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Interesting remarks by newly appointed US ambassador to Morocco

August 15, 2009

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 propagandanews website):

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?

Further reading:
– “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)

18 Comments leave one →
  1. August 18, 2009 17:28

    What purpose would serve that for them?

    Getting even with the world and going to heaven. That’s why poor people fight everywhere.

    If mr. Kaplan puts the blame for evil committed in Europe on the poor and uneducated from the Moroccan slums he is defaulting to the standard Moroccan tune.

    He was talking about two specific attacks, Casablanca 2003 and Madrid 2004. If you’re interested in whether his description of the social backgrounds of the attackers is correct or not, I’m sure something has been written on it. Go google. But dragging up other cases of Islamist terrorism, where the perpetrators were rich, will not invalidate his point; nor will it prove the involvement of M6.

    Prince Sultan is probably still there.

  2. August 19, 2009 15:01

    Dear Ibnkafka,
    The new American ambassador states “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.”
    So who is responsible for the acts of terror according to this statement? Young and poor Moroccan people from slums.

    We do not agree and say most of the offenders have better backgrounds but it is true a lot of them are from Moroccan descent. Now why would the new US ambassador make an incorrect statement? Well, probably not to confront the Moroccan government.

    The ambassador could have said: “Many of the young men involved in the 2003 bombings in Casablanca and the Madrid train bombings the following year are from Moroccan descent who are inspired by an aggressive Islamist ideology” and he would have been correct. He could then have continued:
    “This facts makes it all the more important for Morocco to address the propaganda that cause Moroccan young people to attack our societies: Islamic propaganda of Wahhabi determination.”
    I suppose the Moroccan authorities will not have been pleased by a statement like that and mr. Kaplan for safety just defaulted to feudal procedure: let’s blame the poor.
    (Of course this is about a public statement and it does not reveal how the US seriously thinks about it.)

    Question remains: who is behind all the aggressive Islamic propaganda? Is it a conspiracy from deep within the slums, from the middle-class, or is it state sponsored?
    I say the Moroccan government has a part in it. And especially the guy who claims to be the ruler of the land. But again: this is not a theory, just a suspicion based on prejudice. And my opinion is not interesting, but mr. Kaplan’s is. And that’s what it is about.

    • ibnkafka permalink
      August 19, 2009 18:26

      Well, I suppose that Sam Kaplan spoke as ambassador-to-bo to Morocco being heard for confirmation by Senators and not as a candidate in Dutch general elections.

      I don’t know about those behind the Madrid bombing, but those taking part in the Casablanca bombings on May 16, 2003 certainly came from the slums, Sidi Moumen to be precise. And to say that the Moroccan government has a part in the “agressive Islamic propaganda” – if by that you do not mean the Koran but jihadist propaganda – betrays a total lack of knowledge about the real situation in Morocco. Being pro-Polisario is one thing, going the full Pim Fortuyn/Ayaan Hirsi Ali/Geert Wilders course is another.

  3. August 19, 2009 21:53

    Dear Ibnkafka,

    You are absolutely right about the Casablanca bombs, thanks for the correction. My Eurocentric view is a handicap. I keep reading London where Casablanca is written.
    So we have poor Moroccans bombing Moroccan targets and not- so-poor Moroccans living in Europe who bombed European targets.
    Both bomb with Islamic ideals, don’t they?
    What ideals? Wahabi, as far as I know. Indeed I do suffer a grandiose lack of knowledge about the real situation in Morocco. Maybe you can tell more.

    You seem to be well informed about Dutch politics. If I may I would like to bore you with some more knowledge. Indeed there is some sort of “Pim Fortuyn/Ayaan Hirsi Ali/Geert Wilders course” concerning Morocco but please take caution.
    Fortuijn was an independent and different character as the two dissidents from the VVD-party Wilders and Hirsi Ali (who was close to murdered Theo van Gogh) and also different from Verdonk who is a third outspoken VVD-dissident exploiting the Morocco-issue. Verdonk comes closest to VVD oldtimer Bolkestein who was the first to question the attitude of M6 after the van Gogh-murder. He held M6 accountable for the van Gogh-murder committed by a Moroccan and justified by his Islamic ideology.
    Verdonk wants to cut diplomatic ties with Morocco next time that nation interferes in Dutch politics, concerning double passports, matters of spionage, telling Amazigh how to name their children, and so forth.
    None of the above speak out on a left-wingy thing as Polisario for those politicians are far-right. Left-wing parties seem to follow the Moroccan agenda, they criticize Wilders but not Morocco and keep silent on Western Sahara. There is no Western Sahara issue in Dutch politics.
    And please note Wilders is a big fan of the extreme right Israeli political scene with big walls and all that, and Wilders does not care about Saharawi at all; not like an American right-wing as John Bolton does.

    Now for this Kaplan guy… I still think he should not blame the poor for transnational terrorism and so the solution can not be found in more aid for Morocco to fund their education. The Saharawi refugees can sufficiently educate their kids and they are dirt-poor.

  4. August 20, 2009 12:43

    Ben Kafka,

    Without doubt this guy is on for a nice quasi-retirement posting…. I do believe that his predecessor, who I understand was a personal friend of Bush al Ibn had some unusual influence for an Ambo and a political Ambo at that.

    At least the guy spoke French.

  5. September 5, 2009 18:01

    I feel sad that the U.S. still views Morocco through the lens of the fight against “violent extremism” and “terrorist cells,” and seems to support reforms that will give young Moroccans a sense of being “stakeholders” in their society only for this reason, rather than as a good in its own right!

    There is so much more to be said, than was said here. The scripted thoughts of our worthy ambassador are hardly cutting edge, and make me feel a bit ashamed….

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