Middle East peace and prosperity

Posted: May 03, 2004 12:00 AM

President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously observed that, "It is useless to win a war, only to lose the peace." In Iraq, we not only must win the peace, failure is not an option. I was pleased to learn that two Democratic congressional friends of mine, Reps. Jim Turner, D-Texas, ranking member on the Homeland Security Committee, and Jane Harman, D-Calif., ranking member on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, took a large bipartisan step toward ensuring we do not fail in Iraq when they released an important report titled "Winning the War on Terror." The report outlines 100 recommendations to protect Americans and is must reading for every member of Congress and concerned American citizen.

One prong of the report's three-pronged strategy aims to prevent the rise of future terrorists by "building bridges to the Arab and Muslim world at every level" through a "dramatic and massive commitment, on the scale of the Marshall Plan, to the future of Arab children and to the economic prosperity of the entire Middle East." They also note that one important way to accomplish this goal is to follow the advice of the bipartisan commission led by former Ambassador Edward Djerejian, which found that hostility toward the United States in the Arab and Muslim world "have gone from bad to worse" and that "hostility toward the United States has reached shocking levels."

  America's public diplomacy efforts are "inadequate, outmoded and lacking strategic direction and resources." Consequently, the Djerejian Commission calls for a transformation of public diplomacy that requires "an end to the absurd and dangerous underfunding of public diplomacy in a time of peril, when our enemies have succeeded in spreading viciously inaccurate claims about our intentions and our actions."

Turner and Harman recognize the absolute necessity of changing hearts and minds in the Arab world. One vital undertaking toward this end highlighted in the report is to foster free markets and open trade so economic growth can take off. The sad state of Arab and Muslim economies is starkly stated in the report: Since 1980, while the region's population doubled, the Middle East's share of global trade and investment has collapsed, falling by 75 percent.

  Economic productivity in the Arab world, which was a mere 32 percent of the North American level 40 years ago, had fallen to only 19 percent in 1990; more than one in five Arabs lives on less than $2 a day; Arab nations spend less than one-seventh of the world average annual investment in research, and achievements in science and technology are virtually nil. More than one in four Arabs is illiterate, and half of all Arab youths say they want to leave their home country.

Turner and Harman are quite clear that "poverty does not make poor people into terrorists. Yet poverty, weak institutions and corruption can make weak states vulnerable to terrorist networks within their borders." The report expresses the belief, with which I wholly concur, that "the primary hope for heading off this potentially explosive situation is economic growth." To this end, we have been working with Hernando de Soto, among others, on a 21st century Marshall Plan for the Middle East and Central Asia for well over two years. De Soto, economist and property rights activist, recently received the prestigious Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty from the Cato Institute. It is my hope is that someday, he will receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his groundbreaking work on creating property rights, formalizing the informal economy and turning dead capital into live capital.

Turner and Harman contend that "education is the key to preventing a new generation from turning to teachings of the extremists." Thus, they call for a massive international effort to pledge a total of $10 billion over 10 years for an Arab Youth Opportunity Fund to be spent directly for operation of primary and secondary secular schools in the Arab states that commit to doubling their investment in public education over the course of 10 years. This approach of requiring matching performance and commitment by recipient nations is a page right out of President Bush's Millennium Challenge Accounts, which disgracefully still languishes in Congress.

I have recently been to Egypt with de Soto to continue our work together in promoting and facilitating a plan that would extend from Kabul to Baghdad. In conjunction with this project, we are bringing members of the Egyptian government together with bipartisan leadership of our Congress and the Bush White House this June. Our ideas, for the most part, coincide with the president's vision for a "Greater Middle East Initiative" as well as Turner's and Harman's ideas for a "Renaissance Partnership" proposal for the Middle East.

 All of this has to be done with respect for the cultural integrity of the Middle East and in close consultation with regional leaders such as King Abdullah II of Jordan, Egyptian Finance Minister H.E. Medhat Hassanein, the Iraqi Governing Council and Afghani President Hamed Karzai.

Judging by the broad commonalities between our work, the president's proposals and the Turner-Harman study, it appears there is an opportunity to seize on a bipartisan, multilateral consensus around what must be done in Iraq and the Middle East going forward. Hopefully, we can move forward on a bipartisan basis and pass legislation in Congress, such as the Millennium Challenge Accounts among other laudable initiatives, further enabling the administration to advance a strategic, multifaceted foreign policy throughout Central Asia and the Middle East.