My friends tell me I sound like a broken record pleading for a 21st-century Marshall Plan for Arab and Muslim countries in the Middle East and Central Asia. That's because I am passionate about doing everything we can to bring the Muslim nations of the regions into the 21st-century global economy. Not only does the health and welfare of the Muslim people depend on it, the security of the free world depends on it, as well.
Time is running out in Iraq. Continuing violence has stymied efforts at economic reconstruction. Direct foreign investment is nil. Several international aid agencies have pulled out of the country. The conventional wisdom is that little headway can be made on the economy as long as security is lacking.
I reject such linear thinking. It leaves us in a vicious cycle in which violence stalls the economy and perpetual despair and poverty breed more violence and recruit more terrorists. The cycle must be broken, and we cannot wait for pacification before we take action to generate economic growth, jobs and hope. We have to start winning hearts and minds and be seen as a liberator, not an occupier.
Easier said than done, you might say. The private sector is not putting capital to work in Iraq, and the vast majority of the $18.4 billion authorized by the U.S. Congress for Iraqi reconstruction and development is not being spent. Moreover, bureaucratic inertia and interagency rivalries have prevented the small portion of the money that has been spent from being used optimally to benefit the Iraqi people in a timely fashion.
That's why Empower America has decided to approach private companies to underwrite a computer education and training project that Iraqis can run and administer themselves if only they are given the resources. The program Empower America is organizing will train thousands of Iraqis in basic computer skills that will allow them to function in a modern office environment.
The project received enthusiastic support from the Coalition Provisional Authority early on and even gained initial CPA approvals for funding. Unfortunately, the bureaucracy cannot decide how to fund the project, so it lingers in limbo and the important goal of putting digital skills into the hands of Iraqi students and workers goes unfulfilled.