The terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, will undoubtedly change international relations in significant ways. Those events will induce the United States to alter its policies toward a number of regimes. Indeed, soon after the attacks, and in order to build a broad “coalition against terrorism,” Washington reached out to countries that until recently were considered hostile or at least not so friendly – even Iran, which is still featured on its list of so-called “rogue states” (along with Libya, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Cuba and North Korea). Several countries, nervous about U.S. reaction, have begun revising their policies. Libya, whose enmity toward the United States is legendary,2 has been quick to position itself on the side of antiterrorism. For other governments, the “global war on terrorism” offers a golden opportunity to improve their relations with the United States, whose support they seek to solve their own domestic and/or regional problems. This might be the route that Algeria will follow to consolidate the good rapport that it has developed with Washington in recent years. However, in order to understand U.S.-Algerian relations, it is critical to understand not only the historical background but also the geopolitical realities.
Algeria has never constituted a priority for the United States. Although there have existed periods of cordiality and good economic ties, Algeria’s relations with the United States have historically been marked by misunderstandings, suspicion and at times great antagonism as the two countries collided over the Arab-Israeli conflict, Vietnam, Western Sahara, Nicaragua, Cuba and Grenada. The coolness in Algerian-American relations can be traced back to Algeria’s pre-independence era.3 Indeed, U.S. support for colonial France during Algeria’s War of National Liberation shaped Algeria’s post-independence relations with the superpower. The nature of Algeria’s national and international struggle against France molded its future foreign policy. Thus, after independence, Algeria’s radical foreign policy and its position of leadership in the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and other international organizations often contradicted U.S. policy objectives and interests. Worse still, Algeria’s privileged relations with the Soviet Union, America’s archenemy, placed the two countries on a collision course. Yet, notwithstanding the ideological and political differences between the two countries, American and Algerian policy makers (including President Houari Boumedienne) pursued pragmatic courses of action that prevented foreign-policy clashes from undermining advantageous economic relations. Substantial commercial interests, mainly in the hydrocarbon sector, induced this pragmatism, as well as a mutual willingness to find common ground on a number of political issues, especially as they pertained to the Maghreb (Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia) and the Near East.
In the late 1980s, under the regime of Chadli Bendjedid, both the Ronald Reagan and George Bush administrations sought better relations with Algeria. In view of Algeria’s increasing pragmatism in foreign policy, the main U.S. objective was to encourage Algeria’s efforts in liberalizing the economy, although Washington did little to strengthen the process of democratization that took place in 1989-91. The United States relied on Europe to provide foreign assistance and guidance to the Maghreb countries because events in Eastern Europe and the Middle East were much more important to U.S. interests.
The lack of political, military and ideological ties prevented the United States from wielding more than negligible influence in Algeria. Furthermore, despite substantial commercial relations, the United States provided negligible bilateral foreign assistance. Thus, unlike Morocco or Tunisia, Algeria has never been a close friend of the United States. The traditional facilitating instruments were simply missing. In contrast, Morocco, despite its economic insignificance to the United States, enjoyed a much stronger relationship with Washington, mainly because of the position it occupied in U.S. strategic interests during the Cold War. This explains why Morocco has received, since the beginning of the war over Western Sahara in 1975, more than one-fifth of all U.S. aid to Africa, totaling more than $1 billion in military assistance alone. The United States played a major role in reversing the course of the war over Western Sahara to Morocco’s favor through large-scale economic and military aid, military advisors and logistical assistance.4 Although the end of the Cold War made Morocco’s strategic location less significant, support for the Moroccan monarchy has not diminished. This is due to the role Morocco played during the Gulf War and also because the specter of a radical Islamist revolution in North Africa placed Morocco in the position of potential rampart against perceived extremist anti-Western forces. King Hassan’s success in curbing radical Islamist movements in his own country made him a particularly useful buffer against such forces. The longstanding relationship with and the strong influence of the United States continue to benefit Morocco, especially on the question of Western Sahara, even though American policy makers are fully aware that Algeria’s position on the issue is anchored in international legality.5
The facts that Algeria was never vital to U.S. strategic, economic and political interests and that the United States traditionally has had little influence in that country provide a partial explanation as to why Washington has pursued a seemingly ambivalent policy during the civil conflict that has destabilized Algeria since 1991. Though not vital to U.S. interests, Algeria became far more important after 1992 because of the potential repercussions of the crisis, not only for Morocco and Tunisia, close friends of the United States, but also for Southern Europe. Thus, in the 1990s, Algeria’s increased significance stemmed mostly from the rise of political Islam in the Arab world, a phenomenon that Washington began to perceive as a potential threat to U.S. interests. In fact, some influential scholars, such as Paul Kennedy, have come to regard Algeria as a “pivotal state,” like Brazil, India, Indonesia, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan and Mexico, i.e., a state that “is so important regionally that its collapse would spell transboundary mayhem. A pivotal state’s steady economic progress and stability, on the other hand, would bolster its region’s economic vitality and political soundness.”6
THE UNITED STATES AND THE ALGERIAN CRISIS
The Algerian crisis made evident the divisions within the U.S. government concerning the Islamist issue. Whereas “confrontationists” strongly opposed the coming to power of Islamists, seen as a destabilizing force and a genuine threat to U.S. political and economic interests, “accommodationists” such as former assistant secretary of state for Near East and South Asian affairs, Robert Pelletreau, took a much less alarmist attitude. They believed that Islamic revivalism was a natural progression in Muslim societies and did not necessarily represent a threat to the West or to “democracy.” They did not perceive Islamism as a monolithic movement. In fact, some of them viewed non-violent Islamists as a diverse social force that would compel authoritarian regimes to democratize.
