The U.S. Navy is considering moving its Fifth Fleet from where it has long been stationed in Bahrain’s capital, Manama. Bahrain’s ruling al Khalifa family has been violently cracking down on pro-democracy protesters in recent months and rising allegations of systematic human rights violations are creating a public relations issue for the U.S., a longtime supporter and ally of the dictatorship.
Possible relocation sites include the United Arab Emirates, which already hosts aircraft carriers and other military installments, or Qatar, in which U.S. military bases also reside. Although the U.S. has had a permanent naval presence in Bahrain since the 1970s, the Navy’s Fifth Fleet, in its current incarnation, was established following the first Gulf War. It directs operations in the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, and Arabian Sea and secures the Straits of Hormuz, through which 40 per cent of the world’s seaborne oil passes. It is one of the largest military forces in the region, with 40 vessels and close to 30,000 personnel.
The Obama administration’s support for the Bahraini dictatorship and its violent response to peaceful protesters has been assertive, with over $92 million in aid since Obama’s inauguration and another $26.2 million slated for next year. Obama personally reaffirmed this support when the Bahraini crown prince visited the White House last month. The Pentagon has also cut deals with Bahrain in arms trade, sending dozens of American tanks, armored personnel carriers, helicopter gunships, thousands of .38 caliber pistols and millions of rounds of ammunition, from .50 caliber rounds used in sniper rifles and machine guns to bullets for handguns, some of which were undoubtedly used against protesters.
While the Fifth Fleet has long been one of the most essential displays of American imperial power in the region, the cost of moving its location to a neighboring country may be lower for the Obama administration than continuing to advertise enthusiastic support for Bahrain’s recent cruelty by maintaining the base. Unfortunately, U.S. aid and diplomatic support have not budged.