Tuesday, March 21, 2006

From The More You Know The Less They Know Files

Slate has an article about the Western Sahara and the plight of the Sahrawi people. The amazing thing, especially given that the author Carne Ross is an advisor to the Sahrawi government in exile, is that the history is just plain wrong. You expect bias, but factual error? Ross (Ms.? Mrs.? Mr.?) writes
In 1975, Morocco invaded the former Spanish colony of the Western Sahara. A long and inconclusive guerrilla war followed. The Polisario Front, which represents the people of the Western Sahara known as the Sahrawis, was supported by Algeria. Morocco was supported by France, the United States, and other major powers.
This neglects several things.
  • If you want to talk about countries invading, you'd probably want to mention that Mauritania "invaded" Western Sahara at the same time;
  • Invasion is actually the wrong word: Spain had control of Western Sahara until 1975 and granted control of the northern tw0-thirds to Morocco and the southern third to Mauritania;
  • The Polisario Front was supported by Morocco as well, until Morocco had a claim on the territory;
  • And why the interest in Western Sahara? Because Western Sahara is rich in minerals.
  • And why was Morocco granted some control, and not Algeria? Because Morocco was willing to grant Spain control of the mineral wealth, but Algeria was not. Proving one lesson: if you cut a country out of the mineral wealth, it will sponsor counter-insurgents that destroy your ability to control the territory.
This also leaves out any detail of Mauritania's sad involvement in Western Sahara. It fought with the Polisario Front from 1975 to 1978 (during which the Polisario front attacked the capital city a couple times). The cost of the war weakened the government sufficiently that there was a coup in 1978, and then that coup leader reduced involvement in Western Sahra, and then in 1979 there was another coup, and then a few months later the leader of that coup died in a helicopter crash. And Mauritania finally recognized the Sahrawi government in 1984 (as do about 60 countries around the world).

This in no way undermines the moral outrage that you ought to feel about Western Sahara. If anything, it ought to increase it. The Sahrawi should have self-determination. And it's only because of Spain's interest in the mineral wealth that they don't. And the article isn't even as detailed about the ills that Morocco has visited upon Western Sahara as it ought to be. The most important is moving Moroccans into Western Sahara so that it is majority Moroccan and building a massive security wall, changing the facts on the ground, as they say (sound like somewhere else we know?)

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