The U.S.-Algerian relations have long been subject to fluctuation and uncertainty since Algeria’s independence. However, recently after a cabal of neoconservatives was swarmed into the Bush Administration there had been an increasing interest in the country. This paper looks into the rationale of the American unexpected shift of interest towards Algeria in the dawn of the 21st century. It situates the place of this so long neglected country in the design of American neoconservative foreign policy agenda following the 09/11 attacks. The terrorist attacks on the United States and the rise of the neoconservative cabal, undoubtedly changed international relations in significant ways. Those events pushed the United States to alter its policies toward a number of regimes by building a broad “coalition against terrorism”. Washington reached out to countries that until recently were considered hostile or at least not so friendly.
In foreign policy, the neoconservatives do differ from other American politicians and pundits in their intense commitment to the projection of American military and economic power. The agenda of the neoconservatives was based on stretching American influence to protect its vital economic interests by establishing friendly relations with countries that correspond to America’s perspectives.
Although it never constituted a priority for the United States in the past, in recent years Algeria has increasingly become a region of great interest to policymakers in Washington. However, an outstanding interest in the country came with the rise of neoconservatives to power in the Bush Administration. This new significance attached to the country derives from a number of considerations that fall into two broad sets: political and economic energy interests, and military, strategic and security interests. The first are linked to America’s energy needs from oil and gas; and interest in a potentially important market for U.S. businesses, especially since competition has heightened with China in Africa. The second motives are relatively connected to Washington’s reshuffle of strategic and security policies. These increased the need for new ways of managing issues related to security, terrorism and democratization.
Keywords: International relations, Algeria, United States, Neoconservatives, foreign policy
The terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001 and the rise of the neoconservative cabal, undoubtedly changed international relations in significant ways. Those events pushed the United States to alter its policies toward a number of regimes. America's national interest requires stability in important parts of the developing world. Despite congressional pressure to reduce or eliminate overseas assistance, it is vital that America focus its efforts on a small number of countries whose fate is uncertain and whose future will profoundly affect their surrounding regions. Indeed, soon after the attacks, and in order to build a broad “coalition against terrorism”, Washington reached out to countries that until recently were considered hostile or at least not so friendly. This attitude was extended even to those countries still featured as “rogue states” (such as Libya, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Cuba and North Korea, even Iran).
President George W. Bush, whose presidency was still relatively new and who had little experience in foreign affairs, turned for advice to a group of neoconservative pundits and politicians such as Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. Their agenda was to oust autocratic governments and defiant rulers and change the governance of various Middle Eastern and North African countries, which had become breeding grounds for terrorism. The agenda of the neoconservatives , based on strategic calculations such as promoting an aggressive, ultra- nationalistic foreign policy to protect America’s vital economic interests, had been marketed under the banner of spreading democracy and establishing friendly relations with countries all over the world. Neoconservatives do differ from other American thinkers and pundits in their intense commitment to the projection of American military and economic power by military and paramilitary actions.
Although it never constituted a priority for the United States in the past, in recent years Algeria has increasingly become a region of great interest to policymakers in Washington. Algeria's relations with the United States have historically been marked by bewilderment, suspicion and at times great hostility especially when the two countries diverged over the Arab-Israeli conflict, Vietnam, Western Sahara, Nicaragua, Cuba and Grenada. The reluctance in Algerian-American relations can be traced back to Algeria's pre-independence era. Indeed, U.S. support for colonial France during Algeria's War of National Liberation shaped Algeria's post-independence relations with the superpower. Therefore, why there has recently been a noticeable rapprochement between the two countries? And how Algeria came to be seen in the eyes of the neoconservative cabal?
