The end of Barak Obama’s presidential term is only about a year away, and so far he has remained faithful to the tradition that American presidents have of not visiting the Maghreb region, essentially Morocco and Algeria, which confirms that this region remains of no interest to the Whitehouse.
Obama has made three visits to the African continent since he first arrived in the White House, his last visit was during July and August in 2015. However, throughout these visits Obama has marginalized North Africa, especially Morocco and Algeria. The lack of interest the Whitehouse shows for the Maghreb is quite striking, with only the foreign ministry having paid some attention to this region.
There are multiple reasons that do not favour Obama visiting the Maghreb, which we’ll try to summarize next:
One of these reasons may be that despite several of Obama’s speeches praising the new Tunisian democracy after the Arab Spring, the current situation of insecurity impedes a symbolic visit by the US President. In addition to this, the US President cannot visit Tunisia without also visiting Morocco and Algeria, as otherwise it would be obvious that the US is marginalizing these countries.
With regards to Algeria, it is unthinkable that Obama will visit a country ruled by a politician from the Cold War era, Abdelaziz Bouteflika -who despite his poor health continues clinging to power-, especially given that Obama has vehemently criticized the decision by some African presidents to permanently grip the seat of power.
But the Pentagon does find Algeria attractive, much more for the role it can play against terrorism in the Sahel area than for its oil or gas. In which case, we are talking about a temporary interest, one that is time limited.
The case of Morocco is paradoxical because it was the first country in history to recognize the US, in the year 1777. Historically, Morocco has been considered an ally, especially during the Cold War and in the war against terrorism, but under Obama’s presidency relations have undergone a significant decline. Particularly when, at the UN Security Council in April 2013, Washington presented a draft resolution allowing a UN mission in the Sahara, MINURSO, to monitor human rights in this conflict. Rabat saw this initiative as a betrayal, and scrapped the joint military manoeuvres that were planned for April 2013. At the same time, Morocco hinted that the country might decide on a future linked to China and Russia.
The meeting between Obama and Mohamed VI in November 2013, after the April 2013 crisis, did not represent a qualitative leap in bilateral relations. Washington continues to demand greater democracy and respect of human rights. Despite any misunderstandings, the relationship remains at a quite acceptable level.
On the other hand, Washington still considers the Maghreb an area of EU influence, particularly of France, and therefore the relations it maintains with the Maghreb are very secondary.
As an African region the Maghreb has not enjoyed the interest that the Whitehouse has shown for the African continent, nor the interest that Washington dedicates to the Arab world, and as for the Americans the latter is limited to the Middle East.
The only and last official visit to the Maghreb by a US President dates back to 1959, with Eisenhower’s visit. We’re talking then about black and white pictures. Presently, a visit to the Maghreb by Obama in 2016 is not on the cards.
Should Hilary Clinton win the upcoming presidential elections, she would make an official visit to the Maghreb. As Head of US diplomacy, Hilary Clinton signed the covenants of strategic dialogue with Morocco and Algeria. She also knows the region very well, so a visit to the Maghreb is very likely.
We will then have a picture of an American President not only in full Technicolor but also in HD, to replace the black and white picture of Eisenhower.