- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 6, 2003

President Bush yesterday condemned 60 years of failed Western policy that supported Middle East governments not devoted to political freedom, and urged Iran, Syria and the Palestinian Authority to move swiftly toward democracy.

The president cautioned against accepting a continuation of the status quo in the region, warning that the new world order after the September 11 terrorist attacks requires the United States and other civilized nations to act.

“Sixty years of Western nations’ excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe, because, in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty,” Mr. Bush said in a speech at the National Endowment for Democracy.

“As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment and violence ready for export. And with the spread of weapons that can bring catastrophic harm to our country and to our friends, it would be reckless to accept the status quo.”

With many Western nations choosing not to join the United States in the war in and subsequent rebuilding of Iraq, the president warned against forgetting the lessons of World War II and the Cold War.

“Every nation has learned — or should have learned — an important lesson: Freedom is worth fighting for, dying for and standing for — and the advance of freedom leads to peace,” he said. “Liberty is both the plan of heaven for humanity, and the best hope for progress here on earth.”

The National Endowment for Democracy, created by Congress in 1983, was the site of a famous speech by President Reagan that year on global democracy. Mr. Bush yesterday invoked the deeds of Mr. Reagan.

“President Reagan said that the day of Soviet tyranny was passing, that freedom had a momentum which would not be halted. … Some observers on both sides of the Atlantic pronounced the speech simplistic and naive, and even dangerous. In fact, Ronald Reagan’s words were courageous and optimistic and entirely correct,” he said, drawing applause from several hundred people who attended the endowment’s 20th anniversary.

Most nations in the Middle East are under the control of monarchs or militaries. Turkey is the only Muslim democracy in the region.

“Are the peoples of the Middle East somehow beyond the reach of liberty?” Mr. Bush asked. “Are millions of men and women and children condemned by history or culture to live in despotism? Are they alone never to know freedom and never even to have a choice in the matter?

“I, for one, do not believe it. I believe every person has the ability and the right to be free,” he said.

Although the United States for years has supported authoritarian governments throughout the region, Mr. Bush said the United States would continue a “new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East.” However, he cited no specifics.

But he praised Morocco, Bahrain, Egypt and Saudi Arabia for their recent steps toward democracy.

“Many Middle Eastern governments now understand that military dictatorship and theocratic rule are a straight, smooth highway to nowhere,” Mr. Bush said, adding that Saudi leaders “can demonstrate true leadership in the region” by giving more power to the people.

Egypt, a longtime U.S. ally and a major power in the region, “has shown the way toward peace in the Middle East and now can show the way toward democracy in the Middle East,” he said.

The president singled out Iranian, Syrian and Palestinian leaders for criticism.

“The regime in Tehran must heed the democratic demands of the Iranian people or lose its last claim to legitimacy,” he said.

Mr. Bush grouped Syria with Iraq, saying: “Dictators in Iraq and Syria promised the restoration of national honor, a return to ancient glories. They’ve left instead a legacy of torture, oppression, misery and ruin.”

On the Palestinians, Mr. Bush said, “The Palestinian leaders who block and undermine democratic reform and feed hatred and encourage violence are not leaders at all. They are the main obstacles to peace and to the success of the Palestinian people.”

But the president made it clear that he does not desire all nations to mirror the United States.

“As we watch and encourage reforms in the region, we are mindful that modernization is not the same as westernization. Representative governments in the Middle East will reflect their own cultures. They will not and should not look like us,” he said.

Although the “sacrifices of Americans have not always been recognized or appreciated,” Mr. Bush said, the United States is doing its part to ensure freedom takes hold in at least some nations in the Middle East.

“The Middle East region will either become a place of progress and peace, or it will remain a source of violence and terror,” the president said yesterday before he signed a bill that will provide $87.5 billion for military operations and rebuilding efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We’re determined to see the triumph of progress and the triumph of peace in that region. We will do all in our power to ensure that freedom finds a lasting home in Afghanistan and in Iraq.”

In his earlier speech, he set out in stark terms what is at stake for the United States and the world.

“The failure of Iraqi democracy would embolden terrorists around the world, increase dangers to the American people and extinguish the hopes of millions in the region. Iraqi democracy will succeed — and that success will send forth the news, from Damascus to Tehran — that freedom can be the future of every nation.

“The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution,” the president said, adding that “the strength and will of free peoples are now being tested before a watching world, and we will meet this test.”

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