All the way through French North Africa

Over the weekend I visited the JFK Presidential Library, over on the other side of Boston. Aside from its eight dollar cost, it was a positive experience. Friends who served in the Algerian bureaucracy during the early 60’s, have told me that they considered the coolness in US-Algerian relations during the Cold War to be a combination of JFK’s administration’s (and at the time most Americans’) hypersensitivity to any talk of socialism or any contact with communist states or leaders and Ben Bella’s misreading of how the Americans would react to his visiting Cuba immediately after meeting with the Americans on his first state visit abroad. The Algerians thought it would show their even handedness and non-allied credentials. The Americans saw this as somewhere between a slap in the face and the formation of an Algerian Politburo.

JFK had early on advocated empathy for and solidarity with the Algerian nationalist movement, wholly for political reasons, leading some Algerians to believe that he would be a friendly international partner. While the meeting between Kennedy and Ben Bella went well (far better than Nasser’s visit to Algiers, which deserves a separate post for all its hilarity), the visit to Cuba destroyed any potential for warm ties. No mention of Algeria is made in the library’s exhibits. A beautiful gold  (solid gold) purse given to Jackie Kennedy by King Hassan is on display. It is evidence of two things: 1) how the Moroccans viewed themselves, as a monarchy claiming descent from the Prophet Moh, with an especially aristocratic sense (as a friend remarked, imagine what it must have been like for Hassan to face the kind of attitudes evidenced especially by Boumediene, a republican peasant with no social credentials) and 2) a consistent Moroccan policy of wooing Americans with shiny things, be they palatial living quarters during state visits or solid gold purses.


6 thoughts on “All the way through French North Africa

  1. That’s a way of putting it. But you could also say that Moroccans were better at diplomacy than Algerians (especially in the early days after independence). Ben Bella was a brilliant man and a leader in many ways, but he lacked the finesse of king Hassan. In general, I think Algerian diplomacy has been often very aggressive, when sometimes being a bit more flexible might have brought more results to Algeria. I suspect that ideology played some role in this too.

  2. Certainly I’d agree, to a degree. In the early days, the Algerians were known for being cold and legalistic, rather than personable. This made them very effective in some areas and less successful in others, especially with the Americans. And indeed, Hassan did have a way with words and his own character that most Arab leaders have and continue to lack. But I don’t think that Moroccan success is as much due to the actual workings of their diplomacy, as their willingness to ignore the consequences of their behavior and the fact the heavy matters they deal with are of little interest to most outside the Maghreb.

    As for Ben Bella being a brilliant leader, I’d have to disagree with you on that. He left himself without any allies or friends capable of backing him up or vouching for him. That’s to say nothing of his policy choices which were unrealistic and unsuited to the country’s conditions at the time…

  3. I didn’t see this article. Now I undertand why Jalal was upset and defensive. Hassan II gave an expensive artisanal gift to Jackie Kennedy who was known for loving shiny things and that’s the end of it. I think it’s a bit presumptions to make any analysis out of it. HassanII was a diplomatic man and Ben Bella wasn’t. Don’t blame Hassan II and put labels on the Moroccans, blame Ben Bella for being rigid and confrontational.

  4. Diplomatic gifts are always given with political motivations. Gifts are a part of strategy; they may therefore be analyzed in that context. There are no “labels” in this post. And there is no blame either; it is mere observation of historical events.

  5. Yes there’s a blame in the article and quite a bit of sourness I might add. The reckless Algerian diplomacy is portrayed as misunderstood and well-intentional while the Moroccan diplomacy is portrayed as the manipulative twisted and self-centered. Of course there are political motivations behind hassanII diplomacy, he’s a head of state for Pete’s sake. Is he supposed to care for the Kennedies outside of the political arena?

  6. There is nothing “twisted” about the Moroccan or Algerian diplomacy here. All diplomacy is self-centered and political. All of it. No where did I say that he had any obligation care about the Kennedys outside of politics. The aspect of Algerian diplomacy here is described as it was intended; as is the Moroccan. The intentions of the dual Americas visit was misunderstood, as many actions taken by Third World states (including Morocco, I might add) were by the Americans. That is it and that is all.

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