Clinton in Algiers: Coverage of the 29 October Visit

SUMMARY. This post surveys some of the public discourse on American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Algiers on 29 October 2012, looking at official statements and Algerian press coverage of the visit. It is the base from which this blogger’s recent article in the CTC Sentinel (‘An Algerian Press Review: Determining Algiers’ Position on an Intervention in Mali‘; the title is perhaps somewhat misleading) was written. As such it was mostly written in early November. This post is primarily concerned with the press coverage of the visit than with Algeria’s Mali policy as such.

The emphasis of Secretary Clinton’s brief visit, as reported by both government and the local and international press, was northern Mali and the Algerian role in a military intervention there. Official communiqués on both sides emphasized bilateral US-Algerian relations, following up on the US-Algeria Strategic Dialogue in Washington, DC. held on 19 October in Washington, D.C. Press accounts highlighted convergence between both the government’s line on diplomatic solutions and dialogue as well as the potential for unintended consequences in the wake of an intervention. In general, Algerian media coverage suggests that Algeria’s widely reported and speculated upon public opposition to military intervention in northern Mali is letting up. One headline on a story summarizing Clinton’s meeting with Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in the Arabic daily Ech-Chorouk described the visit as ‘The Last Meeting before the Military Intervention in Mali‘. Comments by Algerian officials in the weeks prior to the Clinton visit indicate a softening of Algeria’s overall rhetoric on intervention According to many press accounts, while Algeria reportedly still favors a ‘political solution’ to the Malian crisis, Algerian leaders and press reports now suggest that Algiers will participate in an international intervention within specified parameters and discretion. Some observers,[1] especially in France, have complained about the opacity with which Algeria has conducted negotiations with certain Malian actors, press reporting on the Clinton trip suggests Algerians share these frustrations over a lack of information about the government’s intentions in the Sahel. Additionally, Algerian reports have been divided over whether or not military intervention is desirable and several reports suggest that while Algiers has identified political processes it favors with respect to Mali it has yet to identify a desired end state from negotiations or military action there.

Press accounts highlighted both the government’s line on diplomatic solutions and dialogue as well as the potential for unintended consequences in the wake of an intervention; additional emphasis in some Algerian reporting highlighted the views of Algerian Tuareg leaders and MPs, which according to mainstream [and opposition] Algerian reporting is generally against a foreign intervention and framed reports in favor of the Algerian government narrative pressing for a ‘dialogue’ leading to some kind of negotiated resolution for a number of reasons. At the same time, a significant amount of Algerian press reporting (and opinion/analysis) suggests lingering skepticism of French-led intervention plans related to anxiety among Algerian military and civilian elites over potential domestic consequences as well as what an intervention would mean for Algeria’s relations with the west. Indeed some narratives suggest some Algerian leaders fear an intervention could limit Algeria’s overall freedom action or suck it into a ‘Pakistan’-like scenario.

