This blog is no longer active, but I continue to post at the group blog MAGHREB POLITICS REVIEW.

Apr 18, 2007

Mr. Kenilworth goes to Sahara

Via Will, a most interesting piece of news:

Elliot Abrams, the deputy national security adviser for global democracy strategy, is again sowing the seeds of conflict in the Middle East. This time it's in the disputed Western Sahara, under Moroccan control following the end of Spanish colonial rule in 1975.

After being marginalized from the Arab-Israeli arena, now under the almost exclusive domain of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her State Department, Abrams is pulling free the grenade pin that may shortly cause North Africa to explode.

He is on the verge of achieving a major U.S. policy shift that would have Washington backing Morocco's unilateral imposition of its so-called Western Sahara Initiative, or autonomy plan upon the indigenous Sahrawi people of Western Sahara.

U.S. officials distracted by other pressing regional conflagrations first viewed Abrams' Maghreb meddling as a small price to be paid for getting him out of the Arab-Israeli domain. They barely paid attention as Abrams tinkered with a new Western Sahara strategy, an embryonic idea raised by outgoing U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton (who threatened to do away with the Western Sahara peacekeeping mission, which turned costly over time in the absence of a successful settlement).

Read the rest! And don't miss the prescient Sahara Watch's post on Abram's involvement, from November last year.

The premise of the UPI article, by one Clayton Swisher, is that Abrams has been let loose in Western Sahara as some sort of compensation for being exiled from the Arab-Israeli process. No wonder, if it is so. I'm not one to bash the right, but both under Reagan and Bush Jr, Abrams has consistently brought out the worst aspects of Republican policymaking -- but that's not why he's famous. His claim to fame rests, rather, on his habit of repeatedly and spectacularly botching the long-term execution of his own policies, after spinning off into a neocon fantasyland of unrealistic goals and bloodcurdling methods, all the while refusing to back down to have a rational look at the havoc he's wreaking. The Washington Post, with some understatement, speaks of "ideological zeal and bureaucratic toughness".

Consider for example the following, very incomplete, list of Abramisms :

  • In the Middle East, not only did he help stall a cease-fire in in the Israel-Lebanon conflict last summer, provoking anti-American fury all over the Arab world. There's information he even tried to expand the war to include Israeli strikes on Syria. (Joshua Landis claims that regime change in Damascus is something Abrams has been advocating for a long time; and he did sign this report by Islamophobe ranter Daniel Pipes in 2000, noting that a credible threat of war would be the best means to confront Syria.) However, the Israelis, who would actually have to live in the region afterwards, kindly told him to * * * off.
  • Palestinian territories: promoting a military coup against the first democratically elected Arab government; whatever the flaws of Palestinian politics, and they are many, that kind of approach didn't fly even on the US right -- and would have been sure to set off a civil war (perhaps one that Abrams could then wreck the cease-fire efforts for, this apparently being his main line of expertise).
Despite or because of these in most countries career-ending moves, he was appointed in 2005 as one of the USA's top officials overseeing democracy promotion, with a special focus on the Middle East and North Africa. Iran-Contra and death squads to hell, Bush must have thought, because here we have a guy who is on record as arguing for an invasion of Iraq since 1998! If that isn't White House material today, I don't know what is. (Since Abram's appointment, as we all know, democracy in the Middle East has been irresistibly surging. It can only be compared to the heartfelt love for the USA pouring out of Latin America ever since the Reaganite 80s.)

Sahara Watch, in his post, laments "Abram's cynicism". Oh, I wish. The problem with characters such as Abrams is not their cyncism, a word which normally implies some level of hard-headed realism, but rather their unchecked idealism: uneducated on on-the-ground conditions, unconcerned with long-term planning, yet uncompromising on execution. A cynic would be expected to calculate the risks of failure. Elliott Abrams, on the other hand, time after time mistakes brutality and cloak-and-dagger schemes for "realism", all the while promoting the most irrealist of policies, apparently without noticing that they tend to backfire horribly over time. It is telling that the the Bush Sr. administration -- which was nothing if not realist, or even cynical, but in a professional and competent way -- did not let Abrams back into decision-making, even after it freed him of the Iran-Contra charges.

Nothing wrong, I say, in counting armed force and clandestine action among the means of foreign policy, and nothing wrong in sticking to your guns when there are important policy goals at stake. But violence and single-mindedness will never by themselves substitute for good planning and sensible ambitions. In fact, it will only accentuate the flaws of faulty or nonexistent planning -- something made all too clear by the mega-débacle now unfolding in Iraq. If Elliott Abrams has really taken the reins of US Maghreb policy, then we're in for a wild ride. And if his track record is anything to go by, the casualties will not only be maghrebine civilians, but are certain to include a few of those US policy goals he'll be claiming to defend.

  • ASVDH reports more sentences of demonstrators in El Aaiún, with a second batch of protesters to face trial soon. All in all, eleven Sahrawis have recently been condemned to between five months and five years in prison, for various crimes relating to street protests, displaying illegal symbols (the Western Sahara flag) and "disturbing the order".
  • Also: don't miss The Arabist's fascinating post on sand storms. He writes mostly of the Egyptian khamsin, but there's plenty of of sand flying around in Western Sahara too, so it qualifies for inclusion here.

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