U.S. policy toward Algeria following the cancellation of the electoral process in January 1992 progressed through three stages. The first was ambivalence. The initial U.S. reaction to the cancellation of the second round of the legislative elections, in which the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was poised to win the absolute majority in parliament, was one of “concern,” without condemning the cancellation as such. U.S. officials felt that the interruption was in conformity with the Algerian Constitution. The United States altered its statement on Algeria almost immediately afterwards in order to establish its neutrality in the conflict between Islamists and the regime. During this phase, Washington pursued a wait-and-see approach, which avoided any support for either side. But the United States indicated that it did not oppose the coming to power of “moderate” Islamists who accept the democratic game and do not challenge U.S.-declared interests (the security of Israel, the Middle East “peace process,” economic liberalization and unrestrained access to oil) in the Maghreb and the Middle East.
The second phase, which began with the Clinton administration, coincided with the worsening of the crisis in Algeria (bombings, the slaying of journalists, intellectuals and foreigners, and government repression). This phase lasted from mid-1993 until late 1995. During those two years, most American officials were convinced that it was a matter of time before the Algerian government would collapse. Fearful of a repeat of the Iranian scenario in 1979, some policy makers felt that the U.S. government should reach out to Islamists and “check what they are up to.” This phase was one in which the views of the “accommodationists” prevailed. In fact, their views overlapped with those of their counterparts in Algeria, the so-called reconciliateurs, who believed that only a policy of reconciliation with Islamists would bring an end to the crisis. U.S. accommodationists believed that le tout sécuritaire [repressive policy] advocated by the eradicators (whose American counterparts were the confrontationists) in Algeria would not end the crisis, that dialogue was the only avenue to resolving it, and that all the political forces, including the Islamists who rejected extremism, must participate in the political process. This, of course, needed to be combined with economic liberalization and a dismantling of state monopoly and centralization.
Opportunism drove U.S. policy in this period: most officials saw the coming to power of Islamists as a real possibility. Contacts with Islamists were conducted on a routine basis, and a representative of the FIS acted relatively freely in the United States. One can even suggest that the United States was considering using Algeria as a laboratory for a “moderate” Islamist regime and establishing good rapport in the hope of “revamping our image in the militant Islamic world.”7 The growing idea in the administration during 1994-95 was that since the United States was never identified with the regime in Algeria, Islamists in government would probably not be opposed to U.S. interests. Clearly, the eventuality of an Islamist takeover led to more interest in a country usually neglected by the media and by the academic community. Algeria was now the country where Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” would be the new test for U.S. policy toward political Islam.8
Whatever the true motivations of U.S. policy makers, it is clear that their desired objective for Algeria was a compromise between “moderate” Islamists and the regime. Having made plain its opposition to extremists in the Islamist movement and to so-called “eradicators” in the government, the United States hoped that such a compromise in Algeria would isolate extremists, thus bringing an end to the bloodshed. This position, which set the United States at loggerheads with France, was pushed by the administration until at least the election in November 1995 of Liamine Zeroual as president. U.S. officials felt that the January 1995 Sant’Egidio Platform, which brought together seven opposition parties including the FIS but was rejected by the Algerian authorities, could constitute the basis for national reconciliation. While pushing for compromise, the United States severely criticized the Algerian regime for its failure to carry out market reforms, to respect human rights, and to establish a more democratic system. Furthermore, while suspicious of the Islamist movement, U.S. policy makers downplayed the possibility of an Islamist domino effect in the region.
However, many in the U.S. government, think tanks and the media, as well as the governments of Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt and NATO allies, did not share such optimistic assessment. Indeed, in November 1994, the Civilian Affairs Committee of the North Atlantic Assembly published a report that indicated increasing concern regarding political Islam:
The rise of Islamic radicalism in North Africa, whose most extreme manifestation is in Algeria, is worrying not only to the governments in the region, but also to those of the Alliance countries, which feel threatened by: 1) the erosion of confidence in democratic values to which this movement testifies, an erosion that could, moreover, spread to the European countries with large Muslim communities; 2) the risk of a spread of terrorism based on blind defense of Islamic values; 3) the danger of large-scale migration that could accompany civil strife in the Maghreb.9
Yet U.S. influence would appear clearly in the report, which states that, “although letting the Islamists accede to power without power-sharing does not seem desirable, supporting the repressive policy which currently predominates in most of the North African countries does not seem a viable option either, since repression fosters radicalization, and supporting it devalues the democratic case.”10
In the United States, confrontationists such as Daniel Pipes, Amos Perlmutter and Khalil Duran, whose views were extremely sensitive to Israel’s interests, expressed even harsher positions. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, for instance, addressing intelligence and military officers, complained that the United States had yet to have a “coherent strategy for fighting Islamic totalitarianism.”11 In his view, the United States should follow a grand strategy that “helps Algeria survive, helps secularism in Turkey and Egypt, ultimately is designed to force the replacement of the current regime in Iran, which is the only long-range solution that makes any sense and breaks up the capacity of the totalitarian forces whether they’re in the West Bank killing Israelis or they’re in New York city killing Americans.”12 Undoubtedly, ignorance about Islam, sheer bigotry, the influence of powerful lobbies, the media and constituents progressively shaped the perceptions of policy makers. This explains the increasing anti-Islamist outspokenness in the Congress. In April 1995, a hearing in Congress illustrated this evolution. Indeed, disputing the view of accommodationists in the Executive Branch, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen stated unambiguously that,
The crisis in Algeria . . . is but a microcosm of a larger problem. There are many U.S. policymakers, some perhaps at the State Department, who emphasize that Islamic extremism is too diffuse to be called a movement. . . . They must not be listening to the statements made by these Islamic militant groups. They may not answer to a single individual; however, they do have a common theme, a cause which drives them to take any risk necessary to achieve their end. They believe that frontiers could never divide Muslims because they are one nation. They will always remain one entity.
They are sworn to fight the “Great Satan America” for the global supremacy of Islam. In this context, it is clear that Islamic extremism and militant groups pose a direct threat to regional stability, to the fragile democracies of the African continent and to U.S. security interests. They overtly challenge U.S. leadership and that of its allies by making them primary targets of their hatred and their hostility.
