jazeera to garner goodwill and manipulate Arab public opinion.

The network’s essential role in distributing information during the ongoing Arab uprisings has not gone unnoticed by pro-democracy movements and besieged leaders alike, but ironically, as the Qatari supported uprisings spread and continue, Qatar increasingly finds itself needing to choose between its leadership ambitions and its own undemocratic government and policies.

Even if it helped lay the groundwork, Qatar, as an absolute monarchy is unqualified to play a leadership role in what is quickly becoming the Arab world’s most pressing issue: democratic transition.

While there is no guarantee that even a single Arab state will emerge as a full-fledged democracy, the attempts invite the advice and guidance of democratic states, not autocracies, as was seen most prominently during the fall of the Soviet Union.

With tenuous democratization occurring in Tunisia and Egypt, highly likely in Yemen and at least parts of Libya and expected to emerge elsewhere, there is no better time for a politically ambitious state in the region to assert its influence. Such a state, however, must know a thing or two about democracy.

If Qatar wishes not to sit on the sidelines as representatives from the US and EU advise transitioning governments, then it must lead by example and make democratic changes to both its foreign policy and government.

Foreign policy wise, Qatar’s sending troops to Bahrain places it on the wrong side of the divide between democracy seekers and their leaders. Additionally, Qatar’s participation in the Saudi led intervention contrasts with its desire to escape Saudi Arabia’s shadow, an essential requirement for its emergence as the dominant Arab voice. This desire is best seen in Qatar’s maverick independent foreign policy in which it shares amicable relations with both Iran and Israel.

Relying on an impressive track record of ending Lebanon’s 18 month political crisis in 2008 and reaching a breakthrough in the Darfur conflict in 2010, Qatar can assert its leadership and independence by inviting members of Bahrain’s government and opposition to Doha for mediation.

At home, Qatar must embark on domestic political reform. While the monarchy will not be willfully abolished, Qatar can nonetheless embrace significant democratic elements

The process can start with the assembling of leading intellectuals, jurists, academics, moderate religious leaders and members of the royal family to draft a new constitution based on both the principles of a constitutional monarchy and Islam. This constitution will then be put to an internationally supervised referendum.

Although royal assent, the requirement that acts of parliament be approved by the monarch, is a formality in the West, it would be the rule for Qatar’s foreseeable future. To moderate this and ensure constitutional adherence, the parliament cannot be encumbered by unreasonable restrictions on dissent or political party formation.

Qatar must also show new Arab leaders and their electorates that it provides the same fundamental rights expected of emerging democracies. This includes guaranteed equality for its Shia minority, press and assembly freedom, and the rights of women.

Despite a continuation of Qatar’s monarchy, such a bold political transformation will give Qatar the credibility needed to assert true influence over nascent Arab democracies.

Qatar has a monumental opportunity to crystallize long-held ambition of attaining a direct and dominant role in the Arab world. Its actions in the coming months will determine if it will become a true leader or left to play a periphery role in a wave of democratization that its television network helped generate.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Saudi's Dangerous Role in Syria

Although I am moving all of my content to my new blog, and have therefore taken all postings off here to avoid cross-confusion, I have decided that it is best to keep the below article up due to it's being heavily cited. I don't want those citing it to have broken links on their pages.

Matthew Mainen

While Saudi Arabia’s involvement in suppressing Bahrain’s uprising is well documented, it’s behind the scenes role in Syria’s rebellion and Kuwaiti turmoil demonstrates that the monarchy seeks Arab-Islamic rather than Gulf hegemony. The collapse of the Syrian regime would albeit serve as the final blow to Iran’s quest for Mideast dominance, leaving Saudi Arabia the sole superpower. These prospects are troubling, given Saudi Arabia’s singular role in promoting Islamic extremism and its go-to move of creating sectarian tension.

For long it appeared that Iran was gaining the upper hand. By the end of 2008, Iraq’s Saudi-supported Sunni insurgency was defeated and Iraq’s Iranian backed Shia-majority asserted territorial control. In early January, Lebanon’s unity government collapsed, making Hezbollah a kingmaker. Then, on February 17th, Bahrain’s Shia majority, along with equally disgruntled Sunnis, rose up against the Sunni monarchy, presenting Iran with the perfect opportunity to attempt to backdoor into the Arab world.

Saudi Arabia acted swiftly, leading a contingent of over 2,000 Gulf troops to quell the uprising, but seeing a perfect opportunity to gain the initiative, Saudi Arabia went beyond Bahrain. Saudi affiliated members of Kuwait’s parliament, on the behest Saudi Arabia, called for a vote of no confidence on Kuwaiti Prime Minister Nasser Mohammed Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah, who has good relations with Iran.

