Interesting remarks by newly appointed US ambassador to Morocco
According to the US Constitution, all ambassadors have to be approved by the Senate before they can be appointed abroad – save for temporary so-called recess appointments, such as the one that neo-con and Polisario aficionado John Bolton benefitted from as US Permanent Representative to the UN in 2005/2006. That approval – or rejection, as the case may be – is preceded by a public hearing of the nominee in front of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committe. Currently chaired by the former Democratic presidential candidate in 2004 John Kerry, it heard the Obama administration’s nominee as US ambassador to Morocco, Samuel Kaplan.
Samuel Kaplan is apparently a Democratic wheeler & dealer from Minnesota, on top of being a successful lawyer & businessman. In a list over the 100 most influential Minnesota lawyers ever, Samuel Kaplan came 47th, ahead of former Democratic presidential candidate in 1984 Walter Mondale:
47. Sam Kaplan 1936- : Renowned Democratic backer, social activist, real estate magnate and opinion leader, Sam Kaplan founded Kaplan, Strangis & Kaplan in 1978. He has been a director of Piper Jaffray Companies since 2003 and was co-counsel for the Minnesota Vikings for three decades. Nobody does deals like Kaplan. Just ask Harvey Mackay – the prominent businessman and author has been a client of Kaplan’s for decades. Kaplan is also the attorney for car-dealership magnate and close friend Jim Lupient, managing his children’s trusts and serving as a company director. As a lawyer for liquor wholesalers, Kaplan has successfully fought proposals at the legislature to sell wine in grocery stores. Kaplan was chairman of U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone’s 1990 and 1996 campaigns and fundraiser for former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley’s 2000 presidential campaign in Minnesota.
I doubt however that Kaplan, well past retirement age (he’s 73) and who isn’t presented as mastering either Arabic or French, will play much of a role in US-Moroccan relations. Come to think of it, I can’t remember of a US ambassador to Morocco decisively tilting the board either way. Things are not decided at that level, even for countries of limited interest to the US such as Morocco and other North African countries (though I think that Libya is still higher up on the prioority list, for obvious reasons).
The short statement given by Kaplan before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on July 22 is interesting. It has evidently been drafted for him by the State Department Morocco desk, as regards the parts touching on US-Morocco relations. Among the usual reference to Morocco being the first country having entered into diplomatic relations with the Republic – “As the President noted in his June 4 speech in Cairo, Morocco was the first nation to recognize our country” – are a few references to the need of political reforms in Morocco:
Morocco is on a positive path of development, but it faces important challenges. Many of the young men involved in the 2003 bombings in Casablanca and the Madrid train bombings the following year grew up in Moroccan slums. While the Moroccan government has been successful in finding, arresting and prosecuting terrorist cells over the years, the specter of transnational terrorism has grown significantly in the region. These facts make it all the more important for Morocco to continue to address the problems that cause young people to lose faith in their system and communities – through better education and employment opportunities, and through an environment where Moroccans feel they are real stakeholders in their government and their society.
Press freedom is mentioned, an a way that is too flattering, while US public diplomacy initiatives are mentioned (Radio Sawa is unfortunately already on air in Casablanca and Rabat, while the US military’s Africa Command maintains the Magharebia
Growing press freedom in Morocco, one example of which is the opening in recent years of a vibrant independent radio sector, also warrants continued support through U.S. public diplomacy initiatives. It is in our long-term national interest to continue this effective partnership with the Moroccan government and people as they face the challenge of violent extremism, while making increasing strides toward a more democratic, more transparent and more inclusive society that respects human rights.
As for the Sahara, Kaplan mentioned both UN Special Envoy Christopher Ross and the need for a mutually acceptable negotiated solution:
If I am confirmed as Ambassador to Morocco, I will fully support the efforts of the UN Secretary General’s Personal Envoy to work with Morocco and other parties in the region toward a just, lasting and mutually-acceptable political solution.
Samuel Kaplan, described in an article as attending a synagogue on a regular basis (“The Kaplans attend comparatively modest Shir Tikvah synagogue in south Minneapolis“),made an explicit mention of his Jewish roots:
Finally, I want to express how humbled I am to be nominated to serve in a Muslim country with a history of tolerance toward people of other faiths. As a Jewish American, I understand the importance of President Obama’s initiative to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, and I believe Morocco is an ideal country to continue to further the effort of finding common ground.
I haven’t been able to find the verbatim of the hearing proper on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s website – if you know where it is to be found, please inform me.
For the record, here is the only other nominee to the Maghreb that I have been able to find:
– Gordon Gray, nominee as US Ambassador to Tunisia – “Tunisia is ready for more progress in the areas of freedom of association, freedom of expression, and enhanced debate” he says in his statement;
Any news about the new US ambassadors to Algeria, Libya and Mauritania, Kal?
– “Who doesn’t love Sam and Sylvia Kaplan?“, Secrets of the City (2007);
– “Kaplan discusses his role as ambassador to Morocco“, Minnesota Public Radio (2009);
– “Ambassador nominee to Morocco “grilled” by Senate panel“, Minn.com (2009)