One mess at a time

A salient fact about the US Navy anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, one of which ended the Richard Phillips hostage situation today, is that they are run from US Fifth Fleet HQ in Bahrain.  The base there is essentially a successor to a British base and it’s clearly a, shall we say, interesting part of the world in which it’s reasonable to expect that you’d need to have some naval firepower around.  But it does add to the distances in terms of projecting power into the eastern Arabian sea — the French base in Djibouti makes a lot more sense in that regard.  But perhaps a bigger concern for the Americans would be any domestic political instability in Bahrain in which their presence or ease of operation in the country might become an issue.

Hence what are likely sighs of relief in Washington DC today at news of a major amnesty program by King Hamad, specfically designed to defuse Shia tensions (in a majority Shia country), tensions which risked interacting with the impact of the financial crisis in the country.  We’ll never know for sure, but given the tendency of the people around Barack Obama’s predecessor to see everything through an Iran prism, the previous advice to the King might have been hang tough and blame Iranian saboteurs for everything.

It goes without saying that the road of squelching dissent till it blows up in your face is a well-trodden one for US foreign policy.   But in this case, with the prospects of any other country (especially in Africa) agreeing to host the US Navy probably not so good, and Bahrain thus necessary for the foreseeable future, the softer touch at home seems like strategic common sense.

8 thoughts on “One mess at a time

  1. Americans in Djibouti since at least 2003.
    http://www.esquire.com/features/africacommand0707

    Actually there are quiet a few countries in Africa that want to host AFRICOM bases. They are tired of kowtowing to South Africa, the country with the largest military there. Which is why that country was moaning and groaning when AFRICOM was announced.

    Done pontificating and imagining what Africa wants? Stick to finance.

  2. some people hate facts. they resort to ad hominem.

    here is another reason africa so loves europe:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-vazquez/on-pirates_b_186015.html
    “But it was around this same time that a more sinister, a more patronizing practice was being put in motion. A Swiss firm called Achair Parterns, and an Italian waste company called Achair Parterns, made a deal with Ali Mahdi, that they were to dump containers of waste material in Somali waters. These European companies were said to be paying Warlords about $3 a ton, whereas to properly dispose of waste in Europe costs about $1000 a ton.

    In 2004, after a tsunami washed ashore several leaking containers, thousand of locals in the Puntland region of Somalia started to complain of severe and previously unreported ailments, such as abdominal bleeding, skin melting off and a lot of immediate cancer-like symptoms. Nick Nuttall, a spokesman for the United Nations Environmental Program, says that the containers had many different kinds of waste, including “Uranium, radioactive waste, lead, Cadmium, Mercury and chemical waste.” But this wasn’t just a passing evil from one or two groups taking advantage of our unprotected waters. The UN envoy for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, says that the practice still continues to this day.”

  3. “it’s clearly a, shall we say, interesting part of the world in which it’s reasonable to expect that you’d need to have some naval firepower around.”

    Well, is it, though? Nobody in the region has more than a few frigates and a lot of corvettes and missile boats, plus the occasional diesel-electric sub. Serious naval-battle-type activity in the Gulf is really only a) mine clearance b) sub hunting or c) killing missile boats, with, of course, occasional attacks on oil tankers, oil rigs, or shore targets. It’s debatable how much good traditional blue-water “firepower” does in such an environment. Most of the fighting in the last couple of wars has been done by helicopters…

  4. ajay- a lot of what the usn does is deterrence. it is mostly keeping sea lanes open. this prevents state sponsored piracy.

    somalia doesnot have the wherewithal to police their long shoreline from within and i doubt that many nato excercises involved coordinated coast guard piracy prevention. this is going to get worse before it gets better.

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