"The population of the Middle East is young, particularly compared with the population of the West," Romney said in prepared remarks at the Clinton Global Initiative. "And typically, these young people have few job prospects and the levels of youth unemployment across the region are excessive and chronic. In nations that have undergone a change in leadership recently, young people have greater access to information that was once carefully guarded by tyrants and dictators. They see the good as well as the bad in surrounding societies. They can now organize across vast regions, mobilizing populations. Idle, humiliated by poverty, and crushed by government corruption, their frustration and anger grows."
U.S. foreign aid must play a role in shaping the region, Romney said.
"Work. That must be at the heart of our effort to help people build economies that can create jobs for people, young and old alike," he said. "Work builds self-esteem. It transforms minds from fantasy and fanaticism to reality and grounding. Work will not long tolerate corruption nor quietly endure the brazen theft by government of the product of hard-working men and women."
Romney said as president he will "initiate 'Prosperity Pacts.' Working with the private sector, the program will identify the barriers to investment, trade and entrepreneurialism in developing nations. In exchange for removing those barriers and opening their markets to U.S. investment and trade, developing nations will receive U.S. assistance packages focused on developing the institutions of liberty, the rule of law, and property rights.
"We will focus our efforts on small and medium-size businesses." he said. "Microfinance has been an effective tool at promoting enterprise and prosperity, but we must expand support to small and medium-size businesses that are too large for microfinance, but too small for traditional banks."
Romney has been a critic of U.S. foreign policy since an anti-Islam film sparked riots across the Arab world after an attack in Libya that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other U.S. personnel.
The former Massachusetts governor said there "are three, quite legitimate, objects of our foreign aid.
"First, to address humanitarian need. ... Second, to foster a substantial United States strategic interest, be it military, diplomatic, or economic.
"And there is a third purpose, one that will receive more attention and a much higher priority in a Romney administration. And that is aid that elevates people and brings about lasting change in communities and in nations."