Bahrain Crackdown Puts Pressure On U.S. When protests spread to the tiny island kingdom, they were met by a government crackdown. Saudi Arabia sent troops to help quell the demonstrations. The U.S. had been muted in its public criticism until President Obama's speech Thursday. Still, it's unclear whether his warning will have an effect.
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Bahrain Crackdown Puts Pressure On U.S. Diplomacy

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Bahrain Crackdown Puts Pressure On U.S. Diplomacy

Bahrain Crackdown Puts Pressure On U.S. Diplomacy

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LIANE HANSEN, Host:

NPR's Jackie Northam reports that could be changing.

JACKIE NORTHAM: Since then, Bahrain has faced a reign of terror, says Brian Dooley with Human Rights First, who has just returned from a research trip to Bahrain. He says those involved in the protests are subject to arbitrary arrest and detention, sometimes for months.

BRIAN DOOLEY: Typically, they would be blindfolded that whole time, be beaten, heads knocked against the wall, made to suffer some humiliations. Then we see torture.

NORTHAM: During the uprising, the U.S. urged both sides to initiate a dialogue. But after the crackdown and the Saudi intervention, Washington went quiet, says James Russell, an associate professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval Post Graduate School. He says Bahrain is a critical ally of the U.S. The Navy's Fifth Fleet is based there. Russell says security interests have trumped democracy in Bahrain and other Persian Gulf nations for a long time.

JAMES RUSSELL: And these bases or the access to the facilities that these states provided, have been instrumental in the United States being able to help preserve regional security and stability in the Gulf, through which, you know, between 15 and 16 million barrels a day, and even more, oil passes on any given day.

NORTHAM: Finally, during his broad speech on the Middle East, President Obama sent a clear message to Bahrain's government.

BARACK OBAMA: The only way forward is for the government and opposition to engage in a dialogue. And you can't have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail.

NORTHAM: Steven Cook, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, says it's far from clear President Obama's warning will have any impact on Bahrain's leaders.

STEVEN COOK: These are leaders who are fighting to stay alive. And even if the president of the United States denounces them, that's not the first thing that they're going to respond to.

NORTHAM: But Salman Sheik, the director of the Brookings' Doha Center, says the U.S. needs to do more, even if it's just public criticism of the Bahrain government. He says a limited or muted response will have long-term implications.

SALMAN SHAIK: I think allowing the situation in Bahrain to continue in the way that it has, and for this uneasy calm to remain, carries with it very real dangers of a greater sectarian problem arising throughout the Gulf and also vis-a-vis Iran.

NORTHAM: Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.

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