The US should do more for its oldest ally

Today, July 30, across the Atlantic and just a few weeks after the 238th anniversary of our country’s independence, America’s oldest ally will celebrate the fifteen-year anniversary of its King’s leadership. I was present at King Mohammed VI’s enthronement ceremony in 1999, as the U.S. ambassador to Morocco at the time. I remember being struck by the seeming irony: I was representing one of the world’s most important democracies at the celebration of one of the world’s most long-standing monarchies.

But as I quickly learned, it wasn’t ironic at all. From our very first conversation, just following the death of His father, King Hassan II, I understood that King Mohammed VI holds a very specific vision for Morocco that shares so many US values. He expressed his desire to devolve power to local government; he was proud that his country embraced diversity and tolerance and wanted the world to understand how essential that was to Morocco’s identity; and he wanted his country to prosper—economically, politically, and socially. Having witnessed the first few years of his reign from the US Embassy in Rabat, and having served as an adviser to the Kingdom since 2002, I have been uniquely positioned to witness Morocco’s evolution under King Mohammed VI’s rule.

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It began with the Independent Commission of Arbitration in 1999 to investigate past regime abuses; a second iteration in 2004, called the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, publicly broadcast the investigations and compensated victims. It continued with the 2004 reform of the Moudawana, or Family Law, greatly expanding protection of women’s and children’s rights. The 2011 Constitutional reforms established a constitutional monarchy with separation of powers between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches; strengthened local and regional governments; created an independent human rights commission with broad investigative authority; and mandated gender equality. Additional significant reforms have taken place just recently in the areas of migrant rights, women’s rights, and civil justice. And many more are on the way. Meanwhile, the Moroccan economy has also reaped the benefits of stability: GDP per capita has doubled and exports have quadrupled in the past fifteen years, and Morocco was the highest recipient of foreign direction investment in Africa in 2013.

While the future is less certain for many countries in the rest of the region, Morocco has stayed the course under King Mohammed’s strong leadership. Given such advances in line with our own values and interests, the question is often asked why the US doesn't do more to support Morocco in its struggles and endeavors.

How?

First, by finalizing a second Millennium Challenge Compact (MCC) with Morocco to bolster the country’s economic/human development and good governance initiatives. Morocco met all of the goals of its first MCC compact in this regard, garnering praise from the United Nations for the strides it took in combating hunger; a second compact would serve as a vote of confidence in Morocco’s performance and capabilities.

Second, and related, by broadening provisions of the US-Morocco Free Trade Agreement, the only such US agreement in Africa, to allow African countries to team up with Morocco on adding value to goods shipped to the US from Morocco. The United States has benefited immensely from the FTA so far— U.S. exports to Morocco are up more than 400 percent from 2005. We must encourage Morocco to continue opening and strengthening its economy.

And lastly—and most importantly—by coming clean about America’s policy on the Western Sahara, the country’s primary diplomatic priority. It is a disputed tract of land that for the past forty years has pitted Morocco against a separatist movement backed by Algeria. Morocco’s sovereignty over this historic territory, which it has administered since 1976 and in which it has invested billions of dollars in development, is “the national cause” to Moroccans.

It was the U.S. that persuaded Morocco in 1999 to compromise on the dispute, encouraging them to offer autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty for the people of the area. And yet to this day, no State Department official will admit publicly that the US supports this policy. Perhaps they see it as taking sides in the ongoing UN negotiating process. But after endless rounds of talks with no progress, the only way that the Polisario and its Algerian backers will take the process seriously is by knowing that the US stands firm in its position in this regard. The United States should be forthcoming about its policy and take the strongest steps possible to implement it in order to put this dispute to rest once and for all.

America doesn’t have many foreign policy achievements as of late, nor does it have many friends as stable and steadfast as Morocco. Morocco shares our aspirations and hopes for a free, prosperous, and stable Middle East and North Africa region and we would be remiss to let them go it alone.

Gabriel is a former U.S. Ambassador to Morocco and president and CEO of The Gabriel Company, and currently advises the Kingdom of Morocco.

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