Political rumblings in Bahrain are having an unlikely effect on the GOP Presidential ticket because the Paul Ryan-sponsored U.S.-Bahrain Free Trade Agreement is being viewed as a failure.
Signed in 2005 with large support from Congress, the agreement was seen as a way to spur democratic improvements in the Middle East. In exchange for access to American consumers, Bahrain was supposed to make sweeping reforms. Unfortunately, they never materialized. In 2009, Paul Ryan was still defending the agreement, according to the Huffington Post:
“It’s the carrot approach,” Ryan said in 2009, explaining a positive way to encourage a change in behavior, rather than relying exclusively on punitive or military measures. “This is a way to help expand democratic capitalism, because through each of these trade agreements we require things like the rule of law and forcible contracts, women’s rights, advancements towards openness, transparency and democracy.”
But with Ryan in the political spotlight, legislators who oppose FTAs are taking shots at Ryan and the Bahrain deal.
We know that free trade agreements lead to offshoring and job loss to the detriment of middle-class American families,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) “What may be less known by the American public is that these agreements, supported by the Romney-Ryan ticket, allow global institutions to impede our ability to exert economic leverage over nations with whom we sign FTAs when they do not play by the rules, or act against U.S. interest. In the case of Bahrain, rather than any move toward democracy, we are witnessing gross human rights abuses, including against workers’ rights, with little leverage to change the regime’s behavior.”
The Bahrain FTA’s detractors are not just Democrats, either. Sen. Ron Wyden, a Republican from Oregon who co-authored a Medicare reform bill with Ryan, recently spoke out against the agreement during a hearing of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on Bahrain.
“I have always felt that expanded trade can be a great force for progress as one of the tools for real social progress and improving the quality of life of people,” Wyden said. “But free trade cannot mean trade free from honoring commitments, and I am concerned that Bahrain’s labor commitments pursuant to the U.S.-Bahrain Free Trade Agreement have not been fully implemented.”
Overall, this situation highlights a key weakness of the Romney-Ryan ticket: minimal Foreign Policy experience. Business interests are not always the same as diplomatic interests and neither man has dealt sufficiently with leaders of foreign nations to make Americans, of any political stripe, comfortable.