For those who state that this is not an international problem, that the United States is beyond the reach of these terrorist groups, I can only respond by saying – remember New York! Remember the World Trade Center! For those who reiterate this is not a problem in Africa, I can only remind them that a majority of the defendants in the New York bombing trials are from African countries.13
In Congress, any distinction between Islam and Islamist extremism was blurred. However, the increasingly louder anti-Islamist sentiments in Congress did not result in any noticeable change in U.S. policy toward Algeria. In fact, the second Sant’Egidio meeting of the major Algerian opposition parties and the signing of the Rome Platform,14 were seen by the Clinton administration as an important step toward resolution of the crisis:
We believe that the Sant’Egidio Platform was very important. The U.S. has not endorsed it, but we have stated that given a degree of popular support, it could serve as a basis for discussion of a process by which Algeria’s crisis could be brought to a peace process.15
Shortly after the Rome Platform, which the Algerian government and the independent press opposed to the Islamists rejected as a non-event, a bomb aimed at the Central Police station in Algeria exploded in the midst of heavy traffic on the eve of Ramadan, killing more than 50 people and wounding hundreds. The FIS representative in the United States, Anwar Haddam, sought to justify this act because it was aimed at the police station, saying, “It’s a pity the bus was passing by.”16 The U.S. government, which had been annoyed by similar statements and by his proclaimed membership in the GIA, decided to end contacts with Haddam.17 It is quite plausible that French irritation with his presence in the United States induced the American government to discontinue the contacts. However, this did not alter the U.S. position. U.S. Ambassador to Algeria Ronald Neumann, who had taken his post in September 1994, declared following the bomb incident, “We are still convinced that political dialogue and mutual endeavors remain the best chance for a peaceful resolution of the Algerian conflict.”18
The Algerian government was, for obvious reasons, quite displeased with the position adopted by the United States. Its newly appointed ambassador to the United States, Osman Bencherif – an English literature professor and fervent anti-Islamist – tried to convince Americans that “it is a misguided policy to try to distinguish between ‘moderate’ and ‘extremist’ fundamentalists . . . . They may differ as to the tactical means, but the final goal of all fundamentalists is the same [. . .]: a totalitarian and theocratic Islamic state.”19 He appealed to the U.S. government to back the Algerian regime in order to prevent a massive exodus and a domino effect in the entire North African region. He asked that the United States stop insisting that the Algerian government have a dialogue with the FIS. The position of the ambassador, an old time friend of Daniel Pipes, was no different from that of American confrontationists, to the embarrassment of senior Algerian diplomats and military officers. Similarly to the pro-Israeli lobbyists Duran, Pipes and Steve Emerson, Bencherif argued in Pipes’s Middle East Quarterly that “Islamist rule would send shock waves throughout the region and across the Mediterranean to Europe.”20 In this article, Bencherif repeated almost verbatim some of Rep. Ros-Lehtinen’s and Emerson’s arguments. He insisted that “Islamism is today’s fascism and one of the worst ideologies of the twentieth century.”21
In the second phase of U.S. policy, the most sensible approach was enunciated by the American scholars Andrew Pierre and William Quandt. These influential authors had expressed their support for the Rome Platform, which they saw as a good step toward a peaceful solution.22 They proposed that the United States pursue a coordinated policy with France and other European allies. They also felt that Washington should elevate diplomatic contacts with Algeria. They suggested that a senior official meet President Liamine Zeroual before the presidential election, scheduled for November 1995.23 In their view, the official, as was to be the case, ought to deliver a twofold message to the Algerian president. First, that the United States does not welcome the coming of an Islamist regime in Algeria because it prefers a democratic, modern Algeria with a thriving economy. The second part would consist of convincing Zeroual that the policy of le tout sécuritaire pursued by the eradicators is bound to fail. “As an alternative, some form of political dialogue leading to elections and anchored in principles not very different from those of Sant’Egidio is the only way out of the impasse.”24 Algeria would be rewarded as long as it pursued the path of reform. Part of the whole scheme revolved around the holding of elections in which “the Islamists should be given an opportunity to participate and should know that if they do well at the ballot box, this time the results will be respected provided that Islamists are willing to pledge to play by the rules of electoral politics.”25
The bombings in Paris in summer 1995 – which has proven to be the work of Algerian Islamists – the growing nervousness within NATO, and the fears expressed by many pro-Western Arab regimes (Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt) regarding the situation in Algeria, coupled with the debates in the United States on political Islam, began to influence the thinking of important policy makers. Indeed, on October 11, 1995, a hearing called “Terrorism in Algeria: Its Effect on the Country’s Political Scenario, on Regional Stability, and Global Security” echoed concerns regarding Islamist extremism. Two officials, one from the State Department and one from the Department of Defense, figured prominently among those invited.26 During the hearing which she chaired, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen quoted from the French Foreign Ministry’s “top secret” Office of Islamic Analysis a passage that set the tone of the debate: “Islamic terrorism is becoming an international affair aimed at destabilizing Arab oil-producing countries, traditional monarchies, and moderate pluralistic republics.”27
The testimony of Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs C. David Welch indicated only a slight change in the approach to the problem in Algeria. He described the country as one where “the United States has important national interests in the outcome of the present struggle within . . . . Neither the emergence of a fanatical regime in Algeria nor the descent of this important state into chaos are in the interest of the United States.”28 The possibility of a domino effect figured more prominently in the statement since it was given at the beginning:
The Algerian crisis also has a regional dynamic which has repercussions for important U.S. allies. Beyond the far-reaching consequences for Algeria itself, gains by the most radical Islamists could embolden extremists in neighboring North African states such as Tunisia or Morocco . . . . Ultimately, Algeria’s crisis could provoke an influx of refugees into France and elsewhere in Western Europe.29
Welch reiterated the U.S. position regarding the broadening of the dialogue to the forces opposed to violence and that a military solution alone cannot be achieved. He also remarked that the United States supports Algeria’s efforts to liberalize its economy and that it had joined the Paris Club and other financial institutions in rescheduling Algeria’s public debt. He was very critical of the Algerian government for not accepting the Rome Platform, which, “given the degree of popular support represented by the political parties who were at Rome, could serve as the basis for the discussion of a process by which Algeria’s crisis could be brought to a peaceful conclusion and a process of national reconciliation launched.”30 More important, he was skeptical regarding the Algerian presidential election scheduled for November 16, 1995, despite its pluralist character, because “none of them [the four presidential candidates] hails from Algeria’s main opposition parties.” Thus, a certain degree of skepticism dominated Welch’s statement.
