Rice in Algeria

Serious diplomacy: How to milk a combover.

Algerian media coverage of Rice’s visit was extensive. A number of newspapers said the length of the US secretary’s visit was a show of recognition of Algeria’s weight in the region. An editorial in La Tribune described the relationship between Algiers and Washington as a “strategic axis” and categorised the visit as an “enhancer of bilateral ties in the field of security and economic co-operation”.

رايس تدعو لتوثيق التعاون بين بلدان المغرب العربي (“Rice calls for greater co-operation among Maghreb nations“), Magharebia, 9 September, 2008.

Such thinking is delusional. The US-Algerian relationship is of medium weight, and it forms no “strategic axis” in the region. The only strategic axis in the region is the Morocco-American relationship. If Rice discussed the Georgia problem with Bouteflika, which would have been smart, talk of a strategic axis woudl be warranted. She did not. Like all previous American visits to Algiers, Rice’s was non-committal and filled with vague language, focused on things marshal and gaseous. The visit was not historic, nor was it more fraternal than previous US visits. It was ordinary. American diplomats and officials, few of whom know Algeria well (though I have noticed that many of them are fond of almost every Algerian counterpart they have encountered and believe that they know them well), tend to work towards keeping the Algerian-American relationship at once amiable and shallow. The country is left to Europeans to deal with, for its peculiarities are considered too deep for an Anglo-Saxon to fathom. The visit did no harm but it did little good that has yet to be done already. In this regard it was a success; the goal surely could not have been to meaningfully “expand” US-Algerian ties, especially not this late in the Bush term. But it was likely meant to reassure the Algerians that the US means them no ill will and that it supports the country in the “War on Terror” and of course to remind them that their position on the Sahara will not change, meaning that the situation will not change, meaning that either side has no new responsibilities or animosities. Little if any talk of democracy or human rights. Minimal discussion of economic liberalization. No talk of weapons sales. The Americans consider Algeria’s regime stable and unlikely to all of a sudden turn against them and the collective “West”. Thus the statements coming from the meetings are in legalese and the Algerians made no special effort to offer the Secretary special accommodations (as the Moroccans always make sure to) but did nothing out of the ordinary. Good will remains.


3 thoughts on “Rice in Algeria

  1. “though I have noticed that many of them are fond of almost every Algerian counterpart they have encountered and believe that they know them well”.
    To be honest, that’s true of most counterparts they have in most countries that are not directly hostile to them. It is a gimmick of American policies that they think they know someone well because they have talked 5 minutes with this person.

  2. Well, I’m speaking in personal terms. Retired mission staff from New York and Paris specifically. They speak glowingly of the Algerians as social partners outside of work. Though they did not consider Algeria itself a friend, they considered its personnel to be so.

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