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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.


Scott Carpenter
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State
Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs

September 27, 2006

Scott Carpenter
Thanks for joining me for this discussion of the Middle East Partnership Initiative and other State Department policies and programs related to the Middle East and North Africa. It’s an honor to be with you today to talk about how the United States is supporting the aspirations of people in the broader Middle East and North Africa who are standing up for greater freedom and opportunity.

I’m happy to take the first question.

Ben, from Paris, France writes:
Do you think that the people of Middle east has the same psychology of american people and that Americans understand the political problems in the same way than Arab people? I think that this problem is the big issue of all the conflicts in Middle East. What are you thinking about that?

Scott Carpenter
Thank you for that good question. Of course, people around the world do have different ways of looking at things and different ways of doing things. It’s that variety that makes the study of cultures so interesting. People have different traditions, foods, different styles of music, different religions — you can find these differences even within individual countries such as yours or mine. In fact, the United States famously is a melting pot of these various rich traditions from around the world.

At the same, we also firmly believe that some values are universal human values that rise above cultural differences — values affirmed, for instance in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. People around the world value the same things. They want job opportunities. They want shelter, food, and good schools for their children and families. And they want freedom and control over their own lives.

The path to freedom is certainly not the same for everyone, and there is no magic formula for it. This is why an important part of our approach is working closely with Arab people directly to determine how they think we can be helpful in supporting their efforts to shape their destinies.

Gregory, from Torrance, CA writes:
Dear Secretary Carpenter: How can we combat Hezbollah from winning the hearts and minds of the people in southern Lebanon? Thank you.

Scott Carpenter
We believe in a free and independent and sovereign Lebanon, guided by its government elected by the Lebanese people and not terrorists who seek to destabilize the country and the region. The U.N. Security Council has charted the way forward and if the international community maintains its resolve to carry out its provisions, the government of Lebanon will be strengthened and be able to compete with Hezbollah itself as it extends its sovereignty and ability to meet the needs of the Lebanese people throughout the country.

In addition to supporting U.N. efforts, the U.S. also is taking its own significant action to provide private and public assistance to the people of Lebanon and the Lebanese government. For instance, this week President Bush announced the U.S.-Lebanese Private Sector Partnership initiative to help Lebanese businesses recover — and flourish. As the President said, “America is making a long-term commitment to help the people of Lebanon because we believe every person deserves to live in a free, open society that respects the rights of all.”

Join the next Ask the White House chat on Friday for more information on our support for Lebanon reconstruction efforts.

Ben, from Menomonee Falls, WI writes:
Dear Mr. Scott Carpenter,This is a great opportunity to see the opinions of one working in the Federal government on Middle East issues, especially one in the State Department. I think you would agree with me when I say that International affairs is the hardest issue for a world power to face. If we make the wrong decisions, we will pay and the rest of the world will pay. I need to know this. Have we exhausted every effort diplomatically to call for peace in the Middle East? I am mainly talking about Iraq. We launched a uni-lateral attack on the country to help secure better peace and to bring the terrorists to justice. I need the facts. Are the terrorists weakening? Thank you.

Scott Carpenter
It is true that foreign policy is difficult and very serious. One of the reasons it is so complex is that it is not taking place in theory – it takes place in real time, with many different participants and, often, with many competing and conflicting interests.

For example, we must remember that the horror of September 11, 2001, was the result of just one terrorist attack in a string of attacks on America over the past two decades following the bombings of the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1983 and again in 1984; in the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait in 1983; in the bombing of an American jet over Scotland in 1988; in the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York in 1993; in the bombing of U.S. facilities in Riyadh and Khobar, Saudi Arabia, in 1995 and 1996; in the bombing of our embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in 1998; and in the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000.