The most interesting testimony, however, was that of Department of Defense Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Bruce Riedel, for it indicated unequivocally not only the growing concern in the United States about the situation in Algeria, but also a rift between those in the government favoring an inclusion of the Islamists in the political process and those who believed that an Islamist victory would not be in the U.S. interest. Riedel declared that “a power vacuum in North Africa or a hostile government coming to power in Algeria carries very dangerous ramifications for which the United States must be prepared.”31 After highlighting the strategic importance of the region and the military capabilities of Algeria, he explained to congressional leaders that “if the Algeria situation deteriorates to full-scale civil war or Algeria becomes a hostile Islamic revolutionary state, these forces could rapidly complicate U.S. military operations worldwide. Simultaneously, the chaos could rapidly spill over into neighboring states destabilizing North Africa and possibly southern Europe.”32 Riedel mentioned the coordination between the NATO allies and the U.S. European Command in preparation of an eventual evacuation of U.S. and European citizens and other non-combatants.
The analysis provided by Riedel, however, confirmed the image U.S. officials had held about Algeria for many years. Indeed, similarly to officials at the State Department, Riedel argued that the Algerian “government, which in this case in essence is the military, created many of the conditions which precipitated the violent opposition.” The subtlety here was an implicit rejection of the State Department’s view regarding the inclusion of moderate Islamists in the political process, for “ultimately, government actions marginalized moderate elements of society and empowered Islamic radicals, who enthusiastically took up the fight.”33 In other words, radical Islamism has the upper hand and must thus be contained. As in the Cold War era, “We must enhance the security of surrounding countries and simultaneously encourage their economic and political development. Tunisia and Morocco are long-time allies.”
As if to demonstrate why the United States would not work with the Algerian government in containing the threat of radical Islamism, Riedel evoked the joint military exercises with Tunisia and Morocco, whereas “the Department of Defense has never had close or extensive ties with the Algerian military” and “has a limited direct role in Algeria. It as a rule has been peripheral to Algerian politics since the early days of the Algerian Republic simply because of the strong military relationship Algeria chose to develop with the former Soviet Union [sic].”34 Clearly, the attitude vis-à-vis the Algerian regime was shaped by the relationship, or lack thereof, in the past. As well put by Riedel himself: “The strong [Algerian] military relationship [with the former Soviet Union] did not encourage the attitudes or communications channels required to develop good, close and mutually beneficial military-to-military relations with the United States.”35
The United States was skeptical as to the November 1995 Algerian presidential election despite its pluralistic character. U.S. officials did not believe that the election would bring an end to the crisis, not only because the parties that participated in the Sant’ Egidio meeting boycotted the election, but also because they felt that the election was simply a stratagem to provide some legitimacy to Zeroual’s rule.
The third phase coincided with a more perceptible shift, albeit incremental, in U.S. policy toward Algeria. The change was determined by several factors: increased concern among America’s NATO allies, especially the Europeans, with respect to terrorist violence in Algeria and its export to France; disintegration of the Islamist movement and the emergence of extremely violent armed Islamist groups that obeyed no other logic but their own; the regime’s ongoing success in the antiterrorist struggle; and, perhaps more important, the presidential election in November 1995, which, contrary to U.S. prediction, provided the regime with a modicum of legitimacy that it had lacked hitherto. Indeed, the impressive turnout at the polls demonstrated that the regime was not on the brink of collapse and that the Islamists did not enjoy the overwhelming support they once did.
Although still critical of the regime, the United States adopted a policy of “positive conditionality” following Zeroual’s election. The policy consisted of supporting the regime as long as it broadened and accelerated the process of reconciliation and economic reforms, held elections, and established dialogue with the opposition, including moderate Islamists. In other words, U.S. officials contended that security measures alone would not bring a solution to the Algerian crisis. President Clinton had seen the election in Algeria as an opportunity for a “process of national reconciliation to move forward, and I welcome your affirmation of the importance of dialogue as part of such a process.” Clinton rejected the idea of le tout sécuritaire by stating that “Algeria’s recent history, and the message of your election, is that force cannot be the arbiter of Algeria’s future.”36
Throughout the 1990s, whatever its reservations about the regime, the United States continued to back IMF and World Bank agreements as well as Paris Club debt rescheduling for Algeria. Also, Algeria seemed to have become an even more attractive market to U.S. business, especially oil projects worth billions of dollars. A few factors helped in the progressive change of the U.S. attitude toward Algeria. The obvious moderation of Algerian foreign policy became attractive to U.S. policy makers aware of Algeria’s status in the Third World. More important, Americans understood that Algeria had become supportive, albeit with certain reservations, of the Arab-Israeli “peace process.” They particularly appreciated Algeria’s participation in the 1996 “Summit of the Peacemakers” at Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, and its international cooperation against terrorism. Whatever suspicions about the possible involvement of the security forces in some of the massacres that occurred in Algeria in 1997 and 1998, the U.S. government was convinced that the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) committed those massacres. Thus, the United States continued to back the Algerian regime; but, at the same time, it insisted that the Algerian government take steps to guarantee human rights and to prevent the defense groups, armed by the authorities to defend the rural populations against the GIA, from perpetrating criminal acts. It should be noted that U.S. insistence in 1998 on an international investigation of the massacres arose from the perceived necessity to be in line with the European Union and human-rights organizations, rather than from the conviction that the government in Algiers was responsible for the massacres.
