Bahrain

Immaculate Intervention: The Wars of Humanitarianism

By George Friedman

There are wars in pursuit of interest. In these wars, nations pursue economic or strategic ends to protect the nation or expand its power. There are also wars of ideology, designed to spread some idea of “the good,” whether this good is religious or secular. The two obviously can be intertwined, such that a war designed to spread an ideology also strengthens the interests of the nation spreading the ideology.

Since World War II, a new class of war has emerged that we might call humanitarian wars — wars in which the combatants claim to be fighting neither for their national interest nor to impose any ideology, but rather to prevent inordinate human suffering. In Kosovo and now in Libya, this has been defined as stopping a government from committing mass murder. But it is not confined to that. In the 1990s, the U.S. intervention in Somalia was intended to alleviate a famine while the invasion of Haiti was designed to remove a corrupt and oppressive regime causing grievous suffering.

It is important to distinguish these interventions from peacekeeping missions. In a peacekeeping mission, third-party forces are sent to oversee some agreement reached by combatants. Peacekeeping operations are not conducted to impose a settlement by force of arms; rather, they are conducted to oversee a settlement by a neutral force. In the event the agreement collapses and war resumes, the peacekeepers either withdraw or take cover. They are soldiers, but they are not there to fight beyond protecting themselves.

 

Concept vs. Practice

 

In humanitarian wars, the intervention is designed both to be neutral and to protect potential victims on one side. It is at this point that the concept and practice of a humanitarian war becomes more complex. There is an ideology undergirding humanitarian wars, one derived from both the U.N. Charter and from the lessons drawn from the Holocaust, genocide in Rwanda, Bosnia and a range of other circumstances where large-scale slaughter — crimes against humanity — took place. That no one intervened to prevent or stop these atrocities was seen as a moral failure. According to this ideology, the international community has an obligation to prevent such slaughter.

This ideology must, of course, confront other principles of the U.N. Charter, such as the right of nations to self-determination. In international wars, where the aggressor is trying to both kill large numbers of civilians and destroy the enemy’s right to national self-determination, this does not pose a significant intellectual problem. In internal unrest and civil war, however, the challenge of the intervention is to protect human rights without undermining national sovereignty or the right of national self-determination.

The doctrine becomes less coherent in a civil war in which one side is winning and promising to slaughter its enemies, Libya being the obvious example. Those intervening can claim to be carrying out a neutral humanitarian action, but in reality, they are intervening on one side’s behalf. If the intervention is successful — as it likely will be given that interventions are invariably by powerful countries against weaker ones — the practical result is to turn the victims into victors. By doing that, the humanitarian warriors are doing more than simply protecting the weak. They are also defining a nation’s history.

There is thus a deep tension between the principle of national self-determination and the obligation to intervene to prevent slaughter. Consider a case such as Sudan, where it can be argued that the regime is guilty of crimes against humanity but also represents the will of the majority of the people in terms of its religious and political program. It can be argued reasonably that a people who would support such a regime have lost the right to national self-determination, and that it is proper that a regime be imposed on it from the outside. But that is rarely the argument made in favor of humanitarian intervention. I call humanitarian wars immaculate intervention, because most advocates want to see the outcome limited to preventing war crimes, not extended to include regime change or the imposition of alien values. They want a war of immaculate intentions surgically limited to a singular end without other consequences. And this is where the doctrine of humanitarian war unravels.

Regardless of intention, any intervention favors the weaker side. If the side were not weak, it would not be facing mass murder; it could protect itself. Given that the intervention must be military, there must be an enemy. Wars by military forces are fought against enemies, not for abstract concepts. The enemy will always be the stronger side. The question is why that side is stronger. Frequently, this is because a great many people in the country, most likely a majority, support that side. Therefore, a humanitarian war designed to prevent the slaughter of the minority must many times undermine the will of the majority. Thus, the intervention may begin with limited goals but almost immediately becomes an attack on what was, up to that point, the legitimate government of a country.

