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Is there Synergy between Trump’s Foreign and Domestic Policy Tracks?

Administrations generally base foreign policy on a set of principles reflecting worldviews that include domestic considerations, historical precedents, and a desire to have a legacy that will endure beyond the end of their tenure. With the end of foreign policy bipartisanship in the 80s, collateral damage from pendulum swings after Vietnam, the rise of insurgencies sparked by non-state actors, and a growing disaffection between Congress and whatever administration was in power, defining core US interests became murky and inconsistent from one term to the next.

No region has been immune to these inconsistencies, with the possible exception of NATO-linked Europe. And the Trump Administration has made it clear that even a ‘principled’ foreign policy will not interfere with its definition of national interest.

Which brings me to the point of this blog. It complements an earlier one that listed challenges confronting the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) regarding obstacles to growing the kind of political and economic institutions central to long-term stability and security. Whatever the homegrown definition of democracy guiding each country, at some point an accountable relationship between citizens and government (the social contract) evolves as a touchstone for measuring its development.

Given the challenges outlined previously, it is not clear if a US foreign policy, or rather policies, consistent with the ‘American First’ national interests defined by the Trump Administration, can be defined with any certainty. Early indications are that what we have so far are muddled, regardless of the country or region. This may reflect the “art of the deal” approach to keeping an opponent off guard, a determination that offers should not be set in concrete until the other side’s hand is exposed, or any other feints in a negotiator or card player’s handbook.

In any case, the choral approach of everyone on the same page is still emerging in the Administration so in that absence, I’ll suggest some ideas for how debates about our domestic policy could enrich options perceived by those across the table from us.

Tying together domestic and foreign policy lessons learned

Let’s begin by recognizing that I believe that an integrated strategy on our part is essential – combining ‘all of government’ attention to shaping approaches that clearly calculate the odds of success and results of failure in achieving our objectives. Domestically, this should be applied to issues ranging from upgrading our infrastructure to facing domestic terrorism. Internationally, upcoming steps on resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict will be instructive in this regard: do we adopt a piecemeal approach or a comprehensive settlement? I argue that what we can learn domestically can be applied to relations with our counterparts and help generate strategies that integrate as far as possible all sectors of governance in a national consensus on next steps…the new social contract.

Why should the promotion of economic growth and equitable distribution of wealth and opportunities, certainly on President Trump’s national agenda, be avoided in conversations with other countries? If American voters see these as vital to our country’s future, why would we think these goals are foreign to foreigners? For example, enabling economic growth through increased competitiveness of our products and services can serve as an example of a benefit of better governance by other countries. Technical assistance focused on advancing models of teamwork, efficiency, and accountability in government programs using US funds can be a step in that direction. Of course, how this messaging is accomplished will, by necessity, be informed by lessons learned from generations of US assistance programs.

Job creation is another overlapping goal of the US and its partners. If the readouts of Trump’s talks with industry leaders are accurate, the President is learning that young and jobless Americans need to be educated in marketable skills that enable them to be active in our transitioning economy. The only difference with our overseas partners is the perceptions of their youth that some jobs are unsuitable for them…even though their parents may complain about the high price they pay for maintenance and technical support services at home and at work. No, I take that back…many American youth are also allergic to jobs that require manual labor, operating machinery and computers, and vocational skills that are the backbone of imported and immigrant labor.

As we look forward to a robust commitment to building infrastructure across this country, we can share those experiences with others. For example, when the US provides economic assistance to build the partner country’s economic capacity, we should insist on a few conditions. The first would be to limit the effect of “wasta” or influence through engendering merit-based recruitment and advancement. Another useful condition would be to align donor programs to minimize redundancy, promote efficiencies of scale, and thereby have additional capacity to address issues. A third factor in which we have experience is the promotion of small and medium-sized job creating enterprises through enabling services from financing to legal and marketing resources. While some of these factors are already in play, frankly, we don’t have a great results to date.

