Friday, July 18, 2014

Michael Rubin on the Polisario Front: the Outer Limits of Journalistic Terrorism


I urge you to read this hit piece about the Polisario Front by Michael Rubin:

I have written here before about the Polisario Front, a Cold War throw-back and authoritarian cult funded by the Algerian military regime as a tool against Morocco. The Department of Homeland Security classifies the Polisario Front as a terrorist group. Polisario leaders seek to cloak themselves in a shroud of anti-colonial legitimacy saying they are fighting for a Sahrawi state in the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colonial territory now autonomous under Moroccan control. That is enough for many leftist journalists and progressive academics to embrace them, and even President Obama took a photo with the Polisario Front’s autocratic leader, but the reality is their constituency is tiny and growing smaller every day.
While the Polisario imagines themselves leading a state, the sad truth is they reign over little more than a handful of refugee camps in the Tindouf province of Algeria which house not more than 100,000 Sahrawi, of whom perhaps only 40,000 are refugees from the Western Sahara. These refugees live in a political culture as authoritarian and as that of Turkmenistan, Eritrea, North Korea, or the Mujahedin al-Khalq. Here, for example, is a report that the Polisario has forced youth into marriages in order to create new constituents. The Polisario notoriously separated children from their parents and shipped them to Cuba for indoctrination. The Polisario taxes residents to fund the profligate lifestyles of its leaders. Party membership—and blind loyalty to Mohamed Abdelaziz, the Polisario’s dictator—is required for employment and to receive other benefits. The group prevents residents of the Tindouf camps from returning home. While the United Nations facilitates some family visits between Moroccan Tindouf refugees and their families, the Polisario refuses to allow husbands and wives and children to travel together, treating those left behind as hostages in order to guarantee the return of the camp residents. In short, to be born into the Polisario-run camps is to be born into an authoritarian hell.
Just as the White House remained largely silent when Iranians rose up for freedom in 2009, and remains muted on similar anti-authoritarian protests in Venezuela today, so too is it now silent on a nascent freedom movement in the Polisario-run camps. According to al-Arabiya:
 The so-called “Youth Movement for Change” released a video accusing the Polisario Front’s leadership of corruption and called for improving the conditions of Sahrawi refugees in Tindouf. The movement also demanded the departure of the Front’s aging figures, including its 66-year-old leader Mohammad Abdelaziz who has been in control since 1976. The youth group, which was founded in February this year, accused Abdelaziz and his associates of “trading in the suffering of the Sahrawi refugees.” “We have suffered from injustice for more than 40 years. We demand the departure of this corrupt leadership, which is the oldest, most corrupt leadership in the world,” Mohammad Lamine, a spokesman for the nascent group, told Al Arabiya News Channel from the Tindouf refugee camp. “They have been stealing humanitarian aid provided by international organizations to the refugee camps and whenever we raise our voices against [this] they accuse us of being agents of Morocco,” he added.   
 
Susan Rice, currently Obama’s national security advisor, has twice during the Obama administration promoted policies which would impose a politically-charged ‘human rights monitoring’ regime in the Western Sahara, a move that would effectively undercut Morocco’s security and empower Polisario Front propaganda in the Western Sahara. She did so supposedly in the name of the interests of the Sahrawi population (most of whom, it seems, prefer to reintegrate into Morocco or into the Western Sahara to which Morocco granted autonomy). But when she and President Obama have the opportunity truly to support liberty, freedom, and human rights for Sahrawis, they remain silent. That silence simply makes the Polisario’s oppression easier. How sad. And how telling.

