What’s Wrong with Susan Rice’s Tweets
U.S. condemns bloodshed in Syria as it funds violent crackdown in Bahrain
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice could barely contain her outrage in a series of tweets following China and Russia’s veto of a Security Council resolution condemning Syria President Bashar al-Assad’s use of force against protestors:
The ruthless violence used against peaceful protestors in Syria is deplorable—but Rice’s righteous indignation becomes farcical if one considers her bosses’ decidedly different approach to the violent suppression of protests in Bahrain.
As Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin first reported on January 27, the Obama administration is using a legal loophole to bypass Congress and push forward an arms deal with the Bahraini government, which continues to violently put down peaceful protests that erupted about a year ago. A more than $53 million deal was blocked in October due to strong opposition by human rights groups and some members of Congress. But that hasn’t stopped the State Department from getting creative in order to sell arms to the tiny Gulf monarchy that hosts the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
As Rogin writes in his article:
The State Department has not released details of the new sale, and Congress has not been notified through the regular process, which requires posting the information on the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) website. The State Department simply briefed a few congressional offices and is going ahead with the new sale, arguing it didn’t meet the threshold that would require more formal notifications and a public explanation.
Our congressional sources said that State is using a legal loophole to avoid formally notifying Congress and the public about the new arms sale. The administration can sell anything to anyone without formal notification if the sale is under $1 million. If the total package is over $1 million, State can treat each item as an individual sale, creating multiple sales of less than $1 million and avoiding the burden of notification, which would allow Congress to object and possibly block the deal.
The State Department eventually issued a statement insisting that “none of these items can be used against protestors” and that “this isn’t a new sale nor are we using a legal loophole. The items that we briefed to Congress were notified and cleared by the Hill previously or are not large enough to require Congressional notification. In fact, we’ve gone above and beyond what is legally or customarily required by consulting with Congressional staff on items that do not require Congressional notification.”
First off, the statement does not care to specify which items are included in the deal. Furthermore, as Salon.com‘s Justin Elliot noted, the statement also appears to contradict itself by suggesting that this “isn’t a new sale” and then referring to items that “are not large enough to require Congressional notification.” Then again, this could be taken to mean that the administration has been quietly funding Bahrain with such “small items” for an extended period of time.
While it certainly isn’t on the same level of the crackdown in Syria, King Hamad’s monarchy has responded to peaceful protests with an iron fist—jailing, torturing and killing protestors along with members of opposition groups. A host of human rights organizations—Freedom House, Amnesty International and independent Bahraini NGOs among others—have carefully documented these abuses. Just months ago, Amnesty International issued a report that documented foreign military aid for the Hamad regime, showing that from 2007-10, the U.S. sold Bahrain more than $11 million worth of weapons. Keeping this in mind, one should remark that the “stalled” $53 million deal would appear to be a significant increase after protests began.
That the United States funds violent and despotic regimes in the Middle East isn’t surprising. It’s misleading that Rice suggested otherwise in her comments that singled out China and Russia, but it’s simply outlandish that she had the gall to claim that protestors “can now clearly see who supports them, and who does not.” On the other hand, she may be on to something—Rice would just do well to talk to some of those Bahraini protestors.