Wednesday, May 02, 2007

All Hail Freedonia: Groucho for Congress

Here's the full text of "Save Freedonia" in the Guardian Comment-is-Free

When it comes to Western Sahara, America's Africa policy is so bad you'd think it was dealing with an imaginary country from a Groucho Marx movie.
Ian Williams

May 1, 2007 7:30 PM

Not many people have heard of the Western Sahara dispute and most congressmen could not tell it from Freedonia - until the lobbyists came a-knocking.

Yesterday, the UN Security Council fought back a Franco-American effort to rewrite international law in favour of Morocco and against the people of Western Sahara. Morocco has offered dubious "autonomy" to Western Sahara, but is refusing to hold the referendum in the territory that the World Court and the UN Security Council have called for - and to which Morocco had agreed, until it became clear that it would lose.

The compromise resolution did not endorse the Moroccan plan, but called for talks between Morocco and the Sahrawi Polisario, "with a view to achieving a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution, which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara." The Moroccan plan directly precluded self-determination.

The US's new pro-Moroccan policy was heralded last week when no less than 168 members of congress signed a letter demanding that the White House support Morocco - regardless of international law or previous policy.

We can safely assume that at least 160 of them had never heard of Western Sahara a month ago. When the learned members of congress rush to sign a fact-free letter on foreign policy, you can be sure that there is a lobby at work.

Not that the lobbies have to work too hard. In foreign policy matters congressmen can be like urinal walls - you can write anything on them. In 1992, a Spy magazine reporter called some two score Republican congressional new-comers for the Newt Gingrich revolution and asked them what they were going to do about the situation in Freedonia. The neocons had not taken over then, so not one of them suggested regime change and getting rid of Groucho. Instead, they waffled in a statesmanlike way about the efforts they would take to ensure stability there.

So, on this occasion, who could be too surprised to discover that the lobbyists responsible for those diplomatic triumphs, the war in Iraq, the war on terror, the embargo on Cuba and America's uncritical support for whichever nudnik heads the Knesset were also those who garnered the 168 signatures?

Morocco has put in some $30m into its lobbying effort and, through its surrogate, the "Moroccan American Policy Center", has been tickling the soft underbelly of the congress.

Toby Muffett, a former Connecticut representative who had been elected on a Naderite clean-up-Congress ticket, engagingly described a week in the life of a lobbyist in the Los Angeles Times recently:

I leave and rush to the House side of the Capitol to meet another client, the ambassador from Morocco. We have a meeting with a key member of the Appropriations Committee. Morocco has a good story to tell. It is a reliable friend of the U.S. It believes that the long-standing dispute with Algeria and the rebel Polisario group over the western Sahara must be resolved.

We tell the congresswoman and her staff that the region is becoming a possible Al Qaeda training area. ...My idea is to sell this as a chance for Democrats to resolve a dispute in a critical region, in contrast to the president's utter failure to fix anything.

And on the Republican side, Elliot Abrams the "deputy national security adviser for global democracy strategy", a hawkish pro-Israeli supporter and one of the neocon devisers of the Iraq war, has also been pushing the Moroccan plan, betraying the same insouciance towards legal technicalities that he did when convicted over the Iran/Contra scandal.

In Washington, the Moroccan Embassy hired Edelman for $35,000 a month as its lobbyist, which of course had nothing to with the timely letter from an increasingly conservative and belligerent American Jewish Committee weighing in with a letter of support for the king, who combines being chair of the Organization of the Islamic Conference's Committee for Jerusalem with being one of Israel's best friends in the Arab world.

For Morocco supporters, an enemy's friend is a hated foe. Polisario has the dubious benefit of Castro's support and that is enough, (plus a $15,000 monthly retainer) to rally the Florida delegation, which has also noticed that El Jefe has a soft spot for the Palestinians as well, with similar results on their voting patterns.

The 168 signatories are almost a roll-call of anti-Castro, pro-Israeli members of Congress, and their numbers were doubtless boosted when the MACP recently hired the law-and-lobbying firm of Alberto Cardenas, a veteran anti-Castro Cuban American who served two terms as head of Florida's Republican Party and co-chaired Bush's 2004 effort in the Sunshine State.

That alone should put in relief his concern for Democracy in north Africa. But just in case you had lingering doubts, Freedom House and similar bodies give Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara and Zimbabwe the same human rights score, just beating, by a wrenched out finger-nail, Tibet, Cuba, North Korea, and Sudan.

If in doubt, of course, invoke terrorism. Most of the letters from the King's men and women invoke the Polisario-held areas as potential heartlands of al-Qaida style terrorism. Oddly enough, in the real world, the Polisario's biggest supporter is Algeria, which is battling Islamic extremists with some considerable vigour - indeed a little too much for some tender minded observers - while Polisario itself was, until recently, proclaimed a communist plot by American politicians, which is why they have tacitly supported the Moroccan occupation all these years.

But luckily, it's not all Duck Soup on Capitol Hill - even if there are far too many horse feathers around for comfort. Most of the members of the African subcommittee in the house were among the 50-plus who signed an opposing letter demanding US support for Sahrawi self-determination. But without Moroccan money behind it, not many people heard about the story.

It's no way to rule a world!

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