Another area in which the Trump administration may create replicable patterns is the recruitment and use of foreign labor. Just as the US has become addicted to legal and illegal immigrants to handle the jobs that Americans resist, the same is true throughout the MENA region. Tens of thousands of South Asians are working in countries where few labored previously. Countries are caught in a bind between jobs that citizens will do versus what foreigners will do at much less cost and often more diligently. It is a dilemma that may not have any solutions, in the US or abroad.

Finally, one quality of American business that should become a key component of the Trump foreign assistance program is to redefine what we lump under ‘transparency.’ American companies with US contracts here and abroad should be models of integrity in business dealings and support that value with their counterparts overseas. When we look at the sums mentioned for the proposed US infrastructure program, many still remember the obscene abuses of contractors rebuilding Iraq, supplying forces in Afghanistan, and myriad other examples that trouble our procurement processes.

If we are unwilling to behave within the bounds of propriety (however defined), then why do we expect it of our partners? The President would be wise to establish a proactive IG corps to monitor and assess infrastructure initiatives, which will incorporate broad private sector participation, as a good faith commitment to US taxpayers. If we insist on a similar transparent approach with our partners, including public bid processes, regular auditing and reporting, and incentives tied to better outcomes, then we will have made ‘America First’ a model for international cooperation that has extensive benefits for both parties and brings more stability and prospects for economic growth.

While these ideas may seem a bit faded, in this time of transition, fresh thinking about formulating and implementing domestic policy can help influence how we re-imagine foreign policy. Sharing lessons that we learn as we retool the American dream, can be both a humbling experience and potentially make a significant contribution to how the US moves ahead in these challenging times.

 

 

Students Join Together to Challenge Extremists’ Messaging

Project Challenges Universities to Develop Counter-Narratives to ISIL Recruitment

University students from 23 countries recently took on a very interesting challenge – developing social media campaigns to reach populations vulnerable to recruitment by extremists. Called “P2P: Challenging Extremism,” the top three university teams competed for “the best creative media and social media campaigns to counter violent extremism” at the State Department on Thursday, June 4.

To develop, produce, and manage the competition, the State Department reached out to EdVenture Partners, whose founder Tony Sgro literally launched the concept of offering real-world marketing projects to colleges and universities for classroom credit. His company was behind the Brand Morocco project, which developed a profile on how US companies make international business decisions and their perceptions of doing business in Morocco. Then, using this information and their own research, business, communications, marketing, and advertising classes in North America and Morocco competed in presenting integrated marketing campaigns to promote specific sectors in Morocco.

What is critical in using real-world cases such as product launches, recruitment campaigns, or brand awareness studies is that faculty and students work with the clients to build actual solutions that can be implemented. This creative collaboration was evident in the students’ approach to the social media campaigns. They not only identified the issues; each team received a small budget to actually craft the projects they were recommending.

Building the social media platforms was not as simple as designing a website or Facebook page. Among the creative issues faced by the teams was answering critical questions such as who are the “vulnerable populations” who might be open to radicalization, what social media tools might best reach them, and how does one motivate a potential user to engage via social media.

Diverse Social Media Campaigns Proposed

The top three teams came from Mount Royal University in Calgary, Canada (four women, two men), Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri (three women), and Curtin University in Perth, Australia (one woman, four men), and they faced similar hurdles. For example, how, in one semester do you gain sufficient understanding of how young Muslims communicate and about what issues, and then use that knowledge to develop a multifaceted media effort?

evp

The Australian team had Muslim members and yet still went out and recruited Muslim faculty and community members as advisors. The Canadians reached out to Muslim members on campus for inputs and greater awareness of challenges facing Muslim youth. The US team engaged knowledgeable faculty and partner schools to refine their knowledge base.

The Canadian team, from the business school, presented first, identifying their three campaign goals as: creating a network of users through connection/inclusion, education, and understanding. Their efforts are targeted at vulnerable populations and the publics that impact them. For the team, it was about building relationships between marginalized members of the community and others to build support and solidarity.