Although political and security issues dominated the views on Algeria, the United States was also cognizant of Algeria’s importance in terms of energy supplies. In the mid-1990s, Algeria’s proven oil reserves were estimated at around 10 billion barrels (Algerians believe they are 5 or 6 times that figure). Algeria also enjoys other important hydrocarbon resources, such as natural gas and natural-gas liquids. The new oil discoveries in the 1990s made Algeria one of the most attractive exploration regions in the world. In fact, in 1994, Algeria ranked first in the world thanks to the 15 rather considerable discoveries. Furthermore, Algeria’s more than 130 trillion cubic feet of proven natural-gas reserves make it one of the world’s ten largest sources of gas. In the same period, Algeria’s LNG exports represented one fifth of the world’s total exports. Obviously, the United States could not be oblivious to such realities. Nor could it be unmindful that Algeria is the fifth-largest U.S. trading partner in Africa. In 1999, trade between the two nations reached around $2.5 billion.
THE RISE OF BOUTEFLIKA37
The conditions under which the election of Abdelaziz Bouteflika took place infuriated the United States. While U.S. officials were pleased with the presidential campaign, the withdrawal of six contenders on the eve of the election under the pretext that the election was rigged, put in question the legitimacy of Bouteflika’s presidency. However, within a relatively short period of time, the United States decided to support Bouteflika’s initiatives. Washington was particularly impressed with his policy of national reconciliation, which the United States had encouraged during Zeroual’s tenure. Although Bouteflika’s conspicuous presence in July 1999 at the funeral of Morocco’s King Hassan and his handshake with Prime Minister Ehud Barak impressed Americans, it was really the policy of Civil Concord, for which Bouteflika received overwhelming support domestically, that made an impression on the United States. Indeed, on February 1, 2000, President Bill Clinton sent a message to Bouteflika supporting him for the bold decision to “forgive those among Algerians [i.e., Islamist insurgents] who wish to put an end to the use of violence. I hope that this will persuade all Algerians to adhere to the process of national reconciliation.” Clinton reassured Bouteflika of U.S. willingness to cooperate with Algeria on the fight against terrorism “within the framework of the state of law” and called for increased bilateral relations to deal with those who wish to harm our citizens and violently attack our political systems.”38 Obviously, the December 1999 attempt by an Algerian Islamist to bring explosives into the United States from Canada in order to carry out terrorist attacks enhanced U.S. willingness to cooperate with Algeria on counterterrorism. U.S. statements regarding prospects for cooperation at all levels thrilled Algerian officials. However, despite intense diplomatic and military exchanges as well as public statements at the highest levels by both sides to strengthen bilateral relations, Algerian officials were disappointed that the United States still refused to provide sophisticated military equipment to help security forces track down Islamist insurgents.
Undoubtedly, Bouteflika’s political discourse concerning civil concord and national reconciliation, economic reforms and human rights was appealing to the United States. But it should be emphasized that Bouteflika’s emergence as a reliable statesman did not prompt a change in U.S. policy. Rather, Americans came to the conclusion that Bouteflika’s initiatives, unlike those of his predecessors, were in line with the political and economic reforms they sought to see implemented in the region. Indeed, in 1998, the United States began developing a regional policy for the Maghreb. According to U.S. policy makers, until then there was none; instead, there were three bilateral sets.
Clearly, Washington had neglected the Maghreb region and thus needed to develop a regional policy.39 The United States also came to recognize Algeria’s geopolitical importance.40 The new Maghreb policy rested on premises whose objective is the long-term stability and prosperity of the region. From a U.S. perspective, there could be no stability without improvement in the economy. With respect to North Africa, U.S. officials argue that a larger Maghrebi economy would be beneficial for the United States and Europe. They insist that the investment, as well as the political climate, must change. Given that U.S. budgets no longer allow for bilateral aid, Maghrebis must attract private investment through economic and political reforms. Therefore, Maghrebi governments should establish regional economic cooperation and development because national markets are too small to attract important U.S. investments.
It is in this context that the United States launched in 1999 the U.S.-North Africa Economic Partnership or the Eizenstat Initiative, named after its main advocate, Stuart Eizenstat, undersecretary of state for economic, business and agricultural affairs. The objective of the initiative recently renamed the U.S. North Africa Economic Program was “to link the United States and the three countries of North Africa much closer together in terms of trade and investment, to encourage more trade between our countries, to encourage more U.S. companies to invest in the region and create well-paying jobs . . . and to encourage the reduction in internal barriers among and between the countries of North Africa which has impeded the normal trade flows between those countries.”41 Implicit in this statement is an encouragement for the three Maghreb countries to revive the Arab Maghreb Union (not including Libya and Mauritania) and the reopening of the Algerian-Moroccan border, closed since 1994.42 The U.S. government decided to work with the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC),43 which, according to Eizenstat, identified $2 billion worth of projects, of which $1.5 billion were in Algeria. The Eizenstat Initiative revealed an important change in U.S. policy with regard to the Maghreb: the United States no longer considered the Maghreb as France’s or Europe’s chasse gardée (private preserve). U.S. officials consider the Maghreb market big enough for both the United States and the European Union. In particular, they view positively the Euro-Mediterranean initiative, as long as there is no discrimination against U.S. companies, because it contributes to the liberalization of the economies in the region, encourages more regional integration and reduces trade barriers.
While they welcomed the Eizenstat Initiative, Algerians would have preferred a bilateral partnership with the United States, not only because they believe that they have much to offer in the energy and nonhydrocarbon sectors, but also because of the unresolved issues with Morocco. The lack of resolution of the question of Western Sahara represents an enormous impediment to Maghrebi integration. Paradoxically, while the United States strongly favored Maghrebi integration, its Western Sahara policy, which favors Morocco, has contributed to the stalemate on the issue. Undoubtedly, despite the change in policy toward Algeria, the United States still feels closer to Morocco. This might be the residue of decades of Cold War animosity.
Yet there is an unambiguous rapprochement between Algeria and the United States. The improvement in military relations, inconceivable only a few years ago, is now a reality. Visits by high-ranking U.S. and NATO military officials, as well as joint U.S.-Algerian military maneuvers, highlight this development. While U.S. military aid to Algeria within the framework of the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program amounts to only $125,000, American officials hope that such programs will not only help the professionalization of the Algerian military, the second most important in Africa, but will also “help military leaders in Algeria understand and increase their support for U.S. values, ideals and policies. The program increases awareness of international norms of human rights and fosters greater respect for the principle of civilian control of the military.”44 More interestingly, they hope that IMET training eventually will enhance the Algerian military’s interoperability with U.S. and NATO armed forces.
