U.S. military interests could suffer

National Post
By Peter Goodspeed
February 15, 2011

Could the tiny Persian Gulf island state of Bahrain be the next U.S. diplomatic domino to fall in a rapidly changing Middle East?

As riot police in Bahrain attacked hundreds of pro-democracy demonstrators Monday with tear gas, rubber bullets and concussion grenades, U.S. strategic interests in the Gulf appeared poised to receive yet another battering from the revolutionary wave that is sweeping the Arab world. …

There are concerns large-scale Shiite unrest in Bahrain might encourage similar protests among Saudi Arabia’s Shiite minority. But perhaps the biggest impact of any Shiite uprising would be renewed calls to end the significant U.S. military presence in Bahrain.

The tiny oil-producing state just off the east coast of Saudi Arabia is home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, headquarters for a U.S. Marine Corps amphibious unit and a crucial base for U.S. Air Force jet fighter interceptors and spy planes. …

In the 1990s, the U.S. presence was renewed and expanded as a result of the First Gulf War. The Fifth Fleet, with 15 warships and an aircraft carrier battle group, has made Bahrain its headquarters since 1991.

Still, the U.S. military presence has always been a sore point in the emirate’s tumultuous politics …

Washington would find it difficult to threaten Iran or to enforce international sanctions against Tehran’s nuclear program without its bases in Bahrain.

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