When September 11 arrived, we had to examine whether our foreign policy choices in the Middle East over the preceding 40 years still made sense or if a change was needed. The President made the determination that a change in policy was needed because liberty could not be sacrificed for stability in the region any longer, especially when there was no real, long term stability. The U.S. gathered a coalition of many countries to address the brutal regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, and we also launched new efforts such as the Middle East Partnership Initiative to address the challenges in the region in a comprehensive way. With these efforts we have created an alternative vision to the vision of extremism and hate. But it’s only the beginning. We must do more and remain vigilant until this threat subsides and the peace-loving people of the region have the freedom and opportunity they deserve.

David, from Queens, NY writes:
I understand that a national intelligence report said that our troops in Iraq are causing terrorism and increasing the chance of a terrorist attack on US soil. How would you rethink the freedom initiative so it can make us safer, not make life more dangerous?

Scott Carpenter
The National Intelligence Estimate reflects what President Bush has been saying for some time: Iraq is a central battlefield in the war on terror; Al Qaeda continually tries to adapt in an effort to survive; Al Qaeda is not the region’s only source of terrorism; and the threat of terror is a long-term threat. So, we are taking a comprehensive approach to address terrorism. At times we must confront terror through military means. But we cannot defeat terror only militarily; we must also work diligently to provide a full range of assistance and diplomacy to support reformers in the region. You can’t just try to put a lid on terrorism and not address the underlying lack of freedom and opportunity at the same time. Our approach reflects this reality, while also understanding that freedom in the long run is the only lasting way to promote peace and prosperity.

Edward, from Accra, Ghana writes:
It appears to me that the rest of the world particularly the those with economic interest in Iran will not support the US government in implementing any UN sanctions against Iran for its refusal to abide by United Nations' call to halt uranium enrichment. If this is the case, what will the US government do to avert the looming threat from a defiant Iran becoming nuclear capable, especially against Israel?

Scott Carpenter
We remain committed to a diplomatic solution and want to see the current discussions between Solana and Larijani succeed. At the same time, because Iran has defaulted on the original deadlines the Security Council set for a response to the EU-3 proposal, we will work with our Security Council partners to adopt a resolution with sanction measures.

I’d like also to remind people that the Iranian regime has been brutal toward its people and threatening of its neighbors. This is a serious challenge to the international community as a whole and we must confront it and not bury our heads and hope it goes away. Still, while a diplomatic solution remains possible, we will continue to work it.

Gaylan, from Killeen, TX writes:
Is the American public aware of the efforts being made in Iraq to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people? It seems that all we hear in the news is of military efforts. How can we better communicate to America the humanitarian and institutional rebuilding that is such a large part of our efforts in Iraq?

Scott Carpenter
In Iraq and across the region we, too, are disheartened by the lack of media coverage of good news stories. Terrorists understand the power of brutal images to shock western audiences and this is a critical element in their strategy to shake resolve. Women voting in Kuwait, young girls attending school in Baghdad, new newspapers springing up in Cairo – none of these stories can provide the images that the news media craves.

Still, you have to love the pictures of those purple fingers!!!

Edward, from Chicago writes:
The UN and its Secretary General, in addition to be congenitally ineffective, are a corrupt disgrace. How does the UN promote OUR security? Why not invite the UN to move somewhere less cushy than New York. Perhaps Moscow or some fourth class city anywhere but here? Two more related questions, if I may: Why do we continue to give such huge amounts of aid to countries like Egypt and Jordan when anti-Americanism and fomenting of terrorism are rampant there? Why not insist on an up or down vote on Mr. Bolton so the Democrats can be forced to take a position? Mr. Bolton has been a tremendous ambassador thus far.

Scott Carpenter
President Bush clearly has expressed concerns about the efficiency and effectiveness of the United Nations, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and many others at the State Department are involved in the effort to push for organizational reform at the U.N. One of our leading advocates in New York has been Ambassador John Bolton, who has worked tirelessly to promote reform so the U.N. can better live up to its ideals. We know it won't be easy and that there's a lot to fix but we continue to believe — for now — that it's worth the effort.

Your question about U.S. foreign assistance is an excellent one. We know the problems of the past but this Administration is working to ensure the American taxpayer's money is invested not squandered and that those funds increase "returns" to the American people. That's why we're developing new ways of doing business with our traditional allies.

