It is a skill. A Stratfor analyst managed to pull it off. Nothing in the below is false, but it does disagree completely with the internal assessments of the United States chief diplomatic arm:
After Egypt, Bahrain has become the most significant place where street agitation is taking place in the Middle East. ... The country being a proxy battleground for Saudi Arabia and Iran makes it even more significant.
Pro-democracy street agitation is not a stranger to Bahrain ... what is happening is not entirely new. What makes this significant — this latest round of unrest — is that it comes in the context of the overall regional unrest that started in Tunisia and moved to Egypt ...
It’s not just the sectarian dynamic that makes the protests significant in Bahrain. There is also a wider geopolitical contest between Saudi Arabia and Iran that has been going on for several decades and, more recently, since the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq.
Since then, Saudi Arabia has been very worried about Iranian attempts to project power across the Persian Gulf into the Arabian Peninsula. And with Bahrain having a heavy Shiite population, this is a cause for concern in Saudi Arabia, as Saudi Arabia is neighbors with Bahrain and has its own 20 percent Shiite population.
From the point of view of the United States, Bahrain is also significant because it is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet. The 5th Fleet is one of the key levers that serve as a counter to Iran, or any movement on the part of Iran. It is not clear at this point to what degree Iran is involved in the uprising. There are linkages, but to what degree Iran is playing those linkages is not clear at this point. Nonetheless, it is one of those flashpoints between Shiite Iran and the largely Sunni Arab world, and Bahrain is going to be very interesting in terms of how both sides battle it out in the form of a proxy contest.
Should Bahrain succumb to unrest and the monarchy has to concede to the demands of the protesters at some point in the future, this becomes a huge concern for the security of countries like Saudi Arabia, particularly where there is a 20 percent Shiite population that has been keeping quiet for the most part, but could be emboldened, based on what they have seen in Egypt and now what they are looking at in Bahrain.
Riiight. The above analysis implies that Iran is behind the protests. It also implies that the transformation of Bahrain into a constitutional monarchy would be a de facto expansion of Iranian power. The fact that there is no evidence that Iran is behind the protests does not come into play. Nor does the fact that Bahrain receives a lot of hydrocarbon rents, and a democratic Bahrain would have as much desire to share those rents with Iran as Alberta wants to share its rents with the rest of Canada. (In 2011, the Kingdom of Bahrain expects to earn $5.1 billion from hydrocarbon production, taxes, and royalties.)
There is little doubt that if the United States washed its hands of the Gulf tomorrow, Iran would invade Bahrain the next day. As recently as 2007, Iran floated trial balloons about reactivating its historical claim to the island. And ... well ... $5.1 billion is a lot of money, maybe not for the United States, but for Iran, which has a (nominal) GDP around $335 billion and a government budget around $66 billion.
And it is true that the Saudi government has its own reasons to fear a demo-cratic Shia-dominated Bahrain. The last paragraph of the analysis is spot on.
But jumping from Iranian desires and Saudi fears to some sort of blather about a great game, with intimations that Bahraini democracy would be bad for the United States, is just silly. Moreover, it runs against the perceptions of the United States government. A democratic Bahrain under a constitutional monarchy would be just as much of a threat to the Iranian regime as it would be to Saudi Arabia. (“Look! A Shia democracy! Without an American invasion, and without the occasional car bomb!”)
Given the reality of the situation, I really don’t think there is anything more for the United States to do or say than it already is doing and saying. In short, viewing the situation through the lens of Cold War 1½ would, I think, be a mistake. Analyses like Stratfor’s are misleading without being incorrect, and in a potentially dangerous way.