Some members of the United States Congress are working on a new way to fight terrorism in the Middle East: through free trade policy. Republican Senator John McCain and Democratic Senator Max Baucus held a forum Tuesday with the research organization, the Progressive Policy Institute in Washington, to discuss their ideas. They say strengthening the economy in Middle Eastern countries will help discourage terrorism.
Senators McCain (R-Arizona) and Max Baucus (D-Montana) are sponsoring a bill calling for incentives to strengthen U.S. trade with Middle Eastern nations, in an effort to curb extremist activity there.
Recent studies show a deep decline in the economies of many nations in that region while their populations have increased dramatically.
Will Marshall who heads Washington's Progressive Policy Institute, said the resulting joblessness, particularly in Muslim countries, is part of the reason young people are drawn into religious violence. He believes Washington can help.
"What this country needs to do, we believe, is to develop a strategy that begins to change the conditions that breed extremist violence, particularly in the Middle East, and make terrorism seem like a rational career path to far too many young men, particularly in this region," he said.
Mr. Marshall added that the United States should help itself, as well as Middle Eastern nations, by changing policies which now place tariffs and restrictions on a great deal of trade with countries of the region.
"Without reversing the Muslim world's economic decline, it's going got be very difficult for us to wage this war on terror and to stimulate political and economic reforms in the region more broadly," said Mr. Marshall. "And yet U.S. trade policy is focused on Asia, Latin America, everywhere but the Middle East, and we think it's time to rectify that."
Senators McCain and Baucus are sponsoring a bill that would extend the duty-free access enjoyed by nations in other regions to countries in the Middle East and surrounding areas. President George Bush has already introduced such a measure, which is scheduled to take effect by 2013. But Senator Baucus says he has two problems with the Bush proposal.
"First, it excludes countries in need outside the Middle East that need this sort of program just as badly, if not more so. That includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Turkey," said the Democratic senator. "Second, 2013 is a very long time to wait. By then the economic and political problems in these countries will have gotten much worse."
The McCain/Baucus bill, if passed, would take effect immediately after becoming law. In addition to speeding up the free trade process, Mr. Baucus noted the bill calls for an annual U.S.-Middle East economic trade forum to coordinate efforts to bolster the economy. "The goal is to get our political and business leaders talking regularly about the U.S.-Middle East economic relationship," he said.
The bill is based on similar free trade agreements the United States has made with nations in sub-Saharan Africa and South America that helped them emerge from volatile political situations. Senator McCain says that method would work just as well in the Middle East.
"The way you stop terrorism is the way we all know and that is to install democracy and the institutions of democracy, the rule of law and economic opportunity.
He said the reconstruction of Iraq is a good case study for that theory. "Fundamental to the reconstruction of Iraq has got to be the setting up of free trade economies, the rule of law, the ability of men and women to engage in the free-enterprise system," stressed Mr. McCain. "Without that kind of aspect to their economy, aside from the revenues they'll get from oil, we'll see Iraq regress into some kind of petro-dictatorship."
The proposed Middle East agreements would be restricted to countries that met certain criteria, such as having a market-based economy and supporting the U.S. war on terrorism.
A similar bill is progressing through the House of Representatives, under the sponsorship of Democrats Cal Dooley of California and Adam Smith of Washington. If the bills pass in their respective chambers of Congress, they would have to be merged one proposal and signed by President Bush before becoming law.