Saying that foreign aid must play a role in bringing peace to the Middle East, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney made the case today for what he calls "prosperity pacts" that would aim U.S. assistance packages at nations that develop "the institutions of liberty, the rule of law, and property rights."
Romney was addressing the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, a forum that will host President Obama later today.
If he's elected in November, Romney said (per his prepared remarks):
"To foster work and enterprise in the Middle East and in other developing countries, I will initiate 'Prosperity Pacts.' Working with the private sector, the program will identify the barriers to investment, trade, and entrepreneurialism in developing nations. In exchange for removing those barriers and opening their markets to U.S. investment and trade, developing nations will receive U.S. assistance packages focused on developing the institutions of liberty, the rule of law, and property rights.
"We will focus our efforts on small and medium-size businesses. Microfinance has been an effective tool at promoting enterprise and prosperity, but we must expand support to small and medium-size businesses that are too large for microfinance, but too small for traditional banks.
"The aim of a much larger share of our aid must be the promotion of work and the fostering of free enterprise. Nothing we can do as a nation will change lives and nations more effectively and permanently than sharing the insight that lies at the foundation of America's own economy — free people pursuing happiness in their own ways build a strong and prosperous nation."
Romney introduced that proposal by saying he is "often asked why, and what can we do to lead the Middle East to stability, to ease the suffering and the anger and the hate.
"Religious extremism is certainly part of the problem. But that's not the whole story.
"The population of the Middle East is young, particularly compared with the population of the West. And typically, these young people have few job prospects and the levels of youth unemployment across the region are excessive and chronic. In nations that have undergone a change in leadership recently, young people have greater access to information that was once carefully guarded by tyrants and dictators. They see the good as well as the bad in surrounding societies. They can now organize across vast regions, mobilizing populations. Idle, humiliated by poverty, and crushed by government corruption, their frustration and anger grows.
"In such a setting, for America to change lives, to change communities and nations in the Middle East, foreign aid must also play a role. And the shape that role should take was brought into focus by the life and death of Muhammed Bouazizi of Tunisia, the street vendor whose self-immolation sparked the Arab Spring.
"He was just 26-years-old. He had provided for his family since he was a young boy. He worked a small fruit stand, selling to passers-by. The regular harassment by corrupt bureaucrats was elevated one day when they took crates of his fruit and his weighing scales away from him.
"On the day of his protest, witnesses say that an officer slapped Bouazizi and he cried out, 'Why are you doing this to me? I'm a simple person, and I just want to work.'
"I just want to work.
"Work. That must be at the heart of our effort to help people build economies that can create jobs for people, young and old alike. Work builds self-esteem. It transforms minds from fantasy and fanaticism to reality and grounding. Work will not long tolerate corruption nor quietly endure the brazen theft by government of the product of hard-working men and women."