ALGERIA’S DREAM OF PARTNERSHIP
President Bouteflika’s visit to the United States in July 2001 took place in the midst of turmoil at home, especially in the Kabylie region, as well as tension with the European Union, France in particular. Thus, the two-day visit to the United States, the first of its kind for an Algerian president since Chadli Bendjedid’s in April 1985, came as a relief to Bouteflika. While his policy of Civil Concord was severely criticized at home, that policy enjoyed great support in the United States. But, despite the good impression that Bouteflika made, Washington was reluctant to arrange for a presidential meeting. Except for the brief encounter with Bill Clinton at King Hassan’s funeral, no official summit had been scheduled until July 2001. Therefore, Bouteflika had great expectations from his trip to America. Not only did he hope to obtain support for his domestic policies, he also hoped to secure cooperation agreements that would offset Algeria’s heavy dependence on France and to compensate for his failure to obtain anything substantial during his visit to Paris the previous year.
Algerian officials were truly hopeful that Bouteflika’s visit to the United States would inaugurate a new era in U.S. Algerian relations. Undoubtedly, Algerians had good reason to believe that the visit was a significant one. They had assumed that the Republican administration would be less critical of the regime on human-rights issues. In particular, they were of the opinion that Vice-President Dick Cheney, close to U.S. oil companies operating in Algeria, would be more considerate towards Algiers. For their part, despite their reservations regarding the regime, American officials were clearly aware that Algeria’s recovery from the decade-long crisis could open new political and economic opportunities. Under Bouteflika’s rule, Algeria has regained some of the credibility it had enjoyed before the crisis. The United States appreciated Algeria’s success in December 2000 in brokering an end to the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia.45 Algeria’s growing influence within the Organization of African Unity, coupled with the emerging Algeria-Nigeria-South Africa axis, did not go unnoticed in Washington. Furthermore, the United States is also aware that resolution of the conflict in Western Sahara, a major issue for North African stability, is impossible without Algeria’s involvement.46 Indeed, the so-called “third way” that James A. Baker and Kofi Annan tried to impose upon the Sahrawis, without Algerian acquiescence, would undoubtedly lead to the destabilization of the region. Even with respect to the Middle East, Algerian influence is not negligible, which is why Washington has nudged Algeria to establish lines of communications with Israel. Last, but not least, the United States saw the necessity of cooperating with Algeria on matters of global terrorism. In fact, in March 2001, FBI Director Louis Freeh made a short visit to Algiers to seek assistance from Algerian authorities in destroying Osama bin Laden’s network.47 In sum, Bouteflika went to Washington with good credentials despite his problems at home.
While Bouteflika’s visit was important, it did not produce the results that Algerians were expecting. Although the United States and Algeria signed a trade and investment framework agreement, Washington made it clear that economic reforms in Algeria remain limited. The accord puts in place a consultative procedure on trade and investment that will result in a bilateral investment treaty, mutual trade benefits and a double taxation arrangement, and effectively opens up Algeria’s profitable oil and gas resources more broadly to multinational corporations. But the United States conveyed to Algerians, as it has on numerous occasions, that the banking system and financial services require serious improvement. In order to attract U.S. businesses outside the hydrocarbon sector, U.S. officials believe that bureaucratic hurdles must be lifted. And without the far-reaching upgrade of the telecommunications systems, many U.S. businesses would be reluctant to venture into the Algerian market. Only with these improvements could the level of U.S. investment be increased from its current $4 billion (mainly in hydrocarbons) – making the United States the largest investor in Algeria – to $9 billion by 2005.
In the political realm, echoing criticism of the regime both within Algeria and throughout Europe, Washington reiterated its call for the respect for human rights and civil liberties, especially in the wake of the tragic events in the Kabylie region, where gendarmes used live ammunition against protesters. Although the U.S. Government acknowledges the progress Algerians have made in the area of freedom of the press, for instance, American officials have expressed their disappointment with the curbing of political participation, such as the refusal to recognize two new parties founded by two former ministers. In sum, the United States was willing to expand its relations with Algeria provided that the latter stepped up its economic reforms, expanded its privatization and liberalization programs, and accelerated its democratization process.
THE IMPACT OF SEPTEMBER 11
A few days before the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, reports indicated that the United States would deliver sophisticated anti-guerrilla equipment to Algeria, specifically for the detection of troop movements, on the condition that Algerians not use such equipment against their neighbors. This decision seemed to indicate that the United States had finally decided to help Algeria eradicate terrorism.48 Obviously, the attacks on New York and Washington could not but bring the two countries closer, at a minimum on security cooperation. Algeria condemned unequivocally the horrific attacks and agreed to join the international coalition led by the United States, although arguing that a military coalition should be under the U.N. umbrella and not be aimed against “a country, a religion, a people, a culture or a civilization.”49
From Algeria’s perspective, the September events vindicated the government’s decade-long position on the global nature of terrorism and its capacity to threaten states. Officials argued that Algeria had been at the forefront in the struggle against terrorism, from which it has suffered the loss of more than 100,000 lives and massive destruction. Algerians argue that they have fought terrorism on their own without the world coming to their rescue. They took the opportunity to criticize Europe, the United States and Canada for having sheltered Islamist groups on their territories, thus closing their eyes to the responsibility of those groups in the events that have taken place in Algeria. They asserted that Bin Laden had funded extremist groups like the GIA and the GSPC, both on Washington’s hit list.
Hence, from their standpoint, the fight against terrorism should be worldwide and the events in the United States should inaugurate a new era of international cooperation against this phenomenon. Undoubtedly, the September events created a golden opportunity for Algerians to place themselves in the right camp and to reap some benefits, i.e., eliciting assistance in eradicating the terrorists in their country. The authorities handed Washington a list of 350 suspected Algerian militants on the run in Europe and the United States and offered their cooperation in security and intelligence matters. Undoubtedly, Algerians also hoped that the United States and Europe would reciprocate by extraditing wanted Algerian extremists.
