Romney criticizes Obama on Middle East, will outline new foreign assistance strategy

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 25, 2012 

Mitt Romney sharply criticized Obama administration policy in the Middle East, and suggested a new approach to foreign assistance could be an important way of easing tension in troubled nations.

“Many Americans are troubled by the developments in the Middle East. Syria has witnessed the killing of tens of thousands of people. The president of Egypt is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Our Ambassador to Libya was assassinated in a terrorist attack. And Iran is moving toward nuclear weapons capability. We feel that we are at the mercy of events, rather than shaping events,” Romney was to tell the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City.

“I am 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,” he said in remarks prepared for delivery.

“Religious extremism is certainly part of the problem. But that’s not the whole story.”

He quickly pivoted to his foreign assistance plan.

“We’ll couple aid with trade and private investment to empower individuals, encourage innovators, and reward entrepreneurs,” Romney said. A copy of the remarks was released in Washington.

“Too often our passion for charity is tempered by our sense that our aid is not always effective. We see stories of cases where American aid has been diverted to corrupt governments. We wonder why years of aid and relief seem never to extinguish the hardship, why the suffering persists decade after decade,” Romney said.

“Perhaps some of our disappointments are due to our failure to recognize just how much the developing world has changed. Many of our foreign aid efforts were designed at a time when government development assistance accounted for roughly 70 percent of all resources flowing to developing nations.”

That’s changed, he argued, as much of today’s aid comes from the private sector.

Foreign aid, he said, should meet three tests: Addressing humanitarian needs, foster “a substantial United States strategic interest, be it military, diplomatic, or economic,” and bring about “lasting change in communities and in nations.”

The campaign released a paper describing the initiative.

"Much of our development aid meets with limited success and at times actually works against the goal of lifting populations out of poverty and into more beneficial relationships with the rest of the international community," the paper said.

"The core of the problem lies in the fact that our assistance architecture is not responsive to the demands of the modern, global economy and reflects an outdated way of thinking about the world."

The initiative is the latest Romney effort to build a more muscular foreign policy while emphasizing economic programs at the same time.

The campaign argued that aid programs "do not fully take into account that foreign aid no longer makes up the majority of capital flowing into the developing world as it did decades ago."

Worldwide foreign aid is small compared to trade with the developing world and foreign direct investment.

"But too often, our foreign aid programs try to supplant private enterprise. And they concentrate too greatly on delivering social services instead of seeking policy reforms and building institutional capacity so that societies can afford to pay for critical social services over time," the Romney paper said.

"To be effective, our aid programs must leverage private investment and trade to foster environments conducive to job creation. Free enterprise and institutions that support political freedom, the rule of law, and respect for human rights are critical ingredients for progress. If developing nations grow strong private sectors, they will become strong trading partners and friends of the United States."

His Prosperity Pact Program would be an "integrated strategy that links trade policy with development policy."

Development, the paper says, "is driven by economic liberalization. Mitt Romney will ensure that our policies reflect that relationship. Working with the private sector, the program would 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 would receive U.S. assistance packages focused on developing the institutions of liberty, the rule of law, and property rights."

A major part of the program will be backing new financing structures for small- and medium-sized enterprises.

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