- The Washington Times - Monday, November 21, 2005

ULAN BATOR, Mongolia — President Bush, the first sitting U.S. head of state to visit this desert nation wedged between Russia and China, yesterday praised the fledgling democracy for choosing freedom over communism.

“Fifteen years ago, Mongolians gathered outside this great hall by the thousands — braving sub-zero temperatures and defying a repressive regime to demand their liberty,” the president said in the massive Government House next to an enormous square where statues of communists once stood.

“The protesters included students, workers, and monks — and a group of young democrats on a hunger strike for freedom. By the force of their convictions, they drove the communist leadership from power. Within months, free elections were held, and a free Mongolia was born. Today, one of the young hunger strikers who stood vigil outside this building now serves inside as the prime minister of his free nation.”

Holding up the nation as an example, the president’s words were aimed in part at communist China, which he left the day before.

“Mongolia has made the transition from communism to freedom, and in just 15 years, you have established a vibrant democracy and opened up your economy. You are an example of success for this region and the world,” Mr. Bush said.

“Free people did not falter in the Cold War, and free people will not falter in the war on terror,” the president said to applause.

The president also praised Mongolia, birthplace of Genghis Khan and once the center of one of the world’s great empires, for sending troops to Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The Mongolian armed forces are serving the cause of freedom — and U.S. forces are proud to serve beside such fearless warriors,” Mr. Bush said. “In Iraq, Mongolian forces have helped make possible a stunning transformation.”

Although the number of soldiers is small — slightly more than 100 — the Alaska-sized nation of just 2.7 million inhabitants is the fourth-largest contributor to the U.S.-led coalition per capita.

Mr. Bush and first lady Laura Bush arrived in the smog-filled city for just a four-hour visit on their final stop of an eight-day, four-country Asian tour. Thousands lined the road, cheering and waving, to greet Mr. Bush’s motorcade from the airport.

Soldiers and police stood on the frozen plains, with the daytime temperatures hovering around 10 degrees.

At an arrival ceremony in front of Government House, Mr. Bush and Mongolian President Nambaryn Enkhbayar reviewed an honor guard decked out in blue, red and gold as hundreds cheered.

They then held a meeting inside an ornately decorated traditional “ger,” a round tent made of felt, common among the country’s nomadic herdsmen, set up in a courtyard.

In his speech, Mr. Bush praised two Mongolian security troops, who in February 2004 were guarding a Polish base in Hilla in south-central Iraq when they spotted a suspicious vehicle driving toward the camp and shot the driver dead, stopping what turned out to be a would-be suicide bomber.

Mr. Bush compared the fate of communism in many nations to the U.S. goals in Iraq.

“Like the ideology of communism, the ideology of Islamic radicalism is destined to fail, because the will to power is no match for the universal desire to live in freedom,” he said.

Mr. Enkhbayar said, “This visit has historic significance because it proves that Mongolia has a third neighbor.”

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