Trump’s Bahrain mo­ment

Meet­ing with King Ha­mad of Bahrain would send a warn­ing to en­e­mies in the Mid­dle East

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By S. Rob Sob­hani S. Rob Sob­hani is the CEO of Caspian Group Hold­ings.

When Pres­i­den­t­elect Trump looks to the broader Mid­dle East for al­lies he will find no leader more re­li­able and trust­wor­thy than King Ha­mad bin Isa Al-Khal­ifa. This 66-year old is the re­form-minded leader of Bahrain, an enor­mously im­por­tant coun­try to the United States si­t­u­ated in the en­ergy rich Per­sian Gulf.

This is­land na­tion of one mil­lion has cer­tain unique cul­tural, eco­nomic and geo-po­lit­i­cal fea­tures that de­serve the next ad­min­is­tra­tion’s im­me­di­ate at­ten­tion. Mr. Trump and his for­eign pol­icy team should un­equiv­o­cally and whole­heart­edly em­brace Bahrain and its monarch.

The first point to keep in mind when think­ing of U.S.-Bahrain re­la­tions is our shared value of re­li­gious free­dom. In­deed, a ma­jor fea­ture of Bahrain’s na­tional cul­ture is re­li­gious tol­er­ance. For ex­am­ple, Bahrain is home to a vi­brant Jewish com­mu­nity and in fact King Ha­mad took a his­toric step in 2008 when he se­lected a mem­ber of the Bahrain’s Jewish com­mu­nity to be­come the first fe­male am­bas­sador to Washington from the Mus­lim world. Un­like most other Mus­lim coun­tries, Chris­tians, Jews, Ba­hais and Hin­dus live side by side in peace and har­mony in Bahrain. Even when the Ira­nian regime tries to un­der­mine Bahrain’s sta­bil­ity by high­light­ing the Sunni-Shi­ite di­vide, King Ha­mad has risen above this sec­tar­i­an­ism by em­pha­siz­ing the one­ness of all faiths. When Mr. Trump looks around the Mus­lim world for a model of re­li­gious free­dom Bahrain is one coun­try he can point to.

The sec­ond point that makes Bahrain unique is that it shares Washington’s goal of un­in­ter­rupted flow of oil and gas from the Per­sian Gulf to in­ter­na­tional mar­kets. To­day, the free flow of oil and gas across Bahrain’s wa­ter­way plays a crit­i­cal role in Western en­ergy se­cu­rity. Un­like Iran’s Supreme Leader Ay­a­tol­lah Khamenei, who has threat­ened to close down the Per­sian Gulf on nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions, Bahrain’s re­spon­si­ble and re­li­able king has been a con­sis­tent cham­pion of keep­ing these strate­gic wa­ter­ways open. Not sur­pris­ingly, for­mer Chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Wil­liam J. Crowe once re­ferred to Bahrain in the fol­low­ing terms: “Pound for pound, Bahrain has been and con­tin­ues to be Amer­ica’s best friend in the re­gion.”

A third point the new ad­min­is­tra­tion should con­sider is that Mr. Trump will meet nu­mer­ous world lead­ers over the next four years but none will come close to be­ing a truer part­ner of Washington than King Ha­mad. Im­me­di­ately af­ter the ter­ror­ist at­tacks of 9/11 on Amer­ica, King Ha­mad pledged his coun­try’s full sup­port and co­op­er­a­tion. In fact, the Bahraini monarch has gone out of his way to ac­com­mo­date Washington’s mil­i­tary ob­jec­tives in the re­gion by not only giv­ing full sup­port to the sta­tion­ing of the U.S. Fifth Fleet in Bahrain but al­low­ing its ex­pan­sion. This sin­gle act of courage and friend­ship has en­hanced Amer­ica’s na­tional se­cu­rity in­ter­ests in the volatile Mid­dle East. In a dan­ger­ous world that Mr. Trump is about to in­herit, hav­ing an ally like King Ha­mad who is re­li­able and trust­wor­thy is es­sen­tial.

The im­me­di­ate steps that Mr. Trump’s for­eign pol­icy team must make as it con­cerns Bahrain are the fol­low­ing. First, in­vite King Ha­mad to the White House for a work­ing visit with Pres­i­dent Trump. Be­yond get­ting a sense of the geopo­lit­i­cal chal­lenges fac­ing the broader Mid­dle East and a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of what ails the Mid­dle East from King Ha­mad, this meet­ing would send a strong sig­nal to the regime in Tehran that a “new sher­iff is in town” and that Washington will from this day for­ward em­brace those coun­tries like Bahrain who share our val­ues and geopo­lit­i­cal goals.

Fur­ther­more, a Trump-Ha­mad meet­ing would send a pos­i­tive mes­sage to those anx­ious about Mr. Trump’s feel­ings to­ward Is­lam in gen­eral and the Mus­lim world that Mr. Trump val­ues Amer­ica’s al­liances with those Mus­lim coun­tries that put a premium on re­li­gious tol­er­ance. In a world where Is­lamic ex­trem­ists are dom­i­nat­ing the head­lines, Mr. Trump can show­case to other Mus­lim coun­tries that Bahrain is the model and way for­ward. While it is im­por­tant for the new ad­min­is­tra­tion to ac­cen­tu­ate the pos­i­tive in its re­la­tions with Bahrain, it is also im­por­tant to em­pha­size to the monarch that the rights of in­di­vid­ual jour­nal­ists and op­po­si­tion fig­ures should be re­spected.

The pres­i­dent-elect’s eco­nomic team can ask that Bahrain’s sov­er­eign wealth fund part­ner with Amer­i­can con­struc­tion com­pa­nies to in­vest in in­fra­struc­ture projects in the United States. This po­ten­tial U.S-Bahrain in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ment based on a pri­vate-pub­lic part­ner­ship model could be­come a means for other sov­er­eign wealth funds like those of Nor­way, Sin­ga­pore and Abu Dhabi to part­ner with Amer­i­can com­pa­nies for the win-win propo­si­tion of mak­ing a fair re­turn on their in­vest­ment and build­ing Amer­ica’s 21st-cen­tury roads and bridges.

Fi­nally, Mr. Trump should ask his De­fense sec­re­tary to make his first port of call Bahrain and the U.S. Fifth Fleet. Re­tired Marine Gen. James Mat­tis has called the Ira­nian regime “the sin­gle most en­dur­ing threat to the sta­bil­ity and peace of the Mid­dle East.” His visit to Bahrain would send a very strong and clear mes­sage to both our friends and en­e­mies in the re­gion.

In the in­ter­est of Amer­i­can na­tional se­cu­rity, it is im­per­a­tive that im­me­di­ately af­ter be­ing sworn into of­fice Pres­i­dent Trump meet with King Ha­mad of Bahrain.

ILLUSTRATION BY GREG GROESCH

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