Morocco – US Strategic Dialogue at TALIM April Seminar

TALIM flag Morocco 200 x 133 TALIM flag us 200 x 105April Seminar, 2013

The Morocco – United States Strategic Dialogue

Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies 

This year, our annual April Seminar had a decidedly political flavor, so it was appropriate that it be launched at a sufficiently high level.  US Ambassador to Morocco Samuel Kaplan opened the seminar at a time of unusual – and uncharacteristic – tension between the two old allies.  The chairs that remained empty at the seminar about the bilateral Strategic Dialogue had all been slated for Moroccan speakers.

Quel dommage. The entire point of a strategic dialogue is that countries espouse their own national interests, and see where those interests converge.  We missed an opportunity to hear a definitive Moroccan explication of their country's firm position on a matter of vital national interest.

Moroccan dissatisfaction with a perceived change in American policy over human rights reporting in the Sahara marked the proceedings, mostly by a no-show of a number of officials and other invited speakers.  Quite a change in atmosphere compared to Washington in September 2012, when then Secretary of State Clinton hosted the first edition of the Morocco-United States Strategic Dialogue.

In a week where the news from the Maghreb had been catastrophic – Ambassador Chris Stevens had just been killed in Libya – Secretary Clinton recalled why the Strategic Dialogue was important:

No country has been a friend of the United States longer than Morocco. You were the first nation to recognize us back in 1777. But we’re not satisfied with simply having a friendship that is longstanding. We want one that is dynamic, growing, looking toward the future.

Which is what brought TALIM to devote this year's April Seminar to a sort of status report on the Dialogue.  Our proceedings covered the same four areas that involved Working Groups composed of diplomats and experts from both countries: Political, Economic, Education & Culture, and Security.  Our format was to mirror the "WGs" with speakers, Moroccan and American, on each of these four pillars.

In light of the – we hope temporary – boycott by Moroccan officials of certain American events, all of our panels but one had an empty chair at the table. 


Mr. Larry Velte of the National Defense University's Near East South Asia Center (NESA) provided an excellent inventory of the rich variety of security sector cooperation between Morocco and the United States.  Classic service programs (Navy to Navy, etc.) exist, but so too do connections where no institutional counterpart exists – the Moroccan gendarmerie, for instance.  In an area like disaster relief, it was the state of Utah National Guard that was the quickest to react, while the DOD was still trying to sort out fiscal data.  Utah didn't ask, "who will pay for it?"

AFRICOM social scientist Dr. Liza Briggs, freed up from the "deferred" African Lion '13 joint exercise, attended the Seminar, a reminder that the flap over the Sahara UN issue carried a price in terms of a long-running symbol of security cooperation.  Dr. Briggs, in her conversations with soldiers from the US and Morocco, indicated that "mil to mil" relations were going along smoothly, and of course go beyond the matter of a postponed exercise, costly as that might be in terms of logistical expenses and opportunities lost.

Update, Wednesday 25 April: the US Embassy in Rabat has announced that – following another US policy readjustment – the African Lion excercise would resume on a limited scale.

Finally, Olmstead Scholars from the US Army, US Air Force, and the Marine Corps attended our Seminar, fresh from their classes at Moroccan universities and before rejoining their respective services.

Education & Culture

Dr. James Miller, Executive Secretary of the Fulbright Commission in Morocco (MACECE) provided an overview of the history of American-Moroccan cooperation in education, the bases of which started as early as the World War II Anfa (Casablanca) Conference and early postwar aid programs.  Even before Morocco regained its independence in 1956, Fulbright scholars were active in the country.

The state of higher education in Morocco is a concern to MACECE, and to TALIM (full disclosure: TALIM director Loftus is on the MACECE board, and TALIM is the AIMS research center in Morocco, home to Moroccan, American, and other scholars).  Fulbright scholars from the US come to Morocco, and Moroccans study in the United States.  One of the main problem areas is simply the resources devoted to education: the University of Fez, for example, has upwards of 96,000 students!

Dr. Miller's presentation was replete with such stupendous numbers (in another faculty, 23 professors deal with some 5,000 students).  A special type of French jargon has been developed to describe the "massification" of Moroccan universities, where students are piled on without classrooms, and classrooms without teachers; a "voluntary departure" program led to massive reductions in experienced teachers, and those that are left sometimes teach courses in things like COBOL, a computer programming language developed in the Fifties, simply because that's the last thing they themselves learned.

Much of the structural – literally – problems in universities have their roots in attitudes left over from the bad old days of distrust of intellectuals under King Hassan II, when they were automatically suspected of disloyalty.  Arts faculties (traditionally left wing) were physically separated from those of science, seen as more compliant.  Even now, while "autonomy" is seen as an end worthy of every institution and university faculty, the financial means to that end are nonexistent.


Dr. Kamal Tazi of Mohamed V University in Rabat, a regular visitor to Tangier as guest lecturer at business school HEM, gave a very fluid overview of the Moroccan economy, in light of the reforms recently undertaken by King Mohamed VI's government, and the still-necessary reforms to come.  Tazi was unique among Moroccan speakers scheduled for this Seminar: he showed up.  And we were lucky to have such a frank analyst of his country's economy, whose heartfelt plea for an open, humane society tempered the facts and figures usually a feature of "the dismal science."

On the American side, US Consul General Brian Shukan (Casablanca) spoke to the vibrant commercial relations between the two countries, something he sees on a daily basis as the chief US diplomat in Morocco's economic capital.  Brian also looked at economic integration in the region – or, in the case of inter-Maghreb flows, lack of integration – seeing potential advantages in a number of areas, including political stabilty.  The US-Morocco Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is a cornerstone of bilateral economic ties, and today some 120 American firms operate facilities in Morocco.


In some way, the very fact of the Strategic Dialogue – and the apparent snub by Moroccan officials and some individual speakers of our proceedings – shows the essentially political nature of relations.

Dr. Jack Kalpakian of AUI, Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, described his introduction to Morocco, which, as a state, is defined by the Makhzen, the ubiquitous term that includes the royal family and the state institutions.  It's often summed up on the whitewashed walls of beachside guard posts and in white-painted rocks on hillsides: Allah, al-Malik, al-Watan: God, King, and Country.

There's a related triumverate of Moroccan red lines: Islam, the monarchy, and the Sahara.  The latter, of course, was the issue which led to the current state of tetchiness so apparent in our empty seats at the table.  Why, asks Kalpakian, the extreme sensitivity in Morocco to the matter of the Sahara?  Simply legitimacy: any questioning of Moroccan sovereignty over the Sahara is seen as a threat to national integrity.

Looking at the conundrum for Moroccans that the US represents, Kalpakian imagines how the decentralized, disparate nature of American government must present a quandary for Morocco, where you can just deal with the appropriate ministries.  The US isn't, like some of his students might think, a "Super France," and Morocco isn't like governed like Maryland.

So, down at the level of the citizenry, we had a Dialogue that, while perhaps not Strategic, was meaningful and certainly multidimensional.  Moroccans and Americans – and a good number of Europeans – from academia, government, private sector.  From lycée through troisième age.  A rich dialogue representing the potential for exchange going beyond what we like to harp on, our historic Moroccan-American ties.  As Hillary Clinton said, we want a relationship "that is dynamic, growing, looking toward the future."

Gerald Loftus

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