  1. State Department notes on the visit. Looking at official American statements or coverage channeled through the Embassy’s website emphasized that Clinton and Bouteflika discussed Mali, counterterrorism cooperation more generally and American energy interests in Algeria (G.E.). The State Department’s DipNote blog carried a ‘Travel Diary’ post framing the visit as a continuation of the US-Algerian Strategic Dialogue summit in Washington, then summarizing Secretary Clinton’s comments on ‘in-depth’ discussions on Mali and the ‘terrorist drug trafficking threat’ there. Clinton’s comments after her meeting with Bouteflika emphasized the ‘strong bilateral relationship’ with Algiers. A ‘Background Briefing En Route to Algiers’ (coming from a State Department spokesperson) on 28 October similarly stressed security cooperation. Echoing many previous statements on Algeria’s counterterrorism experience, the briefing notes ‘The Algerians, of course, were probably one of the first to work with violent – work against violent extremism with their revolution and working against the Islamists for a decade, a decade of civil war basically. We had a difficult relationship with Algeria during that dark decade, as they call it, but after 9/11 the Algerians turned around and decided they would work with us on counterterrorism. And we used that as the basis on which to broaden the relationship.’[2] The basis of the visit and the strategic relationship is thus cast in terms of security. The counterterrorism element focused on US and Algerian efforts against ransom payments and describes Algeria’s role in Mali as ‘a central focus’ of the visit while noting that ‘because of its revolutionary heritage and a strong belief in national sovereignty and a disinclination to act outside of its borders,’ and praising the fact that Algeria ‘has been making more and more strong statements about the need to combat terrorism throughout the region’. The briefing praises Algeria’s efforts to ‘get ahead of the Arab Spring’ and the political reforms initiated by Bouteflika in spring 2011, specifically mentioning the lifting of the emergency law and the performance of female candidates in the May parliamentary elections (echoing Clinton’s comments after the election in May). The briefing also describes ‘a big advocacy effort on the part of the United States Government’ for G.E.’s bid against Siemens for a $2.5bn energy contract to build gas turbines. A ‘Background Briefing With a Senior State Department Official’ describes the meeting between Bouteflika and Clinton itself in relatively significant detail. ‘Virtually the entire meeting portion focused on our counterterrorism cooperation and Mali’ and describes both sides as coming to an agreement to ‘help Bamako and ECOWAS with the AU and the UN support as well deal with the security threats inside Mali’. It then goes on to note that the next item in the talks focused on agreement that ‘the political process within Mali addresses the legitimate grievances of the moderate faction of the Tuaregs’ within the context of ‘a democratic, unitary Mali’. It then reports that Bouteflika spend some time on ‘the role that Algeria has historically tried to play to facilitate dialogue between the Tuaregs and Bamako’ while Clinton ‘underscored in the context of that that it’s very clear that a political process and our counterterrorism efforts in Mali need to work in parallel and be mutually reinforcing’.
  2. Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs statements on the visit. Generally speaking, Algerian Foreign Ministry communiqués on foreign delegations in Algiers are less detailed and significantly shorter than those from many western countries. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issues several brief communiqués about the visit on 28-31 October. The difference in style is seen where early State Department statements on the visit mentioned items of discussion and emphasis in some detail, while the Algerian communiqués described the meeting as focusing on ‘the consolidation of security and economic partnership between the two countries, as well as regional and international issues’ (28 October and 29 October). A communiqué from 29 October notes that Clinton’s visit took place ‘in the presence of Minister of Foreign Affairs Mourad Medelci, Minister Delegate to the Ministry of Defense Mr. Abdelmalek Guenaizia, Minister of Energy and Mines Youcef Yousfi, and the Minister Delegate for Maghreb and African Affairs Abdelkader Messahel.’ The Algerian summary states that the meeting ‘gave a remarkable impetus to the political dialogue between the two countries.’ The Algerians issued a specific communiqué for the luncheon they gave for Secretary Clinton, which was mentioned in passing in American announcements; the communiqué itself is non-substantive. A longer Algerian communiqué from later on 29 October repeats much of the same, which adding that the meeting specifically discussed ‘the crisis in northern Mali has been at the centre of the talks and as the US Secretary of State has said she ‘very much’ appreciated the analysis of President Bouteflika on the situation in the Sahel region and Mali as well as the solution he proposed for a possible exit from the crisis.’ This element is only slightly more subtle in the American statements (excluding the Secretary’s comments where it is as or more prominent as in the Algerian ones)[3] while the Algerian communiqués stress that while the Algerian saw the meeting as of high importance (hence the enumeration of state officials present at the meeting) they present Bouteflika as a sagely counselor providing Clinton with solutions and advice based on his vast knowledge of the region. ‘The US Secretary of State has also declared herself “very happy to be back in Algeria and to have had extensive consultation with President Bouteflika”’. The emphasis on Bouteflika’s hospitality and expertise as impressed upon Clinton is notable. A 30 October communiqué emphasizes ‘the need for a comprehensive approach, in accordance with Resolution 2071 of the Security Council on the situation in Mali’ and summarizes a statement from Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Amar Belani. Belani is said to have described the meeting between Clinton and Bouteflika as having ‘confirmed the need for a holistic approach’ to the Mali crisis. A meeting between Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Anne Elizabeth Jones and Foreign Minister Medelci is described as discussing Resolution 2071 in order ‘to identify a strategic concept based on dialogue and a political solution as well insisting on the centrality of the Malians who must return to the organization of dialogue’ and ‘assessing the results’ of the US-Algerian Strategic Dialogue thus far. The statement also notes US support for Algeria’s WTO bid, which is described in American communiqués as ‘mentorship’. APS, the state news service, began running short stories in anticipation of Clinton’s Algiers visit around 25 October. The English translation of the take away from one such story goes: ‘This visit to Algeria by the head of diplomacy of the world’s first superpower undoubtedly reflects the acceleration of the potential for closer and richer relations between the two countries, not only in terms of bilateral relations but also in the framework of consultations on regional issues in which Algeria is viewed as an unavoidable actor.’ A post-visit item from 30 October stresses Jones’s description of Algeria as a ‘privileged’ counterterrorism partner of the US and her comment that ‘The significant experience achieved in that area makes Algeria a privileged and important partner of the United States in this fight in the Sahel region, namely in northern Mali.’ Generally the statements coming out of the visit on the Algerian side do not contradict statements by Medelci and Messahel over the last several months and especially more recently – that Algeria ‘privileges a negotiated solution in neighbouring Mali while not excluding military intervention’ and that it especially favors an African force with ‘specific’ terrorist targets.
  3. Algerian Press Coverage. In general, Algerian press reporting in the weeks prior and subsequent to Clinton’s visit has suggested Algeria’s skepticism over a foreign military intervention will continue to let up and that Algeria will likely seek to play a role in an intervention, whether discreetly or in some other capacity.[4] French officials have already stated they see Algeria has having given ‘tacit’ support for an intervention as a result of a view of intervention as ‘inevitable’ (a common phrase in Algerian and French reports). At the same time, intervention is not presented as necessarily desirable and Algiers’s policy is described somewhat differently in different papers. Algerian press reports also have value in that they intimate Algerian perspectives on the American posture toward Mali (and Algeria).