 

A Slow Escalation

 

The solution is to intervene gently. In the case of Libya, this began with a no-fly zone that no reasonable person expected to have any significant impact. It proceeded to airstrikes against Gadhafi’s forces, which continued to hold their own against these strikes. It now has been followed by the dispatching of Royal Marines, whose mission is unclear, but whose normal duties are fighting wars. What we are seeing in Libya is a classic slow escalation motivated by two factors. The first is the hope that the leader of the country responsible for the bloodshed will capitulate. The second is a genuine reluctance of intervening nations to spend excessive wealth or blood on a project they view in effect as charitable. Both of these need to be examined.

The expectation of capitulation in the case of Libya is made unlikely by another aspect of humanitarian war fighting, namely the International Criminal Court (ICC). Modeled in principle on the Nuremberg trials and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the ICC is intended to try war criminals. Trying to induce Moammar Gadhafi to leave Libya knowing that what awaits him is trial and the certain equivalent of a life sentence will not work. Others in his regime would not resign for the same reason. When his foreign minister appeared to defect to London, the demand for his trial over Lockerbie and other affairs was immediate. Nothing could have strengthened Gadhafi’s position more. His regime is filled with people guilty of the most heinous crimes. There is no clear mechanism for a plea bargain guaranteeing their immunity. While a logical extension of humanitarian warfare — having intervened against atrocities, the perpetrators ought to be brought to justice — the effect is a prolongation of the war. The example of Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia, who ended the Kosovo War with what he thought was a promise that he would not be prosecuted, undoubtedly is on Gadhafi’s mind.

But the war is also prolonged by the unwillingness of the intervening forces to inflict civilian casualties. This is reasonable, given that their motivation is to prevent civilian casualties. But the result is that instead of a swift and direct invasion designed to crush the regime in the shortest amount of time, the regime remains intact and civilians and others continue to die. This is not simply a matter of moral squeamishness. It also reflects the fact that the nations involved are unwilling — and frequently blocked by political opposition at home — from the commitment of massive and overwhelming force. The application of minimal and insufficient force, combined with the unwillingness of people like Gadhafi and his equally guilty supporters to face The Hague, creates the framework for a long and inconclusive war in which the intervention in favor of humanitarian considerations turns into an intervention in a civil war on the side that opposes the regime.

This, then, turns into the problem that the virtue of the weaker side may consist only of its weakness. In other words, strengthened by foreign intervention that clears their way to power, they might well turn out just as brutal as the regime they were fighting. It should be remembered that many of Libya’s opposition leaders are former senior officials of the Gadhafi government. They did not survive as long as they did in that regime without having themselves committed crimes, and without being prepared to commit more.

In that case, the intervention — less and less immaculate — becomes an exercise in nation-building. Having destroyed the Gadhafi government and created a vacuum in Libya and being unwilling to hand power to Gadhafi’s former aides and now enemies, the intervention — now turning into an occupation— must now invent a new government. An invented government is rarely welcome, as the United States discovered in Iraq. At least some of the people resent being occupied regardless of the occupier’s original intentions, leading to insurgency. At some point, the interveners have the choice of walking away and leaving chaos, as the United States did in Somalia, or staying for a long time and fighting, as they did in Iraq.

Iraq is an interesting example. The United States posed a series of justifications for its invasion of Iraq, including simply that Saddam Hussein was an amoral monster who had killed hundreds of thousands and would kill more. It is difficult to choose between Hussein and Gadhafi. Regardless of the United States’ other motivations in both conflicts, it would seem that those who favor humanitarian intervention would have favored the Iraq war. That they generally opposed the Iraq war from the beginning requires a return to the concept of immaculate intervention.

