- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 9, 2005

President Bush, declaring that Middle East dictatorships can no longer be “bought off,” yesterday called on the international community to fan the flames of freedom spreading across the region.

“All free nations must stand with the forces of democracy and justice that have begun to transform the Middle East,” Mr. Bush said at the National Defense University in Washington.

“The chances of democratic progress in the broader Middle East have seemed frozen in place for decades,” he added. “Yet at last, clearly and suddenly, the thaw has begun.”

It was the president’s first major foreign-policy address since the fall of Lebanon’s pro-Syrian government and other signs of democratization in the Middle East in recent weeks. The developments, which caught many observers by surprise, came in the wake of Iraq’s first free elections on Jan. 30.

“Across the Middle East, a critical mass of events is taking that region in a hopeful new direction,” he said. “Authoritarian rule is not the wave of the future; it is the last gasp of a discredited past.”

Mr. Bush also rejected Syrian President Bashar Assad’s offer to partially withdraw 14,000 troops from Lebanon. The president favors a full withdrawal before Lebanese elections in May.

“The Lebanese people have heard the speech by the Syrian president,” Mr. Bush said. “They’ve seen these delaying tactics and half-measures before.

“All Syrian military forces and intelligence personnel must withdraw before the Lebanese elections for those elections to be free and fair,” he added. “The elections in Lebanon must be fully and carefully monitored by international observers.”

Some members of Congress have proposed giving Mr. Bush extra tools to push his Syria policy.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican, and Rep. Eliot L. Engel, New York Democrat, introduced the Lebanon and Syria Liberation Act, under which the president would impose sanctions on other nations that aid Syria’s missile or weapons programs. It also instructs the executive branch to oppose international loans for Syria or Syrian bids for leadership positions at the United Nations.

Mr. Engel and Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen said their bill continues the work of the Syria Accountability Act, which was passed in 2003 and called for sanctions on Syria itself.

“It’s futile to resist the spread of freedom and democracy in the Middle East,” Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen said.

The Jan. 30 Iraq elections have been widely viewed as a catalyst for democratization of the broader Middle East, even by many who were critical of the Bush administration’s policy in Iraq. Yesterday, Mr. Bush obliquely referred to the months of intense criticism he received during Iraq’s postwar difficulties.

“Encouraging democracy in that region is … a difficult commitment, demanding patience and resolve — when the headlines are good and when the headlines aren’t so good,” he said.

Encouraged by the swiftness of developments in the Middle East, Mr. Bush championed the “ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.” The president suggested that prior to September 11, the United States and other Western nations often turned a blind eye to Mideast tyrants.

“Decades of excusing and accommodating tyranny, in the pursuit of stability, have only led to injustice and instability and tragedy,” Mr. Bush said. “This status quo of despotism and anger cannot be ignored or appeased, kept in a box or bought off.”

Citing recent municipal elections in Saudi Arabia and the blossoming of democracy in Afghanistan, Mr. Bush made it clear that the dominoes have begun to topple in the Middle East.

“Pervasive fear is the foundation of every dictatorial regime — the prop that holds up all power not based on consent,” he said. “And when the regime of fear is broken, and the people find their courage and find their voice, democracy is their goal — and tyrants, themselves, have reason to fear.”

The president emphasized that democratization of the Middle East fulfills the ultimate goal of his foreign policy — to secure America’s safety by draining terrorist breeding grounds.

“Our security increasingly depends on the hope and progress of other nations now simmering in despair and resentment,” he said. “And that hope and progress is found only in the advance of freedom.

“This advance is a consistent theme of American strategy — from the Fourteen Points to the Four Freedoms to the Marshall Plan to the Reagan Doctrine,” he added.

“The trumpet of freedom has been sounded, and that trumpet never calls retreat.”

• Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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