Ilan Berman
Ilan Berman
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North Africa Is Becoming A New Frontier For U.S.-China Competition

April 30, 2021  •  Al-Hurra Digital

During its time in office, the Trump administration elevated the concept of a strategic contest with the People's Republic of China (PRC), as well as with Russia, to a central role in its foreign policy, codifying it into multiple strategic documents and national-level directives. That focus has since been embraced by the Biden administration as well, which appears to have understood the need for a "long term" strategy against Beijing. This unfolding tug-of-war naturally has enormous implications for America's allies, all of whom have contacts with both nations. In recent years, many of these countries have attempted to balance the two relationships, with varying degrees of success. Even so, for some, such a balancing act is becoming more and more difficult to maintain. Morocco provides a case in point. Despite its historic political ties to Washington, the Kingdom has assiduously tried to avoid entanglement in what it views as a bilateral U.S.-Chinese strategic contest. At times, officials have even gone so far as to joke that Morocco should revive the Non-Aligned Movement of the Cold War era as a way of avoiding having to make the difficult choice between Washington and Beijing. Rabat's anxiety is especially understandable given China's growing economic activism in Africa generally, and its sustained investments in recent years in Morocco in particular. Yet the Kingdom's broader economic strategy is very clearly pulling it in the opposite direction.

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Morocco's Message: Beware Iran's African Inroads

April 23, 2021  •  The National Interest

As the Biden administration focuses on renewed nuclear diplomacy with Iran, it runs the risk of missing clear signs that the Iranian regime is stepping up its activism in a crucial strategic theater: North Africa. That's the warning I heard in Rabat, Morocco's capital, where I traveled earlier this month at the invitation of the country's foreign ministry. With a review of U.S. policy toward the North African nation now underway, with ongoing unrest in nearby Libya, and with rising instability in the adjacent Sahel region, the kingdom's strategic agenda is already quite full. All of this made the degree of concern among local policymakers over what they view as an Iranian strategic offensive on the continent all the more striking. "It's no longer accurate to just speak about Iran in West Africa," one high-ranking official told me. "The Iranians are all over the continent now."

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Death by Harmony
The mechanics of Chinese repression are a frightening marvel.

April 22, 2021  •  American Purpose

In his masterful new book, We Have Been Harmonized: Life in China's Surveillance State, veteran German journalist Kai Strittmatter chronicles the state surveillance arrangements that have become the world's most advanced. He lays out for the reader the now-commonplace features of contemporary life in China: "preventative policing;" a social credit system that enforces citizen compliance through surveillance, economic penalties, and community pressure; "deep learning" algorithms that track items from consumer habits to offensive social media posts; and state manipulation of media content on a mass scale.

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A Moment Of Truth For Morocco

April 14, 2021  •  Newsweek

What a difference a few months can make. Back in December, the Kingdom of Morocco became the fourth Arab nation to join the Abraham Accords when it agreed to begin normalizing relations with Israel. The move was backed by the outgoing Trump administration, which contributed a crucial piece of the puzzle: formal U.S. recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the long-contested territory of the Western Sahara. Today, however, the kingdom finds itself on tenterhooks as the Biden administration ponders whether to honor its predecessor's commitments. Since taking office in late January, the new White House has launched a comprehensive review of a range of Trump-era policies. In the realm of foreign affairs, such reevaluations have already yielded significant changes, including a reversal of the "maximum pressure" approach toward Iran and a more punitive policy vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia. And while some things have not changed—for instance, a U.S. commitmentto great-power competition with China—the new administration's policy shifts have profoundly unsettled many of America's international partners, Morocco among them.

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China Chooses Sides In The Middle East

March 29, 2021  •  Al-Hurra Digital

China's geopolitical ambitions in the Middle East took a giant leap forward over the weekend, when Chinese and Iranian officials convened in Tehran to formally sign a massive new cooperation agreement. The summit, which took place during a state visit to the Islamic Republic by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, codifies a trend that has been in the works for some time: a major strategic alignment between Beijing and Tehran.

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Books by Ilan Berman

Cover of Iran's Deadly Ambition Cover of Implosion Cover of Winning the Long War Cover of Tehran Rising

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