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M A Y 2 0 1 2 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L
House no longer work for the
Maghreb. Transferring those
countries from the Bureau of
African Affairs to the Bureau of
Near Eastern Affairs made
sense in the mid-1970s, when
pan-Arabism was at its height
and Morocco, Tunisia and Alge-
ria all pursued Arabization to re-
inforce new national identities
and lessen dependence on Eu-
ropean languages imposed during the colonial era.
That structure makes little sense now, however, for
those countries increasingly see themselves as separate
from the Middle East, have never fully Arabized, and
self-identify now more as Africans or part of a commu-
nity of Mediterranean states.
The AF/NEA “seam” already complicates proper
functioning of the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Part-
nership. Except for Libya, no recent NEA assistant sec-
retary has been able to devote much time to Maghreb
issues or the development, with AF, of a coherent strat-
egy for dealing with the many crosscutting issues affect-
ing northwest Africa. The deputy assistant secretary
covering North Africa has for years also been the DAS
for the Arabian Peninsula, so it’s no surprise that the
peninsula grabs most of that official’s attention, even
when he or she brings considerable Maghreb experience
to the job.
The Maghreb office in NEA attracts high-caliber and
motivated individuals, but few of them have had much
direct experience in the region, given the low priority it
is accorded within the bureau. At the White House, the
situation has been even worse; there the portfolio has
largely been a hot potato thrown among overworked di-
rectors with no Maghreb experience who are more in-
terested in higher-visibility Near and Middle East
Time for a Fresh Approach
The solution is a new structure that would embrace
the Maghreb’s hybrid nature. At State, it would involve
creating a DAS position that straddles the NEA/AF di-
vide and covers all of northwest Africa. Reporting to
both AF and NEA assistant secretaries would facilitate
policy development and improve coordination in its im-
plementation. The new structure would also make
working with the Defense De-
partment and the Africa Com-
mand, which already consider
the Maghreb part of Africa,
much easier.
Such a reorganization would
require new thinking about
budgeting and staffing, in Wash-
ington and overseas, and require
seventh-floor backing to over-
come institutional opposition.
But the long-term benefits would include the ability to
react to and anticipate regional challenges more sys-
tematically, as well as the opportunity to develop a cadre
of regional experts familiar with the key issues. For the
sake of symmetry, the National Security Council should
follow suit in creating a hybrid director position that
would report to both the Near East/North Africa and
Africa divisions.
From this starting point, the rest flows readily. Sus-
The AF/NEA “seam”
already complicates
proper functioning of the
Trans-Sahara Counter-
terrorism Partnership.