They called their campaign the WANT (we are not them) Movement to give voice to those who feel isolated and impacted by negative stereotypes of Muslims. Their social media platform involves connecting the user with credible sources about Islam and its relevant teachings; giving them a sense of inclusion, respect, and belonging by creating a network of interactive users; educating users and the broader population about Islam and its practices; and providing opportunities for greater engagement within the target groups and the larger society. Their platform was launched in March with very positive results.

The Americans called their campaign “One95” reflecting their focus on individuals within the context of 195 countries. Their target is “generation Z” youth and their teachers. Their platform is very robust, covering 12 different apps, teaching materials, special web connections for teachers, and materials designed for ease of translation into other languages. Their goal is to “educate, empower, and connect” vulnerable populations to #endviolentextremism. Their initial test launch was highly successful in terms of measures of users and view counts, and their project was the top-rated in the competition.

The Australian effort was called 52 Jumaa (Friday, the holy day in the Muslim week), or 52 Saturday or 52 Sunday, depending on which audience is being addressed. The core feature of the platform is to create a community that is consciously committed to change through good works, drawing inspiration from on-line tools such as readings from the Quran that are sent to users weekly. They share how they are meeting the challenge to do good works with other users, keep a diary of their achievements where they can also see how they are doing compared to others, and receive daily affirmations via text. After very proactive media outreach in Perth to reach target populations, 52 Jumaa was launched in April and has already had measurable results and positive impact on its users. A social network is evolving that will enable the program to continue.

Tony Sgro is hopeful that the P2P competition will continue to build through the fall semester. Morocco participated in the first round, and the goal is to pair schools from the West with schools in Muslim-majority countries, providing an intensive creative experience. Also interesting is that the Moroccan team wrote its platform in Arabic, an added incentive to have joint presentations that benefit from a broad range of perspectives. One conclusion from the competition, as the three finalists demonstrated, is the power of young people to use technology to build creative and scalable platforms for communicating across cultures. It was a reaffirming experience to observe.

“Countering Violent Extremism” The Moroccan Way

Women playing a major role in counter-terrorism strategies

I have just finished reading “A Gendered Approach to Countering Violent Extremism – Lessons Learned from Women in Peacebuilding and Conflict Prevention Applied Successfully in Bangladesh and Morocco.” It was written by Krista London Couture of the National Counterterrorism Center and released by the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence at Brookings. Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) is the latest acronym to join the list of references to conflict between state and non-state actors and the environments in which they persist.

Brookings study on women and counterterrorism

Brookings study on women and counterterrorism

The assumption of the study is that “an increase in women empowerment and gender equality has a positive effect on countering extremism.” She gathered data on 16 indicators to identify any linkages between women’s role in a society and its ability to counter extremism. , Ms. Couture claims that “violent extremism is most effectively countered through increased education, better critical thinking, and enhanced opportunities” for women and sets out to prove it in her study Ms. Couture chose Bangladesh and Morocco because of “their direct and indirect emphasis on women empowerment to fight terrorism and its perceived factors that drive recruitment and radicalization to violence.” In Morocco, she focuses on two programs – the Moudawana, the reform of the family law code in 2004; and the mourchidates program in which women are trained similarly to imams (prayer leaders) to act as community social workers and advisors to families.

Her research “focuses on identifying and assessing the ways in which women can and do commendably serve in the prevention role [not that of enabler or participant in terrorism or counterterrorism].” According to her account, “Research and policies indicate that female empowerment and gender equality indicators continue to be valuable gauges in peacebuilding and conflict prevention.”

When an indicator is a labeled a “gauge” it indicates to me that there may not be a causal link on which to build sustainable strategies. While the relationship may be important, even vital, there are no guarantees that improving the lives of women is more salient than other factors in preventing extremism. So how does her methodology provide more insights into how policy makers can assess prioritizing women’s empowerment over “hard” power solutions to terrorism?

