The contradiction between the Obama Administration's approach to democracy and human rights in Bahrain and its policy toward other Arab nations such as Syria and Yemen is sharp.
Bahrain, a Persian Gulf kingdom of 1.2 million people, has experienced the same turmoil as other countries during the "Arab Spring." Under the country's undemocratic political structure, the estimated 70 percent of the population that is Shiite Muslim is excluded almost entirely from positions of authority. Bahrain's large population of foreign workers also has no political role.
Bahraini Shiites who demonstrated against the ruling family were tear-gassed, shot and arrested. The center of the protests, Pearl Square in the capital of Manama, was demolished. Because Bahrain's security forces risked being overwhelmed, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- also Sunni-ruled states -- sent in armed personnel. This week, eight protesters got life sentences.
The United States has objected as the regimes of President Bashar Assad in Syria and President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen have imposed comparable harshness on their opponents. But the administration has remained largely silent about Bahrain.
What is the difference? Bahrain hosts the headquarters of the U.S. 5th Fleet. Its royal family is supported by Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia's rulers are annoyed at the United States for supporting the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, a Sunni and a Saudi friend. Saudi Arabia plays an enormous role in efforts to stabilize the world oil market.
Consistency in foreign policy is hard to achieve, given the differences among countries and U.S. interests in them. But greater criticism of Bahrain's actions would seem in order if the Administration wants to avoid looking hypocritical in the Middle East.