- The Washington Times - Monday, March 7, 2005

President Bush, eager to capitalize on the trend toward democracy in the Middle East, will deliver a major foreign-policy address today, calling on world leaders to reassess their fundamental approach to the region.

“He’ll talk about how the advance of freedom and hope in the Middle East will require new thinking,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan said. “For too long, we excused what was going on in the Middle East, or turned the other way.

“And we have seen the results of that,” he added.

“Now we are working to support democratic efforts in the broader Middle East, because freedom leads to peace, and freedom is on the march in the broader Middle East.”

Mr. Bush, long pilloried for his belief that freedom could be spread throughout the Middle East, is eager to tell the world that the recent wave of democratization is a direct result of the Iraqi elections less than six weeks ago. White House officials pointed out that the elections would not have been possible without the president’s insistence on invading Iraq.

“He’ll talk about the determination and courage of the Iraqi people and how that is serving as an example for the rest of the Middle East,” Mr. McClellan said. “The president recognizes that freedom is what leads to peace.”

Mr. Bush also will use the speech at National Defense University in Washington to reject Syria’s latest offer for a partial withdrawal of its forces from Lebanon.

“The president’s said we’re not looking for half-measures here — we’re looking for full and immediate withdrawal,” said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. “Syria must leave Lebanon and leave Lebanon now.

“The time for words and communiques and statements and discussions of more meetings is really gone,” he added. “We need to see Syria in action.”

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appeared to foreshadow the president’s remarks by calling on the international community to take part in democratization efforts in the Middle East and beyond.

“We who are on the right side of freedom’s divide have an obligation to help those who are unlucky enough to be born on the wrong side of that divide,” she said yesterday at the State Department.

Administration officials were heartened when Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak recently agreed to let other candidates run for president. The trend toward democracy also reached into Lebanon, where pro-democracy demonstrations triggered the fall of the pro-Syria government.

Miss Rice suggested that such developments would not have been possible without free elections in not just Iraq, but also Afghanistan, which now has a fledgling democracy after a U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

“We have watched in awe in Afghanistan as men and women once oppressed by the Taliban walked miles and stood for hours in the snow just to cast a ballot for their first vote as a free people,” she said. “We have watched as millions of Iraqi men and women defied terrorists and cast their free votes and began their nation’s new history.”

She added: “We are seeing political reforms begin to take place in Qatar and Jordan and Egypt and Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.”

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