by Clayton E. Swisher
As the debris from bombings by the newly formed al-Qaida in Maghreb offshoot
in the heart of the Algerian capital still smolders, another attack is
looming in the diplomatic front.
Elliot Abrams, the deputy national security adviser for global democracy
strategy, is again sowing the seeds of conflict in the Middle East. This
time it's in the disputed Western Sahara, under Moroccan control following
the end of Spanish colonial rule in 1975.
After being marginalized from the Arab-Israeli arena, now under the almost
exclusive domain of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her State
Department, Abrams is pulling free the grenade pin that may shortly cause
North Africa to explode.
He is on the verge of achieving a major U.S. policy shift that would have
Washington backing Morocco's unilateral imposition of its so-called Western
Sahara Initiative, or autonomy plan upon the indigenous Sahrawi people of
U.S. officials distracted by other pressing regional conflagrations first
viewed Abrams' Maghreb meddling as a small price to be paid for getting him
out of the Arab-Israeli domain. They barely paid attention as Abrams
tinkered with a new Western Sahara strategy, an embryonic idea raised by
outgoing U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton (who threatened
to do away with the Western Sahara peacekeeping mission, which turned costly
over time in the absence of a successful settlement).
Largely indifferent U.S. government bureaucrats were jarred awake this week
with the terrorist bombings in Algeria. State and government
counter-terrorism officials began immediately scrutinizing Abrams' new
Western Sahara strategy out of fear that the perception the United States
was siding with Morocco would upend the U.S.-Algerian Trans-Saharan
Counter-Terrorism Initiative and undermine closer cooperation in the energy
sector. . . .
[Clayton E. Swisher is director of programs at the Middle East Institute in