Pro-Saudi MPs such as Waleed al-Tabtabaie have called for political union with Saudi Arabia. While Kuwait is a Sunni majority state, it has a large and disenfranchised Shia minority. The second they protest for equality, and they eventually will, the calls for unification will grow louder as Saudi troops will be invited to “secure” Kuwait from an “Iranian plot.”

Already, Saudi Arabia and their Kuwait protégés are constructing a unified foreign policy, which is first emerging in Syria. Saudi Arabia took the role as the lead foreign funder for the Istanbul Syrian opposition conference, while coordinating with private Kuwaiti citizens and sympathetic MPs as they hosted fundraisers.

Saudi based Syrians have been given a free hand to criticize the government and organize in anti-Syrian regime activities, a sign of official approval given that Saudi-based Egyptian opposition activists were expelled. Not surprisingly, such activists found a similar fate in Kuwait.

On the ground, Saudi Arabia and its Kuwaiti supporters are engaged in a joint hearts and mind campaign in the Turkish refugee camps. This is not a humanitarian gesture as evidenced by the fact that Saudi officials have not visited a single legitimate refugee camp elsewhere in the Muslim world. Rather, it’s an opportunity for Saudi Arabia to rally Syria’s Sunni majority against the country’s Alawite rulers, all the while Kuwait and the other Gulf states sans Qatar play second fiddle.

Using Saudi-owned television stations, the monarchy has opened the airwaves to carefully selected Sunni Syrian clerics. Adnan al-Arour, for example, has called on his Sunni counterparts to “grind the Alawites and feed them to the dogs.” His calls were recently answered, with Sunni-Alawite clashes in Homs.

These relatively small sectarian clashes are a precursor to what further Saudi involvement entails. A fullscale ethnic conflict has the potential of mirroring the Iraqi civil conflict, especially because what the Alawite minority lacks in numbers they make up for in arms and military training. This is to say nothing, of the possibility of Syria being flooded with Saudi-born jihadists as was the case in Iraq.

Prince Nayef, Saudi Arabia’s de facto crown prince, played a decisive operational role in Iraq’s Sunni insurgency, sending prominent terrorists such as Abdullah al-Rashoud to Iraq. His son has played a similar role. The clerical establishment also involved itself throughout the insurgency by collecting funds and even issuing a fatwa calling on Muslims to join the jihad in Iraq.

The United States cannot sit on the sidelines as Saudi Arabia helps shape Syria’s future. Regime change is desirable. Saudi-sponsored regime change is not. As things stand now, the most active Syrian opposition figures are Saudi-sympathizers. A progressive and democratic Syria aligned with the United States will do the most to contain Iran, not a Saudi proxy.

Under U.S. guidance, Qatar, which has played a prominent role in shaping events in Libya, should take the initiative from Saudi Arabia by funding and assembling progressive opposition leaders. While influencing Syria’s future, the U.S. will avoid accusations of meddling so long as Qatar does the groundwork. This will allow for a controlled Syrian transition, a contained Saudi-Iranian conflict and renewed U.S. influence in the region.

By Matthew Mainen

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Exposing U.S. Hypocrisy in Bahrain

Matthew Mainen

Several days ago, Bahrain slapped life sentences on 8 Bahraini human rights activists in closed trials. The State Department expressed “concern,” but U.S. policy towards these individuals shows otherwise. Two of them, Hassan Mushama and Abdul-Hadi Khawaja, were previously stripped of their U.S. visas. A third, Abdul-Jalil al-Signace, a respected professor, did not receive a new visa. The Gulf Institute urged the State Department to reconsider, but this appeal fell on deaf ears. They now sit in jail, possibly forever.

The U.S. has had no problem, however, with granting visas to such people as British ideological jihadist Anjem Choudary, an apologist for 9/11. The U.S. has also maintained warm relations with Saudi Prince Nayef, the de facto crown prince, who played an operational role in sending insurgents to Iraq. Human rights activists from Bahrain, however, are apparently another matter.

The State Department’s concern did not extend to the widespread and credible allegations of the government’s torturing doctors or sexually assaulting Shia schoolgirls, and even if it did, concern is not enough.

Bahrain has led a relentless public relations campaign attempting to debunk these claims, but the information coming from Bahrain’s government is not reputable due to a lack of independent verification and the monarchy’s overall restrictions on freedom of inquiry. The overall PR campaign appears to have worked in Washington, however, and relying only on information supplied by Bahrain’s government, it’s not difficult to see how Secretary Clinton concluded that Bahrain is a “model of reform” before the crackdown.