Hussein was a war criminal and a danger to his people. However, the American justification for intervention was not immaculate. It had multiple reasons, only one of which was humanitarian. Others explicitly had to do with national interest, the claims of nuclear weapons in Iraq and the desire to reshape Iraq. That it also had a humanitarian outcome — the destruction of the Hussein regime — made the American intervention inappropriate in the view of those who favor immaculate interventions for two reasons. First, the humanitarian outcome was intended as part of a broader war. Second, regardless of the fact that humanitarian interventions almost always result in regime change, the explicit intention to usurp Iraq’s national self-determination openly undermined in principle what the humanitarian interveners wanted to undermine only in practice.

 

Other Considerations

 

The point here is not simply that humanitarian interventions tend to devolve into occupations of countries, albeit more slowly and with more complex rhetoric. It is also that for the humanitarian warrior, there are other political considerations. In the case of the French, the contrast between their absolute opposition to Iraq and their aggressive desire to intervene in Libya needs to be explained. I suspect it will not be.

There has been much speculation that the intervention in Libya was about oil. All such interventions, such as those in Kosovo and Haiti, are examined for hidden purposes. Perhaps it was about oil in this case, but Gadhafi was happily shipping oil to Europe, so intervening to ensure that it continues makes no sense. Some say France’s Total and Britain’s BP engineered the war to displace Italy’s ENI in running the oil fields. While possible, these oil companies are no more popular at home than oil companies are anywhere in the world. The blowback in France or Britain if this were shown to be the real reason would almost certainly cost French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron their jobs, and they are much too fond of those to risk them for oil companies. I am reminded that people kept asserting that the 2003 Iraq invasion was designed to seize Iraq’s oil for Texas oilmen. If so, it is taking a long time to pay off. Sometimes the lack of a persuasive reason for a war generates theories to fill the vacuum. In all humanitarian wars, there is a belief that the war could not be about humanitarian matters.

Therein lays the dilemma of humanitarian wars. They have a tendency to go far beyond the original intent behind them, as the interveners, trapped in the logic of humanitarian war, are drawn further in. Over time, the ideological zeal frays and the lack of national interest saps the intervener’s will. It is interesting that some of the interventions that bought with them the most good were carried out without any concern for the local population and with ruthless self-interest. I think of Rome and Britain. They were in it for themselves. They did some good incidentally.

My unease with humanitarian intervention is not that I don’t think the intent is good and the end moral. It is that the intent frequently gets lost and the moral end is not achieved. Ideology, like passion, fades. But interest has a certain enduring quality. A doctrine of humanitarian warfare that demands an immaculate intervention will fail because the desire to do good is an insufficient basis for war. It does not provide a rigorous military strategy to what is, after all, a war. Neither does it bind a nation’s public to the burdens of the intervention. In the end, the ultimate dishonesties of humanitarian war are the claims that “this won’t hurt much” and “it will be over fast.” In my view, their outcome is usually either a withdrawal without having done much good or a long occupation in which the occupied people are singularly ungrateful.

North Africa is no place for casual war plans and good intentions. It is an old, tough place. If you must go in, go in heavy, go in hard and get out fast. Humanitarian warfare says that you go in light, you go in soft and you stay there long. I have no quarrel with humanitarianism. It is the way the doctrine wages war that concerns me. Getting rid of Gadhafi is something we can all feel good about and which Europe and America can afford. It is the aftermath — the place beyond the immaculate intervention — that concerns me.

Immaculate Intervention: The Wars of Humanitarianism is republished with permission of STRATFOR.

Photo credit: Sgt. Pete Thibodeau, Public Domain.

Japan, the Persian Gulf and Energy

y George Friedman

Over the past week, everything seemed to converge on energy. The unrest in the Persian Gulf raised the specter of the disruption of oil supplies to the rest of the world, and an earthquake in Japan knocked out a string of nuclear reactors with potentially devastating effect. Japan depends on nuclear energy and it depends on the Persian Gulf, which is where it gets most of its oil. It was, therefore, a profoundly bad week for Japan, not only because of the extensive damage and human suffering but also because Japan was being shown that it can’t readily escape the realities of geography.

