Remarks by Walid Maalouf
Director, Public Diplomacy for Middle Eastern & MEPI Affairs
The Assyrian National Council of Illinois
Saturday, December 18, 2004
It is an honor to be with you this evening for the 19 th anniversary dinner of the Assyrian National Council of Illinois. Your community has been migrating to this continent since the 16 th century; the first recorded member of the Assyrian community to arrive to the new world was from Mosul . He served as a priest for the Spanish conquistadors in Central America .
You are the keepers of the Aramaic language which is still spoken and written in the Middle East . You are resilient people, who have kept their language, heritage and religion alive throughout the centuries. And your resiliency and love of your roots is keeping your communities in Iraq , Lebanon , Syria and Iran resisting all temptation to leave the Middle East , and for that we commend you .
I want to thank the President and the board of the Assyrian National Council of Illinois for this opportunity to spend some time with you and talk about the rebuilding of Iraq and the commitment of the U.S. Agency for International Development in Iraq and the region. I have been traveling around our Middle Eastern American communities and I am impressed by the level of interest shown toward President George W. Bush's initiatives and policies. I have been to Boston , Orlando , Washington , DC, Los Angeles , Detroit , Cleveland and now here with you talking about the President's work in the region. One of President Bush's major concerns is how can we make the Middle Eastern Americans around our nation, as well as in the region, fully aware of the programs that are building democracy and freedom in this vital region of the Middle East. My Public Diplomacy office has played a crucial role in relaying the message to the community by enhancing communications between the Agency and the broader Middle Eastern community in America and catalyzing the broadest possible public support for democratic reform in the region.
President George W. Bush recognizes in his National Security Strategy that development and diplomacy are as important as defense for building a safer, freer and better world. To this end the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development have put together a strategic plan that builds on President Bush's three Ds - Defense, Diplomacy and Development - to create a more secure, democratic, and prosperous world for the benefit of the American people and the international community. The goals of the National Strategy are: to achieve peace and security, advance sustainable development and global interest, promote international understanding and strengthen diplomatic program capabilities. These goals are being pursued in the Broader Middle East and North Africa through USAID programs in Afghanistan , Pakistan , Egypt , Iraq , Israel , Jordan , Lebanon , Morocco , Palestine and Yemen . The total budget of USAID has grown in the last three years from $8 billion to $14 billion. You can clearly see the commitment of our Administration toward a better way of life for all human beings in the developing world.
In your folders you can read the Afghanistan Reborn report and the Iraq report which illustrate the implemented projects, our 2004 budget for the broader Middle East and North Africa is $4.755 billion. Breaking it down by countries, Afghanistan has benefited from $1 billion, in Iraq $2. 463 billion, Egypt $571 million, Jordan $248 million, Lebanon $35 million, Morocco $6 million, Pakistan $274 million, West Bank & Gaza $75 million and Yemen $11 million. I also must add that USAID helped with more than $300 million in humanitarian assistance, which has saved countless lives in the Darfure conflict in Sudan
So our priorities for this region are to support the rebuilding of Iraq and a successful transition to self-rule through democratic processes; to increase support for democratic reforms in the Middle East through stronger civil society, improved administration of justice and more effective legislatures; to expand education programs to improve quality and give youth the livelihood skills to participate in a productive society; and, finally, to support economic policy reform, free trade agreements, and business development programs for job creation.
USAID is working hard in this region because we want to lift the people out of poverty, protect their human rights, eliminate trafficking in people and drugs, encourage greater political participation, economic opportunity and educational development. Our activities will help the East and West come closer together.
The new forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East is as important as Ronald Reagan's famous phrase: "Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall". President George W. Bush is now tearing down all the walls and barriers that have slowed the advance of freedom, the advance of civil society, the advance of democracy, the advance of liberty and self-government, the advance of equality for women, and last, but not least, the advance of a lasting peace in the Middle East.
The democratization of the broader Middle East and North Africa initiative is important and necessary. Leaders throughout the last six decades have done hardly anything to change the political systems to catch up with the needs of their people. And President George W. Bush realizes that America and our allies excused and accommodated the lack of freedom in the Middle East , hoping to purchase stability at the price of liberty, and of course we got neither. Moreover, monarchs were toppled by revolutions claiming Arab nationalism. But those revolutions did not produce any evolution. Rather, they produced, in the long-term fanatic extremism. Arab nationalism started under the Ottoman Empire to preserve Arab heritage; unfortunately after that era, many Arab dictators used this nationalism for their personal advantage and their interests but never for the interests of their people. They furthermore fought western openness from within. Today this Arab nationalism does not exist the way it was originated, and all those who espouse a free open society were not able to get any changes off the ground. So, what is left?