Clinton’s position is reflective of Washington’s policy of selective ignorance. When U.S. human rights czar Michael Posner visited Bahrain, he did not even attempt making a detailed inquiry as evidenced by his failing to meet with Bahrain’s most famous human rights activist, Nabil Raja, President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. Adding insult to irony, Posner’s intermediary, U.S. Ambassador Adam Ereli, is a former human rights activist. In a sharp turn from a previous life, Ereli assured Crown Prince Salman that the U.S. would not interfere in his Saudi-led crackdown on protests.

President Obama also has not supported democracy in Bahrain. Iranian and Syrian activists were invited to his Arab Awakening speech, but not activists from Bahrain. He has called for dialogue in Bahrain while questioning the legitimacy of Assad and Khameni. Obama made a passing reference to Bahrain’s destruction of over 30 Shia mosques and shrines while repeatedly pressing Israel, the Middle East’s only democracy, to make compromises to the Palestinian leadership, another autocratic regime. It’s doubtful that Obama would have treaded as lightly if it were Israel that destroyed 30 mosques.

Congress also bears responsibility for repression in Bahrain by consistently legislating weapons deals with the Gulf States in the hundreds of billions of dollars with no strings attached. Some of these weapons were used in killing democratic activists. Congress, however, has made no plans to reevaluate arming Bahrain, nor has the Obama Administration despite sanctions on similarly repressive regimes.

It’s ironic that while the U.S. has called for a national in dialogue in Bahrain when the U.S. itself won’t reach out Bahrain’s Shia community. In fact, naval political advisor Gwyneth Todd was fired after spending $30,000 of her own money on gifts for Shia Bahrainis in a personal hearts and mind campaign.

The arguments against a firmer stance on Bahrain are understandable, but hackneyed and fallacious. While good relations with Bahrain are necessary in providing a united front against Iran, tiny Bahrain and its minority Sunni monarchy needs the U.S. more than the U.S. needs Bahrain. It’s unthinkable that Bahrain, or even Saudi Arabia, would take punitive action against the only state standing between the Arab Gulf and Iran.

Only one thing could justify a passive approach on Bahrain and greater Gulf repression: a concentrated policy for Iranian regime change. A democratic Iran would substantially alleviate American security dependence on the Gulf and deny the Arab Gulf the threat of oil leverage in responding to U.S. pressure. Not surprisingly, The Obama Administration has not taken this path either.

The continued deference to Gulf autocracies coupled with a conciliatory approach to Iran makes clear that the status quo rather than change is America’s priority for the Gulf. This might sit well with the rulers. It won’t sit well with a people refusing to back down on their demands for basic human rights. The end result could be disastrous for U.S. interests. Historically, when autocratic leaders are overthrown, their people do not look kindly to his patrons.

By Matthew Mainen

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Let Them Drive

Matthew Mainen

In his speech on the Arab Awakening, President Obama not only referenced U.S. revolutionary defiance against the despotic King George III but also Rosa Parks’ catalyzing defiance of U.S. segregation. Yet the administration as well as Congress remain mum on the increasing Rosa Parks-spirited resistance of Saudi women against the monarchy’s gender apartheid, starting with the prohibition against their driving.

In late May, Manal al-Sharif and leading women’s rights activist Wajeha al-Huwaider started a trend of Saudi women posting videos of themselves driving on Youtube. Sharif was subsequently detained and only released after pledging to cease promoting disobedience and writing a “thank you letter” to King Abdullah for his leniency. Her original video has subsequently disappeared, but others remain.

Now, a “drive-in” is scheduled for June 17th, in which Saudi women are called upon to defy the monarchy’s ban and get behind the wheel. This move is not unprecedented. On November 6, 1990, 45 women of the educated elite drove into the center of Riyadh. They were quickly arrested, interrogated, released to their “male guardians,” and suspended from their jobs.

Leading Saudi scholar and Cambridge professor Madawi al-Rasheed argues that the dissidents were motivated by a wave of domestic calls for reform brought about by the increased Western spotlight and presence in the monarchy as a result of the Gulf War. The U.S., however, remained silent.

Two decades later, regional circumstances and Western attention again have emboldened Saudi women in demanding their basic rights. The long term success of Saudi women’s rights activists, however, is highly unlikely without a strong U.S. position.

While it is almost certain that Obama will remain silent, hope is not necessarily lost. Congress can play a role through its control of the purse combined with moral pressure. This is routinely exemplified when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act, tying funding of the maintenance of U.S. buildings abroad to relocating the embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, has been waived by the president every sixth month, forcing him to take a public position on the status of Jerusalem.

