Forget Britain's "Special Relationship" with America, largely a mirage of the Foreign Office and its existence unknown to most Americans. Even as World War II was ending, the cracks in the relationship between Britain and the United States were becoming ever more obvious to contemporaries and for more recent generations can be studied by reading books, both military and political, such as Armageddon and Nemesis by Max Hastings.
The USA does have connections with other countries that one might deem as being "special". South Korea, Japan and Taiwan in the Far East come to mind and Israel, could all fit into this category. A less obvious candidate is Saudi Arabia, yet America's close ties with that country, determined its attitude to the Suez Crisis in 1956. In taking measures to thwart British and French designs, though failing to curb Nasser's Arab extremism, the USA did cement a bond with King Saud of Saudi Arabia that has lasted with his successors until now.
What is putting the American-Saudi relationship to the test, like so many other bonds, agreements and acceptance of the status-quo, is the disturbances throughout the Middle East and Arab World where citizens, outside military and government circles, are demanding greater political freedom and rights accepted in the West as a commonplace norm.
On the whole, the vast majority of these disturbances have been secular in nature, putting greater pressure on the West and America in particular, to lend more than simple platitudes to those advocating for such rights and democracy, or at least more democratic representation than they enjoy presently.
Speeches of encouragement and praise by leaders in the West and especially the support of President Obama of the United States, broadcast throughout the world and championing these movements were, in the end, sufficient to topple the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt. Libya's leader, unfortunately, required more than simple rhetoric.
Opposition, particularly strong in Eastern, "Free" Libya, determined Colonel Muammar Qaddafi to use his Armed Forces and security police/militias to quell dissent and retain power. An unequal battle ensued pushing the anti-Qaddafi supporters into an area surrounding Libya's second city, Banghazi.
The dilemma for the Western democracies can be simply stated: would their rhetoric lead to action in order to prevent widespread casualties and possible acts of revenge by the Qaddafi regime against people the West had encouraged to fight for civil rights and democracy?
Britain and France did most of the persuading and cajoling and finally their efforts culminated in the UN Resolution on 17 March 2011, allowing an international force to take any measures necessary to stop Muammar Qaddafi from attacking civilians opposed to him and his regime in Libya.
Yet as a crisis situation in Muslim North Africa against a very unpopular "thug", "bully", "dictator", "madman" was reaching a widely accepted international solution, with the possible overthrow of the Qaddafi regime as its conclusion, a trickier situation had been developing for the past month in the Gulf.
The United States has developed a close relationship with Saudi Arabia since the early 1930s when the first oil was discovered in the east of that Kingdom and in neighbouring Bahrain. King Ibn-Saud (Abdul Aziz) the founder of the dynasty and the modern State of Saudi Arabia, had a particular liking for Americans and rather distrusted the British and other Europeans. (The King thought that the Americans were further away and did not harbour colonial designs). This has held the USA in good stead ever since.
In mid-February however, a possible turning point in US-Saudi relations was reached by events in Bahrain when large numbers of its Shia Muslim majority started protests against its Sunni Muslim rulers adding a religious twist to an already brittle situation.
Following a month of unrest in Bahrain in which protests were at times brutally put down by the country's Sunni security forces, a detachment of about a thousand Saudi troops, as well as troops from the United Arab Emirates, entered the island state on 15 March 2011, to help quell further disturbances. The Saudi military entered Bahrain at the request of King Hamad Bin Isa al-Khalifa.
In 1820, the Al Khalifa family came to power in Bahrain and made a treaty with Great Britain by which the British recognised the Al Khalifa as rulers of Bahrain. At almost the same time however and due to political pressures from the Ottoman Empire, Bahrain agreed to become a Dependency of the Shah of Iran. The close ties and favourable sentiments that the population already had with Persia were strengthened, formally ending only in 1890, many Persian merchant families settled in Bahrain adding to the Shia population.
Britain retained formal ties with Bahrain until 1971 and had much influence with its governance through a number of able, if not always popular, advisers. The British "encouraged", the unkind would say "forced through", reforms in education of boys and girls, health and the economy which, before oil, centred on pearling and trade.
This was often not to the liking of conservative Muslims, Shia and Sunni, and unrest was never far from the surface. To counter this and to boost the Sunni proportion of the population, a policy and programme of "deiranianisation" was promoted. In order to increase the Sunni population, the British encouraged the immigration of workers from Sunni Muslim countries, a great number coming from present day India and Pakistan.
In Bahrain, the security forces who are quelling the disturbances and demands which call for the overthrow of the Government/Al-Khalifa Monarchy, are all Sunni. The best jobs and housing - Sunni too. The majority Shia population feel that they are being and have been treated as second-class citizens for a very long time, even though there is a Bahraini Parliament with Upper and Lower Houses. The Cabinet, it must be said, is mainly composed of members of the Royal Family. Yet by the standards of the region, Bahrain is a liberal country.
Obviously, King Hamad .has felt particularly threatened to have had to request the services, even protection, of Saudi Arabia. Looking at the fate of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, widely seen as America's man in the region, Saudi Arabia may well have thought it necessary to support a fellow Sunni, and monarch. The enemy, Iran, is just too close, American Fifth Fleet or no. Let the Red Sea and Gulf of Aqaba be the boundary for toppled states!