Posts

What’s At Stake in Lebanon’s Survival?

 

 Speculation continues to swirl around ‘what’s next?’ after Prime Minister Hariri’s return to Lebanon and the ongoing discussions among key players in and outside Lebanon. So it may be worthwhile to take stock of what’s at stake if Lebanon, as imperfectly as it operates, would become a failed state, i.e. looks more like Libya without even a modicum of central government authority and returns to a civil war with outside parties holding their contests for regional power inside Lebanon.

Of course the first question is survival as what? The status quo is certainly untenable with Hezbollah acting as a state within a state, Parliament divided among those who support an independent and secure country and those who welcome outside intervention, and those reluctant to stand for fear of losing their piece of the pie that is Lebanon. Add to that over 2 million refugees of uncertain status and the price of stability becomes astronomical.

Lebanon has never been a fully free and independent country, capable of defending its territory and preserving its institutions. But it certainly has been more free than it is today. Its survival depended on balancing the interests of national and regional players, whose agendas, often in competition, usually benefited from Lebanon’s role as a dynamic center of culture, business, tourism, and political discourse.

In broad terms, most analysts draw a direct line between Black September in Jordan, pushing Palestinian forces in exile to Lebanon, whose state within a state status precipitated the civil war and birthed Hezbollah, resulting in continuous and blatant foreign meddling that characterizes the current political morass. No wonder I go silent when asked to explain “what’s going on over there?”

The consequences of destruction and disabling 

Those who care about Lebanon want a free, independent, secure, and stable country that enjoys territorial integrity and a functioning government providing adequate services to its people. Yet, none of these qualities are assured in the current context where very little is certain except obscure outcomes. But we can point to what is on the doorstep if the regional competitions between Sunni, Shia, and Israel are not resolved without destroying Lebanon as collateral damage.

A failed state in Lebanon brought about by willful acts or unintended consequences of regional powers will have catastrophic outcomes – none of which support US interests or those of Israel, America’s primary ally in the region. To note only a few:

  • Instability along Israel’s northern border, which will require Israeli boots on the ground – an occupation army will yield no good outcomes over time.
  • War against Lebanon will make Christians, the backbone of the country’s social, economic, and cultural integrity, targets of opportunity for militias looking for scapegoats.
  • Lebanon which represents, one of the few successful bulwarks against radical Islam in the region, will be lost.
  • And the destruction and occupation of Lebanon will exert enormous pressure on our other ally, Jordan, which is also threatened by Syria and Iran.

The US cannot give a blank check to Israel to defend itself/attack Hezbollah as a proxy for Syria and Iran without considering consequences to America’s own safety and security, and its relations in the region. Consequences in the US of Lebanon’s failure cannot be overlooked. Heightened tension and warfare in the region will ratchet up domestic threats to the US, seen as the enabler of Israel’s disregard for Lebanese and Muslim lives.

Nor can the US stand by while Gulf Arab countries hammer Lebanon over the reality of Hezbollah’s paramount position in the government. Among the many unanswered questions emerging from the current crisis with Saudi Arabia are the many ways in which the Kingdom can undermine Lebanon through economic means, such as withholding funds from the Central Bank, cutting Lebanese imports, or deporting Lebanese workers or limiting their remittances, which are so crucial to Beirut’s budget.

To diminish the threat of state failure in Lebanon, the target of Saudi ire, Hezbollah, must decide if it is a Lebanese party or Iran’s proxy. It cannot be both. An accommodation, outlined in previous agreements and resolutions, to resolve its military status, now that its political role is demarcated, is central to returning Lebanon to a neutral position of disassociation that is its historical role. It is the ultimate win-win for the region.

Between the Lines – Who and What Reflect Muslim Values?

The US Presidential campaigns have staked out their positions on Muslim-Americans, Muslim immigrants, and by extension Muslims worldwide. These positions have been defined by perceptions about Islam and its various components: the Quran, Sharia law, religious terms such as kafir and jihad, and generally not well understood rituals. Most telling are the images daily broadcast and projected by radicals who use Islam as a cloak for their violence and heinous crimes against mostly other Muslims.

The ongoing conflict is not only between Muslims and those who are not. More and more courageous Muslim voices are being raised against radicalism and extremism as not representative of Islam and actually in deep conflict with the basic values of Islam. These rejections by Islamic leaders and communities are at odds with those who claim that Muslims are not public enough in their condemnation of extremists who claim the mantle of Islam as justification for their actions.

