Every so often, I get annoyed with people I generally respect. Today Matt Yglesias annoyed me, although, to be fair, it was part of a sullen-but-sensible post about Libya. He began, “So I guess I agree with Jon Chait that the fact that the U.S. isn’t using its influence over the Saudi or Bahraini governments to halt the killing of non-violent protestors there isn’t a reason to decline to intervene in Libya.”
Hmm. More and more observers are noting that Saudi Arabia has openly split with the United States and no longers considers itself a client state. We also know that President Obama effectively ordered the Bahrainis to stop shooting protestors the first time out, and that Secretary Gates told them that they would have to give parliament real power. Bahrain seemed to be following our lead until recently, when with Saudi support they reversed direction and cracked down.
Yesterday, the U.S. openly told both the Bahraini and Saudi governments that they are “on the wrong track. There is no security answer to this.” Presumably right now, a few days into the crackdown, the U.S. is considering out a menu of carrots and sticks to lay before the government in Manama. And normally we would have a lot of leverage. The problem is, with the Saudis against us, it hard to see what levers would be effective ... and it is easy to see some that would be downright counterproductive.
Obviously, he must think that there is something else besides diplomatic pressure that we can do right now that would be neither ineffective nor counterproductive. But what could that be? Honest question: from where I sit, it looks like our imperial contr ... er, influence has ebbed considerably. If that’s correct, then our best hope is to (correctly!) persuade the Bahraini monarchy that the crackdown is against their own best interest.
This sort of sullen refusal to admit the limits of American power bugs me. Matt Yglesias generally does a great job of puncturing American myths about our good-will and omnipotence. Here, though, he seems to be buying into them, but that may just be because I am missing the lever that Washington should be pulling.