Ambassador Edward M. Gabriel (ret.)
October 24, 2018
Henry Kissinger believed that one of America’s principal strengths in international affairs is the unique role it plays as balancer among states in support of its strategic interests and that of its most trusted allies. Kissinger said, “the Founders were sophisticated men who understood the European balance of power and manipulated it to the new country’s advantage.” He added, “In (Theodore) Roosevelt’s view, foreign policy was the art of adapting American policy to balance global power discretely and resolutely, tilting events in the direction of the national interest.”
The alleged murder of Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey is an example of the significant problems that can arise when the US doesn’t carefully vet its partners in the execution of foreign policy objectives. It is also learning the danger to its foreign policy objectives when it puts so many of its eggs in one basket. The United States appears to have done just that with Saudi Arabia.
The US supported Saudi Arabia and its current rulers when it detained royal family members, and sided with it in its dispute with Qatar. It also placed a big bet that Saudi will be the key to pushing Palestinians into a peace deal, and completely sided with it and Israel when it cancelled the JCPOA-Iran agreement.
If the allegations against Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (aka MBS) are proven true, this could derail US efforts to bring Israel and Saudi Arabia into a partnership on Middle East peace, and substantially weaken the traditional role of the US as the balancer among the countries of the region, a role the Russians are eager to now play. The US tilted too far and forgot the importance of the balance of power in the Middle East as it placed too much confidence in too few countries. Other countries in the region, Morocco in particular, could provide an alternative to Saudi Arabia as an American partner on certain region-wide issues, as they enjoy respect and confidence in the Middle East and Africa.
Morocco has a very close partnership with Gulf countries with regard to private investment, intelligence sharing and political and religious coordination on issues of common concern. It has developed a military alliance with these countries, while not depending on any single one for its military equipment. And it has recently cut diplomatic ties with Iran, something viewed favorably by, not only Gulf countries, but also the United States.
At the same time, Morocco refuses to choose sides in the Gulf’s dispute with Qatar, carefully navigating its own interests by staying neutral, and offering to mediate between the two sides. King Mohammed VI called on all parties “to be wise in order to reduce tension, to overcome this crisis and to finally settle the causes that led to this, in accordance with the spirit which has always prevailed within the GCC.”
The King has also carefully traversed the Syrian crisis without being dragged into the dispute himself, while at the same time taking in hundreds of Syrian refugees, thus showing Morocco’s humanitarian concerns for these displaced people.
The Moroccan approach is grounded in a very long history of the Alaouite dynasty, dating back hundreds of years. Morocco was the first country to recognize the United States and proposed a treaty of peace and friendship while its war of independence was still in full swing. Morocco saw its survival in balancing its interests between and among the European countries and the United States, thus strengthening its political, military and economic position in the Middle East region. It is one of the only countries that enjoys a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with both the US and Europe, is the only African country with a US FTA, and is ideally positioned to offer itself as a hub for producing and shipping goods from and to the United States, Europe and Africa.
King Hassan II was famous for his ability to bridge the gap between Israelis and Arabs, and became indispensable in the US quest for peace between them. King Mohammed continued this tradition, being called upon on a number of occasions to be an interlocutor between Israelis and Palestinians. He was also involved in assisting Mali in its dispute with insurgents, continuing its tradition of a neutral party that could be a balancer among competing interests in Africa.
The situation with Saudi Arabia is extremely serious and no one knows how it will affect the many US interests it’s placed in Saudi hands. Maybe the time is now ripe to diversify and partner with other countries in the region as the US looks for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as the need to reduce tensions between Qatar and its Gulf neighbors. Morocco is ideally suited for these challenges, and presents an alternative to the US reliance on Saudi Arabia. The US has no better friend, nor proven peacemaker in the region than Morocco, and it should approach it to explore how it might be helpful during these tumultuous times in the region.