Thomas Malinowski: The Diplomat with a Grudge

Editor's Desk

Mitchell Belfer

Thomas Malinowski: The Diplomat with a Grudge

The story of Malinowski is somehow typical for career diplomats without formal training in etiquette and protocol—he got too close to a particular political situation and allowed his personal feelings to dictate the US position in Bahrain. Publically, through word and deed, Malinowski has rendered the US as supporters of a fraction of a fraction of the country’s Shia community. Because of Malinowski, the US is regarded as an unfair player. It is seen as not dedicated to a workable solution to the three and a half years of internal tensions and neither is it trying to involve the entire spectrum of Bahraini society into a negotiated settlement. Instead, Malinowski has led the US Embassy – and, by extension, the country – down the path of opposing both the government of Bahrain and the majority of its populace who are driven by national, not sectarian, identities. At the same time, Malinowski favours the al Wefaq bloc and its ideologues that have shown themselves to be comfortable with the use of violence for political objectives and have a deep, working relationship to Hezbollah and Iran (itself).  

It is no wonder that conspiracy theories abound in the Middle East; people charged with representing the interests of the US often come with their own grudges, their own axes to grind and their own friends to grind them with. In Bahrain, most people – Shia and Sunni and Jewish and Christian and Hindu – feel that the US is biased against them and is secretly courting Iran against the Arab states in the Gulf and Levant. Whether or not such opinions are accurate is beside the point—they are felt and believed because US interests are not being properly conveyed. And the depiction of the US is one of retaining a deep hostility against the political system of the most open, liberal and transparent state in the region. So, while the US preaches democratic transition and reform, the one country to have gone far enough to legitimately claim to be a transitional democracy with political parties, oversight, gender equality and regular elections (etc), is ostracised for not going far enough.  

But even this double-standard is inconsequential when compared to Malinowski’s direct interference in the troubles facing the country. Malinowski was declared persona non grata by Bahraini authorities and expelled in July (2014) for ‘undermining dialogue’ and throwing (not his own, but) US weight behind the al Wefaq society. The charges lobbed at Malinowski were of ‘flagrantly intervening in Bahrain’s internal affairs, discrimination, contravening diplomatic norms and flouting normal inter-state relations.’ He held private discussions with al Wefaq members, including with its chief Ali Salman, and is said to have agreed to their main demands even if these are not for the US to agree on. On learning of his secret al Wefaq rendezvouses, Bahrain’s authorities had no choice but to expel him for he was negotiating (when it was not his place to negotiate) over fundamental issues (that were not on the table) with a group that negotiates in bad faith and is deeply connected to Iran’s theocratic elite.

His expulsion left Obama with a political black-eye, and Washington embarrassed. However, the US was adamant that Malinowski return and through direct negotiations and the assistance of Saudi mediation, Malinowski was allowed to return and visit Bahrain. And then, just after negotiations had been concluded and Malinowski was set to return … just before getting on the plane, he met – in Washington – with Matar Matar, a member of al Wefaq, to coordinate the upcoming visit and discuss how to support the Bahraini “opposition.”

Sources close to the situation reported hearing that during the meeting two key points were discussed: dialogue and elections. Malinowski promised Matar to support al Wefaq’s demands, if they participated in the upcoming parliamentary elections and stressed his country’s ‘support to reach a balanced solution to achieve reconciliation in Bahrain.’ Matar welcomed Malinowski’s request and expressed al Wefaq’s willingness to participate while emphasising that the opposition began special arrangements in this regard.

Everything looked halal, but it was not. This meeting was not a formal gathering and was not officially sanctioned by the US government. It was the private action of a public figure and reveals much about the nature of Malinowski, a person that would rather have the US support Iran and its regional proxies in Syria (al Asad) and Hezbollah than its long-term ally, Bahrain. Of course, this is speculative—it is impossible to get into the head of Malinowski. But would it really be a stretch to guess that his grudge stems from his good o’days in the ranks of Human Rights Watch with Ken Roth packed with a quest to move from being financially shackled to Soros’ Open Society to financial independence? With his hat out, HRW got what they wanted … a man in Washington and money from clandestine sources in the region (probably Iran, the Saudis rejected their request). In that year (2010), HRW stopped publishing their financial holdings and sources.

Malinowski has come a long way since his heady HRW days, but he has not changed his stripes or lost his grudges. He went from HRW’s man in Washington to their man in Bahrain. Suddenly, HRW’s target practise has become the US’s as well. That is a sad commentary on the sad state of American affairs in the Gulf.

2021 - Volume 15 Issue 1