Arguably, the most important U.S. strategic base in the heart of the Middle East lies in the small island country of Bahrain. Over the past two years, Bahrain has seen dramatic increases in Shia Muslim sectarian protests and political unrest resulting from a lack of democratic reforms with the ruling Al-Khalifa family. To date, the Bahraini government has controlled the protests, sometimes harshly.
In view of the ongoing political unrest, the possibility of losing strategic basing rights in Bahrain is something that should be carefully considered. Unfortunately, military leaders state there is no “Plan B” if strategic basing in Bahrain is jeopardized.
While losing Bahrain is not a foregone conclusion, it remains a distinct possibility. The absence of a U.S. presence could potentially create a power vacuum, destabilize the region, and eliminate the moderating effect of U.S. influence in any Bahraini crisis. Therefore, the United States must investigate viable alternatives as a hedge strategy.
The objective of this kind of [safe zones] project may be described as fundamentally humanitarian, but the reality is that any number of parties, starting with the Assad regime and the Islamic State, are going to see it as a threat, and that’s going to make it a target instead of a safe place.