Some press reports have described Clinton’s visit as a power play by either Paris or Algiers to use the United States as an influencer or a check on the other’s influence over international plans for an intervention in Mali. These reports tend to focus on differences in Algerian and French views of the heavily Tuareg Islamist group Ansar Ed-Dine, which Algeria has reportedly been engaging in discussions and negotiations over the last several months (another track of talks has been led by officials from Burkina Faso). French officials have dismissed Algerian efforts to splinter factions within Ansar Ed-Dine away from AQIM. Algeria views elements of Ansar Ed-Dine close to historical Tuareg rebel leader Iyad Ag Ghali as being susceptible to a ‘political solution’ to the crisis and as having the credibility among key Tuareg demographics in the Kidal region to help counter AQIM.[5] Algerian press accounts place this disagreement near the center of Algerian objections to plans for plans for an international intervention. Some Algerian outlets presented Clinton’s visit as vindication of the Algerian view that more time for ‘dialogue’ between Algerian officials and elements of Ansar Ed-Dine is needed before an intervention can be launched.

One strand of Algerian press accounts presented the Clinton visit as an Algerian attempt to play Washington off of Paris as a means of conditioning plans for an intervention in a way favorable to the Algerian position. These reports tend to focus on difference in French and Algerian views of Ansar Ed-Dine and over general and specific Algerian concerns over the use of its territory and resources in an eventual intervention. One TSA report published on 28 October argued that the Clinton visit was intended to off-set French pressure over a Mali intervention by using the US to shape an outcome in Mali closer to Algiers’s image – the visit would be ‘a boon for Algiers which has long sought an ally to counter French intransigence on several points, including dialogue with Ansar Dine and the timing of a military intervention.’ Algerian concerns over an intervention are thus not a question of ends but merely means. According to TSA, Algerian officials see the American position contrasting with the French one (and being similar to its own) in two ways: (1) that Ansar Ed-Dine ‘can be part of a political solution within the framework of a credible dialogue with the Mali authorities’[6] and (2) ‘that an intervention must be well thought out, well prepared, well funded and well informed so as to avoid collateral damage that would aggravate the situation in a region destabilized by many problems.’ The TSA report notes that the Algerians were pleased to have Clinton visit without a stopover in Paris. The article continues that Algeria opposes foreign troops using its territory during an intervention but that it ‘has not yet ruled on issues such as over flights in its airspace during a military intervention and the exchange of information on terrorist groups’. The report concludes stating that ‘it is indeed easier for Algiers to grant concessions to the Americans than the French.’ Similar reports were carried on the website of the opposition-oriented Le Matin. The report quotes a Crisis Group analyst as saying that it is likely Washington is more understanding of Algerian concerns over foreign intervention than Paris; it notes that with a French lead Algiers would be forced to ‘abandon the dialogue it initiated last June’ with Ansar Ed-Dine. Another story (30 October) in Le Matin puzzles over the Algerian view of Ansar Ed-Dine: ‘According to Paris and Washington, Ansar Dine, MUJAO [MUJWA] and AQIM are the same breed of terrorism. In contrast, for Bouteflika, Ansar Ed-Dine has nothing to do with MUJAO or AQIM. This is why Bouteflika wants to save the lost soldier Iyad Ag Ghali and his group Ansar Dine. [. . .] How many Islamist battalions embedded with the MNLA at the beginning of the year? What does Algiers see in Iyad Ag Ghali? Is he a mole of the DRS, as suggested by some commentators on the Sahel question?’ Le Matin also published another piece on 30 October criticizing Bouteflika for not communicating more often on foreign affairs, which the author claims are only made clear to the Algerian public ‘during visits by foreign diplomats’ which are also when they ‘are informed that their president is still alive’.

