Members of Congress Jim Himes (second from left), Eni Faleomaveaga (third from left), and Marcia Fudge (third from right) with the President of Bahrain's Information Affairs Authority, Shaikh Fawaz bin Mohammed Al Khalifa (fourth from right)
Yesterday we noticed a press release from Bahrain's Information Affairs Authority proclaiming a visit by a US Congressional delegation, welcomed by IAA President Shaikh Fawaz bin Mohammed Al Khalifa:
The delegation included U.S. Representatives Jim Himes, [Eni] Faleomavaega, Marcia Fudge, and Dan Burton. The two sides reviewed bilateral relations bonding Bahrain and the US as well as the existing partnership between both two friendly countries and means of bolstering ties in all fields.
They discussed matters of mutual concern, especially media cooperation.
The US congress delegation expressed pleasure at visiting the Kingdom, praising the development witnessed in Bahrain and the democratic stride. They lauded the bold Royal steps, citing particularly the establishment of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) and the implementation of the recommendations.
The US Congressmen affirmed their country's keen interest to support Bahrain's security and stability as well as readiness to support the Kingdom's democratic progress.
This morning the Gulf Daily News, linked to the regime, used the visit to proclaim, "Bahrain's Reforms Success Highlighted".
The Democratic legislators Fudge (Ohio) and Himes (Connecticut) are new to us, with relation to Bahrain. Himes put out the message via Twitter last Friday night:
In 24 hrs, I'm headed to #Bahrain (not on taxpayers' dime) to visit sailors of the 5th Fleet and meet with officials to encourage reform.— Jim Himes (@jahimes) March 31, 2012
(That raises the question for us, "Well, who did pay for Himes' visit?". We'll come to that in a moment.)
Congressman Burton (Indiana), the third-ranking Republican on the House Foreign Relations Committee, brings more established Bahrain credentials. Indeed, he is a leading presence on the website of the Bahrain American Council, which declares:
[We are] committed to assist the Bahrain people and government to work together to transform their social compact. We will explore opportunities for compromise in the issues identified by the Government of Bahrain and all the people of Bahrain, and provide resources and information to all parties who are hoping to achieve stability and peace.
In support of this mission, the Council posts this information about Bahrain:
Bahrain is a constitutional monarchy. The King, His Majesty Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, is head of state; and The Crown Prince, His Royal Highness Prince Salman Bin Hamad Al Khalifa, and the Prime Minister, His Royal Highness Prince Khalifa bin Salman al Khalifa, presides over the cabinet as the head of government. The legislature consists of an elected lower house, the Chamber of Deputies; and an appointed upper house, the Majlis As Shura or Consultative Council....
Bahrain can attribute its rapid economic growth – among the highest growth rates in the Arab world – to several factors: the recent boom in oil prices, the interest by Asian and Western financial houses in Shari’a finance, and the economic freedom encouraged by the government. The 2011 Index of Economic Freedom published by the Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal rank Bahrain’s economy the number 10 most free in the world, just behind the United States.
There is no reference in the Information section to developments in Bahrain since February 2011.
Anyway, here's Congressman Burton with Alsadig Omer Khalafalla, the head of the Council, in October 2011:
And here's the Council meeting "in preparation for Congressman Burton's speech to the University of Bahrain in April:
That brings us to the fourth legislator on the Bahrain trip, Eni Faleomavaega, the Delegate from American Samoa. Although he does not have a vote in the House of Representatives, Faleomavaega is the third-ranking Democrat --- paralleling Burton --- on the House Foreign Relations Committee.
Faleomavaega is also a big favourite of the Bahrain American Council. Here he is receiving Mohammad Abdel Ghaffar, an advisor to Bahrain's King Hamad, and BAC executives last September:
Here he is, along with Council President Khalafalla, meeting King Hamad in Bahrain in October:
And here he is, along with fellow legislators Donald Payne and Lynn Woolsey, on the front page of the Gulf Daily News, during that October trip:
So four Representatives, two of them long-established supporters of the Bahraini regime, are currently visiting the Kingdom and providing photo opportunities and articles praising the "sweeping and broad" reforms of King Hamad.
Who's paying? Well, let's just say that if it is not the dime of the US taxpayers, let's just speculate that the regime's quarter and half-dollar might be involved, with a helping hand from the Bahrain American Council.
And what effect might this have on US foreign policy --- and the presentation of Bahrain in the US media --- as the political conflict continues? In an article for ProPublica, Justin Elliott considers those questions as he profiles Representative Faleomavaega and the Bahrain lobbyists behind him.
Meet Bahrain’s Best Friend in Congress
Last year, as the government of Bahrain violently suppressed an Arab Spring protest movement, an unlikely champion of the small Gulf nation emerged on Capitol Hill in Washington: Democratic Rep. Eni Faleomavaega, the delegate from American Samoa.
