Saturday, November 04, 2006

Rabat’s man in the White House

Polisario officials have long suspected that Elliot Abrams, head of Near Eastern-North African Affairs in the White House’s National Security Council, is Morocco’s most ardent supporter in the George W Bush administration. Indeed, one has to wonder how it is that former UN envoy to Western Sahara, James Baker, a close ally of the second Bush administration, was not supported by the White House in his efforts to find a resolution to the Morocco-Polisario conflict.

Mr Abram’s sympathy for Morocco’s position on Western Sahara was surely revealed when he opted to meet Khalihenna Ould Rachid in early October.

Mr Abrams is reportedly a right-wing ‘idealist’, a kind of proto-Neoconservative whose knee-jerk antipathy towards leftist and grassroots movements has made him an apologist for Central American death squads, Israeli war crimes and dictators of all sorts. Those of us old enough to remember will recall that Mr Abrams was one of the Reagan administration officials convicted in relation to the Iran-Contra affair: he had lied to the U.S. congress about his role in raising money for terrorists who raped and murdered thousands in Nicaragua. (Abrams was pardoned by the first Bush, G.H.W.)

True to form, Mr Abrams probably carries some long-standing hatred for Polisario as a pseudo Leftist front. It should be recalled that the Reagan administration helped Morocco fight Polisario in the 1980s, through training and military aid. If not for such aid (combined with funding from Saudi Arabia and French support), Morocco would have lost Western Sahara to Polisario by 1980-1981.

In exchange for help in Western Sahara, King Hassan’s Morocco proved to be one of the United States’ closest Cold-War allies: aiding US interventions in Africa as a part of the ‘Safari Club’, housing one the largest regional CIA stations, or as a backchannel for Israeli-Arab dialog. This was, of course, when the Moroccan regime was thoroughly repressing all forms of democratic opposition (massacring demonstrators in the streets, 'disappearing' opposition in numerous secret prisons, ramming IMF economic 'structural adjustment' down the population's throat to pay for the Sahara war). This was when Morocco's security services perfected their torture techniques that we find so handy now. Yes, King Hassan might have been a son-of-a-bitch, but at least he was our son-of-a-bitch!

How history repeats itself: It should also be noted that Morocco is now a key partner in the Bush administration’s ‘war on terror’. Google CIA-Morocco-torture and see what you get. The point is, no need to fuss over 200,000 nomads in Western Sahara when King Mohammed VI is willing to torture ‘terrorists’ far from the offices of Senator John McCain.

But what does Mr Abram’s have to do with the Western Sahara peace process? Well, he probably killed it.

From 1997 to 2004, Baker was the lead negotiator in Western Sahara. In 2003, he presented a plan to hold a referendum on independence, autonomy or integration following a four-year autonomous transitional period. While Polisario accepted the plan, Morocco rejected it. Baker felt -- and was backed by the Security Council on this point -- that the plan was 'optimal', as it balanced the interests of all the parties against the dictates of international legality. That is, it offered self-determination (i.e., a vote on independence), but under conditions highly favourable to Morocco (i.e., Moroccan settlers living in the occupied Western Sahara could vote as well, thus tilting the outcome in Morocco’s favour -- towards integration).

Morocco’s rejection of this plan was stunning, and yet the Bush administration did not step-up pressure on Rabat for peace. Instead, the same month Baker resigned out of frustration (June 2004), the US government rewarded Morocco with a bilateral Free Trade Agreement and designated Morocco a ‘major Non-NATO ally’, meaning that our defence commitment to Morocco is the same as to Australia or Japan.

The second Bush administration sacrificed a long-term interest -- peace in Western Sahara -- for a short term one -- letting someone else torture our 'suspected terrorists'.

In the meantime, Mr Abrams has decided to follow Rabat's line on Western Sahara, which is a lot like Israel in Gaza: Unilateral implementation of a plan in form but with little actual change on the ground. (As we see in Gaza, things are really much worse following 'disengagement'.) Morocco is hoping to convince the international community that it can implement an 'autonomy' scheme in Western Sahara and that will be the end of it: the Western Saharans will pick up their own garbage while King Mohammed's regime gets rich off the fish. Mr Abrams apparently thinks this is a good idea, and thus he met with Mr Rachid.

As I’ve written elsewhere, Mr Rachid is the Moroccan government’s front-man for its long-awaited ‘autonomy plan’. It’s worth noting that Mr Rachid has little legitimacy among most Western Saharans, who he claims to now represent in some fashion. This is even acknowledged in the non-partisan Moroccan press.

It would seem that Mr Abrams is more interested in endorsing Morocco’s illegal occupation of Western Sahara than supporting Baker’s honest efforts to achieve peace. In the long run, when Western Sahara eventually explodes, everyone will see how utterly stupid the Neocon’s imaginare is, serving as another small example -- along with Iraq, Darfur, Lebanon, Gaza -- of how the Bush administration’s Near East policies have done a much better job of creating violence and instability than ending it. But when death squads are tearing Western Sahara appart, I'm sure Mr Abrams will be there to justify it.

But what’s really worse: Abram’s cynicism or the fact that Baker deferred to it?


Chasli said...

Very good post. The question of who pulls the strings on Western Sahara policy is indeed an important one. In your discussion of Abrams and Baker I found it interesting that you didn't mention John Bolton, who is a long-time friend, soul-mate, and colleague of both Abrams and Baker, and who would appear to be a natural bridge between the two and the one best placed to push the case for the Baker plan. While Bolton has in the past given lip-service to being in support of a referendum, his words at the UN suggest that he too has totally caved in to the Abrams point of view. The inability of Bolton and Baker to have any influence at all on Western Sahara policy is perplexing to me. They are after all extremely powerful individuals in the current administration and in the Republican party. Put another way, Abrams must have some very powerful allies in the administration to be able to prevail against Bolton and Baker on Western Sahara.

You write in your post: "the same month Baker resigned out of frustration (June 2004), the US government rewarded Morocco with a bilateral Free Trade Agreement and designated Morocco a ‘major Non-NATO ally’" This leads me to believe that there are powerful economic and military interests that are steering Moroccan and Western Saharan policy. I guess I have more questions here than I have answers. Do Rice, Cheney, and Rumsfeld have any strong feelings about Western Sahara? Are there any military people that are particularly influential? What are the biggest economic interests pushing the pro-Moroccan line? Or has the war on terror trumped everything? Just wondering whether you had any thoughts on any of these questions.

And on another topic, Rabat's claims that Rachid represents anybody are so so silly, but apparently not silly enough to prevent Abrams from meeting him. After all the only way we could really "prove" that Rachid is the total fraud that I am convinced he is would be to have a referendum, and we know Rabat's position on such things.

Anyway, keep up the great work,


Will said...

Rocking post. Like Chasli, I'm constantly puzzled as to why the United States doesn't take a harder stance on Morocco, when it'd be so easy and there's little, besides secret prisons, to lose. It's nice to know who's on the other side, so thanks for the post.

Your last paragraph was great, too. Fingers-crossed for the mid-term elections Tuesday.