Morocco: Fifty years later, a steadfast friend

It happened fifty years ago today, yet like most Americans alive at the time, I remember hearing the news of President Kennedy’s assassination as if it were yesterday. I was sitting in my eighth grade classroom at St. Joseph’s Catholic School in upstate New York. The announcement was made over the loudspeaker, and moments later we heard the nuns’ terrified whispers. The president—the first Catholic president—had been killed. In shock, we were sent home early to be with and grieve with our families.

Even as a kid I knew that the United States had lost a beloved leader in President John F. Kennedy. We lived in a scary world. The threat of communism loomed over the country. The news spoke of despots in Cuba, in Russia… A guerilla war in Vietnam raged on. And the assassination made it seem even scarier.

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It wasn’t until much later, in 1998 when I was serving as U.S. Ambassador to Morocco, that I came to fully appreciate how far beyond our own country the impact of that day’s events reached. I was talking with Morocco’s King Hassan II in a routine meeting. Except that the date was November 22, the anniversary of JFK’s assassination. 

King Hassan II reminisced about his trip to Washington in March 1963 for a State Visit with the U.S. president, just eight months before the tragic events that took President Kennedy’s life. The two leaders had exchanged warm words and reaffirmed their countries’ longstanding partnership.

“Though a wide ocean separates our two countries,” President Kennedy had said, “They have been bound together throughout our history.”

King Hassan II had emphasized that he and the Moroccan people looked forward to “true and honest and unselfish cooperation in their mutual interests, as well as in the interest of the cause of freedom, peace, and human dignity throughout the world.”

Communism, the Soviets, Cuba—today they are no longer threats to our country. Yet decades later, as King Hassan II’s son King Mohammed VI meets with President Barack Obama at the White House today, the world is still a dangerous place, and the cause of freedom, peace, and human dignity throughout the world remains an urgent one. And Morocco is still there with us.

Morocco has managed to grow and prosper in a politically and economically unstable region. The U.S. and Morocco are both committed to dealing with the challenges of extremism and terrorism, and to bringing stability, economic growth, dignity, and democratic reforms to the Middle East and North Africa. Morocco is America’s oldest friend, and it remains today our strongest ally in the region.

It is my hope that the United States will take advantage of King Mohammed’s visit to reaffirm the strategic partnership between our countries, and to show with absolute clarity that the United States stands with Morocco in its commitment to advancing reforms, human rights, economic development, and peace and stability in the region. 

Let the current administration take a lesson from President Kennedy, then, who had said to King Hassan II fifty years ago, “We know your visit will be beneficial to both of our countries and to both of our peoples.”

Gabriel is the former U.S. Ambassador to Morocco, 1997 to 2001, and currently advises the government of Morocco.