Algerian Champions in US Mobilize to Nullify Trump’s Western Sahara Move

Like David Keene (left), John Bolton (right) recently suggested that recognizing Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara is dangerous.

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Algeria is sharpening its lobbying efforts to counter the “bad news” of US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara.

In recent months, Algiers’ pro-Polisario lobbying efforts appeared to have stalled. As the North African country battled its own demons at home in the form of persistent anti-establishment protests, its political class did not enjoy the resources and time needed to undermine Morocco’s diplomatic achievements.

Since Trump’s announcement of a deal that includes unambiguous support for Morocco’s Western Sahara position, however, Algeria is mobilizing its “American networks” to mount an aggressive counteroffensive against Moroccan interests, Jeune Afrique has reported.

For the Paris-based “Pan-African” newspaper, President Trump’s Western Sahara move was both a surprise and a devastating blow that Algeria and Polisario’s most ardent American champions feel they need to immediately reverse.

“When Algeria renewed its lobbying contract in May 2020 for a sum approaching 30,000 euros per month, the American lobbyist David Keene probably did not imagine that the Trump administration would, just a few months later, make a particularly unfavorable move for his client by recognizing Moroccan sovereignty over the Sahara,” Jeune Afrique wrote. 

Promoting Algeria’s regional role

As they now explore means of nullifying the Trump announcement, the article added, Keene and other pro-Algeria voices in the American political scene will be looking to present Algiers — in comparison to Rabat — as the better American ally and a much more influential and reliable player in North Africa. 

The goal of the “counteroffensive” is two-fold. The first aspect is to invest more effectively in the outrage-driven rhetoric that supporting Morocco’s Western Sahara position is morally wrong, while the second is to describe Algeria as an indispensable American ally on security and defense matters.

Keene has already started the offensive, penning Morocco-bashing opinion pieces in some of America’s leading conservative outlets. Writing in the Washington Times on December 15, Keene said Trump’s “deal with Morocco is immoral and shamefully cynical.”

Even as he applauded Trump’s “admirable” efforts to convince the Arab World to normalize ties with Israel, Keene claimed that getting Morocco to resume ties with Israel in exchange for US support for its Western Sahara position “can only tarnish the president’s legacy.”

Keene is hardly the only pro-Algeria voice of the Republican party’s old-guard to vent his frustration and disappointment with Morocco’s diplomatic advances in Washington. 

Other Republican figures notoriously hostile to Moroccan interests include, among others, Senator James Inhofe, former national security adviser John Bolton, and Christopher Ross, the ex-UN envoy for Western Sahara. 

Like Keene, Bolton and Ross have recently suggested that recognizing Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara is morally bankrupt and politically “dangerous.” 

Ross claimed in a recent radio interview that Trump’s support for Morocco amounted to legitimizing a forced “annexation of territories.”

For his part, Bolton, who has since grabbed every opportunity to claim the moral high ground in his fallout with President Trump, wrote in Foreign Policy that the Trump administration’s deal with Morocco was another illustration of the US president’s “dilettante” and “nakedly transactional” approach to diplomacy.

Not over yet

In typical fashion, Bolton misleadingly blamed the “failure” of the UN-led political process on Morocco. He then concluded by calling for a bipartisan agreement between President-elect Joe Biden and Senator Inhofe — whose pro-Polisario complaints Trump ignored — to repudiate the current administration’s Western Sahara deal.

Moroccan analysts and political actors have unanimously described President Trump’s recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty as an unprecedented and a particularly potent game-changer. 

However, America’s increasingly loud pro-Polisario camp’s relentless media counterattack and discernible determination to get Biden to change course should serve as a much-needed reminder that the issue is far from settled.

In October, Morocco’s foreign affairs ministry appointed its first-ever “director of public diplomacy,” translating the Moroccan government’s perceptible desire to improve its diplomatic communication and consolidate recent gains on issues of “top priority.”

However, as the media and narrative battle over Western Sahara enters a new phase, there have been suggestions that Morocco needs to do more on the advocacy front. 

Rather than take its recent “diplomatic victories” for granted, a number of observers have argued, Rabat should be more proactive in countering the pro-Algeria-Polisario camp’s “fallacies” and debunking its counterfactual history of the Sahara dispute.