Washington, DC — The Hill - The murder of U.S. Ambassador John Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Libya, and the violence at our Cairo embassy, are sad and dreadful demonstrations that now more than ever, the United States needs reliable friends in the Middle East and North Africa.
Challenges to critically important U.S. interests in the Middle East and North Africa have steadily mounted since 9/11, and have increased even further in the wake of popular revolts throughout the region--culminating in last week's horrific developments. How to face those challenges with now less-certain alliances in the Arab World has become a serious concern for American policy-makers and others, in and out of government, who worry about future developments in the region. The United States needs reliable partners who share the same vision, values and goals for its future.
One of the oldest and most reliable American partners in the Middle East-North Africa region has been the Kingdom of Morocco. That relationship was strengthened late last week when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched a new Strategic Dialogue with Morocco, which she praised as "a leader and a model" in the region. This new strategic relationship will not only consolidate and elevate an already long history of close cooperation with Morocco; more importantly it will also help establish a new anchor for U.S. efforts to ensure that the vision both nations share for the future of the region can prevail against those who would undermine it through extremist violence and intolerant world views.
The Morocco-U.S. Strategic Dialogue will focus on key areas where Morocco's experience and example can help America address changes and challenges in the Arab and Moslem worlds, as well as throughout the Mediterranean and in Central and West Africa, where Morocco has long-established relationships.
Though many believed the U.S.-Morocco relationship and its relevance to U.S. foreign policy interests was less important once the Cold War ended, Morocco's importance to the U.S. has instead increased steadily over the past ten years as challenges have mounted from hostile groups, adversarial governments, and rapid change. Throughout this period, while others in the region slipped ever deeper into the contradictions in their societies that ultimately resulted in the revolts of the Arab Spring, Morocco pushed ahead with its own ambitious reform agenda that directly addressed past human rights abuses, the status and role of women in society, the need to focus attention and resources on the most disadvantaged, insistence on religious tolerance, the need to open up political space to civil society and other non-state actors, and conducted a series of the only truly free and fair local and national elections in the Arab World.
It was this ambitious and largely successful reform agenda that resulted in the increasingly close relations between Morocco and the U.S. and led, ultimately, to the new strategic partnership launched in Washington. What makes this all the more remarkable was that Morocco's reform agenda was self-driven and not the result of any external pressure. Rather, it was the product of enlightened leadership from the Moroccan monarchy working closely with civil society and others who understood that such changes were not only necessary, but would strengthen Morocco's fortunes in a changing world.
As former U.S. Ambassadors to Morocco, we are pleased to see the US take this important step to elevate its relations with Morocco to the level of strategic cooperation. This step is the culmination of more than a decade of close cooperation between our two countries, under the leadership of King Mohammed VI and three American presidents. Already Morocco has established itself as a major non-NATO Ally, the beneficiary of a Free Trade Agreement, and a Millennium Challenge Corporation compact with the United States.
Establishing a Strategic Dialogue at this time not only makes good sense as we face common problems in the region with a common purpose, but it also sends a strong signal to the region that the United States is a willing partner with those in the Middle East and North Africa who are prepared to share a vision of a better future for the region, and who are also capable of demonstrating their own commitment to that vision through the kind of steady and progressive policies Morocco has pursued with significant success these last dozen years.
King Mohammed VI has been working hard for more than a decade to promote democratic reform, economic development, and greater regional cooperation. Changes initiated by the King, most recently in the 2011 Constitution, advance political reforms, guarantee religious freedom, protect women's rights, promote human rights, and serve as an example for other countries. Continued efforts to promote economic development and create jobs likewise offer a model for economic growth in a region where it is sorely needed.
Morocco has demonstrated, through the partnership between King Mohammed VI and the United States, that it is ready and capable of building a strong mutual response to the forces of uncertainty in the region.
Gabriel, former U.S. ambassador to Morocco under President Bill Clinton, advises the Kingdom of Morocco. Ussery, is the former U.S. ambassador to Morocco under President George H.W. Bush.