This is why the broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative is a must. There are responsive audiences to the President's vision from all religious backgrounds. The most responsive audience in support of this idea comprises many in the educated, the business community and the middle class and even in the working class. Some Arab governments are with it and some are against it and of course the extremists will do everything in their power not to let it happen. The G8, in their meeting in Sea Island , Georgia , have supported these initiatives and on December 11, the Kingdom of Morocco and the US , as President of the G8 co-hosted the first "Forum for the Future" in Rabat , Morocco . This Forum is the centerpiece of the "Partnership for Progress and a Common Future with the Region of the Broader Middle East and North Africa" which was launched by President Bush and other G-8 leaders at the Sea Island Summit in June 2004 with leaders of seven countries from the region -- Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Turkey and Yemen.
Three fundamental major achievements have taken place in accordance with the President's new policy in the region: 1. The liberation of Afghanistan from the oppressive Taliban regime. 2. The liberation of Iraq from the most lethal weapon of mass destruction -- Saddam himself and his Ba'ath party. 3. The passage of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559 to win Lebanon back into the fold of democratic nations.
Another important and positive change toward a lasting peace in the region is that President George W. Bush put forward a Road Map to solve the Palestinian Israeli conflict which was supported by those directly involved and by all the nations of the world. He is the first US President to call for the establishment of a Palestinian State living side by side in security, peace and prosperity with Israel . Recently, the President has been pressing this objective both at his joint press conference with Prime Minister Blair and a few weeks ago when he nominated Dr. Rice to be Secretary of State when he said: "The United States has undertaken a great calling of history to aid the forces of reform and freedom in the broader Middle East so that that region can grow in hope, instead of growing in anger. We're pursuing a positive direction to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, an approach that honors the peaceful aspirations of the Palestinian people through a democratic state, and an approach that will ensure the security of our good friend, Israel ."
The Fertile Crescent is still unstable: the militant activities of Hezbollah in the south of Lebanon , the terrorist activities of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in the future Palestinian State , the continued occupation of Lebanon by Syria and the insurgency in Iraq .
Iraq is the cornerstone of change for the whole region. It is important to understand that coexistence is vital for Iraq 's success. As democracy takes hold in Iraq , it will mean more protection for all minorities in the country. And as democracy spreads through the Middle East minorities through the region should flourish, just the way we all are here in our great United States of America .
President Bush received the President of the Iraq 's interim government to the White House on Monday December 6 th . The two talked about how the United States can continue to stand with those who believe in democracy, about the security situation in Iraq and the election on January 30 th . President Bush and President Al-Yawer agreed that the up coming elections will provide an opportunity for the people of Iraq to participate in democracy. A clear message must be send to the few people in Iraq that are trying to stop the march toward democracy. It will give the Iraqi people a chance to become invested in the future of that vital country. President Al-Yawer is committed to moving the democratic process forward. As he said: "This is very important. Victory is not only possible, it's a fact, we can see it, it's there. We are committed. We see that we have all the reasons to prevail. We see that our enemy is an enemy that has only a short time because they have no roots in the Iraqi society; they have no ideology that they can sell to Iraq or the whole world".
On the other hand civic and religious leaders from inside Iraq such as Archbishop Louis Sako, the Chaldean Archbishop of Kirkuk said that Iraqis are looking forward to elections "because they will be useful for national unity. It is not all death and destruction, much is positive in Iraq today, universities are operating, schools are open, and people go out onto the streets normally". He did acknowledge that "where there's a kidnapping or a homicide the news gets out immediately, and this causes fear among the people."
Nearly 14 million voters are eligible to go to the polls, according to the number of ration cards issued to adults by Iraq 's commerce ministry. Iraq is spending 250 million dollars for this landmark election. Voting papers are being printed in Switzerland to avoid counterfeiting, and a company will distribute them to the 9,000 polling stations which will be equipped with 40,000 ballot boxes. Each voting list will have a number and a logo. Imagine the thrill and happiness the moment each Iraqi casts his or her vote in a free environment. This is what the president said at Camp Pendleton on December 7th: " The United States has a vital interest in the success of a free Iraq . A free Iraq will be a major victory in the war on terror. Free nations do not export terror. Free nations listen to the hopes and aspirations of their people. Free nations are peaceful nations. And a free Iraq will make America more secure and the world a peaceful place."
My friends, Iraq is the turning point in the Middle East . Make no mistake about it - these are historic times; change is taking shape. There is no turning back. I believe democracy will lead to peace, to great economic returns, to freedom of the self and the opportunity for personal achievement, to equality, security and self-determination for all the nations in the region.
Thank you and May God keep the United States of America the beacon of freedom.