Politics & Policy

Romania Knows

Been there; ready to help Iraq.

When debating the reconstruction of Iraq, not many countries can say, “Been there–done that.” But Romania can–now that it has won a seat on the U.N. Security Council.

The horrors Saddam Hussein inflicted upon Iraqis thankfully were matched by few modern tyrants. Yet one was Nicolae Ceausescu, who ruled and ruined his country for roughly as long as Hussein–a quarter century or so. The devastation inflicted on their states’ economies and infrastructures was matched by the devastation in the formation and spirit of their people. Iraq and Romania have nearly identical populations of 23 or so million. The recent U.N. vote in favor of a Romanian seat at the security table is a sort of capstone to this era of Romanian history and a beacon for a grander role in world affairs.

While U.N. ambassadors from sundry dictatorships urge the Iraqi Government Council to draft a democratic constitution within one year, it took Romania nearly two after its dictator’s demise. And its post-1989 “Founding Fathers” (and “Mothers”) could draft the document without gunfire and explosions ringing in their ears.

Because Romanians recently resumed theirs as a “normal country,” they’re willing to help Iraqis and Afghans do likewise. While no great military might, and with gobs of domestic priorities grabbing its leaders, Romania posts 1,800 troops in the two newly liberated nations. Other Europeans–especially French and Germans–ask why Romanians divert scarce resources to aid these Islamic states. The Romanian ambassador to the U.S. told me how his citizens understand their post-liberation depression. Romanians shared their immediate exhilaration and know their misery in contemplating the awesome tasks ahead. Most French or Germans can’t identify so closely.

After Ceausescu and his Lady Macbeth-ean wife were captured and justly killed, during Christmas season 1989, Romanians (for the first time) could honestly survey the damage the terrible two had inflicted. Even worse than Iraq today, Romania then had less than one percent of its GDP in the private sector.

Now some 70 percent GDP is private, with only 30 percent in government hands. Since 2000, the growth of its GDP has run at 5 percent, quite stellar for any European economy. Exports have grown by nearly 20 percent.

Civil and political freedoms are granted, and elections are fair. Corruption lingers as a corrosive factor, and experience is lacking in to assure its economic and democratic reforms become permanent.

While Romania aspires to join the European Union, it readies to join NATO. Last May, the U.S. Senate ratified its ascension into history’s most-successful alliance.

While helping abroad, the Romanian government helps at home, too. It has even developed a model AIDS program, which is rare among newly developing nations.

The Romanian government formed a neat partnership with Merck, for both prevention and treatment of AIDS. Due to Communism’s constant jimmying of the books–lying to its own people–and hiding horrendous health harms, many post-Communist countries suffer mega-AIDS woes. Russia seems headed for an AIDS wreck, if that isn’t happening already.

But the Romania-Merck team established an exemplary AIDS-prevention and -treatment program. Last year, it achieved its prime goal of providing antiretroviral therapy to 100 percent of patients needing treatment.

This is especially heartening since in Romania, rare among countries, the majority of those AIDS-infected are children. So the coming generation most benefits from a high-treatment rate–among all diagnosed with HIV and AIDS–of around 61 percent, roughly equal to those of more experienced and wealthier Western democracies–66 percent in the U.K., and 65 percent in Portugal.

Having gone through a Saddam-like ordeal, and having then done much wrong and lately a lot right, Romania could make a real contribution to the U.N. Security Council as it oversees the rehabilitation of Iraq.

I can envision the day when the Romanian ambassador to the U.N.–the representative of a state which overcame plagues like tyranny and AIDS–greets the Iraqi ambassador after announcing Iraq’s political and economic rehabilitation, with an outstretched arm, and smiling, “Welcome aboard!

Ken Adelman was a U.N. ambassador and arms-control director in the 1980s, accompanying President Reagan on his superpower summits with Mikhail Gorbachev. He now serves on the Defense Policy Board, and cohosts www.TechCentralStation.com.

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