President Bush today portrayed the war in Iraq as the latest front in the "global democratic revolution" led by the United States. The revolution under former president Ronald Reagan freed the people of Soviet-dominated Europe, he declared, and is destined now to liberate the Middle East as well.
In a speech to the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) described as a major policy address by the White House, Bush avoided issues such as preemptive attack, weapons of mass destruction and "gathering" dangers to the United States.
While speaking to the National Endowment for Democracy, President Bush called for democracy in the Middle East.
(Ron Edmonds - AP)
Rather, he put the war in a broader context of the "2,500-year old story of democracy," in the same tradition as the "military and moral" American commitments to restoring democracy to post-War Germany, to protecting Greece from Communism during the Cold War and combating communist domination in Latin America, Europe and Asia, including, he said explicitly, Vietnam.
The nations of the Middle East, he said, are no less entitled to freedom from "despotism" than all the nations liberated in the past. He congratulated the Islamic nations he believes are making at least some progress towards democracy, mentioning Bahrain, Oman, Morocco, Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait and Yemen. And he praised the governments of Egypt, which said "should show the way toward democracy in the Middle East," and Saudi Arabia, which he said is "taking first steps toward reform, including a plan for gradual introduction of elections."
Bush also said "the demand for democracy is strong and broad" in Iran, adding, "The regime in Tehran must heed the democratic demands of the Iranian people or lose its last claim to legitimacy."
Bush delivered the speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce during an event this morning marking the 20th anniversary of the NED, a federally funded foundation that provides grants to organizations that advance democracy internationally. Later, Bush signed an $87.5 billion spending package approved by Congress for Iraq and Afghanistan.
Bush's NED speech reflected the views of a generation of neo-conservative thinkers and government leaders, who support U.S. activism in spreading democratic government and free markets to those parts of the world that have yet to adopt them.
The speech also had the earmarks of a president seeking to embed a substantive doctrine into his mission, something beyond the doctrine of preemptive war, which Bush and other administration members have invoked in justifying the attack on Iraq.
Bush said, "In the trenches of World War I, through a two-front war in the 1940s, the difficult battles of Korea and Vietnam, and in missions of rescue and liberation on nearly every continent, Americans have amply displayed our willingness to sacrifice for liberty. . . . "
Now "our commitment to democracy" is being "tested in the Middle East," he said, which "must be a focus of American policy for decades to come. In many nations in the Middle East, countries of great strategic importance, democracy has not yet taken root. And the questions arise: Are the peoples of the Middle East somehow beyond the reach of liberty? 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 have a choice in the matter?"
As for Iraq, he added, "We're working closely with Iraqi citizens as they prepare a constitution, as they move toward free elections and take increasing responsibility for their own affairs. As in the defense of Greece in 1947, and later in the Berlin Airlift, the strength and will of free peoples are now being tested before a watching world. And we will meet this test."