Faleomavaega, who has been a non-voting delegate in Congress since 1989 and is now the third-ranking Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, typically focuses on more local matters: the tuna industry, Pacific Islands affairs and securing federal funding for American Samoa.
But this week he is taking a trip to Bahrain, his second in the past year, both paid by the Bahraini government. It's part of a year-long friendship the congressman has developed with the Gulf nation.
In March 2011, just weeks into the crisis, Faleomavaega emerged seemingly out of nowhere — he has no history of commenting on Middle East affairs — to enter a 2,500-word statement into the Congressional Record that closely echoed the Bahraini government's spin. "Bahrain is under attack," he said, painting protesters as violent, Iran-backed vandals representing "the worst kind of seditious infiltration from a foreign enemy." He praised the Crown Prince for supposedly meeting protesters' demands for democratic reforms.
"Mr. Speaker," Faleomavaega said. "I have to ask why the demonstrators returned to protesting again, even after all their demands were agreed to."
Just days before, the government had torn down the iconic Pearl Monument at the center of the protests, and Saudi Arabian tanks had rolled into Bahrain to back the government crackdown.
So, why is the delegate from American Samoa so interested in supporting Bahrain? Faleomavaega told ProPublica it's because "Bahrain has been a key ally and supporter of U.S. security interests in this region of the world." But there's another connection: A lobbying firm run by a longtime friend and campaign contributor to Faleomavaega is working for the regime's allies.
The lobbying firm, D.C.-based Policy Impact Communications, is headed by William Nixon, a former Reagan speechwriter and Hill staffer who describes himself as a close personal friend of Faleomavaega. In 2010, Nixon and his wife gave Faleomavaega $4,800, making Policy Impact the congressman's second-largest organizational donor that cycle. (The largest donor was StarKist.) Faleomavaega raises less than most members of Congress, having taken in just $65,500 that election and just $15,800 in the current cycle. Nixon is also president of the Mormon church's northern Virginia Mount Vernon Stake, of which Faleomavaega is a member. (American Samoa has one of the highest percentages of Mormons in the world, with more than 25 percent of residents belonging to the church, according to Latter-day Saints figures.)
In March 2011, a month into the Bahrain crisis and about two weeks before Faleomavaega entered that first statement into the Congressional Record, Policy Impact created the Bahrain American Council. The group is operated out of Policy Impact's K Street offices. And its board is vice-chaired by a Policy Impact executive. The group says it focuses on promoting U.S.-Bahrain trade and "educating the public about the strategic importance of Bahrain."
The council also has close ties to Bahrain's government: It previously listed a top Bahraini official as a member of its advisory board. The council was set up by a group of Bahraini-American businessmen, according to Policy Impact, but details of who is funding the group are not public. Policy Impact's Nixon said the firm has not registered with the Justice Department as an agent of Bahrain, which is required when a firm is lobbying for a foreign entity, because the Bahrain American Council is run by Americans.
The group's creation coincided with Bahrain's hiring of several lobbying and public-relations firms to shore up its image in Washington and preserve its key alliance with the U.S. during the crackdown on protests.
Policy Impact's Nixon told ProPublica that he and Faleomavaega have been "close personal friends [going] back almost before he was elected to Congress" in 1988, but that "there's never been a quid pro quo on anything I've done professionally" with the congressman.
"When you give money to a congressman — which I do; I've been in Washington since 1983 — there's never an expectation of something for that money," Nixon said. "Most often that money gets in the way of their ability to really assist you because it looks like something nefarious is under way."
The Bahrain American Council appears to have worked closely with Faleomavaega from early on. It has featured his statements on Bahrain on its website, including Faleomavaega's defense of Bahrain during a congressional human rights hearing in May. In Bahrain, both state-run and pro-government media have touted Faleomavaega's various statements on the crisis (sample headline: "'Democracy can't be achieved through violence and blocking roads', US Congress members said"). Last September, the Bahrain American Council's president and an adviser to the king of Bahrain, Muhammad Abdul Ghaffar, met with Faleomavaega in his Capitol Hill office.
In October, Faleomavaega along with Reps. Donald Payne, D-N.J., and Lynne Woolsey, D-Calif., traveled to Bahrain on his first trip paid by Bahrain's government. On the first night of the trip, the Bahrain American Council hosted a dinner honoring the members of Congress at the five-star Gulf Hotel in the capital, Manama. The Bahrain American Council's president, Al Khalafalla, also accompanied the delegation in a meeting with the king. And the Bahrain American Council co-sponsored a speech by Faleomavaega in Manama in which he again criticized protesters and blamed Iran for stirring up unrest.
The congressional delegation also met with members of opposition party, Wefaq, but a party official later expressed disappointment with the meeting, writing that "the response of the delegation did not meet our expectation as it did not show enough understanding for the legitimate demands for reform."