El Khabar (Arabic) covered the visit heavily and also provided some analysis by Algerian experts. The security file dominated coverage leading up to and after the visit; the WTO and economic issues were covered mostly on 31 October. It even managed to snag a story from ‘informed sources’ that Clinton was supposedly so eager to visit Algeria to discuss the Mali crisis that she made her way to Algiers ‘without a diplomatic visa’ because one could not be processed in time. One story on 29 October described Algeria ‘in the heart of a diplomatic battle over sending its army to Mali’. The article described Algerian concerns of ‘turning into Pakistan’ if it became embroiled in a war in Mali with foreign powers. The same article featured a section  on an MP from Tamanrasset who called on Bouteflika to ‘maintain steadfastness’ in its ‘traditional position in rejecting any foreign military intervention in the region’ fearing anything else would ‘act as a gateway to a status quo of foreign military bases in the region’. The MP went on to say that an intervention in Mali ‘will create many problems,’ stressing the need to continue dialogue saying ‘we know from all previous experiments beginning with foreign intervention that we cannot know how it ends and what happened in Libya is the best proof of this [. . .] military intervention in northern Mali will lead to a new colonization’ spreading out of Mali and into Algeria. The MP is also quoted as saying that a group of MNLA men had traveled to southern Algeria ‘for dialogue and then retuned to Mali’ recently as part of the government’s efforts to find a political solution. A major 30 October report wrote that the US and Algeria would follow up the meeting ‘within the context of bilateral military talks’ while stating that ‘”Washington persuaded Algeria to participate” at the military planning level without the participation of the National People’s Army in a military intervention in Mali”’, citing ‘experts’. The report says Algerians will participate in planning sessions with west African military officials on 2 and 4 November. Other El Khabar reports cast the visit as part of Washington’s efforts to wage a proxy war against AQIM and emphasized differences ‘revealed by Algerian officials’ over their views of the MNLA and Ansar Ed-Dine (contrasting with reports elsewhere that say Algiers and Washington have similar views of these two groups). The report explains how some in the west see Algerian views of northern Mali as relevant ‘because Algeria differentiates between the different armed groups in northern Mali and this helps to understand the social structure of the terrain inside northern Mali, rather than colliding with it and turning it into a hotbed that attracts extremist groups [from abroad] under the pretext of resisting a foreign presence’ – while pointing to reports of preparations for a foreign intervention being made by MUJWA in Gao which supposedly include brining in jihadists of various nationalities including ‘Sudanese’ and ‘Pakistanis’ (reports that go back a few months; see ‘What to Make of Foreign Fighters in Mali,’ 30 October 2012). The report goes on to opine that the French-led approach to Mali looks to ‘recreate the American-NATO model of involvement in Afghanistan and argues that an ECOWAS-western led intervention would be hampered by ‘armed groups well trained in guerrilla warfare, who enjoy freedom of movement in a vast desert area and their knowledge of the terrain gives superiority in combat, which will drain regular troops participating in the intervention. Another report features an interview with Hasni Abidi (of the Centre for Studies and Research on the Arab and Mediterranean World, CERMAM). The article’s upshot is that the Clinton visit was undertaken at the request of France in an effort to butter up the Algerians ahead of French trips to Algiers; Paris was using Washington to bring the Algerians onside.