This new significance attached to the country, and its extension in the Sahel and sub-Saharan Africa, derives from a number of considerations that fall into two broad groups: namely, political and economic energy interests, and military, strategic and security interests. The first are linked to America’s energy needs, and focus on oil and gas in Algeria which emanate from a general interest in and search for alternative energy sources from Africa in general; they also favor the development of a stronger regional entity, which could provide a potentially important market for US businesses and investments, especially since competition has heightened with China’s recent gains in the continent. The second group of motives, which are not totally separate from the first, are related to Washington’s reshuffling of strategic and security policies since the attacks on New York and Washington of 11 September 2001. These increased the need for new ways of managing issues related to security, Islamism, terrorism and democratization.
US -Algerian Relations in Retrospect
The nature of Algeria's national and international struggle against France molded its future foreign policy. Thus, after independence, Algeria's radical foreign policy and its position of leadership in the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and other international organizations often contradicted U.S. policy objectives and interests. Worse still, Algeria's privileged relations with the Soviet Union, America's nemesis, lead the two countries to constant clashes. Historically, the United States and Algeria have had contending foreign policy objectives emanating from the Cold War alliances. Algeria's commitment to strict socialism and to a global revolution against Western capitalism and imperialism provoked antagonism with the United States, which reflected in Algerian eyes, all that the revolution disdained.
The United States maintenance of good relations with France precluded close ties with Algeria in the years during and following the War of Independence, although the United States sent an ambassador to Algeria in 1962. Algeria broke diplomatic relations with the United States in 1967, following the June 1967 war between Israel and most of its neighbors, and United States relations remained hostile throughout the next decade. The United States intervention in Vietnam and other developing countries, Algerian sponsorship of guerrilla and radical revolutionary groups, United States sympathies for Morocco in the Western Sahara, and United States support for Israel all aggravated a fundamental ideological and political antagonism.
Official relations resumed in the mid-1970s, although it was not until the late 1970s that relations normalized. In the 1980s, the United States increasing demands for energy and a growing Algerian need for capital and technical assistance lessened tensions and resulted in better interaction with the United States after the relative isolation from the West during the Boumedienne years. Liberalization measures undertaken by Bendjedid greatly facilitated the improved relations. In fact, an economic connection with the West had been growing throughout the previous decade despite tense political relations. Algeria was becoming an important source of petroleum and natural gas for the United States. In 1980 the United States imported more than US$2.8 billion worth of oil from Algeria and was Algeria’s largest export market.
Algeria’s intermediary role in the release of the fifty two United States hostages from Iran in January 1981 and its retreat from a militant role in the developing world as its domestic situation worsened opened the path to peaceful relations with the United States. Algeria's domestic situation was becoming increasingly critical because its traditional source of economic assistance, the Soviet Union, was threatened by internal problems. In search of alternative sources of aid, in 1990 Algeria received US$25.8 million in financial assistance and bought US$1.0 billion in imports from the United States, indicating that the United States had become an important international partner.
Despite Algeria’s painstaking diplomatic efforts to solve the US –Iran hostage crisis of 1979, the ideological and political differences between the two countries persisted. American and Algerian policy makers (including President Houari Boumedienne) pursued pragmatic courses of action that prevented foreign-policy clashes from undermining advantageous economic relations. Substantial commercial interests, mainly in the hydrocarbon sector, induced this pragmatism, as well as a mutual willingness to find common ground on a number of political issues, especially as they pertained to the Maghreb (Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia) and the Near East.
 Robert Chase, Emily Hill and Paul Kennedy, “Pivotal States and U.S. Strategy,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 75, No. 1, January-February 1996, p. 37.
 For a detailed analysis of the relationship in that period, see Yahia H. Zoubir, "U.S. and Soviet Policies towards France's Struggle with Anticolonial Nationalism in North Africa," Canadian Journal of History/ Annales Canadiennes D'histoire, Vol. 30, No. 3, December 1995, pp. 439-466.
 For a detailed understanding of the crisis and therole of Algeria as mediator to solve the crisis see Chapter IV from Boussetta Allouche, Small States and International Mediation: The Case of Algeria, (Alger: OPU, 1989).