"At times our friends in the region," said President Barack Obama in his recent Middle East speech, "have not all reacted to the demands for consistent change -- with change that’s consistent with [democratic] principles." He mentioned Bahrain as a country in the region where this has happened.
Bahrain is a longstanding partner, and the United States is committed to its security. It is clear that Iran has tried to take advantage of the turmoil there, and that the Bahraini government has a legitimate interest in the rule of law.
Nevertheless, said President Obama, "We have insisted both publicly and privately that mass arrests and brute force are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain’s citizens, and such steps will not make legitimate calls for reform go away. The only way forward is for the government and opposition to engage in a dialogue, and you can’t have a real dialogue," said President Obama, "when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail. The government must create the conditions for dialogue, and the opposition must participate to forge a just future for all Bahrainis."
Indeed, one of the broader lessons to be drawn from this period, said President Obama, is that sectarian divides need not lead to conflict. In Iraq, we see the promise of a multiethnic, multisectarian democracy. The Iraqi people have rejected political violence in favor of a democratic process, even as they’ve taken full responsibility for their own security. Of course, like all new democracies, they will face setbacks. But Iraq is poised to play a key role in the region if it continues its peaceful progress. And as they do, the United States will be proud to stand with them as a steadfast partner.
So in the months ahead, America will use all its influence to encourage reform in the region, including in Bahrain. Even as the United States acknowledges that each country is different, America needs to speak honestly about the principles that it believes in, with friend and foe alike. "Our message," said President Obama, "is simple: If you take the risks that reform entails, you will have the full support of the United States."