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Can Moroccan Diplomacy Warm up Frosty Washington Relations?

Morocco will confront unprecedented diplomatic challenges in Washington over the next two years. With a new political environment shaped by a left-leaning US House of Representatives, an unsympathetic national security adviser in the White House, and a lack of a sustained and efficient Moroccan media and lobbying campaign in Washington, Rabat must shed its old habit of subcontracting its diplomatic efforts to lobbyists in order to thrive.

Washington D.C. – The New Yorker magazine’s unflattering article “Is One of Africa’s Oldest Conflicts Finally Nearing Its End?,” John Bolton’s speech at the Heritage Foundation, and the House bill excluding the Western Sahara from US economic assistance to Morocco gave the jitters to weary Moroccan officials.

Many question how, as the most dependable American ally in the region, Morocco has found itself in this predicament.

For years, Moroccan officials in Washington, and in some Anglo-Saxon capitals, have shunned journalists, academics, and NGO activists who may hold pro-Algeria secessionist views on Western Sahara.

Avoiding unfriendly journalists working for major media organizations or denying entry to researchers from known organizations is a misguided policy that cost Morocco a load of bad press and unnecessary diplomatic headaches.

Read also: Facts about the Western Sahara Conflict that You Should Know

In denying access to journalists like the New Yorker’s Nicolas Niarchos, Rabat weakens its arguments. In keeping silent about Bolton’s comments on Western Sahara, Morocco allows its opponents to define and control the message in Washington.

Morocco needs Moroccan foreign policy professionals familiar with the American political system, media, and academia who can engage American professionals to explain, defend, and advocate for Moroccan issues.

It is time for Moroccan officials to realize that their strategy of cajoling former US government officials into writing friendly news articles is not a substitute for a long-term plan to influence foreign policy community members through sustained and well-organized visits to Western Sahara.

Despite heavily investing in lobbying and public relations efforts in Washington, the kingdom has fallen short of garnering solid and consistent political and diplomatic support among leading think tanks, academic institutions, major news outfits, and independent political analysts who greatly influence the media and government officials.

The kingdom should do a better job in sending competent and informed academics who can plead their nation’s case in front of journalists, lawmakers, and human rights advocates in the United States. Moroccan officials rarely engage influential intellectuals and historians who can inform and educate the American public and the decision makers of Rabat’s rightful positions in Western Sahara.

Because of a lack of trained and well-informed Moroccan public relations professionals, most of the high value events of recent years supporting Rabat’s agenda have gone unnoticed in the American media. Furthermore, Moroccan politicians and diplomats rarely follow up or nurture on-going relations with leading American intellectuals who guide the Washington establishment.

Even when American think tanks issue pro-Morocco papers, Rabat fails to capitalize on the results and fumbles in disseminating such useful literature.

Morocco’s struggles to thrust its agenda into the spotlight in Washington are not new. Notwithstanding articles written by pro-Morocco authors and circulated in conservative publications with limited reach, Rabat could not find high profile voices in the United States despite its extended presence and financial power.

Moroccan media portrays the United States as a dedicated and strong ally, yet Washington never recognized the Sahara as Moroccan. In a few instances, the US State Department issued statements supporting Morocco’s local autonomy plan as a viable solution, but never pushed for a census of Sahrawi refugees in Algeria or called for an investigation into reported cases of Polisario guerrilla leadership’s embezzlement of international aid.

Washington’s position in Western Sahara has been a balance between keeping Rabat happy and not angering Algiers. A cautious position, which continues today under Trump, is a statement to the limits and shortcomings of Morocco’s over-reliance on lobbyists to do all the diplomatic work.

Rabat’s persistent refusal to review its public relations approach in Washington stems from officials’ failure to engage in a conscientious and candid self-examination of the limited long-term successes of Morocco’s expensive lobbying efforts in the United States.

With a Democratic House, powerful US senators pushing the Algerian agenda, John Bolton as national security adviser to President Trump, and a new US ambassador to the UN, Washington is growing into a frosty city for Moroccans. It is now up to Rabat to redraw a fresh PR strategy and adopt a new diplomatic culture to adjust to this new reality.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial views.

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