Challenging Traditional Notions of Counterterrorism

Mourchidates have the same studies as imams - prayer leaders

Mourchidates have the same studies as imams – prayer leaders

As Fatima Nezza, a Moroccan mourchidate , remarked to Ms. Couture, “If you train a man, you train one person. If you train a woman, you train an entire community.” This remark echoes the observation that in Muslim-majority countries, as in most traditional societies, women are significant anchors to social stability and development. So the author’s 16 “Key Female Empowerment Indicators,” cover social, political, economic, and quality of life indicators as a baseline for assessing the status of women in a particular society. When women are valued and supported as credible voices for stability in a country, “Programs where women are active participants moderate the intent and action of extremism at varying stages of radicalization.”

The relationship between CVE and human development has been the subject of many studies since 9/11. It is clear that to Ms. Couture that “Investing in civilian populations is critical to the success of curbing violent extremism. An essential element of effective CVE programs mandates long-term stability.” In this context, a country’s level and extent of development is a crucial factor in CVE efforts. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the United Nations, and the US Department of State and Department of Homeland Security have issued reports on the role of women in countering extremism. “Strategists believe that when women are empowered socially, politically, and economically in culturally appropriate and relevant ways, they will become contributing members of society who hold the answers and solutions to complex aspects and issues inherent in CVE,” according to Ms. Couture.

The organization Sisters Against Violent Extremism (SAVE), has written “Women have a key role to play in funding and implementing new, alternative approaches to ending violent extremism. …their close proximity to potentially vulnerable youth through their roles as the main caretaker in most societies provides them with a unique point of view that can lead to vital insights into how to steer youth away from violence.”

Morocco’s CVE Offense

Three factors cited in the paper that influence the impact of Morocco’s CVE strategy are improvements in development indicators for women, their empowerment as a result of the Moudawana, and the targeted efforts of the mourchidates. Ms. Couture points to King Mohammed VI’s continuing reforms, the pace of social liberalization, and its effective counterterrorism regime as elements that set Morocco apart from other countries in the region. Morocco’s moderate form of Islam is also a crucial factor, and she notes “The Moroccan Government initiated a program of countering extremist views and interpretations of Islam by reaching the wider population with moderate Islamic narratives.”

Mourchidate working in community center

Mourchidate working in community center

She describes the mourchidates program in great detail and praises their “optimism and tireless efforts. By educating women and mothers, providing a safe and productive outlet and activity for youths, and providing positive alternatives and choices for prison inmates, female mourchidates are changing the tide of terrorism by blunting potential catalysts.” She recognizes that it will “take a generation of teaching moderate Islam and tolerance through education and communication within a community” to change radical views of Islam, and Morocco has made that commitment. Holistically, “Providing an education, fulfilling basic needs, and affording opportunities to women are what Morocco has deemed necessary to counter violent extremism effectively.”

Ms. Couture concludes her analysis by linking the CVE role of women to the notion of “smart” power promoted by Professor Joseph Nye as bridging the gap between soft and hard power. She believes that “Women, who typically invest more in their families, can be the best defense against ignorance, intolerance, and a lack of opportunities.”

Morocco has made its CVE strategy clear: promoting economic and human development, encouraging greater equity and political space, and supporting greater understanding and appreciation of the moderate principles of Islam are integrated into a cohesive program to advance stability and security in the country and the region. While more study needs to be done across a broader population, results to date indicate that Morocco has made a “smart” choice in its CVE strategy and the primary role of women in that regard.

Note to State Department: Treat our Ally as a Partner, not a Liability

Why Can’t the US have a Consistent Voice on the Western Sahara?

Two events, separated by an ocean and it seems a universe, occurred recently that provided an opportunity for the US to enhance its foreign policy credibility. It is interesting to see how the State Department is attempting to reconcile its seemingly uncertain position on Morocco’s autonomy proposal for the Western Sahara with the growing international consensus that the autonomy is a potential solution for achieving self-determination for the region. It is all the more confusing majorities in both Houses of Congress and three consecutive administrations have called the autonomy proposal “serious, realistic, and credible.”

Strategic Dialogue Sets the Tone

The first event was the second US-Morocco Strategic Dialogue held April 4 and 5 in Morocco. Secretary Kerry led from the US side. It was a really remarkable visit. He jointly chaired the Strategic Dialogue with Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar; visited with leaders of Parliament and staff at the US Embassy; and presided over the swearing-in of the most recent group of Peace Corps volunteers assigned to Morocco. It was a prolonged love fest, visibly demonstrating why the two allies hold each other in such high regard.