Japan is the world’s third-largest economy, a bit behind China now. It is also the third-largest industrial economy, behind only the United States and China. Japan’s problem is that its enormous industrial plant is built in a country almost totally devoid of mineral resources. It must import virtually all of the metals and energy that it uses to manufacture industrial products. It maintains stockpiles, but should those stockpiles be depleted and no new imports arrive, Japan stops being an industrial power.

 

The Geography of Oil

 

There are multiple sources for many of the metals Japan imports, so that if supplies stop flowing from one place it can get them from other places. The geography of oil is more limited. In order to access the amount of oil Japan needs, the only place to get it is the Persian Gulf. There are other places to get some of what Japan needs, but it cannot do without the Persian Gulf for its oil.

This past week, we saw that this was a potentially vulnerable source. The unrest that swept the western littoral of the Arabian Peninsula and the ongoing tension between the Saudis and Iranians, as well as the tension between Iran and the United States, raised the possibility of disruptions. The geography of the Persian Gulf is extraordinary. It is a narrow body of water opening into a narrow channel through the Strait of Hormuz. Any diminution of the flow from any source in the region, let alone the complete closure of the Strait of Hormuz, would have profound implications for the global economy.

For Japan it could mean more than higher prices. It could mean being unable to secure the amount of oil needed at any price. The movement of tankers, the limits on port facilities and long-term contracts that commit oil to other places could make it impossible for Japan to physically secure the oil it needs to run its industrial plant. On an extended basis, this would draw down reserves and constrain Japan’s economy dramatically. And, obviously, when the world’s third-largest industrial plant drastically slows, the impact on the global supply chain is both dramatic and complex.

In 1973, the Arab countries imposed an oil embargo on the world. Japan, entirely dependent on imported oil, was hit not only by high prices but also by the fact that it could not obtain enough fuel to keep going. While the embargo lasted only five months, the oil shock, as the Japanese called it, threatened Japan’s industrial capability and shocked it into remembering its vulnerability. Japan relied on the United States to guarantee its oil supplies. The realization that the United States couldn’t guarantee those supplies created a political crisis parallel to the economic one. It is one reason the Japanese are hypersensitive to events in the Persian Gulf and to the security of the supply lines running out of the region.

Regardless of other supplies, Japan will always import nearly 100 percent of its oil from other countries. If it cuts its consumption by 90 percent, it still imports nearly 100 percent of its oil. And to the extent that the Japanese economy requires oil — which it does — it is highly vulnerable to events in the Persian Gulf.

It is to mitigate the risk of oil dependency — which cannot be eliminated altogether by any means — that Japan employs two alternative fuels: It is the world’s largest importer of seaborne coal, and it has become the third-largest producer of electricity from nuclear reactors, ranking after the United States and France in total amount produced. One-third of its electricity production comes from nuclear power plants. Nuclear power was critical to both Japan’s industrial and national security strategy. It did not make Japan self-sufficient, since it needed to import coal and nuclear fuel, but access to these resources made it dependent on countries like Australia, which does not have choke points like Hormuz.

It is in this context that we need to understand the Japanese prime minister’s statement that Japan was facing its worst crisis since World War II. First, the earthquake and the resulting damage to several of Japan’s nuclear reactors created a long-term regional energy shortage in Japan that, along with the other damage caused by the earthquake, would certainly affect the economy. But the events in the Persian Gulf also raised the 1973 nightmare scenario for the Japanese. Depending how events evolved, the Japanese pipeline from the Persian Gulf could be threatened in a way that it had not been since 1973. Combined with the failure of several nuclear reactors, the Japanese economy is at risk.

The comparison with World War II was apt since it also began, in a way, with an energy crisis. The Japanese had invaded China, and after the fall of the Netherlands (which controlled today’s Indonesia) and France (which controlled Indochina), Japan was concerned about agreements with France and the Netherlands continuing to be honored. Indochina supplied Japan with tin and rubber, among other raw materials. The Netherlands East Indies supplied oil. When the Japanese invaded Indochina, the United States both cut off oil shipments from the United States and started buying up oil from the Netherlands East Indies to keep Japan from getting it. The Japanese were faced with the collapse of their economy or war with the United States. They chose Pearl Harbor.

