New York – The election of American billionaire Donald Trump came as surprise for American and foreign observers.
As in other countries, Moroccans have followed the election with great interest because any change in White House leadership may bring a change to US foreign policy toward Morocco. After Trump’s election, Moroccans wonder to what extent his presidency will have a negative or a positive impact on the relations between Washington and Rabat. Considering Trump’s rhetoric during the electoral campaign, in which he mentioned Morocco twice in a negative way, many fear that this rhetoric heralds an unfriendly policy of the President-elect towards Morocco.
However, one can argue that the foreign policy he will adopt will not reflect the rhetoric he used during the electoral campaign. There is a big difference between the rhetoric a candidate uses during an electoral campaign and the decision he makes once he reaches power. The experience in most countries has shown that, once elected, political leaders tend to accommodate their personal convictions and positions with the deep-seated interests of their countries.
Cards that play in favor of Morocco
Trump will arguably be part of a complex political system in which foreign-policy decisions are not made on a whim, but based on their compatibility with the general orientations of US foreign policy. Despite different American presidents, they usually adopt a foreign policy that is, for the most part, the continuation of the foreign policy adopted by their predecessors. In the case of relations between Morocco and the United States, there are two factors that may play in favor of Rabat:
The first is that Morocco is a strategic ally of the United States in the Middle East and North Africa region. In addition to the fact that Morocco is one of America’s oldest political partners in the Arab world, its position on many international issues does not conflict with the general orientations of US foreign policy, especially regarding security and the fight against terrorism and extremism. Considering the importance of combatting terrorism in the agenda of the upcoming US administration, Morocco may play a pivotal role in the US policy to fight terrorism.
Perhaps what will play in favor of Morocco is the experience and effectiveness of its security and intelligence services in the fight against terrorism. Morocco will likely play a role in information sharing with US intelligence agencies. Perhaps more importantly, Morocco plays a leading role it plays in the fight against terrorism by spreading the tolerant values of Islam through the formation of imams in several African and European countries. These factors add to the fact that Morocco is among the few countries that have a free trade agreement with the US, in addition to being considered among its non-NATO major allies.
Morocco’s close ties with the Republican Party
The second factor that will play in favor of Morocco is that Trump belongs to the Republican Party, though he is not a conventional Republican. Whenever there has been a Republican President, it has a positive impact on the relations between Morocco and the United States. Morocco has managed to build bridges of communication and trust with the GOP since the Cold War. This has often led the United States to take positions that support Morocco’s stance on the Western Sahara.
This has been the case since the 1970s. Morocco succeeded in organizing the Green March in November 1975 thanks to the support of then US President Gerald Ford. One must recall the role played by the then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to prevent the Security Council from adopting any resolution against Morocco. This friendly policy continued during the two terms of former President Ronald Reagan between 1981 and 1989.
While President Carter decided to tone down American support for the Moroccan position and link the sale of arms to Morocco to its willingness to find a solution to the conflict President Reagan decided to adopt the same policy adopted by President Gerald Ford. Moreover, as stated by the American writer Stephen Zunes in his book Western Sahara: War, Nationalism and Conflict Resolution, during the war between Morocco and the Polisario, the US Department of Defense provided logistical and intelligence support to enable Morocco to monitor the movements of the Polisario in addition to training the Moroccan air force. The same level of relations between Morocco and the Republican Party has continued through the terms of Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.
For example, during George W. Bush’s administration former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice lobbied for the adoption of resolution 1754 in April 2007, which is the basis for the UN-led process to reach a political solution to the conflict. Moreover, during the discussion of the Security Council in October 2007, Rice put pressure on the Polisario and attempted to submit a draft resolution that considered the Moroccan proposal as the sole basis for negotiations.
However, this project did not come into existence because of opposition from Russia, Spain, and the United Kingdom. In March 2007, Rice adopted a three-step plan to support the Moroccan position. The first step was to urge Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to mention in its annual report that the Moroccan plan was the only basis for negotiations. The second step consisted in urging Member States to issue statements in support of the Moroccan proposal. The third step was to invite Morocco and the Polisario to Washington to start direct negotiations.
However, Rice’s attempts failed, as the Secretary General’s report did not include such a reference for fear of being accused by the Non-Aligned Movement of favoring Morocco. In addition, France abstained from providing clear support for the Moroccan plan as the sole basis for negotiations. According to the former US ambassador in Paris, Craig Staepleton, then French president Nicolas Sarkozy was subjected to the pressure from the Algerian lobby within the French administration, at a time when he needed Algeria to support his initiative for launching the Union for the Mediterranean.
Despite the rhetoric adopted by Trump during the electoral campaign, the reality of power will push him to address internal and external issues with pragmatism. While he lacks experience in terms of foreign policy, he will rely on experts who have great experience in designing US foreign policy. Based on the traditional relationship between Morocco and Republican Party, it is likely that the latter will follow the same approach adopted by former Republican presidents over the past forty years towards Morocco.
The need not to proceed with caution
However, Moroccans should not rush to express excessive optimism. They should rather wait until the president-elect takes office and chooses the team that is going to work with him and makes his first decisions regarding foreign policy to know where he stands with regard to Morocco.
Even though experience shows that Morocco has had stronger ties with the Republican Party than with the Democratic Party, there are some influential names in the GOP that do not necessarily hold positions in favor of Morocco. John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives are among the names Trump is considering for Secretary of State. While we do not know anything about Gingrich’s positions on Morocco, Bolton, who knows the Western Sahara conflict since he worked in the team of James Baker, the former Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General, or when he was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has taken positions that are not in favor of Morocco.
Mr. Bolton is known for his lack of faith in the usefulness of the United Nations to bring solutions to the conflicts on its agenda, as well as his support for organizing the referendum in Western Sahara as a means to put an end to the “burden posed by MINURSO on the United Nations’ budget and its Member States.”
When Bolton was ambassador to the United Nations between 2005 and 2006, he was among the few officials in the US administration who called on Morocco to abide by the 1991 settlement plan and organize the referendum. He also insisted on more than one occasion that MINURSO has failed in its mission to organize a referendum and that the United Nations should end its mission.
In the event Mr. Bolton is appointed as Secretary of State or National Security Adviser, there will be two scenarios: either he would continue to stress the need to organize the referendum and push Morocco to comply with its obligations, or he would call for an end to the MINURSO mission after its failure to organize the referendum.
The second scenario would be in favor of Morocco, which, after submitting the autonomy plan in 2007, believes that a referendum is no longer an option, and that the main task of MINURSO should be to monitor the ceasefire. In order to see the second scenario materialize, Moroccan officials should work on reviving the same momentum that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tried to give to the Moroccan autonomy plan.
That being said, Moroccans should not forget the great importance that the Republican Party, especially those in Texas, give to the need of enabling the United States to obtain new sources of oil and gas. This may play in favor of Algeria, whose President was quick to congratulate the President Trump on his win.
Therefore, Moroccan officials should be prepared for all scenarios and intensify their efforts to inform and educate Trump’s close aids and advisers about the Moroccan position and the efforts Morocco has made over the past nine years to reach a political solution to the conflict, as well as Morocco’s pivotal role in the US strategy to fight terrorism and extremism.
Samir Bennis is the co-founder of and editor-in-chief of Morocco World News. You can follow him on Twitter @SamirBennis