RABAT- The new strategic dialogue launched by the U.S. and Morocco last week was all over the Morroccan press. Some comments appeared cautious while others praised the move. Yet all have agreed that this new step taken in Washington between the two countries strengthens Morocco’s status as a “strategic ally” to the United States.
Still, this special relationship raises a few questions.
First, why is Morocco so important to American leaders? Secondly, why does the Obama administration favor Morocco while the current mindset -- that one can describe as subjective “ideology” -- would suggest the opposite? Finally, why now, and not yesterday or tomorrow?
U.S. foreign policy, even before the birth of the “Monroe Doctrine” in 1823, has always placed the nation’s interest and the protection of its citizens first. Meanwhile with its assets and weaknesses, Morocco has tried its best to build and defend a coherent foreign policy promoting peace, security, cooperation and development. These principles may sound like mere truisms. Yet they remain a true priority for everyone.
A regional model
In 2004, the U.S. administration praised the commitments made by its major non-NATO ally Morocco regarding institutional reforms, economic progress, human rights, and the war on terror. This decade has seen Morocco launch an audacious foreign policy, which always remained faithful to the values of the country. It has promoted a liberal model, reinforced during Hassan II’s reign, which has later grown into a socio-liberal model due to international changes.
It is the latest result of an internal evolution and shows the royal family’s will to establish “social proximity.” In other words, Morocco has tried to address issues on every front: poverty, marginality, reintegration of inmates and the recognition of the large poor masses.
American leaders have continuously voiced their support and satisfaction over the economic and social reforms implemented in Morocco. To them, these reforms combined with democratic and human rights policies, justify their support. They have praised every change that has taken place in the country, including the Parliamentary majority that has allowed the Islamists of the Justice and Development Party (PJD) to access power and run the government.
Cautious over stability and security in Morocco, they believe they have been given enough guarantees by a country that has done its best to avoid falling into the vicious circle of violence and revolution. It is therefore seen as an ally, a shield against al-Qaida.
A huge economic market
As it has been spared the issues plaguing its neighbors, Morocco is considered by the U.S. as a model in the region, a country with an important role to play.
For the Americans, it is crucial to build a united North Africa – a region filled with potential, not the least of which economic. In a few years, the Maghreb population will top 100 million, creating a huge market with exponential opportunities. A united Maghreb would also ward away the crisis and destabilization forces threatening the region.
And for all of this to happen, the U.S. has understood that is imperative for Algeria and Morocco to get along.
This reconciliation cannot happen unless a solution to the Western Sahara conflict is found, which is the main bone of contention between the two countries. Although the former Spanish territory was claimed by Morocco, its status is contested by the Polisario Front, a Sahrawi rebel national liberation movement backed by Algeria.
It is important to mention that some members of the Republican Party – representatives of the Texas oil lobbies such as George W. Bush and James Baker -- have always been on the Algerian government’s side in this issue. It is also important to note that besides Jimmy Carter’s administration, who met with Polisario officials, Democrat leaders have always showed their support to Morocco.
This tradition dates back to Franklin Delano Roosevelt who voiced his support to King Muhammad V and Morocco’s independence at the Anfa Conference in 1943. Hillary Clinton has taken the baton, saying she believes Morocco and the United States “defend the same peace, freedom and ideals of progress.”