After US recognition of Moroccan sovereignty, Morocco should increase -- not relax -- efforts to bring balance to American coverage.
After Stephen Zunes, — a professor at the University of San Francisco known for his hostility towards Morocco, desperate defense of the Polisario Front, and use of misinformation to achieve his agenda — published a myopic and misleading op-ed, John Bolton and James Baker respectively published op-eds in Foreign Policy and the Washington Post, while former UN envoy Christopher Ross made similar remarks to other media.
As expected, given their convictions and history of prioritizing their own interests, the common purpose of their media engagement is to persuade President-elect Joe Biden to reverse Trump’s decision.
These political figures resort to a biased approach, using the same narrative and talking points that Algeria and its supporting countries employ. They portray the conflict in a way that egregiously implies Polisario is a victim of Morocco’s reluctance to abide by international law. Bolton and Baker also fail to account for major developments during the last two decades and overlook why the UNSC considers the referendum proposal a practical impossibility.
From their agenda-driven perspective, it does not matter whether their op-eds can withstand scrutiny or contain unfounded claims unworthy of former US officials or prominent academics. Their main objective is not to convey an accurate, comprehensive picture. It is to set and control the narrative to influence decision makers, the ultimate goal in a media war.
The threat of a biased narrative
Through this manipulative media campaign, voices in support of the Polisario Front and Algeria have come to dominate the narrative, especially as these figures capitalize on their fame to vouch for the separatist front and its backer.
Meanwhile, Morocco does not appear to have any media strategy to counteract and neutralize this insidious PR campaign and the baseless claims that harm the country’s interests and reputation. I have not yet read any article in a major American newspaper that gives another perspective on the subject or defends the potential of Trump’s decision to end both the dispute over Western Sahara and the stalemate the file experienced due to Algeria and Polisario’s intransigence, in addition to the UN’s failure to adopt a realistic and viable approach.
The UN’s failure, for example, is mainly due to the conflict of interests between permanent members of the Security Council and the absence of any desire to effectively implement the resolutions it has adopted since 2007, which call on all parties to reach a compromise-based, mutually acceptable political solution. Yet this receives no mention.
I fear this fierce media campaign against Morocco will continue in the coming weeks and lead the incoming Biden administration to reconsider Trump’s decision. Algeria and its supporters have nothing left to lose. This includes the lobbyists working formally and informally with Algeria, who receive hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to stall the file further. These groups prefer the US oppose Morocco as doing so would secure their source of income.
The campaign we are witnessing comes as no surprise. What was not expected, however, was the absence of a Moroccan counter-campaign in the same media.
I am not sure if the Moroccan authorities are working behind-the-scenes to make contacts within President-elect Biden’s entourage, or with other influential figures within the Democratic Party, to convince the incoming administration to support Trump’s decision. Personally I believe it would be difficult for President Biden to take any decision that might have a negative impact on Morocco-US relations.
However, it is important not to underestimate the pro-Algerian lobby’s ability to preserve its interests. Morocco should end its absence from the media landscape, an absence which allows its opponents to impose their narrative to manipulate public opinion and civil society institutions.
The Moroccan government should move quickly and reach out to its US supporters to stand against these influential voices seeking to persuade the new US administration.
Satisfaction with the status quo and belief that Morocco has won the battle once and for all in Washington would only lead to adverse results that could affect the country’s position and undermine the diplomatic momentum it has achieved over the past four years.
Holding rallies and marches in Morocco or Washington to express Moroccans’ joy at Trump’s decision will not help maintain this win with President Biden. What will help Morocco is to engage in this media war and strike back against pro-Algerian advocates’ myopic and erroneous narrative. If there was ever a time for Morocco to mobilize all its supporters in Washington, that time is now.
Samir Bennis is the co-founder of Morocco World News. You can follow him on Twitter @SamirBennis.