Smart power: U.S. diplomats had rose-colored view of Bahrain until recently

When it came to Bahrain, Mrs. Clinton was not the only American diplomat who tended to see the glass as half full. Her rosy assessment, which seems incongruous in light of the army’s bloody crackdown on protesters, illustrates how the United States government has overlooked recent complaints about human rights abuses in a kingdom that is an economic and military hub in the Persian Gulf.

And it leaves the White House once again scrambling to deal with an Arab ally facing a tide of popular discontent. In this case, its calculations are complicated by signs that Bahrain is being pressed by its neighbor Saudi Arabia, the most strategically important country in the region…

In a January 2010 cable, the American Embassy in Bahrain criticized the human rights group Freedom House for downgrading Bahrain’s rating from “partly free” to “not free” in its global survey of political rights and civil liberties. The cable asserted that Freedom House had been successfully lobbied by a radical Shiite movement, known as Haq, which rejects the government’s reform efforts.

Another cable passed along doubts about a Human Rights Watch report that said the police were using torture in interrogations — saying it relied heavily on allegations made by members of the same group — though the embassy did urge the Bahraini authorities to undertake a “timely and credible” investigation.