Secretary of State Colin Powell announced a new U.S. policy for the Middle East that also challenges those countries to embrace democracy, peace, and opportunities to engage in the global marketplace.
"I am announcing today an initiative that places the United States firmly on the side of change, of reform, and of a modern future for the Middle East," Powell said from The Heritage Foundation. "I am pleased to announce the initial results of our work - an innovative set of programs and a framework for future cooperation that we call the U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative."
The Administration is dedicating $29 million to jump-start the initiative, though they will seek significant additional funding for next year from Congress.
Powell cited the 2002 Arab Human Development Report, written by leading Arab scholars and issued by the United Nations, which identified a fundamental choice - between "inertia … [and] an Arab renaissance that will build a prosperous future for all Arabs."
"The spread of democracy and free markets, fueled by the wonders of the technological revolution, has created a dynamo that can generate prosperity and human well-being on an unprecedented scale," the Secretary said. "But this revolution has largely left the Middle East behind."
Thus the initiative, which rests on three pillars:
- Engage with public and private sector groups to bridge the jobs gap with economic reform, business investment, and private sector development.
- Partner with community leaders to close the freedom gap with projects to strengthen civil society, expand political participation, and lift the voices of women.
- Work with parents and educators to bridge the knowledge gap with better schools and more opportunities for higher education.
Powell's comments were well received by two Heritage experts; Vice President of Foreign Policy Larry Wortzel and Research Fellow Jim Phillips.
"Secretary Powell mapped out an ambitious new initiative to expand economic freedom and promote democracy and civil society in the Middle East," Wortzel said. "One challenge will be to involve American Muslims in the effort to help the U.S. demonstrate that the values of freedom and democracy for all are compatible with Islamic and Middle Eastern culture."
"The promotion of freedom, democracy and free market economic reform was a vital part of America's strategy to win the cold war against the Communist bloc," Phillips said. "These American values remain equally important today in the struggle against Islamic extremism and the war against terrorism."
Powell addressed Iraq, saying that the other countries in the Middle East must also deal with "the grave and growing danger posed by the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein. By unanimously passing Resolution 1441, the United Nations Security Council has offered Iraq a final opportunity to meet its obligations. The Iraqi regime can either disarm, or be disarmed. The choice is theirs - but it can no longer be postponed. … We reject the condescending notion that freedom will not grow in the Middle East, or that there is any region of the world that cannot support democracy."
"Considerable progress already has been made in overthrowing tyranny and restoring representative government in Afghanistan," Phillips said, agreeing with Powell's tone of optimism. "If Saddam Hussein continues to violate his obligations to disarm, then the United States will be forced to take the lead to disarm him and will have an opportunity to export these universal human values to post-Saddam Iraq."
Heritage's 2003 Index of Economic Freedom proves the need for reform in the region. On Iraq, the Index reports that "Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein has devastated his country's economy by launching war against Iran, invading Kuwait to precipitate the 1991 Gulf War, and stubbornly refusing to meet the terms for lifting United Nations economic sanctions against his regime."
This, in conjunction with "the Ba'athist socialist government [that] maintains extensive central planning of the industrial economy and foreign trade," leaves much room for reform.
Powell's statement that the countries of the Middle East are largely absent from world markets is proved true when examining the region's Index rankings. The region's average score on Trade is 3.7 out of 5, ranking it "Mostly Unfree."
Index authors Bill Beach and Jerry O'Driscoll write that trade policy is a key factor in measuring economic freedom. The degree to which government hinders the free flow of foreign commerce can have a direct bearing on an individual's ability to pursue his economic goals.
Secretary Powell said through the U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative, the United State is adding hope to the agenda, and that it is fitting that to meet at the Heritage Foundation. "For the Heritage Foundation's vision - to build a country "where freedom, opportunity, prosperity, and civil society flourish" - is the same vision we share with the peoples of the Middle East for their countries," Powell said.