- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 19, 2005

President Bush said yesterday he was not worried that the spread of democracy in the Middle East will give birth to greater anti-Americanism and lead to the rise of radicals in power.

“I believe that a true, free society, one that self-governs, one that listens to the people, will be a peaceful society — not an angry society, but a peaceful society,” Mr. Bush said during an interview with the Lebanese Broadcasting Company, which aired in that country in prime time last night. “If that’s the ultimate feeling of the people, the government — if it’s a true democracy — will reflect that.”

Mr. Bush reiterated his demand that Syria “get completely out of Lebanon,” said he will “keep the pressure on” the terrorist group Hezbollah and warned that if the Lebanese want to succeed as a democracy, they must get control over their rogue militias.

The president said he didn’t think his support for freedom in Lebanon would be seen as meddling in the country’s affairs.

“I think people will see that the United States is consistent in working with the people so that they can have a free voice and so they get to decide the government,” Mr. Bush said. “The people of Lebanon will decide who is in their government, not the United States.”

The president, however, made it clear that the support of the United States comes with conditions.

“You can’t have a free country if a group of people are like an armed militia,” Mr. Bush said, referring to the Lebanese Shi’ite Muslim militia. “In other words, there needs to be police organized by the state, a military organized by the state. But citizens groups that are armed, trying to impose their will on a free society, is just not the definition of a free society.”

Mr. Bush said he will continue to pressure Syria to complete its pullout of military and intelligence personnel and said he hopes they would be gone before Lebanon’s parliamentary elections in May.

“I am pleased that they’re beginning to get out, and we expect them to be completely out,” he said. “And I mean not only the troops, but the people … that have been embedded in parts of government, some of the intelligence services that have been embedded in government and others.”

Mr. Bush indicated that the U.S. considers Hezbollah a major terrorist organization that will be monitored closely.

“We put Hezbollah on the terrorist list for a reason; they’ve killed Americans in the past,” he said. “We will continue to work with the international community to keep the pressure on this group of people.”

Mr. Bush also disagreed with those who suggest that his vision of spreading democracy throughout the Arab world is misguided and only could increase the region’s anti-American sentiment.

“I guess they don’t really understand me, and they don’t understand my view of freedom, because I think freedom is embedded in everybody’s soul,” the president said. “I do believe there is an Almighty God, and I believe that freedom is that Almighty God’s gift to each man and woman in this world.”

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