Ideas to Action:

Independent research for global prosperity


Views from the Center


One passage in President Obama's Middle East speech today caught my attention:

So, drawing from what we’ve learned around the world, we think it’s important to focus on trade, not just aid; on investment, not just assistance. The goal must be a model in which protectionism gives way to openness, the reigns of commerce pass from the few to the many, and the economy generates jobs for the young. America’s support for democracy will therefore be based on ensuring financial stability, promoting reform, and integrating competitive markets with each other and the global economy. And we’re going to start with Tunisia and Egypt.

I hear an echo of a core message of the Center for Global Development and our Commitment to Development Index: nations are linked in many ways---through aid, commerce, migration, environment, technology. Governments influence all of these channels, meaning that there are many ways to help spread freedom and prosperity. Helping takes more than aid.

The CDI rates rich-country governments on how much they are helping poor countries in these policy areas. The standard CDI measures "commitment to development" with respect to all developing countries. But with a few clicks on the "Results with respect to" menu, you can rank countries on their policies with respect to a specific region such as the Middle East & North Africa. This lets you rank countries on such things as:

  • The quantity and quality of their foreign aid to the region.
  • The barriers they erect to imports from the region, especially manufactures and agriculture.
  • How many immigrants they accept from the region.
  • Exports of fighter jets and other armaments to undemocratic regimes in the region.
  • Financial and troop contributions to peacekeeping and military operations backed by international mandate---which excludes the invasion of Iraq, but will include the U.N.-endorsed operation in Libya once the data roll in.

(Three components of the CDI---investment, environment, and technology---are not differentiated by region, so they are the same as in the global CDI.)

How does the U.S. stack up on development policy in the Middle East? Not so hot. Here is a screen shot. The ranking on the left puts the U.S. at 16 out of 22. Details of the U.S. scores on the right (keeping in mind that a score of 5 is average).

America ranks high on aid because of substantial giving to Egypt and Jordan. And its trade barriers are low by the standards of its peers (though still leaving plenty of room for improvement). But for a country its size, the U.S. hosts few immigrants from the region, meaning relatively few opportunities to get a U.S. education or participate in the U.S. economy, pick up skills, and send home money. Within the security component, the United States is off the charts when it comes to using its navy to protect international sea lanes for trade and posting personnel to internationally backed peacekeeping operations (notably, 700 troops posted to the Egypt-Israel border); but it is pulled down by arms exports to Saudi Arabia. (To get closer to such details, click one of the component tabs along the top of the map, then click the bar at along the bottom to see what the component is based on.)

If the U.S. government is serious about helping the people of Middle East achieve greater prosperity and freedom, there is plenty it can do. The CDI for the Middle East and North Africa offers a first draft of an agenda for action.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.