February 15, 2006
Maghreb & Rumsfeld (Updated)
Following up on my earlier post on Rumsfeld and his commenton the Maghreb, a somewhat clearer article from FT on the trip:
A bit of commentary on the idiocies (required in large part, but still idiocies):
As was the case in Tunisia and Algeria, the other stops in his three-day tour of the Maghreb at the start of this week, however, the defence secretary delicately steered away from publicly criticising the north African governments for their lack of political freedom.
His Maghreb visit, which included the first trip by a US defence secretary to Algeria, was aimed at improving counter-terrorism and military co-operation with the north African nations, which Washington views as increasingly important allies in the "war on terror". Mr Rumsfeld also wanted to show support for those countries' efforts to wipe out domestic extremism.
Some critics have argued that the US should not boost military relations with the north African countries - Tunisia and Algeria in particular, but also Morocco - until their governments institute further political reform.
I can grant Tunisia on the critics re not boosting even though I would not agree. Algeria, well, cosying up to the Generals there is profoundly a bad idea. But Morocco? It may not be perfect, but certainly is worlds away healthier from a political point of view. Some support is not a bad thing there.
After an audience with King Mohammed VI of Morocco on Monday, he was asked how he would respond to those critics. Mr Rumsfeld said: "Obviously, I respond by visiting them and working with them and recognising the progress they have made and co-operating with them."
Okay, Morocco on political and some economic fronts. Tunisia.... well at least on an economic front.
US defence officials acknowledge that the three countries lack political freedom and have poor human rights records and restrictions on the media but they say each country is moving in the right direction. They say Washington realises that it must walk a fine line between quietly pushing for greater political reform while developing co-operation in a regime with a history of Islamic extremism.
Fair enough, although Algeria moving in the right direction on any particular front strikes me as like saying Mubarek is 'moving in the right direction.'
Tunisia moving in the right direction in terms of political reform is also delusional. Although at least Ben Ali has more panache than the shrimp eating lump in Cairo.
That realism is also reflected in US relations with a number of countries in the Middle East, north Africa and beyond, including Egypt and Pakistan, where the US is relying on co-operation to defeat what US officials are now calling the "long war" on terrorism.
I don't mind pragmatic realism, but marrying it with delusionally idealistic policy goals and public commentary is ill-advised.
In short, we're playing a stupid game with Pakistan and Egypt.
Now Pakistan perhaps there is not really another choice, but Egypt I think there are other choices.
Some of the political problems facing the north African governments' efforts to improve military relations with the US were underscored on Sunday when anti-US demonstrators sat outside the Moroccan parliament in Rabat to protest at the arrival of Mr Rumsfeld in the capital.
The Morocco Times reported that the demonstrations were organised by the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH), which is critical of the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the US prison at GuantáÃ‚Ânamo Bay, in addition to Morocco's military co-operation with Washington.
During his visit Mr Rumsfeld took every opportunity to praise the countries' efforts to support the US war on terrorism and to emphasise the moderate nature of their regimes.
The Morocco Times is their source?
Well, one English language source I suppose. Weak, however, very weak.
That aside, 'moderate nature of their regimes' means what here? Moderate = pro US I suppose.
Morocco, I grant moderation. Tunisia... well politically retrograde but I suppose moderate in relative terms.
"Each country in its way has provided moderate leadership and been constructive in the problems of the world and the struggle against violent extremism," Mr Rumsfeld told reporters on Saturday as he left Sicily, where he had participated in a two-day Nato defence meeting also attended by Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco as part of the Nato-Mediterranean dialogue.
Again, Algeria: rubbish. He may have to say that, but regardless, rubbish.
The Algerian regime is a backwards, cantakerous ill-tempered vampire state whose only positive factor is that it is less reprehensible than the takfiri Salafiste murderers that it fought for the past decade. But only marginally so.
Underscoring the growing importance of the Maghreb to the US, Robert Mueller, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, visited the region last week. Jack Straw, the British foreign secretary, also arrived at King Mohammed's residence for an audience with the king on counter-terrorism while Mr Rumsfeld was wrapping up his meeting.
Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco are also partners in the US-led Trans-Sahara Counter-terrorism Initiative, which includes Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Nigeria. The $500m (€420m, £288m) seven-year initiative is aimed at helping the African countries ensure that radical extremist groups do not take root in the expansive, uncontrolled areas of the Sahara and the Sahel.
Nice to be popular, but this Trans Saharan initiative smells. I suppose one has to play ball with the players on the ground, but I would not desire to get too close to either the Mauretanians or the Algerians.
But while Mr Rumsfeld repeatedly talked about the need for counter-terrorism co-operation with Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria, he said he did not believe that the three countries themselves were likely breeding grounds for al-Qaeda.
"Each of those three coun tries [is] managing [its] internal affairs in a way that makes that an extremely low possibility," Mr Rumsfeld said in Ifrane. "There are other areas more likely, on the other hand, [where] we have to be attentive."
This is possibly the stupidest thing he said. In some ways diplo compliments of limited real substance, but there are other ways to have said this which would have been less stupid.
Maghrebine connexions for al-Qaeda-esque cells in Europe are terribly important. It's unclear how deep the connexions run in the Maghreb itself, but in all three, but especially Algeria and Morocco, the slums have been deep sources of recruiting.
The US, which provides military financing to Tunisia and Morocco, has a less-developed relationship with Algeria, a member of the non-aligned movement during the cold war. Algeria wants to buy defence equipment from the US, including night-vision goggles and some aircraft. While the US is willing to provide some material, it is proceeding step by step out of concern that more lethal equipment could complicate relations with Algeria's neighbours.
Amusing the last line. The Algerian Vampire Regime manages to have poisonous relations with all its neighbors.
I noted I forgot to note that Rumsfeld's comment re al-Qaeda in this context are less non-sensical that the out-of-context quote I saw earlier. While on one hand they are clearly diplo speak, in the overall context of what is known about Salafi extremist activism in the Maghreb, his comments are ill-advised at best and frankly in the end stupid. Similar sentiments could have been expressed better - his speech writer needs a hammer to the head.
That said, the overall initiative is less objectionable than the cozying up to Algeria per se. Working with Tunisia and Morocco makes a great deal of sense (although claiming great progress in political arena for Tunisia is... well making one's own rhetoric on democratisation ridiculous. I am all for pragmatism. One should try to craft rhetoric, even idealistic rhetoric so that it is at least not laughably contradictory. Of course in the US of A these cites can be thrown around and convince an audience. But in region they render US rhetoric rather absurd.
Returning to my original thought, the Algerian regime is repulsive and is doing nothing real of substance to deliver a better life to the poor bastards under it. It is a strategic error to cozy up to them. This is the sort of regime that for long term interest should be kept at arms length, however efficient it may be at slaughtering takfiri murders. There is good reason to suspect that near the end of the open civil war the Algerian Generals were settling scores and the mask of Salafiste death squads. This is simply a regime one should avoid at almost all costs. At least Tunisia and Morocco have promise of delivering better futures. Sometimes shaky promise, but legitimately there.
TrackBack URL for this entry:
Terrific site. I strongly encourage you to continue. It's just what the Maghreb needs.
Posted by: Mark MacNamara at February 16, 2006 02:57 AM
Would be interested to here whether the Chinese have made any inroads in establishing stronger economic ties to Maghreb (especially in trying to secure agreements in re oil - I'm thinking primarily Algeria and Tunisia).
Posted by: eponymous at February 16, 2006 11:50 AM
What about Algeria tightening links with Iran ?
Posted by: Jules at February 18, 2006 05:02 PM
Eh? Algeria tightening links with Iran? Care to elaborate?
Epon: certainly there is a rising Chinese presence in the region. Casablanca, for example, even has begun to develop a small Chinatown. Supposedly Chinese Muslims but I doubt that.
There is clearly, then, rising presence, mostly in trade. As to oil agreements, I am unaware of Algeria signing new deals, but I don't track oil and might have missed.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at February 18, 2006 05:27 PM