Preventing Democracy and Development

Wired magazine recently reported that the U.S. Army is training the military wing of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), known as the Peninsula Shield Force. The GCC is the union of Arab states bordering the Persian Gulf, including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Wired describes the situation: “The primary, day-to-day mission of the team, known as Joint Special Operations Task Force-Gulf Cooperation Council, is to mentor military units belonging to the U.S.’s oil-rich Arab allies, who are known collectively as the GCC. Those Arab states consider Iran to be their primary foreign threat.”

“The task force provides highly trained personnel that excel in uncertain environments,” Major Rob Bock- holt, a spokesperson for special- operations forces in the Mideast, tells Wired, and “seeks to confront irregular threats.” The U.S. military has not previously acknowledged the existence of the team, known as JSOTF-GCC for short.

While the Wired article largely attributes the training of this force to the threat the gulf Arab leaders perceive from the Iranian government, this claim is neither supported by the force’s historical role nor its capabilities. For example, the Peninsula Shield Force played no military role during Saddam Hussein’s invasion of GCC member state Kuwait in the 1990s and the subsequent war which expelled Iraqi troops. In any confrontation, the lightly armed Peninsula Shield Force would be far less capable of engaging the Iranian military than the U.S. Navy, which has a massive presence in Bahrain, a GCC member stated.

A clearer picture of the purpose of the Peninsula Shield Force can be determined by reviewing its role just under a year ago, during the height of the Arab Spring uprisings. At the time, there were burgeoning pro-democracy movements protesting in Bahrain and facing off against its security forces.

After the success of Egyptian activists in ousting dictator Hosni Mubarak, reports surfaced of Bahraini security forces refusing to fire on demonstrators gathered at the Pearl Roundabout (Bahrain’s equivalent to Egypt’s Tahrir Square). In Shouting in the Dark (Aljazeera’s moving documentary about the Bahrain uprising available on YouTube), the reporter described this moment of euphoria among the protestors:

  • Aljazeera Reporter: “They had won nothing more than the right to a sit-in protest. But to them that seemed the entire world. They had staked a claim to a few square meters of Bahrain.”
  • Unidentified Protestor at Pearl Roundabout: “The Pearl Roundabout holds a very big symbol to all Bahraini people over here. It gives them hope for victory.”
  • Second Protestor at Pearl Roundabout:“We came here peacefully. We are asking for our minimum basic rights in this country as a human being.”
  • Third Protestor at Pearl Roundabout: “We are free. And we will stay here forever. We will stay here forever because it is our country.”

In their response, the Bahrain dictators called on the Peninsula Shield Force to invade the country and violently remove the protestors. The Peninsula Shield Force was selected because its soldiers were mainly from Saudi Arabia. It was hoped that, unlike the Bahraini security forces, GCC troops would willingly fire on the peaceful protestors.

India’s national newspaper, The Hindu, reported on the crackdown: “The Bahraini ruler, Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, has combined a violent crackdown on pro-democracy protests with a request that Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) forces take up station in his country. About 1,000 Saudi Arabian troops, together with police from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), have moved in. The Emir has declared that a state of emergency will obtain for the next three months. There have been violent clashes between demonstrators and government forces.

Doctors have reportedly been attacked in hospital wards and six opposition leaders, including the human rights campaigner Abduljalil al- Singace, arrested. Moreover, the very nature of the confrontation is changing rapidly. Although the Saudi troops are located 20 km from the capital, Manama, protesters have called their presence an occupation which gives Bahrain’s own forces ‘a green light to kill our people’.”

Four days after the invasion, on March 14, 2011, the forces of the GCC demolished the Pearl Roundabout. The GCC’s attack against Bahrain’s pro-democracy protestors led to the death of dozens of activists and effectively ended their sit-in. Yet, the protest movement in Bahrain has continued, with reports of clashes between protestors and police even today. Perhaps this better explains why U.S. forces are currently training the GCC in “confront(ing) irregular forces” as Wired reported. It is particularly questionable that they missed this rather obvious purpose of the training, given that the same reporter covered the GCC’s invasion of Bahrain.

Campaign of Hatred

It has become an obsession during the last decade to discover why the Arab world hates the United States. The primary response often circulated in the media, has been to quote and interpret obscure passages from the Quran. But the answer was much better explained (with supporting evidence) by Noam Chomsky in an interview with CBC’s Evan Solomon: “President Eisenhower, in an internal discussion, observed to his staff, and I’m quoting now, ‘There’s a campaign of hatred against us in the Middle East, not by governments, but by the people.’ The National Security Council discussed that question and said, yes, and the reason is, there’s a perception in that region that the United States supports status quo governments, which prevent democracy and development and that we do it because of our interests in Middle East oil. Furthermore, it’s difficult to counter that perception because it’s correct.”

From that perspective, the training of the dictators’ military forces during the time of an ongoing pro-democracy movement represents yet another among a long list grievances for the people of Bahrain and the rest of the Middle East.


Poyan Nahrvar lives in Richmond Hill. This article first appeared on the Yonge Street Post.