- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 20, 2003

LONDON — President Bush yesterday vowed the United States will no longer turn a blind eye to repression by Middle East “elites” to ensure stability, although he avoided mentioning Syria, Egypt or Saudi Arabia.

“We must shake off decades of failed policy in the Middle East,” Mr. Bush told a British think tank devoted to foreign policy. “Your nation and mine in the past have been willing to make a bargain to tolerate oppression for the sake of stability.

“Long-standing ties often led us to overlook the faults of local elites,” he said. “Yet this bargain did not bring stability or make us safe. It merely bought time while problems festered and ideologies of violence took hold.”

Although the president specifically cited Saddam Hussein and the Palestinian leadership, his comments clearly encompassed the larger Middle East, which is dominated by dictatorships and strict monarchies that have long been tolerated by the United States and Britain.

“We will expect a higher standard from our friends in the region,” said Mr. Bush, whose speech was warmly received by the Royal United Services Institute and the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“Tyranny is never benign to its victims, and our great democracies should oppose tyranny wherever it is found,” he said. “Now we’re pursuing a different course, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East. We will consistently challenge the enemies of reform and confront the allies of terror.”

Mr. Bush was unapologetic about the war in Iraq but urged European leaders who opposed the liberation to help ensure democracy flourishes there.

“[W]e did not charge hundreds of miles into the heart of Iraq and pay a bitter cost of casualties and liberate 25 million people only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins,” said Mr. Bush, whose speech used a theme of British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s: pursuing peace in the Middle East as part of the broader war on terrorism.

The speech was delivered at Whitehall Palace just hours after Mr. Bush was formally welcomed by Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh in an elaborate ceremony at Buckingham Palace. A hundred black stallions bearing soldiers in polished brass breastplates paraded in front of the palace as cannons boomed a 41-gun salute.

Mr. Bush also called on European nations, which have seen a rise in violence against Jews in recent years, to oppose anti-Semitism, saying it “poisons public debates over the future of the Middle East,” and warned Israel not to undermine peace efforts.

“Israel should freeze settlement construction, dismantle unauthorized outposts, end the daily humiliation of the Palestinian people, and not prejudice final negotiations with the placement of walls and fences,” said Mr. Bush.

Israel has said it is building a security wall around a West Bank settlement to keep suicide bombers out. Palestinians say it is an effort to hold on to the land occupied since the 1967 Middle East war.

As for Palestinians, he called on European leaders to “withdraw all favor and support from any Palestinian leader who fails his people and betrays their cause,” an apparent reference to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Despite predictions of enormous protests, only a handful of anti-Bush demonstrators showed up at the ceremony, including one man who used a bullhorn to deride both the president and prime minister.

“If you think Blair’s a poodle, shout, ‘Woof, woof,’” the man sang to the tune of “Comin’ Round the Mountain.” “If you think the war’s for oil, shout, ‘No war.’”

The man’s singing was drowned out by a British ceremonial guard playing the American national anthem.

A few hours later, protesters numbered in the hundreds near Whitehall Palace, prompting the president to joke about British liberals.

“It was pointed out to me that the last noted American to visit London stayed in a glass box dangling over the Thames,” he said, referring to performance artist David Blaine. “A few might have been happy to provide similar arrangements for me.

“I thank her majesty, the queen, for interceding,” he said. “We’re honored to be staying at her house.”

Instead of criticizing the protesters, Mr. Bush celebrated their right to free speech, noting: “They now have that right in Baghdad as well.”

Recalling that the last American president to stay at Buckingham Palace was Woodrow Wilson in 1918, Mr. Bush took a jab at France for not supporting the U.S.-led war against Iraq.

“President Wilson had come to Europe with his 14 points for peace — many complimenting him on this vision,” the president said. “Yet some were dubious.

“Take, for example, the prime minister of France,” he said. “He complained that God himself had only Ten Commandments. Sounds familiar.”

Mindful that a minority of Britons criticize America for its moral stances, the president pointed out that the trait was essentially imported from Britain.

“Americans have on occasion been called moralists, who often speak in terms of right and wrong,” he said. “That zeal has been inspired by examples on this island, by the tireless compassion of Lord Shaftesbury, the righteous courage of Wilberforce, and the firm determination of the Royal Navy over the decades to fight and end the trade in slaves.

“It’s rightly said that Americans are a religious people. That’s in part because of the ‘Good News’ that was translated by Tyndale, preached by Wesley, lived out in the example of William Booth.

“At times, Americans are even said to have a puritan streak,” he said. “And where might that have come from? Well, we can start with the Puritans.”

As the day wore on, protesters gathered in larger numbers at locations throughout London. Security remained extraordinarily tight as Mr. Bush returned to Buckingham Palace for a state dinner with the queen and her husband.

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