Today’s situation is in no way comparable to what happened in 1941 except for the core geopolitical reality. Japan is dependent on imports of raw materials and particularly oil. Anything that interferes with the flow of oil creates a crisis in Japan. Anything that risks a cutoff makes Japan uneasy. Add an earthquake destroying part of its energy-producing plant and you force Japan into a profound internal crisis. However, it is essential to understand what energy has meant to Japan historically — miscalculation about it led to national disaster and access to it remains Japan’s psychological as well as physical pivot.

 

Japan’s Nuclear Safety Net

 

Japan is still struggling with the consequences of its economic meltdown in the early 1990s. Rapid growth with low rates of return on capital created a massive financial crisis. Rather than allow a recession to force a wave of bankruptcies and unemployment, the Japanese sought to maintain their tradition of lifetime employment. To do that Japan had to keep interest rates extremely low and accept little or no economic growth. It achieved its goal, relatively low unemployment, but at the cost of a large debt burden and a long-term sluggish economy.

The Japanese were beginning to struggle with the question of what would come after a generation of economic stagnation and full employment. They had clearly not yet defined a path, although there was some recognition that a generation’s economic reality could not sustain itself. The changes that Japan would face were going to be wrenching, and even under the best of circumstances, they would be politically difficult to manage. Suddenly, Japan is not facing the best of circumstances.

It is not yet clear how devastating the nuclear-reactor damage will prove to be, but the situation appears to be worsening. What is clear is that the potential crisis in the Persian Gulf, the loss of nuclear reactors and the rising radiation levels will undermine the confidence of the Japanese. Beyond the human toll, these reactors were Japan’s hedge against an unpredictable world. They gave it control of a substantial amount of its energy production. Even if the Japanese still had to import coal and oil, there at least a part of their energy structure was largely under their own control and secure. Japan’s nuclear power sector seemed invulnerable, which no other part of its energy infrastructure was. For Japan, a country that went to war with the United States over energy in 1941 and was devastated as a result, this was no small thing. Japan had a safety net.

The safety net was psychological as much as anything. The destruction of a series of nuclear reactors not only creates energy shortages and fear of radiation; it also drives home the profound and very real vulnerability underlying all of Japan’s success. Japan does not control the source of its oil, it does not control the sea lanes over which coal and other minerals travel, and it cannot be certain that its nuclear reactors will not suddenly be destroyed. To the extent that economics and politics are psychological, this is a huge blow. Japan lives in constant danger, both from nature and from geopolitics. What the earthquake drove home was just how profound and how dangerous Japan’s world is. It is difficult to imagine another industrial economy as inherently insecure as Japan’s. The earthquake will impose many economic constraints on Japan that will significantly complicate its emergence from its post-boom economy, but one important question is the impact on the political system. Since World War II, Japan has coped with its vulnerability by avoiding international entanglements and relying on its relationship with the United States. It sometimes wondered whether the United States, with its sometimes-unpredictable military operations, was more of a danger than a guarantor, but its policy remained intact.

It is not the loss of the reactors that will shake Japan the most but the loss of the certainty that the reactors were their path to some degree of safety, along with the added burden on the economy. The question is how the political system will respond. In dealing with the Persian Gulf, will Japan continue to follow the American lead or will it decide to take a greater degree of control and follow its own path? The likelihood is that a shaken self-confidence will make Japan more cautious and even more vulnerable. But it is interesting to look at Japanese history and realize that sometimes, and not always predictably, Japan takes insecurity as a goad to self-assertion.

This was no ordinary earthquake in magnitude or in the potential impact on Japan’s view of the world. The earthquake shook a lot of pieces loose, not the least of which were in the Japanese psyche. Japan has tried to convince itself that it had provided a measure of security with nuclear plants and an alliance with the United States. Given the earthquake and situation in the Persian Gulf, recalculation is in order. But Japan is a country that has avoided recalculation for a long time. The question now is whether the extraordinary vulnerability exposed by the quake will be powerful enough to shake Japan into recalculating its long-standing political system.