Secretary John Kerry meets with Morocco's King Mohammed VI

Secretary John Kerry meets with Morocco’s King Mohammed VI

And statements words from both sides echoed the strong ties expressed by King Mohammed VI and President Obama during the King’s visit in November 2013. In his opening remarks, Secretary Kerry noted “We are here today to help shape a common future, and it’s a future defined by a shared prosperity and shared security that we can create together…and shared…values.” In speaking about security issues Kerry commented “The United States stands by and will stand by this relationship every step of the way. President Obama is deeply committed to that, and that commitment comes from…our people.”

Foreign Minister Mezouar was equally eloquent. In addressing the Western Sahara he said:

“The Moroccan initiative in its content reacts to the expectations of the people in the Sahara in the management of their own affairs, which guarantees dignity, freedom, and development.” He went on “The atmosphere of an understanding – of the environment of understanding based on common political and references of democracy and human rights makes us believe in our ability for a common partnership…that will be very important and decisive in determining the progress in this region and in Africa.”

The joint statement at the conclusion of the Strategic Dialogue was quite specific in defining the parameters of this partnership. Whether in reference to human rights and political reforms, civil society and immigration issues, or economic cooperation and cultural and educational cooperation, the tone was serious, constructive, and hopeful. On the regional level, the two parties pledged “to use our strategic partnership to advance shared priorities of a stable, democratic, and prosperous Maghreb, Africa, and Middle East.” Secretary Kerry “Reaffirmed our commitment to a peaceful, sustainable, mutually agreed-upon solution to the Western Sahara question…The United States has made clear that Morocco’s autonomy plan is serious, realistic, and credible, and that it represents a potential approach that could satisfy the aspirations of the people in the Western Sahara to runt their own affairs in peace and dignity. Furthermore, “The Secretary welcomed the recent actions and initiatives by Morocco to continue to protect and promote human rights in the territory.”

So What’s Up at State?

The second event occurred on April 9 when the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa asked representatives from the State Department and USAID to address “U.S. Policy Toward Morocco.”

After complimenting Morocco on its efforts in democratic and economic reforms, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, William Roebuck, addressed the Western Sahara issue using similar language to Secretary Kerry in Morocco supporting “the United Nations-led process designed to bring about a peaceful, sustainable, and mutually-acceptable solution to the Western Sahara question.”

In reference to the 2014 Appropriations law enabling Title III funding to be spent anywhere in Morocco, DAS Roebuck noted that spending US funds in the Western Sahara would somehow undermine the non-going negotiations, which have been dormant for years. There is clearly a disconnect between what some at the State Department promote as US interests and the position taken by the Bush, Clinton, and Obama Administrations and majorities of Congress that the autonomy plan is the only way forward.

In her prepared remarks, Alina Romanowski, Deputy Assistant Administrator at the Middle East USAID Bureau was equally narrowly focused on existing initiatives with no reference to the Appropriations mandate. This would be understandable if this was a debate 20+ years ago when the first UN mission was assigned on a referendum mission. US policy changed in 2006 in favor of a negotiated, mutually acceptable political solution. The only proposition that emerged from that step is the Morocco autonomy initiative referenced by Chair Ros-Lehtinen and other members of the Subcommittee. Yet, there are those at State who can overlook the humanitarian and capacity-building needs of the people of the Sahara and stay the 1991 course of inaction.

It’s past time to enable the people of the Western Sahara to build their capacity to enjoy the autonomy promised by Morocco to manage their affairs as promised within the regionalization proposed in Morocco’s 2011 Constitution. Morocco is a steadfast and willing partner in a region where that kind of ally is in short supply. If we are sincerely interested in the human, social, economic, and political development of the Sahara, autonomy supported by the US and the global community is the way forward; this will be the best antidote to insecurity in the region. This will give them the dignity the people in the Sahara deserve.