Lately, there is growing recognition in the West that Muslim leaders from Malaysia to Morocco are indeed making the case against terrorism and Islamic radicals. In this context, the Globe and Mail published an op-ed by the noted French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy who singled out the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, as one of many who have boldly challenged the radicals.

He pointed out that the king’s condemnation took on even greater gravitas as he is regarded as a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed and has the title “Commander of the Faithful” responsible for the integrity and promotion of Islam, in particular the Maliki school with its strong Sufi texture and emphasis on inclusion, moderation, and peace.

The king spoke on the 63rd anniversary of the People’s Revolution, commemorating the resistance of Moroccans to the French occupation. Most Western media accounts highlighted his condemning terrorism, noting there is no heavenly reward for terrorists. It is reported that the Prophet Mohammed said “I guarantee a house in the surroundings of Paradise for those who give up arguing, even if they are in the right; and I guarantee a house in the middle of Paradise for those who abandon lying even when joking; and I guarantee a house in the highest part of Paradise for those who have good character and manners.” (Sunan Abu Daawood: 4800)

So when the King said that he wanted overseas Moroccans “to remain firmly committed to their religious values and to their time-honored traditions as they face up to this phenomenon which has nothing to do with their culture or background,” he was emphasizing that values lie at the heart of the practice of Islam and so to distort the rituals is to challenge the moral core of the religion.

In Islam, there is no eternal reward for passively living in the world. According to Anabulsi, a noted Muslim scholar, the Hadith “Religion is Conduct” [الدين المعاملة] means that “real worship does not consist only of establishing rituals, but it’s about exerting good conduct/behavior or applying good manners towards others.” This Hadith adds that “Ritual worship is not valid unless it’s largely supported by good conduct.” And further, “None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

This emphasis on good works is found throughout the Abrahamic faiths. It is no coincidence that in Islam, human behavior, from commercial transactions to how one treats family members, is guided by values that engender good conduct. In Islam, the link between behavior and prayer is reflected in Hadith such as “Through his manners and good conduct, the believer can attain the status of a person who frequently fasts and prays at night.” (Abu Dawoud)

The backstory to the king’s speech is that there is the explicit need for Muslims to act according to values that promote comity, respect, and dignity. We are in this world to do good, not evil, and that we should shun those who would tell us to hurt others. As the Imam Malik reported, “Mohammed, the Messenger of Allah, PBUH, said, I have been sent to perfect good character.” And “The best of you is the best among you in conduct.” (Al-Bukari and Muslim)

King Mohammed’s words echo the determination of King Abdullah II of Jordan who, like King Mohammed, has a unique historical role to both defend Islam and clarify its dynamic role in promoting harmony, justice, and respect within the human community.

 

Image: mapnews.ma

Supporting Tunisia’s Transition to Democracy, Stability, Growth

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Challenges Test Resilience of Society, Political Order

Over the past two years, President Obama has met with King Mohammed VI of Morocco and Habib Essid, the Prime Minister of Tunisia, America’s two strongest allies in North Africa, to support their continuing efforts to build strong democratic institutions and reform their economies. This should come as no surprise, as these countries have many interests and values in common with the US, ranging from regional security and stability to protecting the rights of women and children, promoting regional economic integration, and building strong civil societies.

While Morocco has been able to launch its reforms more quickly than Tunisia and enjoys a stronger internal security apparatus to counter terrorism, both countries are committed to moderate, liberalizing policies as the backbone of their national strategies. Morocco has been active in helping Tunisia in the transition, offering expertise and lessons learned from their own experience. Still, both countries also look for continued support from the US in order to fully achieve their democratic aspirations. Given the challenges in the Middle East, North Africa, and the Sahel, US policy makers are stretched to consistently provide assistance in whatever form to its friends in the region.

Credit: Morocco World News

Credit: Morocco World News

There is much to be gained from combining US efforts with Morocco’s knowledge to support Tunisia in achieving their ambitious vision for the future. US agencies have global experience to share and are able to provide critical funding. Morocco is continually gaining insights in democratization and empowering civil society, while Tunisia shares with both countries a vision of moderation and progress for the region but is still defining its governing dynamics.

First, let’s focus on the needs of Tunisia. The facts are well known: Tunisia is home to the Arab Spring; it is struggling through a transition to a parliamentary democracy that featured assassinations and jockeying between Islamists and secularists to form a working coalition government; and it is now poised at a juncture that threatens its emerging democracy by subjecting it to security measures that could suborn human and civil rights.