Joseph, from Salem writes:
Hello, it is an honor to speak with you today. In your opinion, is there hope in the Muslim world for peace? What do you think will stop the violence? I believe that it will take at least a generation until a "new" generation is born that will no longer be brainwashed to hate the West. How can the US gov't take an influence in stopping the "clash of civilizations"? Thank you very much.

Scott Carpenter
Thank you. It is my honor to speak with you.

You're right that this will take a long time. The President, too, has spoken of a generational effort. Yet, there is hope for peace in the Muslim world, and it comes in many forms. First, we have the examples of large and thriving Muslim countries such as Turkey and Indonesia that have successful, peaceful democracies. I also am inspired by the many individual Muslim reformers I come across in my work nearly every day.

Thousands of Muslims have participated in Middle East Partnership Initiative programs because they believe in economic opportunity, quality education, and empowerment for women — and because they want a voice in the future of their countries. They are doing incredible work that gives us real reasons to believe a better future is possible.

Finally, I'd like to mention other efforts to promote reform such as the Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative and the Foundation for the Future. These initiatives have the support of many countries in the Arab world and outside the Arab world. A great deal of energy and resources around the world are being devoted to a more peaceful Middle East.

Joshua, from Milwaukee wisconsin writes:
what is the united states doing to help the middle east

Scott Carpenter
The United States is investing a tremendous amount of blood and treasure to help the people of the Middle East help themselves. Our military is serving ably in difficult situations from Iraq to Afghanistan and elsewhere fighting in defense of average Iraqis and Afghanis. Their freedom is critical to ours. Beyond our men and women of the Armed Services, much support comes directly from the generosity of the American people in the form of charitable donations to private organizations doing humanitarian work or educational programs. We also work with the governments of the region to tailor specific programs and policies that support reform goals. Governments take the initiative to reform their financial, health and education sectors and we find ways to support them.

And yet another type of assistance goes to reformers in the region through the President's Middle East Partnership Initiative. This initiative has devoted more than $293 million in four years to reform efforts so democracy can spread, education can thrive, economies can grow, and women can be empowered. This work of the initiative takes many forms: election monitoring assistance, training on the political campaign process, training for free and independent media, civic education programs, business internships, a legal network for Arab women, and much more. Many of these ideas come directly from the region and have yielded great results.

Alexandre, from West Palm Beach, Florida writes:
Do you believe the war on terror is centered around winning the hearts and minds of those who oppose us?

Scott Carpenter
The war on terror has many facets. But what's clear is that there needs to be an alternative vision to extremism and hate. We must remember that our enemy is real and committed to his goal. For this reason force is needed when dealing with terrorists intent on killing innocent people. At the same time, we recognize that the pool of people ready for recruitment to terrorist causes has been hugely expanded because of the failure over the decades of many governments in the region to allow their people to flourish. A young man with a job, a wife, kids going to school with an expectation of better days ahead is not likely to succumb to the idea of blowing himself up for a few dollars. Democracy, freedom, and opportunity are the elements of an alternative vision that must over time provide the answer.

Scott Carpenter
You have posed excellent questions, and I thank you again for your time. Since you've been interested in this chat you might also be interested to know that the Presidents of Pakistan and Afghanistan will be meeting with President Bush tonight at the White House to discuss many of these same issues of great importance to all of our nations.

At 7:30 they will be making a public statement and I hope you'll check back here to read it.

As you all have pointed out there are numerous, difficult challenges facing the Middle East, challenges that are well recognized inside the region and out. In fact, the region is at an historic crossroads, in transition from an old order to a new one. The only question is in which direction will it go. Will the people of the region choose reform or will they accept an unsustainable status quo? With terrorism and a huge youth population in the region, this is not a question that can be put off for another generation. It must be answered today, and we believe the majority in the region supports the growing community of reformers who will provide a brighter future for the people of the region, and for the world. As for our efforts, President Bush has said, "Our goal is to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom, and make their own way."

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