Wednesday, June 04, 2008

MACP Steals A Page from Karl Rove's Playbook

The Moroccan-American Comittee for Policy (MACP), a lobbying group funded by the King of Morocco, has scored two media coups recently against the Polisario Front, leaders of the Western Saharan independence movements. The first was a highly uncritical post from the Associated Press that would have failed any Journalism 101 student. The second is a more recent article in the New York Times that places more doubt upon the subject.

Brining a half dozen alleged victims of abuses in the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria to the US and the UN headquarters, MACP has revved up its campaign to discredit Polisario morally. These defectors -- who have essentially become paid lobbyists for Morocco and whose word is to be trusted at that level -- are claiming a whole range of misdeeds at the hands of Polisario.

This new media campaign suggests that Morocco is increasingly frustrated with the peace process and is launching a new offensive to build support for unilateral autonomy.

What is more interesting, though, is that these smear tactics reek of Carl Rove, the largely discredited (if highly successful) former political advisor to President George W. Bush. How so?

Attack your opponent where he is strongest and you are weakest.

In 2004, Rove used this tactic against Sen. John Kerry's war record in Vietnam, which was clearly a lot more stellar than Bush's cushy time in the National Guard. Indeed, there was clear evidence that Bush had been derelict in his duties. But after being 'swift boat-ed', there was an air of doubt clouding Kerry's claims to being a morally superior Commander and Chief by virtue of his war service. Now we all know that these attacks against Kerry were false, libelous and distracting. But they worked. Their effect was to strip the Democratic Nominee of his one claim to moral superiority over Bush: he had actually fought in war and thus could responsibly manage the war in Iraq.

Now the same is being played out in Western Sahara. In this case, for Polisario, their strongest suit is, and always has been, international law and human rights. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights and High Committee for Refugees, International Red Cross/Red Crescent and dozens of other NGOs (including a permanent presence of English teachers from the US and a Moroccan journalist) have all stayed in the Polisario controlled camps and never found any evidence supporting the claims now being launched by Morocco's surrogates. But that doesn't matter. Rove's tactics -- whether insinuating Sen John McCain had an African-American love child in 2000 or Kerry was a French-speaking effete with a trumped up war record in 2004 -- are based on alleging. It is the allegation that matters: placing doubt in the back of the mind.

The flip-side of this tactic is to distract people from the reality. For a self proclaimed 'war president', Bush's war record was non-existent. That's why Rove went after Kerry's military service: to distract.

The parallel with Morocco is quite telling. The world knows that Morocco's human rights record in Western Sahara is among, as Freedom House puts it, the 'Worst of the Worst'. At home and in Western Sahara, Morocco has a long history of brutally repressing opposition, whether by 'disappearing' dissidents (in the days of King Hassan II) or imprisoning them en mass as the new king does with Islamists and Western Saharan nationalists.

Year after year, report after report, it becomes clear and clearer that Morocco's occupation of Western Sahara is one of the world's most neglected human rights situations in the world. And this is exactly why MACP is attacking Polisario on its human rights record. In reality, everyone knows that Polisario is very careful about its international image and has gone to great lengths to be transparent, even opening themselves up to attacks like the 2003 France Libert├ęs incident.

Meanwhile Morocco continues to prohibit free expression, movement and organization in Western Sahara, and repeatedly ejecting journalists from the territory who attempt to uncover these facts without supervision from the interior ministry.

If Morocco is to sell the world on the idea that it should keep Western Sahara through autonomy, then it has to distract the world from its human rights record there. And the best way to achieve unilateral autonomy solution is to discredit Polisario in the eyes of Washington through Rove's masterful 'guilt by doubt' association.

But will the AP and NYT send reporters to the occupied Western Sahara and the camps to see for themselves? Probably not.