As argued in a recent Atlantic Council paper, there is no guarantee whether the future will see either a return to a more autocratic regime or sufficient stabilization of the political and security situation for the government to take steps to solidify its governing role and move aggressively to meet the needs of the country at large. It is these uncertain prospects for Tunisia that prompted the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa to hold a hearing on July 14.

As subcommittee chair Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen commented in scheduling the hearing, “Tunisia’s future is still far from certain, but it remains in the national security interests of the U.S. to see the North African country complete its transition toward democracy and to adequately address the threat it faces from violent and radical extremists, like ISIL and other terror groups. This hearing is an important opportunity to assess Tunisia’s current state of affairs and to identify areas in which the United States can help secure Tunisia’s democratic future.”

Panel Testifying at Hearing, IRI, NDI, WINEP, IFES. Credit IRI

Panel Testifying at Hearing, IRI, NDI, WINEP, IFES. Credit IRI

The expert panel included representatives of US agencies concerned with democracy development—Ambassador Mark Green of the International Republican Institute (IRI); Les Campbell of the National Democratic Institute (NDI); William Sweeney, Jr, from the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES); and Aaron Zelin, a terrorism expert from The Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP).

The day of the hearing, Ambassador Green, Mr. Campbell, and Mr. Sweeney co-authored a blog in The Hill “Tunisia needs US support for democracy to succeed,” in which they argued that “Tunisia is still in a state of political transition that can be quickly reversed. Difficult problems…are still unresolved and fuel the appeal of extremist groups…Solutions to these problems lie in the delivery of good governance, redress of underdevelopment in certain regions, greater accountability and inclusivity, and increased access to opportunity.”

These messages were reiterated during the hearing, in which three themes emerged. Tunisia has pioneered the development of a moderate, democratic regime in the region, starting with a very difficult political transition since the ouster of President Ben Ali, and is struggling with internal and external forces that could destabilize the country. While security is the most visible concern, the country has yet to implement needed political and economic reforms that reduce the threat of instability due to internal discontent and lack of opportunity. Finally, the US still has a proactive role to play in supporting Tunisia’s road to a stable, secure, prosperous democracy.

What is clear from the remarks of the members of Congress who were present and the expert panel is that Tunisia has emerged from a very difficult period only to face even more challenges due to regional instability in Libya and on the Algerian border, as well as the need to make effective strides in reforming its economy.

So what can be done about this, and, more specifically, is there a way to leverage expertise of Morocco to complement US assistance to Tunisia? Morocco has not been passive in supporting Tunisia. In addition to the training of imams in moderate Islam as part of a common counterterrorism effort, Morocco recently signed eight agreements with Tunisia during a visit between the heads of government. These covered public housing, social development, education, women and children, youth and sports, higher education and scientific research, and technical cooperation in the field of transport.

Members of the committee and the panel noted the importance of US assistance in supporting Tunisia’s transition and security needs. There was also sentiment expressed that regional players like Morocco, which has common interests with Tunisia and the US, can be helpful in enabling regional aspirations for greater stability, security, and prosperity. Progress will require vigilance and commitment from all parties.

The panel identified security, elections, governance, civil society, and the economy as the most important issues to look at in the next few years. Why shouldn’t Morocco, the US, and Tunisia meet on a regular basis to discuss when and if there is way to leverage each other’s strengths to help create the common vision that is shared by all three nations? If we want to help meet the aspirations of Tunisia, then we should start by working together with our friends in the region to coordinate and maximize our efforts.

 

Threats to US Security Interests in the Mediterranean Call for Multiple Strategies

German Marshall Fund Policy Brief Outlines Complexities

Last month, The German Marshall Fund of the United States published a Policy Brief “The United States and the Future of Mediterranean Security: Reflections from GMF’s Mediterranean Strategy Group.” Reading it gave me an opportunity to reflect on the multiple foreign policy challenges facing the US in the Mediterranean Basin as well as the surrounding countries. This is likely the most severe drawback of being a superpower that tries to invoke and promote a value-driven foreign policy agenda that incorporates both hard and soft power diplomacy – “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

While there may be disagreement about what our interests are in that swath of countries stretching from Morocco to Lebanon and southern Europe, we cannot avoid the reality that the US is still the dominant player in the region and consequently the direct or indirect target of choice for militant non-state actors that now proliferate there. As the sources of threats grow, US attempts to mobilize active friendlies on its behalf have grown beyond the historic ties to NATO to include allies that share our interests in a more secure, stable, and prosperous Mediterranean.

