On December 5th, 2013 – NDN’s Middle East and North Africa Initiative hosted a discussion with Rep. Adam Smith, Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee. Topics covered include economic and diplomatic engagement, Iran, Egypt, Syria, military aid, and a broader regional strategy. Full video of the event is available below.
Casablanca. A bustling and modern city
“There isn’t much to actually do in Dakhla, but it’s a beautiful place to just be.” This aphorism came from a middle-aged Moroccan woman seated next to me as we flew into the small coastal city in the Western Sahara. She was right that Dakhla is gorgeous, but if the Moroccan government sees its vision come to pass, there will soon be much more than beaches and dunes to attract people to the city, and much more to do.
The small metropolis of 170,000 barely existed a decade a ago, but after millions of dollars of investment it now boasts greatly expanded infrastructure, housing, business activity, and stands ready to play an important role at the front lines of Morocco’s plan to become a platform for access to the greater African continent. The continually expanding port now supplies over three quarters of the seafood in Morocco in addition to growing exports to Europe, Asia, and Latin America. Meanwhile, the last ten years have seen the creation of over 3,000 small and medium sized businesses in the area. And this growth is no accident. Now that the violence between the Polisario Front and the Moroccan government is in the distant past and a final negotiated settlement appears eventually inevitable — the government believes that Dakhla and the greater south are positioned to be one of the first success stories of the new economic regionalization plan and can serve as a springboard for investments from international corporations interested in serving larger markets in west and central Africa.
Since the uprisings of the Arab Spring, the Kingdom of Morocco has fared far better than many of its neighbors, with a new constitution ushering in several years of reform rather than revolution. This has allowed the country to set itself apart from some regional competitors and left it prepared to leverage its significant advantages in banking, location, and stability — key considerations for succeeding on a continent that is quickly becoming harder and harder for corporations to ignore. Africa already represents more consumer spending than Russia with a larger GDP than Brazil and Russia combined. Over the next decade those numbers are projected to grow tremendously as 17% of the world’s population will call Africa their home by 2020 and rapid urbanization and economic growth will continue to expand the middle class.
It is often said in Morocco that Tangier is their gateway to the north while Dakhla is their gateway to the south. With free trade agreements in place with the United States, EU, Turkey, and several Arab countries, the government appears to have the international structures in place that can compliment their long term investments in education and governance — critical to realizing their vision of becoming a regional platform and keeping those doors wide open. When King Mohammed VI visits Washington, DC this week to there will surely be discussions about security cooperation and cultural dialogue. But rest assured that the delegation will also be looking to put on their best business-friendly face as they roll out the welcome mats to potential investors. At a time when stable governments in the region seem scarce and economic diplomacy has become the norm rather than the exception, the Moroccans are likely to find a warm reception.
As part of the agreement to re-open the government, the House and Senate have finally agreed to form a budget conference committee and pass actual appropriations bills for the next fiscal year. While the top-line funding numbers are important, the details of how the foreign affairs budget is reconciled are also critical. The foreign operations bill provides funding for nearly all of the non-defense functions of U.S. foreign engagement. The need for American leadership is as urgent as ever, but the version that came out of the House Committee earlier this year made deep and dangerous cuts to our diplomatic toolkit while sequestration is systematically starving key programs. Legislators who understand the vital role of American leadership need to fight hard for robust and funding in the coming weeks and months as critical accounts like the Middle East Partnership Initiative and the MENA Incentive Fund hang in the balance.
Programs like these need to be protected and grown because they represent the best and most effective approaches to international support. We need to be doubling down on region-wide and flexible mechanisms that leverage partnerships with NGOs and the private sector in order to help our policy become less reactionary, invest in long-term U.S. interests, and help build up the capacity of populations through health, education, economic growth, and active civil society.
This type of assistance is not simply foreign charity; it is a vital component of American leadership and economic growth. Then- Secretary Clinton laid out the basic ingredients earlier this year, encouraging governments to “ view civil society not as a threat but as an asset. A genuine democracy is like a three-legged stool. One leg is responsive, accountable government; the second leg a dynamic, job-creating private sector; and the third leg is a robust and vibrant civil society.” The U.S. has the tools and expertise to help developing countries construct this three-legged stool, but our diplomats and partners can’t do that work while being forced into robbing Peter to pay Paul. The importance of maintaining a strong defense is without questions, but the country is weaker if we allow our military to be our primary actor on the global stage. If we wish to see a world comprised of more modern, inclusive, and open countries – we need to invest in strategy designed to do just that.
