As the crackdown accelerates in Bahrain, both in violence and scope, we should consider that country the first example of a moderate Arab nation adopting the Qaddafi model. Rather than undercut protests with pre-emptive reform, Bahrain’s king, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, learned an important lesson from events in Libya: use mercenaries, crack down hard on opposition, and ignore Western protests, because the United States and its allies are paper tigers. Obama is all about empty rhetoric, and his discussion of multilateralism is just an elaborate way to explain inaction.
What’s next? The United States might have interceded in favor of limited, symbolic monarchy, but now Bahrain will be ever more a police state. Police states are failed models of stability and rotten foundations on which to base America’s national security. President Obama’s dawdling will convince the Bahraini Shiites, many of whom resented Iran, that Iranian protection is their only hope. Saddam Hussein famously expelled thousands of Iraqi Shiites to Iran in an effort to change the demographic balance; let’s hope that Sheikh Khalifa won’t now try the same strategy.