Credit: Facebook

Credit: Facebook

One of the points made in the paper that struck a strong chord is focusing on the new dynamics at play in regional security. “The strategic environment in the Mediterranean is increasingly shaped by forces emanating from outside the region: for the Levant and the Eurasian and African hinterlands, from the Black Sea, and from the Atlantic Basin north and south. The new result of these shifts has been the progressive globalization of Mediterranean security [emphasis added].

Perhaps no place is this more evident than in Morocco, bordered by truculent Algeria to the east, and sitting astride the Sahel, which borders a number of ungoverned areas. Morocco is connected in many ways to security concerns elsewhere; whether it be jihadist fighters returning from the East, or terrorist cells in the country, or spillover from terrorist attacks in Europe, there are challenges that continue to emerge.

The GMF paper calls attention to the fact that “The potential for the spread of extremism…to other parts of the Mediterranean…is likely to shape the Mediterranean security environment for some time to come. State failure and dysfunctional rule could have an isolating effect on a region badly in need of economic and political development.”

Looking around the Mediterranean, the policy brief addresses the impact of instability and conflict in West Africa and the Sahel as “drivers of insecurity for the Maghreb and Europe.” It points out that “Algeria’s enormous geographic expanse and poorly monitored borders make the country a front line state in relation to West African risks. The memory of Algeria’s descent into violence in the 1990s, and the opaque nature of the regime, cause neighbors such as Morocco and Tunisia, and Europe, to cast a vary eye on the country’s stability and regional policies. Algeria’s uncertain future is one of the key open questions for Mediterranean security.”

Among other challenges mentioned are trafficking in drugs, weapons, and money from Latin America; competition for energy and commodity resources; the continuing waves of economic and political refugee migrants; and the reality that “human security” is a time bomb issue that has negative connotations for the countries of transit as well as the intended refuges in Europe.

 Who Stands with the US?

In examining America’s history of security engagement in the region, two major points stand out in the brief – the US has been there a very long time, from opposing the Barbary pirates to forward basing during World War II; and yet, despite this history, the US has not had a vision of the Mediterranean as “a coherent strategic space.” Within the US government, the region is treated differently: the State Department divides “the Mediterranean along geopolitical lines, with a fairly strict bureaucratic and intellectual division…The notable exceptions…have been in the U.S. military commands.”

In this regard, Morocco has decades of cooperation with the US and NATO militaries focusing on national, regional, and international concerns. For example, the entrance to the Mediterranean is a critical route to US bases in the region as well as the exit point for ships transiting the Suez Canal. Over-flights permitted by Morocco are also important in stabilization programs in Mali and surveillance of militants in the ungoverned areas of the Sahel.

This month, the US, Morocco and allies from Europe will take part in the second phase of African Lion, “an annually scheduled, bilateral U.S. and Moroccan sponsored exercise designed to improve interoperability and mutual understanding of each nation’s tactics, techniques and procedures. It is the largest annual US military exercise on the continent,” according to an article posted on Defence Web.

Phase one in February brought together contingents from neighboring countries Tunisia, Mauritania, and Senegal, as well as Germany and England, to collaborate on building operational proficiency in areas such as disaster relief, humanitarian aid, mission communications, and related command concerns.

Credit: en.wikipedia.org

Credit: en.wikipedia.org

In May, around 2,500 personnel from more than five countries will continue joint training exercises involving communications and close air support and aerial refueling. According to General Richard L. Simcock, commander of the Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF),
“This exercise allows the U.S., allies and partner nations to strengthen our relationships with our Moroccan hosts and improve how we will work together in the future.”

In a region beset with political, military, and economic challenges, the capacity to project US interests is in many ways dependent over the long run on the caliber and resilience of its allies that share its interests and values. Morocco’s ties with the US have endured for more than two hundred years, and its commitment to taking a regional leadership role for stability, security, and economic growth has become stronger as the bilateral relationship continues to grow.

 

“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.

The challenges to “making democracy” in the Sahel and the Sahara

One of my favorite debates goes something like this: in conflict environments and/or fragile or failing states, what are the relative benefits of short-term democracy promotion versus longer term development programs?

In the context of what to do in the Sahel, recent charges that Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) has access to SA-7 surface-to-air missiles bring into sharp focus these issues for those striving for stability and security in the Sahel/Sahara region.

