Friday, March 18, 2011

The Saturday Skedaddle

UPDATE//19 March//The U.S. Navy is denying that our 5th Fleet has departed Bahrain. But western diplomatic sources the the World Tribune that only a "skeleton staff" remains at fleet headquarters in Manama. Likewise, those sources also confirm our assessment: the U.S. has written off the current government in Bahrain, and is preparing for its near-term collapse. We should also note that the USS Enterprise carrier battle group remains in the Red Sea, despite the start of No-Fly Zone operations over Libya.

The presence of the Enterprise in that area suggests that Washington is focused on the situation in Yemen and Bahrain. If the governments in those countries collapse, the U.S. would need the "Big E" to support evacuation operations in one (or both) locations. Put another way, you don't keep a fleet carrier (with dozens of fighter aircraft) out of the Libya operation unless you're worried about other contingencies.

Almost without notice, ships of the U.S. 5th Fleet in Bahrain slipped from their berths and headed into the Persian Gulf early Saturday. An "extended" exercise with Oman was the official reason given, but few believe it. As the security situation in the Manama continues to deteriorate, the Navy cannot afford to have even a single vessel--and its crew--in a port that may be hostile in a few days (or less).

Radio talk show host John Batchelor was among the first to report the news. Experts he spoke with said our relations with key Middle East allies have reached the breaking point:

The news from Manama, the capital of the small island state of Bahrain, is that the Fifth Fleet HQ has gone on maneuvers to Oman for an indefinite time frame. In sum, bug-out from the proxy war in Bahrain between Riyadh and Tehran. Am told that the IRGC has staffed and funded the so-called protesters. The social media messaging that now floods the web, #bahrain, is suspect of being an IRGC disinformation campaign. Of most significance, am told the Bahrain confrontation marks the breakdown of the 65-year-long alliance between Washington and Riyadh. The Kingdom has now turned away. China through the Pakistan connection looks like the choice to replace the US. Spoke Barry Rubin, GLORIA, to learn that Egypt is also tumbling away from the US. Pat Lang, Sic Semper Tyrannis, said that Cairo is looking for another sponsor. What has caused this break between Washington and its allies in the Middle East? Am told that the White House is deaf to experienced diplomats in the region. That the White House is piously ideological in supporting so-called democratic-leaning youth protesters despite the evidence that the "yuppie bloggers" are either naive ideologues themselves, without experience in governance or diplomacy, or else they are tools of the anarchists, Islamists and Twelvers. Asked Barry Rubin if the US is on the brink of losing Egypt. Answer: over the brink. Asked Pat Lang if there was any repairing break with Riyadh. Answer: no.

We should point out that both Lang and Rubin represent the minority viewpoint in these matters, but they are not alone in their thinking by any means. With American vacillation and weakness on display throughout the Middle East, long-time allies are maneuvering for their own survival, and looking for anyone (read: not Iran) who can guarantee their security.

Also of interest is the claim that Tehran is fomenting the unrest, through its IRGC. Before readers dismiss that as a conspiracy theory or crazy talk, remember: Hillary Clinton said essentially the same thing during Congressional testimony last week. Oddly enough, the MSM has yet to follow up on Mrs. Clinton's claim.

Given our retreat across the region, moving ships U.S. Navy vessels (and their crews) of Manama was the prudent thing to do. Now, the speculation is over when they might return. At the moment, the optimistic answer is "no time soon." The worst-case scenario is "never."

We're waiting to hear if the 5th Fleet Commander has shifted his flag to sea. That move, along with the sudden departure of our ships, suggests we have no confidence in the ability of security forces to contain the unrest, and we're preparing for a likely collapse of the Bahrain government.

Meanwhile, our commander-in-chief is reportedly having a swell time in Rio.


Corky Boyd said...

I think you are missing the point here.

The last thing we want is to have our naval assets trapped inside the Persian Gulf if a major conflict with Iran breaks out. The Hormuz Straits are easily mined and using a carrier task force as essentially a fixed airbase is folly when air bases are availble in Bahrain and Saudi.

The best defense for a carrier task force is maneuver room (distance from a threat when you need it). You can get it in the Gulf of Oman, but not in the Persian Gulf. Once hostile air defences and anti-shipping missile defenses are degraded, naval air can be brought closer to southeatern Iran, but from outside of the Straits of Hormuz.

While the Saudis are ticked at the administration's waffling, they are pragmatic enough to know the US is their only natural ally in the region. A lot of what they are doing is putting pressure on a naive US President.

Dako said...

I think it would be more accurate to say that Obama has lost Egypt and Saudi Arabia. No other nation can offer what the United States can. No doubt the loss of Mubarak in a disorderly transition, and a weak replacement regime that must placate anti-American public opinion, means a less friendly regime no matter the occupant of the White House. However, 90% of the damage to our relations with Saudi can be repaired by a Presidential election.

I agree with Professor Rubin, who I have met and have great respect for, that the Obama administration's handling of the situation has not been ideal due to ideology. However, I would also remind readers of the blog that this was also Professor Rubin's criticism of the Bush administrations democracy policy in Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories, and Iraq.

Professor Rubin heads a research institute with many fluent Arabic speakers and is a scholar of Middle Eastern History and Culture. From reading his work, my opinion of his work is that he concludes that the problem in the Middle East is much deeper than a lack of democracy, but an entrenched and failed culture for which there is no short term fix. Two failed and destructive ideologies are competing for power, and the choice is between a bad and a worse regime, good is not an option. I agree with this assessment, but it is totally at odds with the full spectrum of American public opinion on both the right and the left that believes the Middle East can be become advanced capitalistic democratic and tolerant societies in years, rather than many decades or centuries.

Chuck said...

I disagree with nearly all of your claims.

Bahrain is a unique situation. 54% of its population are foreign citizens, South Asians, Malays, Pinoys and Indonesians. 8,000 Iranians live there, as well. Of the 500,000 or so Bahraini citizens, 350,000 are Shia.

Fifth Fleet has no ships assigned to it. Its ships are seconded from either the Atlantic or Pacific Fleet. While they make port calls in Bahrain, they are normally at sea.

Aman 11, a naval exercise by the Pakistani Navy, which included elements of the Fifth Fleet and Oman, just ended in the N Arabian Sea.

They has a picnic for the children at NSA Bahrain today.

If I read the intent of the Saudis correctly, they will not permit an Iranian foothold on the southern shore of the Gulf, even if they have to slaughter the Shia and annex Bahrain.