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F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / M A Y 2 0 1 2
tained, high-level engagement by
U.S. government officials from all
agencies and Congress, armed
with coordinated talking points fo-
cused on reform and joint re-
sponses to regional challenges,
would be essential. AFRICOM is
ahead of the pack; civilian agen-
cies need to step up, too.
Sec. Clinton’s recent visit to
three of the four Maghreb coun-
tries, as already noted, was welcome; but it should not
have taken so long for her to visit Algeria. Assistant sec-
retaries and DASes from AF as well as NEA need to fol-
low up with frequent visits. Inviting Maghrebi officials
to Washington counts for something, but the old line
about how you really can’t play if you don’t show up ap-
plies in the Maghreb as much as anywhere else.
The region does not need overarching initiatives, but
we should press the members of the Arab Maghreb
Union, which includes Mauritania, to revive that mori-
bund organization. Regional integration would create
the larger market in which promoting local entrepre-
neurship with U.S. and other foreign partners makes
sense. This would also complement and give new mean-
ing to the North African Partnership for Economic Op-
portunity that Washington launched prior to the Arab
Instilling a sense of regional identity would not by it-
self address the demands of Maghrebi youth for politi-
cal change in their specific countries. But a more
promising regional economy has a better chance of cre-
ating new opportunities than the current framework
that, like it or not, is dependent on limitations imposed
at the national level. Campaigning for a more inte-
grated Maghreb is also something we can easily do in
conjunction with the European Union, which is still
groping for a meaningful Mediterranean strategy after
the implosion of its overly ambitious Union for the
There is one situation, however, that the U.S. should
leave alone: the long-running and intractable Western
Sahara conflict. Thanks to ongoing United Nations me-
diation, nothing about this dispute currently demands
immediate attention (apart, or course, from the suffering
of tens of thousands of refugees living in the Algerian
desert for more than 35 years). The issue will someday
need to be resolved definitively.
But while the people of the re-
gion are focused on achieving
profound change and stability,
this is not that time.
In Conclusion
The stakes underlying a new
framework and approach for
dealing with the Maghreb
should be pretty clear 15
months after the Arab Spring erupted in Tunisia’s agri-
cultural heartland. Even before an unlicensed produce
vendor set himself on fire with incredibly dramatic ef-
fect, the socioeconomic and demographic conditions
were in place for major change. The excruciating de-
nouement of the Syrian crisis, ongoing turmoil in Egypt,
Yemen and Bahrain, and the confrontation with Iran,
however, will inevitably dominate U.S. policy attention
toward the NEA region during this effervescent time.
Yet 40 percent of the Arab world’s population, mostly
under the age of 30, is located in the Maghreb. This
means that area will continue to be a major setting for
the generational transition playing out across the region.
The aggravating effect of the Libyan crisis on the already
fragile security situation in the Sahel, meanwhile, un-
derscores the increased linkages between the Maghreb
and West Africa that defy bureaucratic boundaries.
Indeed, thanks to Libya, the Sahel is now entering a
perfect storm. The revived Tuareg rebellion in north-
ern Mali, the resultant military coup in that country and
the proliferation of weapons pouring out of Libya have
joined preexisting concerns about a flourishing (and
originally Algerian) jihadist movement, indigenous crim-
inal activity that may be increasingly linked to interna-
tional drug trafficking, worsening trends in terms of
refugees and trafficking persons, and growing food in-
security throughout the region. Further, West Africa’s
political, social and economic problems increasingly re-
semble those in North Africa.
Against this background, it is time for the U.S. to re-
set its policies and approaches to all of northwest Africa,
starting with a long-overdue reorganization at State and
the White House to ensure the region gets the sustained
and comprehensive attention that will generate more ef-
fective policies to deal with its challenges and not merely
its threats.
The good news is that
the Maghreb does not
need a Marshall Plan.
But it does need sustained
engagement and attention.