Here’s what the President managed to put out regarding the shameless murder of citizens today in Bahrain, Libya and Yemen:
I am deeply concerned by reports of violence in Bahrain, Libya and Yemen. The United States condemns the use of violence by governments against peaceful protesters in those countries and wherever else it may occur. We express our condolences to the family and friends of those who have been killed during the demonstrations. Wherever they are, people have certain universal rights including the right to peaceful assembly. The United States urges the governments of Bahrain, Libya and Yemen to show restraint in responding to peaceful protests, and to respect the rights of their people.
In case you’re coming to this late, we know of at least three dead in Yemen from anti-government protests, with police firing tear gas, rubber bullets, and according to some protesters, live rounds. Libya’s security forces are shooting protesters indiscriminately. And in the most shocking massacre, Bahraini forces from an overhead helicopter fired into a crowd of thousands. There are varying degrees of media access in these countries, so we probably don’t have the full picture. But we know this much: this is a day of blood.
So in response, we get this boilerplate from the White House. It sounds pretty similar to what they said during the Egyptian revolution, and we have no way of knowing what is going on behind the scenes. But we do know that there are varying relationships between the US and these countries. Yemen has emerged as a key ally in counter-terrorism operations, and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula operates in the country. Bahrain houses a US naval base. Libya, by contrast, is basically an enemy of the US, though not as much in recent years. So the juggling priorities between so-called security interests and respect for human rights is not clear-cut in all three cases.
What ought to be clear-cut is this: a country that massacres its own people deserves no support from a country claiming to be a signal beacon for freedom. And the national security implications of propping up tyrants is actually pretty clear. Juan Cole writes for the Nation:
Many among the demonstrators, whether union organizers, villagers or college graduates, seem to believe that once the lead log in the logjam is removed, the economy will return to normal and opportunities for advancement will open up to all. Somewhat touchingly, they have put their hopes in free and fair parliamentary elections, so that the Middle East may be swinging back to a new liberal period, formally resembling that of the 1930s and ’40s. If these aspirations for open politics and economic opportunity are blocked again, as they were by the hacienda owners and Western proconsuls of the mid-twentieth century, the Arab masses may turn to more desperate, and dangerous, alternatives.
This is the point that the foreign policy mandarins in this country cannot seem to understand. Our support for dictators around the world costs us in terms of national security more than whatever benefit in basing rights or counter-terrorism efforts we assume to get out of it. One would think that the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, and these all-too-routine massacres, would change the usual equation somewhat.
Meanwhile, just to bring another voice into this discussion, read Zach Carter and Ryan Grim on Wall Street’s role in the uprisings.
UPDATE: I shouldn’t leave out Djibouti – I should never leave out Djibouti – which has the only US military personnel in all of Africa.