In order to consolidate the international coalition by involving as many Arab and Islamic countries as possible, President George W. Bush invited Bouteflika to come to Washington on November 5, following the third U.S.-Africa Business Summit, sponsored by the Corporate Council on Africa, held in Philadelphia on November 2. The visit to Philadelphia was aimed at promoting the idea of “a new Algeria, a winning Algeria” and to persuade U.S. businesses that Algeria is a lucrative market. No less than 44 Algerian companies participated in the meeting. The visit to Washington, though focused on the issue of international terrorism, was a great opportunity for the Algerian regime to improve its image. Algerians exaggerated the importance of the visit, arguing that it was rare that a foreign leader visits the White House twice within a period of four months. However, it was clear that Bouteflika’s visit, ahead of that of France’s Jacques Chirac, could not but enhance Algerians’ self-worth. Algerians felt vindicated, especially since less than a week before the visit Bush had called on Africans to ratify the summer 1999 Algiers Convention on Terrorism, which African countries had failed to endorse.50 Undoubtedly, Bouteflika’s objective in meeting with President Bush was not just to convince the latter that U.S.-Algerian relations should be strengthened but also to persuade him that the fight against terrorism would be in vain unless the roots were dealt with, that is, the poverty and inequality exacerbated by globalization. Thus, the United States should help Algeria economically, perhaps transforming the debt into investments, so that the country could regain its stability and eliminate one of the sources of political extremism. Also high on the agenda was the question of Western Sahara, since, from Algeria’s perspective, regional stability depends on a resolution of that conflict.
Only time will tell how well the United States has received Bouteflika’s message and whether Algerians will get tangible dividends. Algerians hope that perhaps their country has truly become a pivotal state. American officials stroked their ego by stating that the United States has “a lot to learn from Algeria’s experience with terrorism.” But one should hope that the scenario that followed the freeing of American hostages in Iran would not repeat itself. Indeed, in the guise of a “reward” to the Algerians for helping free the hostages in 1981, the United States supplied tanks to Morocco to crush Algerian-backed Sahrawis!
U.S.-Algerian relations have improved considerably in the last few years. A U.S. regional Maghreb policy, in which Algeria plays a pivotal role, might be in the making. Algeria’s rich hydrocarbon sector (and other “hot” sectors) is an attractive market for America’s growing energy requirements. The country, which holds an influential position in the OAU and the Arab League, has the potential of serving Washington’s regional interests. Despite its close relationship with France, the United States is no longer reticent about penetrating the French-dominated Maghreb and wishes to play a more active role in a region traditionally under France’s influence. Should Algerians carry out the political and economic reforms sought by Washington, a U.S. presence in Algeria could soon become a reality. The question remains, of course, whether Algerians are really serious about breaking their dependence on France or whether they are simply playing the American card to alter France’s policy in the region.
The other question, of course, is whether U.S. policies in the Middle East, especially toward the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, will spare U.S.-Algerian relations from the inevitable repercussions of the unwavering U.S. alignment with Israel against the Palestinians. The United States is aware of this potential hurdle. This partly explains why, on December 9, 2001, Washington sent Assistant Secretary of State William J. Burns for a two-day visit to Algiers to discuss with the authorities not only the issue of global terrorism and bilateral cooperation but also the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the question of Western Sahara.51 Whereas Algerians view Palestinian actions against Israelis as legitimate because they emanate from a movement of national liberation, the United States views them as terrorist acts. Nevertheless, the United States seems genuinely interested in involving Algerians in the resolution of the conflict. Furthermore, the United States may decide to play a more evenhanded and steadfast role in the resolution of the Western Sahara conflict. This decision would not only isolate France, whose support for Morocco on this question is no secret, and thus diminish France’s overwhelming influence in the region, but it would also convince Algerians that the United States is a reliable partner.
2 See Yahia H. Zoubir, “Libya in U.S. Foreign Policy: From Rogue State to Good Fellow?” Third World Quarterly, Vol. 23, No.1, February 2002.
3 For a detailed analysis of the relationship in that period, see Yahia H. Zoubir, “U.S. and Soviet Policies towards France’s Struggle with Anticolonial Nationalism in North Africa,” Canadian Journal of History/ Annales canadiennes d’histoire, Vol. 30, No. 3, December 1995, pp. 439-466.
4 See Stephen Zunes, “The United States and the Western Sahara Peace Process,” Middle East Policy, Vol. 5, No. 4, January 1998, pp. 13-46; and Stephen Zunes, “The United States in the Saharan War: A Case of Low-Intensity Intervention,” eds. Yahia H. Zoubir and Danien Volman, International Dimensions of the Western Sahara Conflict (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1993), pp. 53-92.
5 In private, U.S. officials interviewed by the author acknowledged openly the fact that Sahrawis’ claims are legitimate but that no matter how unfortunate it is, political realism dictates U.S. policy on the issue.
6 Robert Chase, Emily Hill and Paul Kennedy, “Pivotal States and U.S. Strategy,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 75, No. 1, January-February 1996, p. 37. For a skeptical view of Algeria as a pivotal state, cf. William B. Quandt, “Algeria,” eds. Robert Chase, Paul Kennedy and Emily Hill, The Pivotal States. A New Framework for U.S. Policy in the Developing World (NY: Norton, W. W. & Company, 1998).
7 Edward G. Shirley, “Is Iran’s Present Algeria’s Future?” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 74, No. 3, May-June 1995. Edward Shirley is the penname of a former CIA official.
8 Stephen S. Rosenfeld, “The Algerian Test,” The Washington Post, June 24, 1994. Samuel Huntington’s very controversial article, “The Clash of Civilizations,” was published in Foreign Affairs in the summer of 1993.
