Nick Kristof decries the violence against protestors in Bahrain, and laments:
This slide toward radicalization and violence was unnecessary. The king could have met some of the protesters’ demands – such as fire the prime minister and move to a Jordanian- or Moroccan-style constitutional monarchy. Most protesters would have accepted such a compromise. Instead, the royal family talked about dialogue but didn’t make meaningful concessions, and the security forces remain almost as brutal as any in the region.
Regime change in Bahrain would almost certainly benefit the Islamic Republic of Iran (which occasionally makes noises about conquering the island nation), so reforms that would bolster the regime by liberalizing it would be a huge boon. Bahrain already has the structural trappings of democracy in place, so the sort of reforms that Kristof is talking about aren’t at all far-fetched. The US should have had some influence here (this is a close alliance — the 5th Fleet has been based in Bahrain since the end of World War II). So why hasn’t the King of Bahrain moved toward liberalizing when it would be in both his interest and ours? I suspect we won’t know until memoirists and historians sort it out years from now, but my guess is that the incompetence of American diplomats — and their bosses — might have played a role.