Algeria’s leading private French-language daily, El Watan, also gave Clinton’s visit prominent and extensive coverage. Its early coverage of the visit was mostly based on wire service or APS reports. Longer, deeper reports from 29-31 October focused on the security and Mali focus on the meetings, in addition to opinion pieces. These were somewhat consistent in their emphasis on describing a shared US-Algerian perceptions of the situation in Mali while on 30 October describing the visit as having ‘cooled French ardor’ by seeking to ‘”cure” Algeria’s chronic allergy to military intervention in Mali’. Such reports describe Clinton as having ‘a better grasp of the political and security issues in Mali’ than the French and as having ‘given all attention to concerns raised by the Algerian authorities.’ American concurrence with the Algerian view of Mali as understanding ‘the complexity of the situation in Mali coldly, stepping away from the risky consequences which are hardly imaginable,’ for ‘the Americans do not want to commit blindly to the quicksand of northern Mali, wanting to understand and know where they are setting their feet’. El Watan judged Clinton ‘much less committed to military action “in a few weeks” as suggested by the [French] Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.’ The article states that ‘if Paris and Algiers agree in principal on the use of force against terrorists in northern Mali, they differ significantly on the identity of potential targets.’ The article then lays out the intention of Algerian officials to ‘recover much of the elements of Ansar Eddine brought in through dialogue, in order to isolate the radicals.’ An El Watan piece from 01 November describes Algeria as ‘embedded’ in planning for an intervention with west African militaries and notes that despite Algeria’s acceptance of a role in an intervention ‘the nature of the group Ansar Ed-Dine’ ‘remains a point of contention, especially with France.’ The article goes on to quote an anonymous diplomat as saying ‘the north of Mali is also the south of Algeria’ before going on to suggest that Algeria intends to play a prominent role in a potential intervention. ‘Information services such as the Foreign Ministry and Presidency are stingy with information,’ on what role Algeria seeks or plans to play in Mali, the article continues. A brief opinion piece by Chawki Amari from the same day describes Algeria as being pressured to allow its airspace to be used for an intervention but ‘unofficially, it [Algeria] is playing the benefits of American against those of France’. The piece criticizes the Algerian government for not being clearer with its own citizens about its intentions in Mali.

The French-language Le Soir’s early coverage described Clinton’s trip as ‘in the particular context of preparations for a foreign military intervention in Mali’. The intent of the visit is described as an effort by the United States to secure Algerian assistance in an intervention because Washington ‘does not want to be at the forefront of the war ECOWAS troops are planning to conduct.’ Looking back at Clinton’s February 2012 visit, which it describes as having been preoccupied with convincing the Algerian government to adopt political reforms noting that ‘the head of American diplomacy did not appreciate [the government’s attitude toward reform] positively.’ The paper’s 29 October edition contains only one mention of the Clinton visit in Hakim Laalam’s ‘Pousse ave eux!’ column. A 30 October summary of the visit stresses that the talks in in Algiers are expected to enable an intervention in Mali in months to come.

Liberte previewed the visit on 28 October with a piece that included a lead stating that ‘there is every reason to believe that the United States will continue to exert further pressure on Algiers trying to sell it on certain points, knowing that differences lay in the role that Algeria should play according to the western model’. Liberte reported that ‘Algeria, according to western officials, has moderated its position [on foreign intervention] and accepts an African intervention force. It refuses, however, to be directly involved in this process which it considers highly risky.’ It also reports that Algeria refused over flight rights to France during an intervention. The report, published on the eve of Clinton’s visit, also accuses American officials of ‘issuing contradictory statements,’ complaining that ‘it is as though some officials who have visited Algiers have spoken openly against foreign intervention in Mali, whereas others have rather supported the French proposal.’ The piece goes on to highlight how both Washington and Algiers are approaching Mali with ‘strategic aspects’ in mind: ‘the United States does not want to repeat the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan in the Sahel, as Algeria does not want to have a fire on its southern border.’ ‘The question now remains as to why the western countries want Algeria to enlist in a transaction that may be part of a vicious cycle.’ The article then describes economic elements of the US-Algeria Strategic Dialogue framework, noting that ‘by the admission of American officials, Algeria offers unlimited opportunities.’ At the same time, another piece from 28 October by Mustapha Hammouche notes that ‘Algeria does not have a clear position on the question of intervention in Mali.’ Hammouche argues that Algeria is right to ‘maintain its decision not to take part’ in plans for a Mali intervention, arguing that Algeria and France disagree over the nature of armed groups in northern Mali (i.e., Ansar Ed-Dine) and describes Mali as a weak state ‘plagued by corruption and the unpopularity of an unjust regime with tribes and ethnic groups after squandering a good part of the few democratic achievements of the country’ – in line with the descriptions Algerian officials often give of the ‘root causes’ of Mali’s numerous troubles.  Hammouche chocks Mali’s overall troubles up to ‘unfinished declonization’ in which borders are inconsistent with the demography, with post-colonial regimes antagonizing and repressing ethnic dissent.[7]