Having been off doing other things for the last year and a half, I regret that I have been neglecting this blog since my last post on September 30, 2012. Anyway, last week Michael Rubin, "a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute; senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School's Center for Civil-Military Relations; and a senior editor of the Middle East Quarterly" and much much more, came out with a Commentary Magazine blog article titled Arab Spring Comes to Polisario Front? that is so appallingly ignorant, so appallingly dishonest, so appallingly biased, and so appallingly mean-spirited that he has successfully driven me out of semi-retirement.  Quite simply it is the most compromised piece of writing on the Western Sahara and Polisario that I have read in my many years of scholarship in this area. This guy should be sued for defamation. And Commentary should be held accountable for hosting – apparently without any fact checking – this verifiable pile of lies. 
Again please read his article at the top of this posting a couple times, and I’ll start this exercise by going through his first paragraph sentence by sentence because it truly is a doozy of a paragraph and Rubin clearly has a severe problem.

Paragraph One
“I have written here before about the Polisario Front, a Cold War throw-back and authoritarian cult funded by the Algerian military regime as a tool against Morocco.” 
On the stuff that he has written before about the Polisario, I urge you to follow his link and feast on his earlier articles, which you will find are just as ignorant, dishonest, biased, and mean-spirited as this one.
Rubin’s dismissing the Polisario Front as “a Cold War throw-back” is moronic. The USSR never recognized the Polisario and, likewise, after the end of the Cold War Russia has never recognized the Polisario. Yes, Cuba-Polisario relations have been cordial and, with no higher education available in the refugee camps, many Sawrawi children have happily accepted Cuba’s offers of free education. In other words, Cuba-Polisario relations are very much like the cordial relations between Canada and Cuba. In their rhetoric, on the ground, and in their constitution, the Polisario is very much committed to pluralistic, free-enterprise democracy when they achieve independence. And even the Polisario support from Algeria has nothing to do with the Cold War. It is about de-colonialism and the Western Sahara’s status as the only African colony that has not been de-colonized.
His characterization of the Polisario as an “authoritarian cult” hardly deserves any comment. Let me just say that it is a far better description of the Morocco monarchy. See Freedom House’s description of Rabat’s illegal and totalitarian occupation of the Western Sahara as the Worst of the Worst on their Freedom of the World ratings.
And the part about “the Algerian military regime” funding the Polisario “as a tool against Morocco,” ignores the fact that the United Nations also funds the Polisario Front as a tool against Morocco’s illegal invasion and occupation. Algeria happens to be on the right side here. 
“The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) classifies the Polisario Front as a terrorist group.”
Nowhere does the Department of Homeland Security classify the Polisario Front as a terrorist group. If you take a look at the Department of Homeland Security website and do a search for “Polisario,” you will get “Sorry, no results found for 'Polisario'.” Oddly, Rubin’s link in this sentence takes you, not to the Department of Homeland Security website, but to a Global Terrorism Database (GTD) of a group called the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) at the University of Maryland. While the GTD has been partially funded by the Department of Homeland Security for a number of years, START makes it very clear that “The GTD does not purport to represent the official position, inclusion decisions, or information holdings of the Department of Homeland Security, the National Institute of Justice, the U.S. State Department or any other funding agency.” The GTD profile of the Polisario also very clearly states that the U.S. Department of State does not classify the Polisario as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and does not include them on the Terrorism Exclusion List. And even the Polisario’s appearance on the GTD list is hardly convincing given the lack of evidence tying them to terrorism and their consistent refusal to turn to terrorism – even in the face of massive state terrorism by Morocco. The bottom line is that the U.S.  Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security have never classified the Polisario Front as a terrorist group. Rubin either has no idea what he is talking about here, or he does and just chooses to lie.
“Polisario leaders seek to cloak themselves in a shroud of anti-colonial legitimacy saying they are fighting for a Sahrawi state in the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colonial territory now autonomous under Moroccan control.”
Rubin simply ignores here that it is international law, the International Court of Justice, the United Nations, and the analyses of innumerable international lawyers that cloak the Polisario in the “shroud” of anti-colonial legitimacy.”  The Polisario leaders have no need to “seek to cloak themselves” because international law has been cloaking them for decades.  The Polisario is fighting for a Sahrawi state in the Western Sahara because they have a clear-cut international law right to de-colonial self-determination and independence.
Rubin proceeds in this sentence to tell us that the Western Sahara is “now autonomous under Moroccan control.” This is just wrong. Morocco proposed autonomy under their sovereignty in 2007, but autonomy has never been implemented in the occupied territories and has never been accepted by the Polisario. The Western Sahara is NOT autonomous and Morocco’s refusal to hold a referendum on independence – even with autonomy as an option – tells me that Morocco knows all too well that the indigenous Sahrawi of the Western Sahara would never vote for autonomy.  As with Rubin’s totally bad info about the Polisario and terrorism, he also doesn’t have a clue or chooses to lie about Western Saharan autonomy.

