Published On: Tue, Apr 15th, 2014

Obama has been “stupid and short-sighted” on Bahrain – former US ambassador

The United States has not done enough to support the Bahrain government since the Gulf state was beset with Arab Spring demonstrations three years ago and the handling of the crisis by President Barack Obama’s administration has been “stupid and short-sighted”, a former US Ambassador to Bahrain told Arabian Business in an interview.

The island kingdom, which is home to the Fifth Fleet US naval base, has been marred by sometimes violent protests since early 2011, as the Shia majority call for reform of the country, which is ruled by the Sunni Al Khalifah dynasty.

Joseph Adam Ereli, who served as US Ambassador to Bahrain from June 2007 until June 2011, has been a harsh critic of Washington and the Obama administration’s policies in the Gulf State.

“I would like to make clear I am not a fan of US policy towards Bahrain right now. I don’t think the United States has been supportive enough of the government.”

Ereli said he believed Washington had “pulled an Egypt” in Bahrain, referring to what he believes was the Obama government’s failure to properly support Hosni Mubarak, the former Egyptian president and long-standing American ally, who was removed from office three years ago during the height of the Arab Spring movement.

“I mean, we have not acted as faithful and steadfast to partners who are a strong, trusted ally. The reason I think we have pulled an Egypt is because I mean we threw Hosni Mubarak under the bus in a very unseemly way. I don’t think we are doing that with the Khalifahs and I don’t think we will do that with the Khalifahs.

“Let me be clear… if I was a Khalifah I’d be asking myself ‘where’s my friend in need?’. We beat up on them all the time, in public, for no reason and with no justification. These guys, whatever you think about what’s going on, have to be, and will be, part of the solution. What good does it do anybody to take issue with them? Why not work with them? It is stupid and short-sighted.”

While human rights organisations such as Amnesty International have accused the Bahraini government of taking “severe repressive measures” against anti-government demonstrators, Yale-educated Ereli, who previously worked as an investigative journalist and a human rights activist before joining the US Foreign Service, is more sympathetic to the juggling act the Manama government is currently facing.

“My take is that it is a very difficult situation for everybody. The government wants justice and peace and responsible governance and I think different parts of the population want reform at different speed and reconciling all those different demands or expectations is complicated and challenging and frustratingly difficult.”

His replacement in Bahrain, Thomas C. Krajeski, was recently heavily criticised in an official report by the US Department of State for having “a reactive ‘seat of the pants’ leadership” and for not nurturing relationships with key government officials.

“I think the current ambassador is carrying out US policy, like all ambassadors do,” Ereli said without addressing Krajeski specifically. Instead he reiterated his criticism of the Washington administration and calls on them to do more to support the Bahrain regime in its hour of need.

“I think what America should be doing is standing foursquare behind the government and behind the king, because that is the political centre of gravity in Bahrain and it is the indispensible element to the solution and so second guessing, doubting or undermining the government is wrong.

“I think we’ve totally botched our approach and relationship with the opposition… We have made things more difficult… and that’s I think is what has contributed to the difficulties there.”

The full interview with former US Ambassador to Bahrain Joseph Adam Ereli will be published in Arabian Business on Sunday, April 20.