Morocco: The West’s Gateway to Africa?

Casablanca

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.

Event Video: The End of Power with Moises Naim

Renowned thinker and writer Moises Naim joined us at NDN to discuss the future of power and the international political landscape. He unpacked some of the themes of his latest book, The End of Power, and presented a vision that drew a through-line between the events of the Arab Spring and many other emerging global trends.

This wide-ranging conversation was moderated by NDN’s Simon Rosenberg and explored economic and institutional challenges that are coming to define our globalized world. You can watch the full video below and pick up a copy of his new book here.

Middle East Engagement Briefing – “A Real Opportunity to Lead”

Bradley Bosserman hosted an interactive webcast on framing a more robust Middle East strategy. This previously unpublished briefing deck highlights some of the latest market research and polling from the United States and abroad, detailing political opportunities and framing mechanics that can successfully support a strategy of broader economic engagement with the Middle East and North Africa.

A Clintonian Foreign Policy in Obama’s Second Term

Obama and Bill ClintonDuring his fifth State of the Union, President Obama articulated a foreign policy vision that can pretty accurately be described as modest. On nearly all fronts he displayed a preference for restraint and moderation, rather than bold engagement abroad. There was one notable exception, however: Trade. The President outlined a second-term trade agenda that is as ambitious as anything we’ve seen since the 1990’s. Completing negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and launching a new round of US-EU FTA talks holds the potential to bring about the broadest and most robust expansion of economic liberalization, harmonization, and engagement since the Uraguay round. For a President who has spent four years trying to constrain the scale and scope of traditional hard power, he appears much more comfortable allowing economic statecraft to be the face of American leadership overseas. In that way, Obama’s second term foreign policy may end up looking very Clintonian, and no I don’t mean Hillary.

The Marshall Plan Should Inspire Romney’s “New Course in the Middle East”

Brad Bosserman published an article in the Jerusalem Review of Near East Affairs exploring the idea of a Marshall Plan for the Middle East. 

Mitt Romney’s October strategy appears to hinge on attacking President Obama’s handling of the Middle East. He took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to call for “A New Course,” yesterday he gave a major address on his Middle East strategy, and his latest stump speech now features a litany of supposed Obama blunders, declaring that “we had an ambassador assassinated. We had a Muslim Brotherhood member elected to the presidency of Egypt. Twenty-thousand people have been killed in Syria. We have tumult in Pakistan, and of course Iran is that much closer to having the capacity to build a nuclear weapon.”

Even after his speech at the Virginia Military Institute yesterday, it is difficult to grasp Romney’s strategy as he either fails to articulate his preferred policies, or calls for actions that have already been taken by the Obama administration. Many important questions remain unanswered. If Romney views the outcome of the Egyptian election as a problem, would he have preferred the Arab Spring to not have occurred? If the president’s decision to intervene only non-militarily in Syria is the wrong course, does he support an invasion? If the Obama administration’s approach to Iran is insufficient — despite implementing the most restrictive sanctions in history, resulting in popular riots in Tehran — does Romney favor launching a war to stop the nuclear program? The only hints he offers as to how he would answer these questions is a promise to more fully embrace Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and an invocation of George Marshall, declaring that he will draw on the lessons we learned “since World War II.”

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FACT CHECK: Romney’s VMI Speech Supports Obama’s MENA Strategy

Governor Romney today gave what he billed as a major address on his Middle East strategy. I wrote last week about the five questions that he should have answered today. Essential details that have real consequences for how a Romney Administration would actually conduct itself in the region. Unfortunately, those questions remain unanswered. What he did do, strangely enough, was make the case for the strategy that the Obama Administration has been pursuing for the last two years. On almost every single issue that Romney raised, the policy he claims to favor is the one currently being implemented. Instead of a critique, this address should be understood as an endorsement of Obama’s current strategy, and as a call to embolden it.

Iran

Romney says that he will “impose new sanctions on Iran, and will tighten the sanctions we currently have.” But President Obama has already organized the most restrictive multilateral sanctions regime in history; a policy that is delegitimizing the current government and has led to popular revolts in Tehran.

Syria

Romney says that he would “work with our partners to identify and organize those members of the opposition who share our values and ensure they obtain the arms they need.” The Obama Administration has been working with Gulf allies to get weapons and support channeled to the rebels for months now, but has also acknowledged how risky it is to supply incredibly powerful weapons to groups that have unknown agendas and little ability to keep them out of the hands of anti-American forces. It’s unclear how Romney’s policy would be any different.

Trade

Romney says that he will “champion free trade and restore it as a critical element of our strategy, both in the Middle East and across the world.” The President, though, is in the midst of negotiating a major trans-pacific trade agreement, and has finalized regional trade and investment framework agreements with the Gulf Cooperation Council and the countries in the MENA region. Ambassador Sapiro articulated this trade-led policy over a year ago, so it is difficult to imagine how Mr. Romney has missed it.

Aid

Romney says that he will provide aid, but make it conditional on democratic progress, leverage international partners, and organize it under one administrator. That’s an excellent summary of the Obama policy. Ambassador Bill Taylor – the Special Coordinator for Middle East Transitions – was probably surprised to hear that Mr. Romney appeared not to know that he existed, though he was appointed to coordinate all aid to MENA transition countries over a year ago.

Additionally, the Deauville Partnership was created by the US and its G8 allies specifically to provide aid that incentivized moving down the path of good governance, and leveraging multilateral partnerships with the IMF, foreign allies, and other development banks.

If Mr. Romney really wants to deploy the lessons of George Marshall, whom he name-checked five times during his address, he should call on House Republicans to stop blocking the economic engagement agenda that Obama has been pushing for over the last year and a half. The MENA Incentive Fund, $450 million in debt forgiveness, and essential aid to the transition countries remains in jeopardy. If Romney believes in Marshall’s vision of reconstruction and democracy promotion, then he has some phone calls to make to Capitol Hill.