Japan, the Persian Gulf and Energy is republished with permission of STRATFOR.

Crisis Point: Iran and the Saudi's Countermove on Bahrain

By George Friedman

Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition force into Bahrain to help the government calm the unrest there. This move puts Iran in a difficult position, as Tehran had hoped to use the uprising in Bahrain to promote instability in the Persian Gulf region. Iran could refrain from acting and lose an opportunity to destabilize the region, or it could choose from several other options that do not seem particularly effective.

The Bahrain uprising consists of two parts, as all revolutions do. The first is genuine grievances by the majority Shiite population — the local issues and divisions. The second is the interests of foreign powers in Bahrain. It is not one or the other. It is both.

The Iranians clearly benefit from an uprising in Bahrain. It places the U.S. 5th Fleet’s basing in jeopardy, puts the United States in a difficult position and threatens the stability of other Persian Gulf Arab states. For the Iranians, the uprisings in North Africa and their spread to the Arabian Peninsula represent a golden opportunity for pursuing their long-standing interest (going back to the Shah and beyond) of dominating the Gulf.

The Iranians are accustomed to being able to use their covert capabilities to shape the political realities in countries. They did this effectively in Iraq and are doing it in Afghanistan. They regarded this as low risk and high reward. The Saudis, recognizing that this posed a fundamental risk to their regime and consulting with the Americans, have led a coalition force into Bahrain to halt the uprising and save the regime. Pressed by covert forces, they were forced into an overt action they were clearly reluctant to take.

We are now off the map, so to speak. The question is how the Iranians respond, and there is every reason to think that they do not know. They probably did not expect a direct military move by the Saudis, given that the Saudis prefer to act more quietly themselves. The Iranians wanted to destabilize without triggering a strong response, but they were sufficiently successful in using local issues that the Saudis felt they had no choice in the matter. It is Iran’s move.

If Iran simply does nothing, then the wave that has been moving in its favor might be stopped and reversed. They could lose a historic opportunity. At the same time, the door remains open in Iraq, and that is the main prize here. They might simply accept the reversal and pursue their main line. But even there things are murky. There are rumors in Washington that U.S. President Barack Obama has decided to slow down, halt or even reverse the withdrawal from Iraq. Rumors are merely rumors, but these make sense. Completing the withdrawal now would tilt the balance in Iraq to Iran, a strategic disaster.

Therefore, the Iranians are facing a counter-offensive that threatens the project they have been pursuing for years just when it appeared to be coming to fruition. Of course, it is just before a project succeeds that opposition mobilizes, so they should not be surprised that resistance has grown so strong. But surprised or not, they now have a strategic decision to make and not very long to make it.

They can up the ante by increasing resistance in Bahrain and forcing fighting on the ground. It is not clear that the Bahraini opposition is prepared to take that risk on behalf of Iran, but it is a potential option. They have the option of trying to increase unrest elsewhere in order to spread the Saudi and Gulf Cooperation Council forces, weakening their impact. It is not clear how much leverage the Iranians have in other countries. The Iranians could try to create problems in Saudi Arabia, but given the Saudis’ actions in Bahrain, this becomes more difficult.

Finally, they can attempt an overt intervention, either in Bahrain or elsewhere, such as Iraq or Afghanistan. A naval movement against Bahrain is not impossible, but if the U.S. Navy intervenes, which it likely would, it would be a disaster for the Iranians. Operations in Iraq or Afghanistan might be more fruitful. It is possible that Shiite insurgents will operate in Iraq, but that would guarantee a halt of the U.S. withdrawal without clearly increasing the Iranians’ advantage there. They want U.S. forces to leave, not give them a reason to stay.