Congress has also pressured the president on U.S. foreign policy vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia. Setting aside current controversy, Congressman Weiner has singlehandedly campaigned against Saudi Arabia with his proposed Saudi Accountability Act and his successful legislation banning direct aid.

As of yet, the issue of Saudi women, however, has not significantly circulated through Congress. Oddly, even the Congressional Women’s Caucus, from which one would expect the most discussion on the matter, has remained as silent as the president. The caucus has nonetheless seen fit in targeting Iran, where women vote, serve in parliament and yes, even drive.

In Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, women are considered incapable creatures demanding the absolute supervision of a male guardian. In addition to driving women are restricted from voting, serving in high public office and various fields and traveling without the permission of a male relative.

One may argue that human rights in Saudi Arabia should take a backseat to the U.S.’ needing to circle its wagons around its so-called “moderate allies” in the name of national security, especially with the imminent collapse of the Yemeni government.

It must be noted, however that Saudi Arabia is the ideological base camp of al-Qaeda, and the best way to defeat terrorism is via liberal victories over oppressive pseudo-Islamic ideologies. How many times has it been said that the war on terror cannot be won militarily?

It is now time for Congress to take a stand. Legislation should be initiated detailing the link between radical ideology, especially as it pertains to human and women’s rights, and terrorism. Once this is established, weapons sales to the monarchy must be prohibited until it takes explicit reformative steps, including allowing women to drive.

It’s unlikely that any legislation will pass without a presidential waiver provision, but this will apply added pressure on President Obama as the 2012 election looms and he risks being attacked for opposing freedom.

More so than any other country, the U.S. stands out for its unwavering democratic ideals, and when 9/11 is referenced, it is often said that freedom itself was attacked. This is not empty rhetoric, but now is the time to determine whether the U.S. stands only for the freedom of the American people or for all people. By taking the decisive step of standing with the women of Saudi Arabia, Congress can send a clear message to the world and reassert American universal values.

By Matthew Mainen

Friday, May 20, 2011

Obama Falters on Democracy in the Middle East (co-authored with Ali al-Ahmed)

Matthew Mainen and Ali al-Ahmed

President Obama’s speech on the Arab Awakening presented a rare opportunity of catapulting American leadership in the Mideast. Unfortunately, little more than platitudes were offered. We heard appeals to man’s dignity, self-determination, the yearning for freedom and inalienable human rights, but those were largely overshadowed by a disproportionate focus on the non-sequitor of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, something of little concern to the Arab masses yearning for freedom from their own autocratic regimes, not from Israel.

In fact, the criticism directed at Israel during Obama’s tenure exceeds that directed to some Arab regimes violently repressing their people. Israel’s successively approving new home construction in East Jerusalem has been more harshly condemned than Bahrain’s destroying 30 Shia mosques and shrines in recent weeks. What would Obama have said if Israel destroyed 30 mosques? Adding insult to injury, his State Department withdrew from a congressional hearing on Bahrain’s deteriorating respect for human rights at the last minute, not even bothering to send a junior officer.

Even worse, Obama classified the Bahraini revolution differently than those in other Arab countries. Bahraini protest, Obama hinted, is part of an Iranian attempt to intervene in the Gulf, and not a genuine march for democracy and rights that started in the 1970s, long before the success of the Iranian revolution. This was an insult to the Bahraini people who lost family members in the crackdown before and after the Saudi-led invasion of Bahrain. Bahrain’s problem in Obama’s eyes is a matter of dialogue that should take place between the monarchy and its subject. He made clear that political change is only appropriate for America’s foes in the region and for those regimes that have already collapse

While mentioning Rosa Parks and women’s rights, Obama ignored the struggle against gender apartheid in Saudi Arabia, where severe restrictions prevent women from driving, let alone voting in token municipal elections. Obama said nothing about the Saudi monarchy’s announcement to bar women from participating in the ongoing limited municipal elections for powerless councils. Nor did he of the June 17th plan by Saudi women, in the spirit of Rosa Parks, of defying Saudi gender apartheid by driving en mass.

In Oman, citizens continue protesting for their fundamental rights in a regime single-handedly ruled by Sultan Qaboos since 1970. They too were not mentioned by President Obama despite their potential of building a model Islamic democracy based on their temperate Ibadi interpretation of Islam.

The White House made it position clear when they only invited activists from Syria, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Iran to the speech excluding all activists from the Gulf Arab countries ruled by absolute monarchies such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar. American allies are not to be subjected to the same standards as others under the Obama administration.

