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The Navy’s 5th Fleet has headquarters in Bahrain. The home page of its website emphasizes the fleet’s policemen’s role.

“U.S. Naval Forces Central Command conducts persistent maritime operations to forward U.S. interests, deter and counter disruptive countries, defeat violent extremism and strengthen partner nations’ maritime capabilities in order to promote a secure maritime environment,” it states.

The 5th Fleet has nurtured a growing U.S. and international bureaucracy in Bahrain. Its Naval Support Activity is home to 6,093 military personnel and Defense Department civilians, as well as 90 individual “tenant” commands.
The neighboring Arab nations like it that way.

“The Gulf states don’t want us to leave,” Mr. Russell said. “We have been protecting them since we inherited the job from the British in the early 1970s, when the British withdrew east of Suez. These states greatly fear being politically dominated by the Iranians.

“For our part, we’ve been in an undeclared war with Iran since the ‘79 revolution. So we’re also defending forward to keep Iran from establishing a coercive political framework that would intimidate the smaller oil-producing Gulf states.”

Norman Polmar, an analyst on naval forces, said the U.S. is maintaining a robust presence after leaving Iraq and planning to leave Afghanistan in order to send a message.

“Because we are pulling out of those two countries, we want to show other countries that we’re still a major player in that region,” said Mr. Polmar, whose updated book “Ships and Aircraft of the U.S. Fleet” is due out in March.

“The other reason is to think, somehow, our forces will intimidate Iran,” he said. “I’m skeptical because I don’t think, unless [President] Obama thinks he is going to lose the election, that the current administration would do anything from a military viewpoint against Iran.”

He added: “In a couple of years, I predict it will be almost all naval forces. I think we will keep some token force ground, token force air.”