“That is enough for many leftist journalists and progressive academics to embrace them, and even President Obama took a photo with the Polisario Front’s autocratic leader, but the reality is their constituency is tiny and growing smaller every day.”
Rubin’s idea here that the “embrace” of the Poliario and their anti-colonial legitimacy by leftists and progressives is the root of all evil in the Western Sahara is ludicrous. While there are indeed many leftist and progressive Polisario fans, strong support for the Polisario comes from all across the ideological spectrum. Pennsylvania Representative Joseph R. Pitts, longtime Polisario supporter, is a conservative Republican with a 100% rating from the American Conservative Union who co-chairs the Western Sahara Caucus in Congress.  Furthermore, the Polisario’s biggest supporter in the U.S. is the Defense Forum Foundation,  a solidly conservative 501(c)(3) non-profit foundation under the presidency of notable and respected human rights activist, SuzanneScholte, a Republican who is running for Congress in the 11thCongressional District of Virginia this year. If anything, Michael Rubin’s neo-conservative dissing of anti-colonial legitimacy reeks of neo-colonialism.
and even President Obama took a photo with the Polisario Front’s autocratic leader,”
Obama and Bush before him have posed numerous times with leaders who are far more autocratic than the elected Abdelaziz. Take, for starters, the kings of Morocco and Saudi Arabia. Everybody knows about the sordid autocratic rule in Saudi, but the enormity of Moroccan lobbying and propaganda has here in the U.S. shielded King Mohamed VI from the reality of his sordid and corrupt autocracy. And what is so bad about Obama posing with President Abdelaziz at Mandela’s memorial in South Africa? The Sahrawi Arabic Democratic Republic is a member of the African Union (and remember that Morocco is not a member), South Africa has always been among the biggest supporters of the Polisario, and Mandela was a great friend of the Polisario leadership.
“the reality is their constituency is tiny and growing smaller every day”
If the Polilsario’s constituency is really so small, how is it that not one country officially recognizes Morocco’s sovereignty over the territory and the UN’s Fourth Committee still lists the Western Sahara as a non-self-governing territory with the right of self-determination.
Paragraphs two and three
Rubin’s next two paragraphs are a thoroughly biased attempt to demonize the Sahrawis and the the Polisario Front, which is the most exemplary national liberation movement in the world. He backs up his rabidly anti-Polisario rant with some very suspect sources.  These include Al Arabiya, a Saudi-owned internet news source, that is notorious for mirroring Saudi Arabia’s very slanted and pro-Moroccan foreign policy, and Sahara News and and Morocco World News, Moroccan propaganda sites. And his most laughable trick is to back up his lies by referencing his own articles, which are also piles of lies.
There is so much biased, false, unsubstantiated and unproven stuff in these two paragraphs that I’m just going to touch on the worst of it. 
“These refugees live in a political culture as authoritarian and as that of Turkmenistan, Eritrea, North Korea, or the Mujahedin al-Khalq.” 
 Again, I have been following and researching the Polisario for a long time, and Rubin’s take on the political culture of the Polisario is just false. He bases his tales of the Polisario’s nastiness on little more than Moroccan propaganda disseminated by compromised media.  And again, he just happily ignores that Freedom House categorizes the Moroccan government’s totalitarian occupation of the Western Sahara among the Worst of the Worst alongside Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. And in case you were wondering if Freedom House is a hotbed of “leftist journalists and progressive academics,” take a look at Right Web’s profile of Freedom House. They conclude that “Although in recent years the organization has appeared to relax its close association with hawkish U.S. policies, its leadership remains heavily represented by individuals affiliated with neoconservatism and it has continued to support projects aimed at bolstering aggressive U.S. foreign policies.” And, in addition to substantial U.S. government funding. Freedom House receives much private funders “including many rightwing foundations, such as the Smith Richardson Foundation, the Bradley Foundation, Sarah Scaife, and the Olin Foundation.” And to be transparent, I have consulted for Freedom House in the past, but never on North Africa.