At a recent joint hearing before three House subcommittees with responsibilities for African affairs, government, think tank, and private-sector witnesses provided their assessments of efforts to tackle short and longer-term obstacles to securing the region’s future. In reviewing their testimonies, several critical recurring themes emerged in addition to the current military engagement.  At the top of the list are the humanitarian challenges.

Mali pushed to rush elections in July

In Mali, a country of around 16 million people, more than a half-million people are internally displaced or refugees in neighboring countries.  In addition, a severe drought in 2012 put almost 19 million people at risk for food security, “including one million children at risk of severe acute malnutrition.” Today, although the US has expended more than $550 million in humanitarian assistance (not to mention funds from international donors), “an estimated 10 million people remain at risk of food insecurity.”

As Acting Assistant Secretary Donald Yamamoto, of the Bureau of African Affairs at the State Department remarked,

…our short term successes may be fleeting if we fail to address the longstanding political and economic fragility that make the Sahel susceptible to persistent crisis and conflict. Poor governance, weak democratic institutions, and a lack of development and economic opportunity cultivate fertile ground for instability. Helping those countries to strengthen their institutions and be more responsive and inclusive is equally critical to addressing the region’s deep-seated security, political, and development challenges.

And here is the dilemma. When asked by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) if elections in July 2013 could be free and fair, Nancy Lindborg of USAID replied “While we have not yet solved all of the structural issues in Mali that could impede free and fair elections, it is imperative that we hold these elections so that they can begin to rebuild democratic institutions.” What is missing from the public record is a reminder that US legislation prevents foreign military assistance to countries whose governments came to power via non-democratic means, in this case the coup that led to the secession of northern Mali. This type of restriction is also why the French support the July election, because it then allows Paris to write “mission accomplished” and withdraw its forces.

So what are some of the other ‘structural issues’ referred to by Ms. Lindborg. In a response to a question from Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AK) about Mali’s previous attempt at democracy, A/S Yamamoto offered, “Mali was a very democratic country, but its democratic institutions were fragile. What we’re trying to do is give aid in order to stabilize it, address the humanitarian crisis and extremism, and promote dialog between the north and Bamako.” Excuse me…if it was a “very democratic country,” where were the institutions that reflect the bonds between government and citizens? Where was the civil society? Where were the mechanisms for engaging minority and marginalized populations? Where was the independent judiciary and armed forces that protect order and respond to civilian leadership? Where was the transparency that characterizes government transactions and policies both domestic and international? What happened to the previously agreed “dialog between the north and Bamako?” Or as a colleague from the State Department mused, “Why are we so enamored of elections in countries with no functioning civil societies or competing political parties that are at the heart of a democratic process? It allows us to wash our hands and move on to the next hot spot.”

The humanitarian challenge

Quoting Yamamoto again “Creating viable economic opportunities and meeting the basic needs of its citizens remain a daunting task for countries that consistently rank at the very bottom of any measure of human development.” His colleague, Ms. Lindborg, in response to Rep. Paul Cook (R-CA) added “Progress is possible, but it will take time. We need to help countries, communities, the private sector, and regional NGOs feel that they have a And yet the US and France continue to insist that the July elections proceed, while other voices raise concerns with the timing and inclusion issues.

For example, Rudy Atallah of the Michael S. Ansari Africa Center at the Atlantic Council told the hearing “I agree that we should push elections, but first it is critical that we address the local grievances that precipitated the beginning of the crisis. If we force the election without addressing these grievances, it will just be another failed election.” And I will add, perpetuate another failed or failing state in the Sahel/Sahara.

After Iraq, Afghanistan, and other setbacks in US foreign policy, wishful thinking and pious statements about the efficacious effect of elections in troubled countries should not play a role in next steps in the Sahel. History and common sense argue against rushing into an election without a Plan B, which is this case means BEFORE any election is on the short-term agenda. As Nii Akuetteh, a well-known African policy analyst told the Members, “I have to reiterate that we must come up with a contingency plan should the Malian elections become problematic, and we need to more thoroughly review what went wrong with Mali.”

For the best antidote to instability, as A/S Yamamoto said, “we must continue our efforts to approach the Sahel and the Maghreb’s interconnected problems with a comprehensive regional and international effort…to address the immediate security threat posed by violent extremists and transnational criminal networks, while at the same time building the institutional capacity needed to address the Sahel’s political, economic, and humanitarian challenges.”

Amen to that, and to some common sense in our strategies for moving the Sahel/Sahara into functioning democracies.