A 29 October Liberte report describes ‘the American perspective on Mali,’ as seeing Mali as facing multiple challenges ‘of equal importance which must be solved simultaneously’. The piece describes American meetings with French officials and summarizes statements by State Department of officials; it foes on to describe the American view of Mali as a ‘governance’ problem, writing that ‘there is an urgent need to Mali on the path to democracy, which Algeria shares completely’. According to Liberte (quoting Johnnie Carson), Americans see the ‘Tuareg issue’ as a political rather than security issue. The Americans are additionally concerned over the terrorism issue and the armed groups, which poses challenges for Mali’s territorial integrity. Liberte describes Washington and Algiers as being on ‘the same wavelength’ on this issue, with Algiers supporting UNSC resolutions calling for the African Union and regional bodies to plan operations to remove the armed groups from northern Mali. It briefly reflects on American views of the humanitarian crisis in the region, focused mainly on the overflow of refugees into neighboring countries. The article goes on to quote from American statements urging Mali’s neighbors (which appears as a euphemism for Algeria) to support an intervention and to take responsibility for resolving the country’s problems. A similar article from 31 October lays out ‘Algeria as seen by the Americans.’ This report is mainly a summary of the State Department background briefing mentioned above.

Le Temps, a private French-language daily, carried several stories on the visit. These focused on highlighting statements from Secretary Clinton and other officials that stressed American perceptions of Algeria’s importance in the region and in American thinking about Mali. The majority of stories through 29 October were APS summaries or longer articles or APS stories with additional input. Le Temps’s articles generally stress agreement between the United States and Algeria on the need for ‘dialogue’ and negotiations as part of an intervention (the ‘shared approach‘) statements from American leaders such as those referring to Algeria as ‘the most powerful state in Sahel’ and ‘the centre of the solution‘ to the Mali crisis. The overwhelming emphasis in its coverage of the visit is Mali.

NOTES:


[1] On these concerns, see Peter Tinti, ‘Algeria’s Stance on Northern Mali Remains Ambiguous,’ Voice of America, 17 September 2012, and Alexis Arrief, ‘Algeria and the Crisis in Mali,’ Actuelles de l’Ifri, 19 July 2012; See also, Peter Tinti, ‘Understanding Algeria’s Northern Mali Policy,’ Think Africa Press, 05 October 2012.

[2] This narrative raises some interesting historical questions: Who went for whom? There appears to be some evidence that suggests the Washington ‘turned around’ as far as counterterrorism cooperation with Algiers was concerned after 9/11. Former Ambassador Cameron R. Hume’s account of US-Algerian relations in the 1990s suggests Washington sought to expand its security relationship with Algeria in only a limited way during the civil war due largely to human rights concerns, though the two sides established limited military-military cooperation through naval exercises in the late 1990s. See: Mission to Algiers: Diplomacy by Engagement (Lexington, 2006). At the same time, Werenfels and Lowi describe a shift in military perceptions from roughly 1998 forward, accelerating from 2000 and 2001 whereby the Algerians aggressively sought western support in the counterterrorism field – and got it, in part because of changes in western views of Algeria after 9/11. See: Werenfels, Managing Instability in Algeria (Rutledge, 2007); and Lowi, Oil Wealth and the Poverty of Politics: Algeria Compared (Cambridge, 2009) and ‘Algeria, 1992-2002: Anatomy of a Civil War,’ in Collier and Sambanis, eds, Understanding Civil War: Evidence and Analysis (The World Bank, 2005). Bouteflika pursued an enhanced relationship with the US from as early as 2000; Later on, there are reports about the Algerians seeking ‘strategic’ partnerships with the US as late as 2007. As French and Algerian coverage of Clinton’s visit show, the French perception of American intentions in Algeria are very important in considering this relationship. William Quandt traced some of the issues related to this up through 2002 in Le Monde and his account of things has the American posture up until about 2001 as being more reluctant than the Algerians’ and is similar to Hume’s account; many of these considerations remain relevant for historical and contemporary reasons. Some of the background issues that complicated US-Algerian relations up through the last five or so years are covered in Zoubir’s ‘The United States and Algeria: A New Strategic Partnership?’ in Journal of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies (In Asia), Vol. 5, No. 4, 2011. Zoubir’s 2010 ‘The United States and Algeria: The Cautious Road to Partnership‘ (The Maghreb Center Journal, issue 1, Spring/Summer 2010) describes a version of the evolution of American policymakers’ perceptions of Islamism and terrorism in Algeria during the 1990s and 2000s in some detail. The role of the 11 September 2001 attacks is presented thusly:

