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Friday, December 23, 2005

Bahrain and the Iranian challenge

When Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England stepped up to the podium to speak on the Bahraini National Day, I saw him as the face of the president's willingness to correct the mistakes of his first term. Mr. England -- who has spent his government career both as the secretary of the Navy and deputy secretary in the Department of Homeland Security and not as a neocon in a suit -- is known to believe that strong state relations start first by building strong personal relations. He spoke on a day in which many factors involved in bringing change to the Middle East intersected. "Tonight we celebrate the independence and freedom of Bahrain," he said. "Earlier today, the people of Iraq voted for their new government. I'm confident that in the coming years they too will find the peace, stability and success which the people of Bahrain enjoy."

It was also the day after Bahrain became the third Arab country, after Jordan and Morocco, to sign a free-trade agreement with the United States. Although the war in Iraq is a military solution, the Bush administration is trying to bolster it with economic and social elements. These free-trade agreements bring not only the military engagement, but also the U.S. civilian business engagement, to the Gulf region -- and have multiplied U.S. interests there. Regardless of the size of these economies, they stand for an important policy decision. Naturally, it raises the question of why Mr. England, Secretary of Navy, would speak on the Bahraini National Day when a free trade agreement is signed. U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman could have taken the podium. But Bahrain is a small island not far from Iran, and the majority of its almost 700,000 people are Shi'ite. Bahrain could be the next stop for an Iran looking to extend its influence. But America's increasing presence in the region is proof that the United States is determined to fight the Iranian regime -- not only to prevent its extension, but also to change it. That will happen through a combination of military and economic efforts, via these free-trade agreements. Read More....

Source: The Washington Times

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