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Backing the regime in Bahrain: Liam Fox and John Bolton

US rightwingers join Bahrain propaganda offensive

Disgraced British minister enters the fray too

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The idea of holding an international conference on "institutional developments and political reforms in Bahrain" prompts the obvious joke that there won't be much to talk about, but this is the theme for the Bahrain International Symposium which is due to be held at the University of Bahrain next weekend.

According to the announcement, "a mix of academics, political scientists, and specialists in law and international relations will provide the intellectual core of the debates". But alarm bells started ringing when I noticed that it promises "unbiased and objective analysis" – since that is how the Bahraini government usually describes its own propaganda.

My worst fears were confirmed by a report from Bahrain's official news agency which says the kingdom's "pioneering reform project" will come under the spotlight at the conference "as part of efforts to project the true internal situation in Bahrain".

Among the small number of institutions taking part, one will be the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute which led the lobbying for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Another is the Heritage Foundation, a conservative thinktank in the United States which was particularly influential during Ronald Reagan's presidency.

The Heritage Foundation has surfaced before in connection with Bahrain. Last year, for example, it published an article on its website, The Foundry, about "the many faces of Bahrain's opposition movement". The article was recommended on Twitter by Matt Lauer of Qorvis, the American PR firm hired by the Bahrain government at $480,000 a year to polish up its image.

Other Heritage Foundation articles warn about an Iranian threat to Bahrain, support last year's controversial Formula One race in Bahrain, complain about critical coverage of Bahrain in the international media and describe the Obama administration as 
ill-informed for treating Bahrain's "liberal" government in the same way as "much more oppressive authoritarian regimes" in the region.

The American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation will also be joined by the Bahrain American Council which, 
according to the Pro Publica website, was specially created by the lobbying and public relations firm Policy Impact Communications to promote the Bahraini government line in Washington:

"The Bahrain American Council is located at 1401 K Street, NW, Suite 600 in Washington. That’s the same office as Policy Impact ...

"William Nixon, the CEO of Policy Impact and a registered lobbyist, and two other Policy Impact officials originally incorporated the Bahrain American Council and made up its board, according to the group’s articles of incorporation.

"Nixon told ProPublica a new board of directors, led by current council president Khalafalla, was installed soon after the group’s creation. But Nixon remains on the group’s advisory board, which met in May. And Policy Impact employees handled our phone calls seeking comment from the Bahrain American Council."

"Key people" listed as attending the conference include:

  • John Bolton, the outspoken former US ambassador to the United Nations who besides being a "senior fellow" at the American Enterprise Institute is a regular commentator for right-wing US media and a member of the National Rifle Association to boot.

  • Liam Fox, the British Conservative MP who was Secretary of State for Defence from 2010 until October 2011 when he resigned in peculiar circumstances.

  • Solomon Ortiz, a Democratic Congressman from Texas. 

  • Dan Burton, a former Republican Congressman from Indiana. Last year, Burton and his wife went on a $20,966 trip to Bahrain paid for by the Bahrain American Council. Unsurprisingly, he was quoted in the Bahraini press as praising the king's "statesmanship" and his efforts "to modernise Bahrain and promote reforms".

I'm hoping, though, that the star of the conference will be Dr Juli Minoves-Triquell, the former foreign minister of Andorra (population 86,000), who is said to be an expert on "the institution of monarchy".

Posted by Brian Whitaker
Wednesday, 27 March 2013  

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Last revised on 27 March, 2013