Imagine a world in which U.S. and allied forces had to travel thousands of extra miles to defend vital interests in the Middle East.
Imagine how pleased the Iranians would be if they knew their navy could have uncontested access to anywhere in the Gulf without fear of an immediate response.
If that’s not the kind of world you want to confront, then you should care greatly about continuing the incredibly important U.S. partnership with Bahrain.
As former Middle East force commander and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. William Crowe, has said, Bahrain is “pound for pound, man for man, the best ally the United States has anywhere in the world.”
Bahrain has been there for us during good times and bad since the end of World War II.
In 1948, Sheik Salman Bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the amir of Bahrain, courageously decided to allow U.S. Navy ships to use Bahrain as a port of call.
U.S. forces established a full-time basing arrangement with Bahrain in 1971. This agreement took on new significance during the first Gulf War, with forces in that country providing critical support for the liberation of Kuwait.
In recognition of the need for an ongoing, large naval presence in the Middle East, the 5th Fleet was established in 1995 with its headquarters in Bahrain.
Since that time, the extraordinary U.S.-Bahrain security partnership has only continued to grow, and the U.S. 5th Fleet headquarters has become the centerpiece of allied efforts to promote peace and stability in the Gulf.
We and our friends in the region depend on Bahrain for operations covering almost 2.5 million square miles of water area, including the Arabian Gulf, Red Sea, Gulf of Oman and parts of the Indian Ocean.
This expanse of ocean touches on the territories of 20 countries, including three critical choke points at the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez Canal and the Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb at the southern tip of Yemen.
Put another way, the thousands of soldiers, sailors and marines based in Bahrain make it possible for us to protect the interests of the United States and partner nations in one of the most volatile and economically vital areas of the world.
Today, our forces in Bahrain are defending against an increasingly hostile and expansionist Iran, supporting military engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, and protecting friendly ships from pirates off the coast of Somalia.
I know from personal experience the importance of this unique regional partnership.
As commander of the 5th Fleet from 1998 to 2002, I oversaw missions from Bahrain ranging from our strikes against Osama bin Laden’s operations in Afghanistan after our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed by al Qaeda in August 1998 to the initial Operation Enduring Freedom strikes into Afghanistan from U.S. and coalition aircraft carriers.
As 5th Fleet commander, I also had the opportunity to develop a personal relationship with His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, Bahrain’s leader, as well as many senior officials in his government.
King Hamad is a true friend to the United States and its allies. He is dedicated to continuing Bahrain’s support for us even as his country and the region as a whole are going through a period of rapid change and tremendous uncertainty.
The Arab Spring has put a new spotlight on the longstanding need for reform in the region, and Bahrain has been no exception.
While America must always support the values that our nation was founded upon, we also need to balance that with the defense of our security interests and our responsibility to allies who have stood by us through the years.
For that reason, President Obama’s administration has been right to resist the calls made by some individuals to remove our support from Bahrain’s government and embrace a protest movement that has legitimate grievances, but is nonetheless being used by Iran for its own nefarious purposes. Indeed Iran and its allies would be the only winners should the United States abandon our partnership with Bahrain at such a critical juncture in the history of the Middle East.
I know that King Hamad is committed to reforms that will bring greater democracy to Bahrain, and I hope the United States will do all it can to support him in these efforts.
I also know that the United States and its allies need Bahrain now more than ever to preserve regional peace and stability in what remains a dangerous and uncertain world.
By Vice Adm. Charles W. Moore, commander of the U.S. 5th Fleet from 1998 to 2002. He is currently regional president, Middle East and Africa, for Lockheed Martin.