What a Real Alliance Looks Like
President Barack Obama came under criticism recently for describing Egypt as neither an ally nor an enemy of the United States and then backtracking days later. Most Americans who follow the Middle East and North Africa know perfectly well that Egypt’s relationship with the United States is no longer friendly. After what happened over there during the last couple of weeks, even many Americans who hardly pay any attention at all have figured it out. But it’s not diplomatic for the White House or the State Department to say it out loud, so the president walked it back.
Compare and contrast Washington’s poisoned relationship with Cairo to the one at the opposite end of North Africa. The United States just upgraded its relationship with Morocco to the level of what’s called a Strategic Dialogue, bringing the two almost as close as possible without bringing Morocco into NATO. Americans have fewer than two dozen alliances like this in the world.
The timing could hardly be better. Since the Arab Spring began in Tunisia, North Africa and the Middle East have gone through an extraordinary period of tumultuous change, some of it good, but much of it bad. The U.S. needs friends it can count on over there and hardly has any other than Israel. Pro-American Arab governments — not that there are many of those — likewise need an alliance with the United States they can count on.
That part of the world also needs a stable rock somewhere—not the stultifying stability provided by the House of al-Saud in Arabia, and certainly not the tyrannical sort that Moammar Qaddafi managed for a few decades in Libya. No, what the Middle East and North Africa need right now is progressive stability, the kind that slowly advances human and political development without triggering the kinds of violent reactions and shocks we’re seeing in so many places right now. Morocco is one of the few countries that’s pulling it off.
Unlike “frenemy” states like Egypt and Pakistan, Morocco is a genuine friend of the United States and always has been. Washington and Rabat share the same strategic interests in the region and, just as importantly, the same outlook and vision.