There is then the indirect option, which is to trigger a war with Israel. The killings in the West Bank and Israeli concerns about Hezbollah might be some of Iran’s doing, with the emphasis on “might.” But it is not clear how a Hezbollah confrontation with Israel would help Iran’s position relative to Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf. It diverts attention, but the Saudis know the stakes and they will not be easily diverted.

The logic, therefore, is that Iran retreats and waits. But the Saudi move shifts the flow of events, and time is not on Iran’s side.

There is also the domestic Iranian political situation to consider. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been strong in part because of his successful handling of foreign policy. The massive failure of a destabilization plan would give his political opponents the ammunition needed to weaken him domestically. We do not mean a democratic revolution in Iran, but his 

enemies among the clergy who see him as a threat to their position, and hard-liners in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps who want an even more aggressive stand.

Ahmadinejad finds himself in a difficult position. The Saudis have moved decisively. If he does nothing, his position can unravel and with it his domestic political strength. Yet none of the counters he might use seem effective or workable. In the end, his best option is to create a crisis in Iraq, forcing the United States to consider how deeply it wants to be drawn back into Iraq. He might find weakness there that he can translate into some sort of political deal.

At the moment we suspect the Iranians do not know how they will respond. The first issue will have to be determining whether they can create violent resistance to the Saudis in Bahrain, to both tie them down and increase the cost of occupation. It is simply unclear whether the Bahrainis are prepared to pay the price. The opposition does seem to want fundamental change in Bahrain, but it is not clear that they have reached the point where they are prepared to resist and die en masse.

That is undoubtedly what the Iranians are exploring now. If they find that this is not an option, then none of their other options are particularly good. All of them involve risk and difficulty. It also requires that Iran commit itself to confrontations that it has tried to avoid. It prefers covert action that is deniable to overt action that is not.

As we move into the evening, we expect the Iranians are in intense discussions of their next move. Domestic politics are affecting regional strategy, as would be the case in any country. But the clear roadmap the Iranians were working from has now collapsed. The Saudis have called their hand, and they are trying to find out if they have a real or a busted flush. They will have to act quickly before the Saudi action simply becomes a solid reality. But it is not clear what they can do quickly. For the moment, the Saudis have the upper hand. But the Iranians are clever and tenacious. There are no predictions possible. We doubt even the Iranians know what they will do.

Iran and the Saudis’ Countermove on Bahrain,” Republished with permission from STRATFOR.

Saudi Arabia intervenes in Bahrain

Reports emerged on March 14 that forces from Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries will enter Bahrain to help the Bahraini regime quell unrest. The report was published by Bahraini Alyam Newspaper (known for its close links with the ruling al-Khalifa family), and came one day after clashes occurred between Shiite protesters and police in the capital, Manama. Troops from United Arab Emirates are reportedly expected to arrive in Bahrain March 14. Al Arabiya reported that Saudi forces have already entered Bahrain, but these claims have yet to be officially confirmed by the Bahraini regime. The only announcement so far came from Nabil al-Hamar, the former information minister and adviser to the royal family, who has written on Twitter that the Arab forces arrived in Bahrain. An unnamed Saudi official also said on March 14 that more than 1,000 Saudi troops from the Shield of Island entered Bahrain on late March 13, al-Quds reported, citing AFP. Meanwhile, Bahraini State News Agency reported that The Independent Bloc (a parliamentary bloc of the Bahraini parliament) asked Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa to enforce martial law to contain the unrest.

Read the full alert at Stratfor

Bahrain is more important than Libya

STRATFOR warns that Bahrain is far more important than the conditions in Libya:

“Libya is spiraling out of control and dominating the media. But there’s unrest in lesser-known places that is strategically more important.

Bahrain intersects Iranian-Saudi competition and the possibility for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. If the situation in Bahrain gets out of hand, the U.S. could lose a base for its 5th Fleet; Saudi Arabia’s Shiite minority could follow suit with their own protests; the Iranian-Saudi balance in the region would teeter heavily toward Iran…does this small country have your attention now?”

CCTV news recap on demonstrations in the Middle East: