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If We're Bombing Libya, Why Aren't We Bombing Bahrain?

A number of other countries are currently engaged in conflicts that meet Obama's criterion for American intervention. What's keeping us out of them?

In President Obama’s speech on Libya on Monday, he laid out a list of requirements for involvement in foreign matters in which the United States is “not directly threatened, but our interests and values are.” According to his criteria, the U.S. must intervene in nations where:

1. There is a grassroots democratic movement

2. There is a violent retaliation against that force, resulting in considerable casualties

3. The United States has a vested interest in the nation remaining stable

But Libya isn’t the only country that fits this description. Several nations have met Obama’s requirements this year alone. Here’s a quick rundown to help jog the president’s memory.


Democratic movement: Beginning their fight on January 25, Egypt’s opposition protesters asked for dictatorial President Hosni Mubarak to step down and for democratic elections to replace him.

Violent retaliation: The national army and pro-Mubarak hordes responded with a brutal crackdown. The opposing factions clashed for weeks, and the protesters eventually forced Mubarak out of office. But that wasn’t before hundreds of Egyptians had been killed and thousands injured or arrested.

U.S. interest: Egypt has close ties with Israel, America’s closest ally in the Middle East. It was also once a place where the CIA allegedly tortured people. America needs stability from Egypt more than any other state in the region.


Democratic movement: Yemenis struggle with 50 percent illiteracy and 40 percent joblessness, so it was no surprise when the country’s youth called for the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled for three decades while enriching himself wildly.

Violent retaliation: Saleh and his military are pushing back against protesters at every turn. A blast at an ammunition factory this month killed an estimated 150 people, half of whom were women and children. And all around Yemen, government loyalists have been outright killing peaceful protesters—sometimes dozens at a time.

U.S. interest: The violence has been exacerbated by the fact that Islamic militants with ties to Al Qaeda have used the distractions to begin taking over entire provinces, broadening the terrorist cell’s Middle Eastern network


Democratic movement: Autocratic Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali had been in office for 23 years before protesters demanded he leave in December 2010. While Ben Ali was building a vast fortune and storing it abroad, his citizens languished. The start of the demonstrations was the act of a young man who set himself on fire after police shut down his meager fruit cart, thus destroying his only shot at eking out a living.

Violent retaliation: It only took a month for Ben Ali to flee, but that was time enough for Tunisian security forces to kill a number of protesters, shooting some in the back as they ran scared. Tunisia also instituted a “press blackout,” making it extremely difficult for international journalists to report that police were slaughtering innocents.

U.S. interest: Though not as strategically important as Egypt, Tunisia has had a diplomatic relationship with America almost since the United States established itself as an official entity. In the ensuing years, America has devoted millions to improving the economic infrastructure of Tunisia. Also, where terrorism is concerned, Al Qaeda is looking to fill the void left by Ben Ali.


Democratic movement: Protesters in Bahrain called not only for a democratic government, but also equal rights for the majority Shiite population, who are frequently banned from holding political posts by the regime of Sunni King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

Violent retaliation: The violence has been particularly bad in Bahrain, where police have shot protesters at point blank range and fired live rounds into sleeping protesters camped in Pearl Square. What’s more, government forces are being aided by soldiers from other Sunni-governed Arab states like Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E., underscoring the cultural oppression at the core of these protests.

U.S. interest: According to a new study by the Heritage Foundation, Bahrain has the freest economy in the Middle East and North Africa, making it an important economic player for the west. And evidence suggests that Iran has funded terror cells in Bahrain, giving America ever more reason to prevent the country from falling into chaos.

Something that’s important to note when discussing American foreign policy in this way is how many nations fit the first and second criteria of Obama’s list but not the third. That is, countries where democratic movements have been violently suppressed, but where intervention has not been deemed geographically or politically significant to U.S. interests.

Chinese officials suppress democratic movements constantly—Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiabo is still in jail, for instance—but we don’t bomb them because of the economic power they hold over us. And in Africa, the former Cote d'Ivoire President Laurent Gbagbo has refused to leave office ever since losing a bid for reelection in November of last year. He’s sent troops to kill members of the opposition, and now the country is mired in a minor civil war. Alas, because Cote d’Ivoire is a poor, African nation without a strong footing in the global market, it’s strategically insignificant. If only it were situated above a vast store of natural resources.

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