The United States and the Gulf Arab States: Interview with Adam Hanieh

Adam Hanieh: Well, we’ve seen over the last few days a wave of repression [in Bahrain] that’s ongoing, repression against the protests after the Saudi troops went in on March 15, about a month ago.  As you said, there have been reports that up to 31 people have been killed during the demonstrations.  And now other stories are emerging of torture and detention, and up to four people have died in detention, of the latest figures that we see.  This should also be put on top of the hundreds of people who have been picked up in raids on villages around Bahrain.  The latest figures I’ve seen, about 600 people have been picked up during these raids, many of them facing torture. . . .  It’s very important to situate the US policy, US foreign policy, across the whole of the Middle East in relation to the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council].  Unfortunately, this is something I think that’s largely been lacking in terms of speaking about the Middle East as a whole; particularly in the uprisings that we’ve seen in Egypt and Tunisia, it cannot be understood, I think, without placing it within the context of US policy towards the GCC as a whole.  The GCC really is the core of capitalism in the Middle East.  It’s the primary place where accumulation occurs.  It’s also the linkage with the broader world market.  And US foreign policy — not just the United States; Europe as well and other states — really see their relationship with the broader Middle East through the lens of the GCC.  Now, obviously, this has got to do with the vast amounts of oil present in the region.  But it’s also got to do with the financial weight that the GCC has.  You can see the GCC is a major investor globally.  For these reasons, the US since the end of the Second World War, but particularly in the post-1970s period when it became the dominant power in the Middle East, has really put an emphasis on placing military strength and the political alliance with the GCC at the forefront of its Middle East policy.  As you mentioned, they have the Fifth Fleet located in Bahrain.  But there’s also CENTCOM, the forward command headquarters of CENTCOM, which is essentially the military headquarters that coordinates US military policy across 27 neighboring states, including Central Asia, Afghanistan, Iraq.  That CENTCOM headquarters is located in Qatar.

Paul Jay: Yeah, only about five, six miles away from the Al Jazeera office, and also a major air force base.  We saw that.  It’s an enormous air force base.  In fact, when we were there, we were quite sure we saw a Predator land there.  And we’re trying to find out where the Predator might have been.  And we mentioned to somebody we know at Al Jazeera: “That’s a great story.  Why don’t you go find out where that Predator just came back from?  ‘Cause it might be rather explosive if it had just come back from Pakistan, say.”  And then — just to finish the story — the journalist says to us: “We don’t just not report that there might have been a Predator on the base.”  This Al Jazeera person tells us: “We don’t report that there’s a base here.”

Adam Hanieh: Exactly. It’s very important to understand the US military interventions in both Iraq and Afghanistan and the broader Central Asia region have been coordinated from the GCC, from the CENTCOM headquarters in the GCC.  There are, I think (the figures that I’ve seen most recently), over 100,000 US troops stationed in various bases across the GCC.  And as you pointed out, most of the GCC states really don’t talk about this or don’t in any way make it public knowledge.

Paul Jay: Now, the regimes in these countries are dressed up to look like traditional monarchies that sort of come out of the culture of the places.  But this really is a system of dictatorships.  Now, the US does not seem to be encouraging any oppositional movements there, whereas there is some indication that, in Egypt and in Libya, and perhaps in Tunisia, you can find influence of the US, you know, in the opposition forces.  And I’m not suggesting the opposition is just US-created, but certainly you can find a handprint there.  First of all, why this complete schizophrenia in US policy?

Adam Hanieh: Well, I think the answer’s very simply that the US sees the regimes, the Gulf regimes, the governments in the GCC, as being their principal allies in the region.  And there’s a symmetry of interests that exists between the Gulf monarchies, the Gulf regimes, and the US policy in the region.  So you’re quite right to point out, in the case of Bahrain, the US made it very plain — Obama said this in one of his speeches — that our interests are what dictates our policies towards these uprisings.  And in the case of Bahrain, it’s in their interests to see the Al Khalifa monarchy retain power and retain that kind of very undemocratic system within the country itself.

Adam Hanieh is a lecturer in Development Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.  His research focuses on the political economy of the Middle East, with an emphasis on state and class formation in the Gulf Cooperation Council.  He is the author of the forthcoming book Capitalism and Class in the Gulf Arab States.  This video was released by The Real News on 17 April 2011.  Cf. Nick Turse, “The Drone Surge: Today, Tomorrow, and 2047” (, 24 January 2010); and Adam Hanieh, “Egypt’s Uprising: Not Just a Question of ‘Transition'” (MRZine, 14 February 2011).

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