Too many politicians believe their constituents are too shortsighted or un-engaged to see the value of these investments, but that is simply not the case. After hearing that foreign assistance makes up merely 1% of the Federal budget, only 24% of Americans believe we spend too much while 36% believe that we don’t spend enough. With another 30% saying that 1% is about right, the last thing we should be doing is cutting back. The Better World Campaign recently commissioned a nationwide survey finding that over 85% of Americans support funding programs which help women and girls in foreign countries achieve better health, education, and economic opportunity as well as being overwhelmingly supportive of efforts to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger around the world. When it comes to fully funding the foreign operations budget, politicians have a much easier case to make than many of them think.
 Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State (Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society 2012 Summit, Washington DC: US Department of State)
 Kaiser Family Foundation Survey. May 2012
We hosted an online webcast to discuss President Obama’s post-UNGA Middle East strategy in light of developments with Iran and recent events in Syria and Egypt. You can listen to the conversation on Spreecast. I was joined by James Miller, Managing Editor of The Interpreter Magazine. James has many years of experience covering the Middle East, Russia, and the Arab revolutions.
Bradley Bosserman published an article in The Hill this morning analyzing the implications of the proposed agreement over Syrian chemical weapons. The piece argues that the seemingly contradictory aims of securing chemical weapons and ushering in a transitional government can best be achieved by focusing US policy toward the goal of quickly ending the conflict.
Effectively securing these weapons in the midst of a civil war will be functionally impossible and setting the precedent that gassing your citizens can be a strategy for extracting powerful concessions would weaken norms against chemical weapons use, not strengthen them. The stated policy of the United States is to aid the opposition, support the transition to a post-Assad government, and secure the country’s vast stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. The only way to reconcile these objectives is to actively seek an end to the conflict and usher in a more responsible, transitional government. As the White House has said, Assad must go.
Read the full article here.
Today we have released a new Policy Brief analyzing some of the problems with the Administration’s current approach to winning support for Syria authorization and laying out a framework for a more convincing and strategy-led argument. We believe that:
The U.S. has already rightfully chosen sides in this conflict, sending aid, training, weapons, and logistical support to the rebels. Decoupling this latest action from these ongoing efforts to support the opposition and from the stated policy aim of regime change simply makes no sense. If the administration is going to convince the Congress, the country, and the world that military intervention is now the proper response, they must address this fundamental dissonance by articulating a cogent vision of American involvement in the region that ties the ongoing – and proposed – actions in Syria to American values and concrete U.S. interests. Only then will the President be able to make a compelling case for not only his Syria policy, but also a broader agenda of engagement. There should be at least three components to this argument:
- Preventing nuclear weaponization of Iran and constraining its foreign policy adventurism is a legitimate aim of U.S. policy.
- We need to encourage more constructive engagement from our Gulf partners.
- We need to help empower more modern and pluralistic forces vis-a-vis violent and radical groups who seek to destroy the emergence of open, tolerant, and prosperous societies.
Download the full Syria Policy Brief.
Update: This report is also available En Español
On June 6th, NDN’s MENA Initiative hosted a panel exploring ways that decreasing US oil demand and rapidly growing Chinese presence in MENA oil markets is reshaping the global politics of the Middle East.
Bradley Bosserman, Director of the MENA Initiative, moderated the wide-ranging conversation with two experts. Dr. Gawdat Bahgat is a professor at the National Defense University where he specializes in American energy policy in the Middle East, grand strategy, and security issues. He brought to the discussion his significant experience not only in academia, but also in advising U.S. officials and global energy companies.
I-wei Jennifer Chang joined us from the University of Maryland, where her doctoral work focuses on Chinese foreign policy in the Middle East and how oil interests effect Beijing’s global strategy.
We will be releasing a major report in the next couple of week which addresses some of these issues in more depth. Watch the video of the event below.