Friday, August 01, 2008

The Bodansky File (Continued)

In a recent analysis, Youssef Bodansky, former Director of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and a visiting scholar at Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS), noted that the greatest threat to stability in the Maghreb and Western Mediterranean was what he described as “the rejuvenation of the terrorism campaign” of the Polisario Front. The escalation by the Polisario comes in the midst of the latest United Nations effort to finally resolve the Western Sahara conflict.

-- Moroccan American Center for Policy (MACP) press release (January 11,2008)

Unaware that Polisario had a terrorism campaign to rejuvenate, I wrote a short post a few months ago titled The Bodansky File in which I mention my unsuccessful attempt to find the “recent analysis” on Polisario terrorism referred to by MACP. I am pleased to report that recently I stumbled across that analysis on an obscure blog called Med-Atlantic.

Made up of six posts from October 2007 to May 2008 by a poster identified as Medperson, Med-Atlantic -- subtitled “On the importance of the Mediterranean Basin as a strategic environment, with its impact on North Atlantic Security” -- is a passionately pro-Morocco and savagely anti-Algeria rant heavy on Polisario bashing. It even comes down hard on the U.S. for not supporting Morocco forcefully enough. The basic thrust of the site is that Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara must be asserted in order to counter what the author sees as Algerian expansionism that threatens the stability of the Maghreb. Medperson apparently has no problem with Moroccan expansionism.

The study referred to in the MACP press release is printed in its entirety in the body of a December 2007 post titled Algeria Pushes POLISARIO Toward a New War “More Dangerous than Al Qaida”. Medperson prefaces that study with the following:

Med-Atlantic received a leaked report from the Global Information System (GIS), an intelligence service used by the US Defense Department and other key Western governments, which details Algeria's plans for POLISARIO. We're running it in full here: POLISARIO Congress Reflects the Major Threat to Maghreb Stability as Algeria Enters a Power Struggle, With Itself and the West By Yossef Bodansky, Senior Editor, GIS.

Mr. Bodansky gets right to the point in his first two paragraphs:

The great threat to stability in the Maghreb and the Western Mediterranean is not the ascent and spread of the Islamist-jihadist trend — which is extremely dangerous in the mid- to long-term — but is shaping up to be the rejuvenation of the terrorism campaign by the Frente POLISARIO (Frente Popular para la Liberacion de Saguia el-Hamra y de Rio de Oro).

POLISARIO is currently holding its special 12th congress in Tifariti, Moroccan Western Sahara (MWS), east of the berm. Because of the regional strategic dynamics, the calls for, and threats of, the resumption of the “armed struggle” against Morocco emanating from this POLISARIO congress may prove a greater destabilizing factor for the entire Maghreb than even the most recent jihadist bombing in Algiers.

The rest of Bodansky’s report is spent trying to back up these rather ominous warnings. But before I take a look at his ideas I would just like to highlight a couple things in these first two paragraphs that I feel betray his mindset.

There is for starters the matter of his insistence on calling the territory the “Moroccan Western Sahara.” Most of the world calls the former Spanish Sahara colony the “Western Sahara,” but Morocco prefers the “Moroccan Sahara.” Why Bodansky prefers to use the made-up “Moroccan Western Sahara” – and the even sillier “MWS” – is a mystery to me. And his placing Tifariti within the Moroccan Western Sahara is just bizarre, since it is in the part of the territory controlled by the Polisario and thus firmly within the SADR Western Sahara (SADRWS).

And then there is his subtle bait and switch. Having warned us of “the rejuvenation of the terrorism campaign by the Frente POLISARIO” in the first paragraph, by the second this has morphed into a resumption of armed struggle. In fact, the question of Polisario terrorism is never again mentioned in the study. It’s hard to tell whether his branding Polisario a terrorist organization was just a slip of the pen or whether he just forgot to offer any proof. In any event, it is all too typical of MACP’s modus operandi that it should trumpet the terrorist threat of Polisario based on a study that offers absolutely zero evidence of such terrorism.

Now on to Bodansky’s ideas. What apparently initially got him all riled up was the Polisario party congress held in Tifariti in December 2007 where, he states, “the POLISARIO Frente resolved to rearm and prepare for a new war which would be launched by 2009 if the diplomatic process could not deliver POLISARIO’s demands for full independence.” Bodansky’s take on the Tifariti congress is just wrong. Nowhere at the congress did Polisario threaten war if its “demands for full independence” were not met. Polisario has unambiguously made it clear that self-determination through a referendum with independence as an option is what they seek, and that they will abide by whatever the people decide, be it independence, autonomy, or inclusion in Morocco.