The US consistently claims that it does not support Arab dictators, but it continues to arm them. Such arms were used in Bahrain and Oman to kill protesters and in Saudi Arabia to violently suppress them. It’s ironic that the US bans even the sale of civilian aircrafts to Iran on the partial pretense of not wanting to support a violent regime while some of the Gulf allies are predisposed to the same level of brutality.

Despite Obama’s lack of decisive action, one should hold in mind that speeches can be equally powerful. Reagan’s 1987 “Tear Down this Wall” speech demonstrated America’s unyielding commitment to democracy and emboldened those behind the Iron Curtain in breaking free of communism. But when the walls finally fell in 1989, President George H.W. Bush said and did little, and Reagan’s single speech overshadows Bush’s four years of foreign policy.

Today, President Obama had the opportunity to inspire monumental democratic change in the world’s least democratic region. He proved, however, that he is no Reagan. If today’s speech delineates the future direction of Obama’s Arab Awakening policy, then like George H.W. Bush, he will likely fade into obscurity in the history of American foreign policy.

By Matthew Mainen and Ali al-Ahmed

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

On Obama's Arab Awakening Speech

Matthew Mainen

Today, little more than platitudes can be expected in President Obama’s Arab Awakening speech. We’ll hear appeals to man’s dignity, the yearning for freedom, self-determination, and he might even go so far as to call Syria’s actions unacceptable. We’ll also hear the non-sequitor of the last 60 years: “the current events make a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more urgent than ever before.” He could have saved his speechwriter the effort by having a recording engineer amalgamate his sound bites from the past several months.

When Obama initiated his presidential campaign, a common criticism was that the ability to deliver a great speech does not qualify one for the presidency. Such rhetoric was largely discarded. Obama’s 2.5 years in office, however, justify this claim, at least in foreign policy. Aside from being shamed into Libya by France and Britain, dragging his feet the whole way, President Obama’s Mideast approach revolves around insubstantial commentary or selective ignorance.

Take, for example, Israel’s several recent approvals of new home construction in East Jerusalem. Each time, the Obama Administration harshly condemned Israel. On the other hand, when Bahrain destroyed at least 30 Shia mosques and shrines, Obama said nothing. Adding insult to injury, his State Department withdrew from a congressional hearing on Bahrain’s deteriorating respect for human rights at the last minute, not even bothering to send a junior officer.

Obama’s speech will ignore the pressing struggle for freedom in the Arabian Gulf, particularly Saudi Arabia where restrictions on women are so severe that they are prohibited from driving, let alone voting in token municipal elections. On June 17, Saudi women, in the spirit of Rosa Parks, plan on defying Saudi gender apartheid by driving en mass. It’s unlikely we’ll get any stance on that from the White House.

Obama should not be singled out for criticism. Even the first Muslim member of Congress, Keith Ellison, has remained virtually silent. In the past, however, he’s had plenty to say about Israel.

Congress continues supporting dictatorial monarchies though its successively passing weapons deals for the Arab Gulf States with no strings attached. This is particularly concerning as it reinforces perception on the streets that the US upholds its corrupt leaders at the expense of the people.

The US consistently claims that it does not support dictators, but the arms sales show otherwise. Such arms were used in Bahrain and Oman to kill protesters and in Saudi Arabia to violently suppress them. It’s ironic that the US bans even the sale of civilian aircrafts to Iran on the partial pretense of not wanting to support a violent regime while some of the Gulf allies are predisposed to the same level of brutality.

The mainstream media’s lack of condemnation for the continued Gulf weapons deals likely pales in comparison to its hypothetical response to a sale of civilian aircrafts to Iran. The media has also made significant blunders. The Washington Post, for example, egregiously referred to leading Bahraini human rights activist Hassan Mushama as a militant while designating Bahrani Crown Prince Salman, an architect of the crackdown, a reformer.

When Obama speaks today, one should hold in mind that speeches are neither inherently worthless nor innocuous in foreign policy. Reagan’s 1987 “Tear Down this Wall” speech demonstrated America’s unyielding commitment to democracy and emboldened those behind the Iron Curtain in breaking free of communisms poisonous tentacles. When the walls finally fell, President George H.W. Bush had little say, and his response to the democratic uprisings mimicked Obama’s.

If today’s speech delineates Obama’s future policy of dealing with the Arab Awakening, then he will find himself relegated to the same pages of history George H.W. Bush finds himself in failing to enthusiastically support the revolutions of 1989. Even if Obama achieves unlimited domestic progress, he will be shadowed by an inept foreign policy.

By Matthew Mainen