Reflections on my Time in Jordan

Published July 3rd, 2008 - 05:11 GMT

Nearly five years ago, President Bush made that statement while meeting with His Majesty King Abdullah II in the rural setting of Camp David.  That meeting, one of many between the leaders of our two countries, took place shortly after I returned to Jordan for my second diplomatic assignment here, initially as the American Deputy Chief of Mission, and then as Ambassador.  As I prepare to depart Jordan this month after a wonderful half-decade tenure, the President’s words ring just as true today:  our multi-generational friendship is robust, the benefits of our partnership are evident, and our common effort to build Middle East peace and stability is vital. 


            This beautiful, historically rich country has become almost a second home to me, and I will be leaving it with a mix of admiration and sadness.   I first served in Amman as a junior diplomat eighteen years ago.  So, I carry with me two mental snapshots, the Jordan I saw 18 years ago, and the Jordan I see today.  The change has been breathtaking.  Sometimes a foreigner can notice things about a country that a native citizen might take for granted, as the Frenchman Alexis DeTocqueville showed Americans after his travels there in 1831. 


            For example, the Jordan of 1990 had a largely state-run economy, and one too dependent on foreign remittances and foreign aid.  As a result, its economy was not dynamic.  Today, Jordan is implementing an impressive vision of change, put forth by His Majesty.  It is a vision that embraces the free market.  It is a vision that welcomes foreign investment.  It is a vision that promotes free trade as an engine for growth.  It is a vision that is building a knowledge-based economy and giving Jordanians the skills, opportunities and experience needed to compete in the global marketplace.  It is a vision that is producing results, with high and sustained levels of growth. 


            I’m struck by how much Jordan has changed in the last few years, let alone since the early 1990s.  Amman is bustling with new construction.  Aqaba is undergoing a dramatic transformation from a quiet port to a thriving tourist and commercial center, destined to be a major hub in the Red Sea zone.  New highways have been built, new universities have opened, and international conventioneers have been lured to the Dead Sea by the tens of thousands due to new hotels and amenities.  These new businesses, construction, and investment are generating income and jobs -- jobs that are made available to people not because of who they know, but because of what they have to offer. 


            The United States has been a supporting partner of Jordan in this economic development, through the many assistance and training programs undertaken by our Agency for International Development (USAID).


            USAID’s program in Jordan builds on a successful record of U.S. assistance over the past 50 years.  Today, Jordan is the largest recipient of American development assistance, measured on a per capita basis.  Over the past five decades, USAID has helped Jordan achieve its own goals in such key sectors as water, agriculture, economic development, education, health, tourism, and infrastructure development.  Specific achievements resulting from this cooperative effort include:


       constructing the King Abdullah Canal providing water for Amman and the Jordan Valley;

       designing and building 21 water and wastewater treatment facilities impacting 80% of the population;

       constructing and improving eight roads and five highways, including the Amman-Dead Sea highway;

       building 168 rural schools serving over 150,000 Jordanian boys and girls;

       enrolling 200,000 students in entrepreneurship skills courses;

       facilitating over 207,000 microfinance loans, 80% of which are to women;

       facilitating two-way trade between the U.S. and Jordan valued at over $2.1 billion;

       designing and building the Aqaba International Industrial Estate, drawing foreign and domestic investment creating thousands of jobs;

       restoring tourist sites in Petra, Jerash, and Madaba;

       constructing the first tuberculosis center and School of Nursing;

       eradicating of malaria;

       and, renovating of 318 primary health clinics across the country.



            During the past five years, we’ve also increased greatly the number of exchange programs for Jordanians, from the prestigious Fulbright post-graduate scholarships to programs that send Jordanian teachers to the U.S. and bring American students to Jordan.  Judges, journalists, civil society activists, and members of parliament among others have all visited America through these programs.  The exchange of views that these visits facilitate benefits both of us, and enhances our mutual understanding and friendship.  Cultural exchanges have witnessed a resurgence, with American dance and musical groups coming to Jordan, and Jordanian music and fashion slated to be an important part of the Kennedy Center’s Festival of Arab Arts in Washington next year.


            Private sector exchanges have flourished as well.  To cite just one example, with American government assistance the M.D. Anderson Cancer Clinic in Houston has joined with the King Hussein Cancer Center in Amman to expand care for cancer patients in Jordan, with a particular focus on the prevention and treatment of breast cancer.


            Under the leadership of His Majesty King Abdullah II, Jordan has been an important and wise partner in building peace and stability in the Middle East.  We have worked closely with Jordan in our effort to do what we can to help Israelis and Palestinians achieve a shared goal of an independent, viable Palestinian state living in peace with its neighbors.  The King’s address before Congress in 2007 drew 17 rounds of applause from American legislators, and His Majesty’s counsel on all issues related to the region is valued in my country. 


            Moreover, we have worked closely with Jordan on countering the plague of extremism which has harmed both our peoples.  Jordanians have led the way in countering extremism by promoting understanding and acceptance of cultural and religious differences.  The Amman Message and the Amman Interfaith Message counter the hate-filled ideologies of violent extremists.  These messages and efforts are admired in America.


            I leave Jordan on the eve of the 60th anniversary of U.S.-Jordanian relations.  Our relationship has never been stronger or closer.  That’s not to say that we agree on everything, for even close friends can and do sometimes disagree on various positions or approaches to solving problems.  But we share the same goals of peace and prosperity for our peoples.  The many, varied ties our two peoples enjoy will keep the relationship healthy, beneficial, and fruitful for years to come. 


            It is saddening to leave such a hospitable country where I have made many friends, visited many fascinating historical sites, and made lasting memories.  But I also leave with boundless admiration for the way Jordan is facing its challenges and seizing its opportunities.  The bonds between Americans and Jordanians are strong ones, and are built on respect for each other’s country, heritage, and society.  I hope, in the years to come, to return many times.




* David Hale is American Ambassador to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan



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