- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 1, 2003

President Bush's Wednesday night speech on his vision for the post-war Middle East revealed an American president fully seized of a classic Wilsonian passion to nurture nay, force democratic government on a troubled world. It also revealed a president coldly determined to disarm rogue states of their weapons of mass destruction.
In the chancelleries of Iran, Syria, Libya, North Korea and other rogue states, policy planners will surely be studying closely the president's words: "Across the world we are hunting down the killers … And we are opposing the greatest danger in the war on terror outlaw regimes arming with weapons of mass destruction. … The passing of Saddam Hussein's regime will deprive terrorists networks of a wealthy patron … And other regimes will be given a clear warning that support for terror will not be tolerated." Whether those words induce change or defiance in the threatened states, the next year or two are likely to be over-brimming with international high drama, change and possibly conflict.
For any American president, the threatened release of such military violence can only be justified both internally in his conscience, and externally by the public if it is premised on a high moral cause. And it is in President Bush's speech that we saw last Wednesday one of the highest American presidential expressions of belief in the universality and imminence of Democracy: "It is presumptuous and insulting to suggest that a whole region of the world or the one-fifth of humanity that is Muslim is somehow untouched by the most basic aspirations of life … freedom and democracy will always and everywhere have greater appeal than the slogans of hatred and the tactics of terror."
The president went on to propose to test that vision in the next few months in Iraq and Palestine neither of which has seen democracy since the dawn of civilization broke over the Tigris and Jordan Rivers thousands of years ago: "The nation of Iraq … is fully capable of moving toward democracy and living in freedom. … Success in Iraq could also begin a new stage for Middle Eastern peace and set in motion progress towards a truly democratic Palestinian state." Mr. Bush went on to call on Israel to end the West Bank settlements and permit a viable Palestinian state, while Palestine must give up its terrorism. The bill on that commitment will come due shortly after the end of hostilities in the Iraqi war. Both the moderate Arab states and the United States, along with Israel and the Palestinians, will have to accomplish what has never been accomplished before in the Middle East, or the president's words will be shown to be just that words.
Those media commentators who characterized the speech as merely preparing the public for war, or sending a signal to moderate Arab states, or allaying fears of post-war instability, missed the larger substantive point. President Bush is not a man for whom words are particularly friendly or an end in themselves; he uses them only for the truth of the matter stated. But he may be our most stubborn, determined and action-oriented president since Andy Jackson. Intellectuals talk breezily about democracy, and then talk about something else. We suspect that having said these words this week, President Bush intends to go about the practical business of trying to implement them. It will be stunning if he succeeds, a bloody mess if he fails, and not many alternatives in between.

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