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
"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
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.