From this erroneous premise, Bodansky proceeds to make his case for quashing Polisario and supporting Moroccan hegemony. He makes three basic arguments: 1) that the Western Saharan people overwhelmingly support a return to Morocco, 2) that Africa doesn’t need another failed ministate, and 3) that Polisario’s threat to return to arms is directly related to the Algerian succession crisis.

The Western Saharan people overwhelmingly support a return to Morocco

Here is what Bodansky has to say about the desires of the Western Saharans:

More than 15 years after the latest ceasefire agreement in MWS, the entire population — both in Morocco and in the POLISARIO-run camps — has demonstrated a strong commitment to a return to stability, normalcy, and chance at the betterment of their own lives. The population of MWS has indicated, through elections and other indicators, a measurable determination to remain an integral part of the Moroccan rejuvenation and development. The MWS population has been passing this message for several years to the POLSARIO leadership via their expatriate kin in Western Europe. In contrast, the refugee population in the POLISARIO camps, mainly in the Tindouf area in Algeria, is exhausted from the closure, hardship, lack of prospects. The people see no hope for themselves in an Algeria torn by civil war and afflicted by economic misery….

Simply put, the people of MWS realized that their own aspirations can be best achieved when they are part of Morocco….

The Moroccan elections of early September 2007 provided an uncontroversial proof of this transformation of the people of MWS….the voter turnout in the MWS was extremely heavy….This constitutes a clear demonstration that the population in MWS considers itself Moroccan, is convinced that it has vital stakes in the political process in Rabat, and is determined to have its say there….Thus, the Moroccan parliamentary elections in MWS proved that the local population considers itself an integral part of a single, unified Morocco.

What is one to make of this kind of writing that opinionates with absolute and categorical certainty about things that demonstrably are not true? About thirty seconds of research is enough to realize that what he says is “clear” is totally unclear, what he says in “uncontroversial” is totally controversial. He chooses to not even mention the anti-Moroccan demonstrations and riots of the last few years that clearly debunk his theory of total Western Saharan support for Moroccan hegemony. He chooses to ignore the fact that the majority of people currently living in the occupied territory are subsidized Moroccan migrants and colonists with no legal ties to the Western Sahara under international law and thus no say on the territory's future. He chooses not to mention any of the numerous studies by respected NGOs that chronicle the brutality of Moroccan police rule and increasing assertions of Western Saharan nationalism and anti-Moroccan sentiment. His generalizations about the yearnings of the refugees in Tindouf don’t stand up to any kind of scrutiny. And in the final analysis, Bodansky’s claim that the entire population desires a life under Moroccan rule is rendered totally farcical by Rabat’s refusal to allow a referendum under any circumstances.

We Don’t Need Another Failed Mini-State

Bodansky writes:

Meanwhile, the international community has become increasingly alarmed by failed ministates, such as Timor-Leste, and unchecked secessionism. Even the most ardent supporters of the “Sahrawi people” in the West now doubt the viability of a POLISARIO-run state. The West sees no need for another failed state and bastion of criminality, living off the smuggling routes between west-central Africa and Western Europe. All expert studies have demonstrated that a POLISARIO-run state cannot sustain any other type of economy on its own; industrial and resource development are impossible without reliance on the infrastructure and human resources of Morocco while POLISARIO advocates the complete delinking of MWS from Morocco. Hence, particularly after the POLISARIO’s intransigence in the UN-run Manhasset, New York, talks in early August 2007, international support for Morocco’s autonomy plan — with all its possible imperfections — has started to grow.

While the issue of failed states is indeed serious, Bodansky’s attempt to convince us that the Western Sahara would be such a state is hardly convincing. His contention that “Even the most ardent supporters of the 'Sahrawi people' in the West now doubt the viability of a POLISARIO-run state” is just silly. I would love to know who these “most ardent supporters” are. The ardent supporters I am aware of tend to feel that an independent Western Sahara would do just fine given the small population and the large natural resource reserve base of the territory. Similarly, his sweeping declaration that “All expert studies have demonstrated that a POLISARIO-run state cannot sustain any … type of economy on its own” other than one based on criminality and smuggling is ludicrous. To say “all expert studies” is I would say a bit presumptuous; I have trouble thinking of even one.

POLISARIO’s threat to return to arms is directly related to the Algerian succession crisis

And here Bodansky really hits his stride:

However, what makes POLISARIO’s threat to resume the armed struggle so ominous — beyond the continued military build-up of POLISARIO in its Algerian sanctuaries — is its impact on the Algerian succession crisis. Pres. Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s health has deteriorated recently. With no heir apparent, inner struggles are intensifying within the Algerian Government. Most important is the succession struggle between the “army élite” and the “energy lobby”, both comprised of most senior officials and their cronies. Furthermore, each of these groups is further divided into pro-Russia, pro-France, and pro-US sub-groupings. Therefore, all decisions are made as a result of power-maneuvers between at least six “clans” which confront each other and win through transient and narrow-issue alliances.

