Partnership between Washington and North Africa

Partnership between Washington and North Africa

Mohammad el-Ashab |

What are the odds for a strategic partnership between Washington and the countries of North Africa, in particular Morocco and Algeria?


The reason for such a question is that President Barack Obama’s first term ended while seeking to activate such a choice without it seeming like it was biased in one side’s favor at the expense of the other, as US relations with both Morocco and Algeria equally have always been based on the principle of regional balance. Indeed, the belief prevails that Washington thinks with its own logic, and that its partners in the region and in the world must accept this de facto situation.


US Democrats had a vision that went further than restricting the competition to one between Rabat and Algiers. Indeed, they had tried to put forward a broader notion of partnership, which was at first limited to Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, at a time when opening up to Libya had been out of the question. As for the Republicans, they liked the idea of the war on terror drawing everyone into the same circle, as well as the fact that it would continue to do so as long as the demon of security challenges continues to bare its fangs to all without distinction.


During her most recent visit to Algeria, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was interested in looking into the prospects of the imminent military intervention against the rebels of Northern Mali. In the process, she did not neglect to include Algeria in an ambitious partnership plan. She also sent Rabat a similar message, one that did not fail to remind of milestones in the history of relations between the US and the first country in the world to have recognized it, long before the emergence of many nations and states.


Clinton’s visit brings to mind a similar event. Indeed, in the final days of the second term of former US President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made stops in each of the capitals of North Africa, and visited Libya as well as Morocco and Algeria, coming to the conclusion that the Maghreb region was not so distant from US preoccupations, and that it could just like the polemic of “the Middle East and North Africa” (MENA) represent a gateway to aspirations that would stretch horizontally towards the Arab Levant and vertically into Africa to the South.


The two visits were quite different, as are the events and the factors on the ground. Yet the objectives have not changed, as they are characterized by a process of transformation, even if with changing methods, centered on the fact that successive US Administrations have not seemed intent on ending the region’s crises. Indeed, they on the one hand have pushed for coexisting with those crises, while on the other not minding their persistence and preventing them from reaching the edge of the abyss. Nevertheless, when it comes to security challenges connected with the growth of extremism and terrorism, they do tend towards some resolve, at least in terms of protecting their own interests and ruthlessly defending them.


The US Administration does not want to impose solutions. Indeed, it realizes, now that the coast is clear, that it can send strong signals and send frank messages regarding its stance on any pending issue. Yet it prefers solutions that are grounded in reality, but nonetheless takes into consideration the fact that the North African region remains under the influence of its European partners. Indeed, there is implicit agreement over the fact that the Maghreb region can alone choose the path it will be taking. And if partnership with the United States were to be tempting and pivotal, it would nonetheless not be at the expense of the Europeans on the short term.


Ever since the day the Americans declared Morocco to be their ally from outside of NATO, it seemed that the remaining Maghreb partners were headed towards taking sides. Similarly, their choice of Algeria as an able partner in dialogue within the framework of the war on terror has driven others to gather around such a course, which would determine the nature and the prospects of relations with Washington. Moreover, the tremendous transformations undergone by the countries of North Africa against the background of the Arab Spring have taken the direction of paving the way for building new relations that would not exclude any of the constituents of the political landscape in the countries concerned, so much so that it seems as if all of the formulas the Europeans have come up with to draw the countries of the Southern coast of the Mediterranean Sea towards the values of freedom, the respect of human rights and the principles of justice, dignity and tolerance have ended up favoring the American partner, who had continued to observe the situation closely. Indeed, in politics too there are seasons for planting, others for nurturing, and others still for harvesting.


With the start of President Obama’s second term, speculation has been on the rise in the Maghreb region regarding what he could do and what he might ignore. And inasmuch as his first term was devoid of any memorable summit with the region’s leaders, the leaders of the Maghreb today are counting on the coming phase witnessing substantial momentum in this direction, at the very least because the arrangements involved in strategic dialogue require high level talks. In addition to this, the deteriorating security situation on the Southern coast of the Western Sahara, at the flank of North Africa, necessitates comprehensive coordination. Furthermore, the capitals of the Maghreb may well return to the forefront in dealing with Arab issues in the Middle East and the Gulf.


If it is true that some of the pending issues, such as the Western Sahara conflict, have been placed in the hands of the Security Council, which is sponsoring a plan for the obstacle-laden solution, it is also true that an influential role played by the United States could drive matters forward towards a faster solution through negotiation procedures. And perhaps the newest feature in such a development resides in the United Nations tying the formulation of the suggested solution to the process of reactivating the Arab Maghreb Union.