Bahrain today is in the grips of a violent assault on civilian protesters in the capital of Manama, and the Saudi Arabian military incursion into Bahrain (at the invitation of the Baharaini kingdom) has been particularly brutal.
Reports coming out of hospitals in Manama broadcast on Al Jazeera indicate a very toxic form of tear gas has been deployed against the citizenry, resulting in burn and respiratory injuries and extended recovery times. Doctors interviewed say the type of tear gas should never have been used against humans. Other injuries have been caused by live ammunition and rubber bullets, reports say.
This intervention by the Saudi military has compounded already serious strains between the Saudi government and the White House, and as reports continue to emerge of the human toll in Manama today, further strain is guaranteed. The New York Times reports today these strains date to President Obama's refusal to defend Hosni Mubarak's rule in Egypt.
Saudi officials have made no secret of their deep displeasure with how President Obama handled the ouster of the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, charging Washington with abandoning a longtime ally. They show little patience with American messages about embracing what Mr. Obama calls “universal values,” including peaceful protests.
When Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton were forced to cancel visits to the kingdom in recent days, American officials were left wondering whether the cause was King Abdullah’s frail health — or his pique at the United States.
“They’re not in a mode for listening,” said one senior administration official, referring to the American exchanges with Saudi officials over the past two months about the need to get ahead of the protests that have engulfed other Arab states, including two of Saudi Arabia’s neighbors, Bahrain and Yemen. In recent days, Washington has tried to focus on the areas where its strategic interests and those of Saudi Arabia intersect most crucially: counterterrorism, containing Iran and keeping oil flowing.
There was great, if muted, concern in Washington Monday over the decision by the Gulf Cooperation Council (spearheaded by the Saudis) to send troops into Bahrain. As of this writing, there has been no comment I can find from Washington about the brutal nature of the assault on Bahraini civilians today, which eclipse the protestations delivered yesterday --
In the case of Bahrain, the senior official said, the administration’s goal has been to enlist the Saudis’ help to open up the Bahraini political system without overthrowing the government. Instead, the arrival of the Saudi-led troops underscored the approach advocated by Riyadh: Crack down and allow no room for dissent.
At a press briefing on Monday, the White House spokesman, Jay Carney, carefully avoided direct criticism of the Saudi-led entry of gulf forces into Bahrain, telling reporters that, in the view of the White House, “this is not an invasion of the a country.” But he added: “We’re calling on the Saudis, the other members of the G.C.C. countries, as well as the Bahraini government, to show restraint. And we believe that political dialogue is the way to address the unrest that has occurred in the region in Bahrain and in other countries, and not to, in any way, suppress it.”
As a further indication that tensions will increase in the coming days, Al Jazeera is reporting sources in the Saudi government are blaming Iran for inciting unrest in the Gulf. An open Sunn'i/Shi'a conflict in the Gulf obviously would add a dangerous element to the region's politics.
For all the deserved concern over the Japanese situation today, today's assault in Manama requires an equal amount of attention. Please feel free to use this diary as a live blog on today's events in the Middle East.