At heart, Mitt Romney is a moderate and a businessman. So it’s not a surprise that his speech at the Clinton Global Initiative today, which was non-partisan and focused on fostering free enterprise in poor nations, was one of the best and most detailed ones he’s given in a while.
Romney delved into the cultural issues behind poverty and instability in the Middle East, a touchy subject that he got burned on during his Israel trip. But this time he made the case in a more elegant way. “Religious extremism is certainly part of the problem,” he noted. “But that’s not the whole story.” The other factor? A very young population with a bleak economic future, who have known nothing but corruption and oppression:
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.
Romney proposed something he calls “Prosperity Pacts” for the Middle East, which will require developing countries to open up certain barriers to trade, investment and entrepreneurship in exchange for non-humanitarian foreign aid. Romney grasps a simple concept that the Obama administration apparently doesn’t. In some places, particularly those with deep-seated corruption, democracy needs a push. There should be a greater government focus on efforts like the one Romney outlined, that promote economic and political freedom.