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The Lost Colony: American Power in Morocco
Aiming to liberate Europe from Nazi hegemony, the United States landed over 100,000 troops in Morocco and other areas of North Africa in what became known as Operation Torch. To compensate for this landing of foreign forces on Moroccan soil, U.S. President Roosevelt promised Morocco’s ruler in 1943 that he would support its independence from foreign imperialism. But America’s words did not parallel its actions, as succeeding U.S. presidents established a neo-colonial presence throughout Morocco after WWII, without Moroccan approval. This presence included five air force bases, one naval base, secret military and propaganda communications facilities, and a large community of civilian businessmen who exploited Moroccan legal loopholes. Some U.S. military facilities even secretly stored nuclear weapons. The last U.S. facility departed Morocco only in 2007, and discussions re-emerged in 2008 and 2021 concerning re-establishing U.S. military facilities. What explains this long-term U.S. neocolonial presence in Morocco? How does this understudied case of neocolonialism advance scholarly understanding of U.S. hegemony and empire throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), more broadly? This paper—part of a larger book project—seeks to address these questions, drawing on seven months of original research in five different U.S. presidential archives, the Moroccan National Archives, and fieldwork in Morocco. Sources include hundreds of documents declassified by the author, and extensive Arabic and French archival materials. The paper argues that U.S. neocolonialism in Morocco has become intertwined with its regime’s irredentist objectives of re-establishing sovereignty over territories once held before European colonialism. At critical historical moments, Moroccan rulers permitted—and even encouraged—U.S. military presence in their country in bids for American diplomatic support for their efforts to regain these lost territories. Neocolonialism, in short, can be more than a unidirectional process in which a strong state exploits a weaker one, but rather can be bidirectional in which both the occupier and occupied benefit.
Political Science
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