The “army elite” and some in the “energy lobby” believe that crisis and war are the quickest way — a shortcut — to the post-Bouteflika throne. In recent years, Bouteflika preferred to stay neutral. When he had to take a side, he tilted with the “energy lobby”, which generated US and Western support. However, in recent months, Pres. Bouteflika has clearly tilted toward, and even openly sided with, the “army élite”. While Bouteflika made his move because he believes the military élite is better suited to sustain him in power and follow his policies, he will have to “pay” for the military support by heightening the regional tension even if it leads to war with Morocco.

This is the nitty gritty of Bodansky’s argument – that Algerian perfidy is behind all of the Polisario saber-rattling or more specifically that Algerian President Bouteflika is purposely trying to destabilize the whole region to sustain himself in power. I haven’t a clue whether Bodansky’s analysis of the Algerian succession makes any sense at all. I do find it ironic, though, that what he accuses Algeria of doing is precisely what Morocco has been doing throughout this conflict. There is a wide acceptance, especially within the U.S. government, of the notion that the Alaouite dynasty might fall if it “lost” the Western Sahara. Mohammed VI and his father Hassan II have for over 30 years rejected self-determination for the Western Sahara in defiance of the UN and international law and kept the region in a state of perpetual instability in order to guarantee THEIR succession. All I know is that Morocco, by completely refusing to abide by the terms of the cease-fire agreement of 1991 and by refusing to now even discuss real self-determination has forced the Western Saharans into a corner. If the Western Saharans once again take up arms, Morocco will have no one to blame but itself. Bodansky’s attempt to place the blame on Algeria is preposterous.

Yossef Bodansky’s study is an elaborate fabrication masquerading as informed security analysis. He either doesn’t have a clue what he is talking about or else is intentionally falsifying the current situation in the Western Sahara for Moroccan gain. His pompous attempts to sound authoritative about things that are clearly not true are damning. His attempt to brand Polisario a terrorist organization without any substantiation is just plain unethical.

There is something altogether very sleazy about Bodansky's whole involvement with the Western Saharan issue. To begin with, there’s MACP’s reference to his study, which in itself makes the report very suspect. Then there’s the supposed leaking of the secret study to Medperson at Med-Atlantic; the stylistic similarities between Medperson’s posts and Bodansky’s study lead me to believe that Medperson IS Bodansky and he is leaking his own report.

And then there is the whole relationship I allude to in The Bodansky File between Bodansky, Marc. S. Ellenbogen, and Hassan Abouyoub, Chief Foreign Policy Advisor to King Mohamed VI of Morocco in Prague at the Global Panel Foundation and Prague Society. Rabat through Abouyoub is clearly using this well-connected behind-the-scenes networking cabal in Prague to give a stamp of legitimacy to its cockamamie ideas about the Western Sahara. Ellenbogen through his syndicated column Atlantic Eye provides an entrée into Reverend Moon’s media empire (UPI, Washington Times, Middle East Times, etc.); Bodansky supplies a well-established following from his best-selling books on terrorism and a direct conduit into the U.S. government from his employment with Congress. The drivel that came out of this group’s field trip to Morocco last year (see Marc S. Ellenbogen & the Myopic Miasma of Moroccan Malice) only confirms the extent to which this group is compromised.

In conclusion, I return to Bodansky’s warning that a resumption of Polisario’s armed struggle would be more destabilizing for the Maghreb than Al Qaeda. I happen to agree with that. A return to war in the Western Sahara would be a catastrophe for all involved. However, as I see it, this is a rationale for the world community to once and for all force Morocco to hold a referendum on independence (with autonomy as an option if you like), so this whole issue can finally be put to rest. Trying to force Moroccan sovereignty onto the Western Saharans and to legitimize Rabat’s expansionism, as Bodansky would have it, would only create the very situation he says he is trying to prevent.

1 comment:

  1. On the notion that participating in the occupiers elections is an indication of a population's sentiment, the example of East Timor is instructive. Early in 1999 Indonesia held national elections and participation in East Timor was quite high. If memory serves Golkar did quite well and Indonesia Foreign Minister - and a staunch advocate of Indonesia's occupation - won of Timor's 3 parliamentary seats. This turnout can't be blamed on large migrant participation. Most were packing up and leaving in the aftermath of the fall of Suharto the previous year. East Timorese made a calculation that a boycott wasn't worth the repression that would follow. They did vote overwhelmingly for independence on August 30 knowing full well the destructive revenge the Indonesian military would and did take.