President Obama plans to meet over the week of November 22 in Washington with King Mohammed VI of Morocco, scion of a 300-year-old monarchy whose friendship with the United States dates back to 1777. We believe the encounter presents an opportunity for both leaders to build on the historic alliance at a time of global economic malaise as well as unprecedented strife and fraught transition in the Arab world: their nations share new interests, and evolving foreign policy views in both countries have the potential to complement each other.
From an American perspective, it has been clear for some time that the United States cannot and therefore should not seek to impose solutions for the region’s internal conflicts. At the same time, it is also clear that Washington must continue to encourage peaceful conflict resolution and moderate reformist trends while unwaveringly defending the security and territorial integrity of its allies.
Morocco is thoroughly vested in America’s success on all these fronts -- and has special capabilities of its own that can help make success more likely.
For starters, the royal family enjoys the trust of Palestinians as well as Israelis: On the one hand, it permanently chairs the Al-Quds Committee of Muslim states, through which it staunchly defends Palestinians’ legitimate rights. On the other hand, it has been a friend to the Jewish people since the present king’s grandfather helped save 265,000 Moroccan Jews from the Nazis during World War II.
Regarding the Syrian conflict, King Muhammad VI has been an advocate of pan-Arab unity and solidarity on behalf of that country’s embattled majority, particularly in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. Those countries differ as to which rebel elements to support and how; what role outsiders such as the US, Russia, and Iran should play in attempting to reach a political settlement with Damascus; and, for that matter, how to balance hopes for a bloodless end to the Iranian nuclear standoff with skepticism about Iranian negotiators’ motives.
The king stands out as a trusted friend to each and every one of the Gulf states’ leaders, capable of building consensus for a concerted policy in consort with his American friends. Lastly, the kingdom’s successful promotion of tolerance and incremental political reform within its own borders offers lessons and models for other Arab states -- not only the revolutionary republics of Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia but also the region’s many enduring monarchies. American hopes to see all Arab countries advance toward increased political participation and civil peace stand to be advanced through US-backed civil society projects that draw lessons and expertise from Morocco.
Obama and King Mohammed VI also share a set of ideas that transcend the Arab region as it has traditionally been defined. At a time of global economic malaise and a widening opportunity gap, both leaders view the southern hemisphere in terms of human and economic development -- not just the politics of ethnicity, gender, and sect. They recognize, moreover, that modern transport and communications have made the fringes of the Arab world more porous. In particular, Saharan desert lands dividing Arab North Africa from the rest of the continent are now a major conduit of traffic -- in everything from progressive ideas to extremist ideologies, from prosperous entrepreneurs to terrorists and the weapons they wield.
Moroccan contributions to the stability and security of North Africa and the Sahel have been substantial. The two leaders have both expressed the view that countering growing extremism and militancy below the Sahara requires not only hard-nosed security cooperation and counter-radicalization but also the creation of economic opportunity. They see in Africa, as well, a growing market and business with dividends for the American and Moroccan private sectors. The kingdom, for its part, has been increasingly engaged in Africa; its banks are omnipresent below the Sahara, and trade and investment runs deep in infrastructure development, manufacturing, and finance.
Thus the King’s visit to Washington will afford both leaders a chance to advance their shared aspirations for the continent. Options for cooperation in business and economic development include “triangular programs” -- whereby the US leverages Moroccan networks and expertise to provide training or establish a business presence in a third, sub-Saharan country. Moroccan territory as well, has become a hub for the training of sub-Saharan armed forces and education of sub-Saharan mosque Imams in moderate, tolerant Islamic practice. Opportunities abound for the United States to build on these practices -- through military training partnerships as well as “soft power” ventures geared toward countering radicalism in countries where Al-Qaeda is on the rise. The stabilizing effects of Moroccan political and social reforms, coupled with regional leadership in the fight against terrorism should be leveraged to enable the US and Europe to advance their development goals in Sub-Saharan Africa, the benefits of which will be felt within the region and beyond
These many points of intersection seem poised to make for an encounter from which Americans and Moroccans, indeed all of North Africa, the Sahel, and the broader Middle East stand to benefit.
Jones, a board director at the Atlantic Council, is a former National Security Advisor to President Obama (2009-2010) and served as 32nd Commandant of the Marine Corps. Charai is a publisher and a board director of the Atlantic Council and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.