For years, the United States, like most European countries, has described the terrorist acts committed by various armed Islamist groups (GIA, GSPC, etc.) against military and civilian targets in Algeria as ―political violence,‖ or as a rather natural, almost legitimate reaction to the violence of the Algerian regime, which interrupted the electoral process on January 11, 1992.16 Any other interpretation was considered to support the ―junta‖ in power. On the other hand, if Islamist violence in Algeria was justified because of injustice and authoritarianism, no one was allowed to explain that the attacks of September 11, although obviously reprehensible, were perhaps the result of American aggressive policies that have caused so many tragedies in the Arab and Muslim world. Barack Obama in his June 4, 2009 speech in Cairo alluded to the grievances that led to anti-Americanism in the region.

Long before the attacks of 9/11, Algerian security services had already established close cooperation with similar US agencies, such as the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency, in the international fight against terrorism. Americans have understood the need to cooperate with Algeria, which has acquired significant expertise in this field. Beyond unequivocally condemning the attacks, Algerian authorities have engaged in the global coalition against terrorism led by the United States. They gave Washington a list of several hundred militants who fled to Europe and the US, and offered their assistance in the areas of security and intelligence. During his November 2001 visit to Washington, President Bouteflika tried to persuade President Bush that US-Algerian relations should be strengthened and that the fight against terrorism would be futile if its roots were not dealt with—those being poverty and inequality. This vision reflected in some way the views of the neoconservatives, who had made democracy and economic development one of their mottos. In fact, until 2006 and the victory of the Palestinian movement Hamas in parliamentary elections, the Bush administration was giving Bilateral military and security cooperation democracy promotion in the Arab world a national security priority, arguing that greater political freedom would weaken radical Islamism and its ideology.

September 11 opened the way not only to very important bilateral military cooperation between the United States and Algeria, but also allowed the United States to include Algeria in two security systems, the NATO Mediterranean Dialogue in the north, and the Sahel region in the South.

[. . .]

Despite undeniably close cooperation with the United States, it is worth noting that: 1) the Algerian authorities are not willing to develop an even closer military cooperation with the United States because it would be, in their view, subject mostly to American conditions; and 2) as a matter of principle, Algeria is not willing to become dependent on any foreign power, including the United States, for its military supplies. This explains the diversity of its sources of arms supply: Russia, China, France, South Africa, the United States, former member counties of the Communist bloc and Turkey. In addition, the close alliance of the United States with Morocco, Algeria‘s main rival in the North Africa region, perpetuates Algeria‘s suspicions vis-à- vis the United States.

[3] Some contrast can be seen where the Algerian statements emphasize that Clinton was received in Algiers by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and list all the ranking Algerians present at the meeting between Clinton and Bouteflika) while the American communiqués make little or no reference to the roster of attendees besides the Secretary and the President.

[4] El Khabar has reported that the US and France have pressed Algeria to provide air support to an ECOWAS intervention, with both combat and transport aircraft.

[5] Jean-Felix Paganon, the French Special Envoy for the Sahel told Jeune Afrique in October: ‘The behavior of Ansar Eddine is that of a group totally linked to the terrorists of AQIM. They are in the same camp. Buy many countries in the region, such as Algeria, and many analysts believe that negotiations are possible with Ansar Eddine and that to understand the organization as supporting terrorism is a mistake. We shall see…’

[6] This view is especially strong in articles like this from 03 November in which Algerian sources intimate to El Watan that Ansar Ed-Dine’s leader, Iyad Ag Ghali would make an announcement splitting from AQIM in the coming days. The Algerians will likely hold any such announcement as validation of their policy over the last several months; it remains to be seen what process can be fashioned out of such a development, though it would give many actors greater freedom of movement and space for creativity. A statement later appeared in AP reports claiming that Ansar Ed-Dine was ready to distance themselves from the other armed groups in northern Mali. Contradictory statements from factions within Ansar Ed-Dine reportedly caused extreme anger in Algiers; and on and on…

[7] Hammouche’s narrative is likely meant to at least in part speak to domestic Algerian views of post-colonial, Francophone regimes.

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