Friday, January 30, 2004

Friedman on Europe

Tom Friedman, writing about the lack of development in the Middle East, sticks it to Europe:

So what to do? A lot of help can and should come from Europe. Although America is often the target, Europe has been the real factory of Arab-Muslim rage. Europe has done an extremely poor job of integrating and employing its growing Muslim minorities, many of which have a deep feeling of alienation. And Europe has done a very poor job of investing in North Africa and the Middle East — its natural backyard.

America is far from perfect in this regard, but by forging the Nafta free trade agreement with Mexico, the U.S. helped create a political and economic context there that not only spurred jobs and the modernization of Mexico, but created the environment for its democratization. Former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo remarked to me: "I don't think I would have been successful in political reform without the decent economic growth we had [spurred by Nafta] from 1996 to 2000. Those five years, we had average growth of 5 percent." It was in that optimistic environment that Mexico had its first democratic transition from the ruling party to the opposition.

I have to agree with Friedman, however it's important not to overlook that these Arab-Muslim countries suffer from a lack of honest, altruistic, and elected leadership. If Europe, or the US for that matter, works toward improving the economies of, say, Iran, then would it further entrench their unelected Mullahs or would it spur democracy? And that's assuming that these countries would except Western help. Most Middle-East autocracies have a decided interest in keeping their people poor, uneducated, and angry at the West. With these distractions, it makes it easy to say in power and scapegoat "the Great Satan." What I hope Friedman means is that Europe must invest in its "backyard" neighbors when it is proper to do so.


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