Is the United States abandoning its alliance with Morocco?

Is the United States abandoning its alliance with Morocco?
7 min read
01 Jun, 2016
Comment: While a Clinton-led administration may bring about a policy shift, Morocco must remain cautious and mindful of US importance on the world stage, writes Samir Bennis.
Morocco has realised that no good can be expected from the current U.S. administration [Getty]

The Moroccan-American relationship is going through one of its worst periods since the Treaty of Peace and Friendship was signed in 1787.

While observers thought that Washington's lack of support for Morocco in the Security Council in April was only a passing cloud, the US State Department's annual report on human rights in Morocco came along and added insult to injury. The report paints a grim picture of human rights in Morocco. This reflects America's double standard in dealing with countries it considers among its "strategic allies".

This policy is however in line with the direction of Obama's foreign affairs, which has alienated many allies, such as Saudi Arabia. All current indications attest to the fact that Washington is letting down a strategic ally that helped it significantly during the Cold War through the use of oil as a weapon to weaken the Soviet Union.

Morocco - which has always considered the United States one of its main allies - denounced the Department of State's report using scathing language, and summoned the US Ambassador to Rabat. This is a clear sign that relations between the two countries have entered a new phase, one that is fraught with risk. 

The dark picture the report drew of human rights in Morocco demonstrates three main points: First, the statements the US administration made during meetings with Moroccan officials were simply camouflage.

This is a clear sign that relations between the two countries have entered a new phase, one that is fraught with risk

Second, the current US administration likely intended to use the report's findings to revive its 2013 proposal to the Security Council, which called for the establishment of a mechanism to monitor human rights in the Western Sahara and Tindouf camps.

Third, the American administration bases its human rights reports on organisations known for their hostility to Morocco, especially the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights.

Led by Kerry Kennedy, this organisation is infamous for fabricating reports that bear little resemblance to reality, in order to defend the positions of the groups it supports.

In one example of her lack of credibility, Kerry Kennedy once worked with a law firm in New York to write fake and anonymous reports in order to extort money from oil company Chevron. After a two-year investigation, a New York court concluded that Kennedy's allegations against Chevron - which she published in US newspapers - were spurious and based on false reports of which Kennedy was fully aware.

US double standards regarding Morocco

To many observers, the United States' ambiguous position with regards to the Western Sahara is surprising. Never before has Washington taken such a hostile position in total disregard of its strategic alliance with Rabat.

A review of the statements released during the last seven years by US officials shows they all emphasise that the US position on the Sahara issue has not changed: the United States considers the Moroccan autonomy plan "realistic, serious and credible" and describes it as providing "ground to reach a consensual political solution."

However, these positive statements did not prevent the US administration from proposing the aforementioned draft resolution in 2013. Following the friction caused by the draft resolution, Washington returned to using the same statements in which it hails the "credibility and realism of the Moroccan plan."

Something many observers overlooked is that those statements were made simply as camouflage used by an American administration that does not sympathise with Morocco and does not consider it one of its priorities. Many officials in Obama's second presidential term are well-known for their sympathy with the Polisario.

The US administration's most recent report on human rights in Morocco not only reflects this new trend in the US administration, but also the breakup of mutual trust between the two countries

Susan Rice, who proposed the draft resolution to the Security Council in 2013, became National Security Adviser; John Kerry was appointed Secretary of State; and Samantha Power was made US Ambassador to the United Nations. These officials are not only known for being unsympathetic towards Morocco, but also for their support of the Polisario. For example, Kerry submitted a request to Congress in 2001 calling for Sahrawis to exercise self-determination.

Since January 2013, there has been a shift in the US administration's position towards Morocco. As soon as Hillary Clinton left office, things began to take a different turn. While Clinton was to some extent sympathetic to Morocco, the new leading team took a different direction.

The US administration's most recent report on human rights in Morocco not only reflects this new trend in the US administration, but also the breakup of mutual trust between the two countries.

In light of the new direction of Obama's administration, it is unlikely that relations between the two countries will revert to normal and that the bonds of mutual trust will be restored. Therefore, Morocco has realised that no good can be expected to come of the current US administration.

A new president, a sunnier outlook?

It is important to note that the American position on a range of issues often changes with the arrival of a new president. This means that Morocco cannot renounce its strategic alliance with the United States altogether, nor should it give up efforts to reverse or neutralise its position on the Sahara.

The United States is the most influential country in the United Nations, and none can downplay the positive or negative role it can play in the Sahara issue.

Any future Moroccan policy regarding the United States must be built on accurate data and guided by the direction of the US administration

Although predictions point to Hillary Clinton as the likely next US President, Morocco should draw lessons from its experience with the current administration, and not consider American officials' sweet talk as support regarding the Sahara.

Despite all these statements, the US has not taken any clear action that might translate such talk into actual support for Morocco. Had the will to do so really been there, the situation would have not reached this level of uncertainty and distrust, and Washington would not have taken up a hostile position regarding Rabat.

The distinguished relationship between Clinton and King Mohammed VI does not necessarily imply that she will provide unconditional support to Rabat. American politics is complex and the decision-making process is determined by many political and economic considerations. Foreign policy decisions are often based on studies carried out by think tanks that serve as guidance for American policy-makers.

Therefore, Morocco should deal cautiously with the next US administration. Moroccan officials should reach out to various stakeholders and influential figures in decision-making circles in Washington. Moreover, it should keep track of all the studies that shape American foreign policy and its priorities. Any future Moroccan policy regarding the United States must be built on accurate data and guided by the direction of the US administration.

New American foreign policy shifts require a full mobilisation of all Moroccan stakeholders, including universities and research centers

In handling the current friction, Rabat must also remain mindful of the importance of the United States on the world stage. It should not deal with this country the same way as it might France or Spain. While Morocco plays an integral part in the economic policies of these two countries, as well as their national security, the same cannot be said of the United States, which does not consider Morocco a priority in its foreign policy.

New American foreign policy shifts require a full mobilisation of all Moroccan stakeholders, including universities and research centers, so as to understand their implications and explore the best way to enable Morocco to deal with them proactively.


Samir Bennis is a political analyst. He received a Ph.D. in international relations from the University of Provence in France and his research areas include relations between Morocco and Spain and between the Muslim world and the West, as well as the global politics of oil. 

He has published more than 150 articles in Arabic, French, English and Spanish, and authored
Les Relations Politiques, Economiques et Culturelles Entre le Maroc et l’Espagne: 1956-2005, which was published in French in 2008. He is the co-founder of Morocco World News and lives in New York. Follow him on Twitter: @SamirBennis

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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