9 “The Rise of Religious Fundamentalism and the Future of Democracy in North Africa,” cited in Andrew J. Pierre and William B. Quandt, The Algerian Crisis: Policy Options for the West (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1996), p. 38
11 John Diamond, “Replacing Iran Regime Advocated by Gingrich,” The Washington Post, February 9, 1995.
13 The Threat of Islamic Extremism in Africa. Hearing before the Subcommittee on International Relations, House of Representatives, One Hundred Fourth Congress, First Session, April 6, 1995 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1995), p. 1.
14 The text of the platform can be found in Le Monde Diplomatique, March 1995, p. 7. The English version can be found in Mideast Mirror, January 16, 1995, and in Pierre and Quandt, The Algerian Crisis,” op. cit., pp. 59-63.
15 Author’s interview with National Security Council official, Near Eastern Affairs, May 28, 1996.
16 The author watched Haddam’s interview on French TV stations after the blast.
17 “We have had no more discussions with Haddam because of his statements.” Interview with NSC official, Near Eastern Affairs, May 28, 1996. A State Department official showed some embarrassment, saying that “Haddam always justified acts after the fact. In any case, his contacts with U.S. officials were never above working level; no one of rank. There were few contacts anyway. At a certain point, the FIS leadership accepted him as one of their representatives.” Interview with State Department official, Near East and South Asia, Washington, DC, May 28, 1996.
18 El Watan (Algiers), February 9, 1995.
19 Speech given to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, cited in Christian Science Monitor, April 13, 1995. Ambassador Bencherif started his assignment in Washington on January 30, 1995.
20 H. Osman Bencherif, “Algeria Faces the Rough Beast,” Middle East Quarterly, Vol. 2, No. 4, December 1995, p. 34.
21 Ibid., p. 35.
22 Andrew J. Pierre and William B. Quandt, “The ‘Contract’ with Algeria. One Last Chance for the West to Stop the Civil War,” The Washington Post, January 22, 1995.
23 Andrew J. Pierre and William B. Quandt, “Algeria’s War on Itself,” Foreign Policy, No. 99, Summer 1995, p. 146.
25 Ibid., p. 147.
26 Terrorism in Algeria: Its Effect on the Country’s Political Scenario, on Regional Stability, and Global Security. Hearing before the Subcommittee on Africa of the Committee on International Relations, House of Representatives, One Hundred Fourth Congress, First Session, October 11, 1995 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1996).
27 Ibid., p. 2.
28 Ibid., p. 4. His written statement is reproduced in pp. 23-25.
29 Ibid., p. 4.
30 Ibid., p. 5.
31 Testimony of Bruce Riedel, deputy assistant secretary for Near East Asia and South Asian Affairs at the Department of Defense, in Terrorism in Algeria, op. cit., p. 6.
33 Ibid., p. 7.
34 Ibid. The truth is that Algeria did not choose to develop that military relationship with the Soviet Union. French and U.S. refusal to provide military hardware compelled Algeria to turn to the USSR for its defense needs.
36 “Message from President Clinton to President Zeroual,” author’s personal archive.
37 This section is based on interviews with U.S. officials in Washington in May 1999, February and May 2000 and August 2001. It is also based on conversations with high-ranking Algerian officials in the United States, Europe and Algeria.
38 Algérie Presse Service, February 1, 2000.
39 Although there were strong signs that the United States preferred a regional policy toward the Maghreb, there is still debate within the various institutions as to whether there should be a regional policy or whether the United States should pursue both regional and bilateral policies in the Maghreb.
40 During his visit to Algeria in September 1999, assistant secretary of state for the Middle East, Martin Indyk, highlighted the geo-strategic importance of Algeria. See El Moudjahid, September 8, 1999; Le Quotidien d’Oran, September 8, 1999.
41 Stuart Eizenstat interviewed by Doris McMillon on WorldNet “Dialogue,” June 8, 1999, in United States Information Agency (Washington, DC), June 16, 1999. See also Stuart E. Eizenstat, undersecretary for economic, business and agricultural affairs, Third Annual Les Aspin Memorial Lecture (Washington, DC: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, March 8, 1999).
42 On Moroccan-Algerian relations, see Yahia H. Zoubir, “Algerian-Moroccan Relations and their Impact on Maghrebi Integration,” Journal of North African Studies, Vol. 5, No. 3, Autumn 2000, pp. 43-74.
43 OPIC offers guarantees to U.S. businesses that their investments will be protected.
44 Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations, Fiscal Year 2001, released by the Office of the Secretary of State Resources, Plans and Policy, U.S. Department of State, March 15, 2000.
45 Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Anthony Lake, Clinton’s special envoy, attended in Algiers the signing ceremony of the peace agreement between the two warring countries.
46 In the interviews conducted by the author, U.S. officials have asserted, “With respect to Western Sahara, we will do nothing that would alienate Algerians.”
47 A good report on the visit can be found in Le Jeune Indépendant [Algiers], March 25, 2001.
48 The meetings that Bouteflika had during his visit to the United States in November with leaders of the defense industries, such Northrop Grummon, Lockheed and Raytheon appear to confirm such reports. What is certain is that Bouteflika reiterated Algeria’s request for infrared and laser military equipment to track down GIA and GSPC forces. See Le Quotidien d’Oran, November 6, 2001. In its World Report 2002 (Algeria), Human Rights Watch quoted an NSC official who declared on November 9, 2001, that despite Algeria’s request to the United States “to be more forthcoming” on authorizing private weapon sales, Washington still opposed selling night-vision equipment to Algeria. See http://hrw.org/wr2k2/mena1.html.
49 Algeria’s point of view is articulated in the government’s newspaper, El Moudjahid, September 22, 2001. It should be noted that both Bouteflika and the Algerian armed forces made it clear that Algeria would not participate in any military coalition that does not fall under U.N. control. See the interview of Gen.-Maj. Mohamed Touati, presidential advisor, in El Watan, September 27, 2001.
50 The Convention resulted from the OAU’s Summit of Heads of State held in Algiers in July 1999. Bouteflika barely succeeded in having that Convention approved at the Summit, and only a handful of African countries had ratified it.
51 For a report on the visit, see El Moudjahid, December 10, 2001, and Le Quotidien d’Oran, December 10, 2001.
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