And finally what makes all of this more ironic is that Right Web describes Michael Rubin as follows: “An outspoken and sometimes controversial proponent of hawkish U.S. foreign policies, Rubin is closely associated with neoconservatism.” Wow, it turns out Rubin and Freedom House are on the same side. Yes, it is Morocco's, not the Polisario's, political culture in the Western Sahara that is the Worst of the Worst.
“The Polisario notoriously separated children from their parents and shipped them to Cuba for indoctrination.” 
This was debunked years ago by UNHCR interviews and numerous independent inverviews.
"The so-called “Youth Movement for Change” released a video accusing the Polisario Front’s leadership of corruption and called for improving the conditions of Sahrawi refugees in Tindouf.”
 For starters Al Arabiya is, again, a highly compromised source. There is no real evidence that this group even exists, and even if it does, my guess is that it is as anti-Morocco and pro-independence as the Polisario.
Let me move on to Rubin’s concluding paragraph. 
Final Paragraph
“Susan Rice, currently Obama’s national security advisor, has twice during the Obama administration promoted policies which would impose a politically-charged ‘human rights monitoring’ regime in the Western Sahara, a move that would effectively undercut Morocco’s security and empower Polisario Front propaganda in the Western Sahara.”
This conclusion is mind-bogglingly crazy.  He doesn’t even want to deal with the wealth of information from lots of NGOs, international lawyers, academics, etc. that is conclusive that Morocco’s human rights behavior in the occupied territories is atrocious and that there is lots of stuff that should be monitored. But despite this reality, Rubin doesn’t want human rights monitoring because it is “politically-charged” and would “effectively undercut Morocco’s security.”  It is far easier to make the case that Morocco’s security will be undercut, not by any monitoring of human rights abuses, but by the predictable end of the cease fire between the parties if Morocco continues denying the long-established right of the Western Saharans to self-determination and a referendum on their future.
And the part about empowering “Polisario Front propaganda” is just silly given the abundance of raunchy propaganda coming out of Rabat. The Polisario point of view is largely consistent with widely accepted international law.
“most of whom [the polisario], it seems, prefer to reintegrate into Morocco or into the Western Sahara to which Morocco granted autonomy.”
His idea that most of the Polisario prefers to reintegrate into Morocco is baseless. The UN finished selecting the electorate for the referendum on independence in 1999, and if Morocco really thought that the Sahrawi wanted to come back to the motherland they could have held the referendum years ago. But they didn’t because they know the Western Saharans would choose independence.
And I repeat, on the rest of this sentence about Morocco granting autonomy: Morocco has never granted autonomy. This is just oneof Rubin’s many fabrications.
The bottom line of all this is that Michael Rubin knows nothing about the Polisario and is a flat out liar and a thoroughly dishonest analyst: the Polisario Front is not a terrorist organization and the Department of Homeland Security doesn't consider them one, the Western Sahara is not an autonomous region of Morocco, liberals are not the only ones who love and support the Sahrawis, Algeria is not the only one who supports and funds the Polisario, and lots more. To say that this guy is a propagandist is too kind; he is a journalistic terrorist angling for the destruction of the most commendable national liberation movement on earth.