By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 14, 2008
PARIS, June 13 -- President Bush declared here Friday that Western nations must lift up the Middle East in the same way that the United States helped war-ruined Europe rebuild after World War II.
"The rise of free and prosperous societies in the broader Middle East is essential to peace in the 21st century, just as the rise of a free and prosperous Europe was essential to peace in the 20th century," Bush said, addressing an audience gathered for the 60th anniversary of the U.S. reconstruction initiative known as the Marshall Plan. "Europe and America must stand with reformers, democratic leaders and millions of ordinary people across the Middle East who seek a future of hope, liberty and peace."
In a valedictory speech that contained little of the tough talk that has often defined his foreign policy rhetoric, Bush proclaimed the start of a new era of cooperation between Europe and the United States. Unity is taking hold after years of transatlantic discord over the Iraq war, global warming and other issues, he said.
He called for Europe and the United States to stand firm together with the government of Afghanistan, "a brave young democracy determined to defeat al-Qaeda and the Taliban." U.S. officials, led by first lady Laura Bush, have been making the rounds in Europe this week attempting to raise pledges of $50 billion for the struggling pro-Western government in Afghanistan. About $21 billion has been raised so far, about half from the United States.
Bush delivered his address after calling at the Vatican to meet with Pope Benedict XVI, who recently visited the United States. The two leaders took a stroll through the lush Vatican Gardens on Friday, stopping at a grotto where the pontiff prays daily.
"Your Eminence, you're looking good," Bush told the pope.
Later on Friday, in Paris, Bush and the first lady attended a state dinner with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni, the former fashion model whose whirlwind marriage to the new French leader has captured headlines for months.
In the speech, billed by the White House as the centerpiece of an eight-day trip through Europe, Bush drew strong parallels between past events and a more peaceful future in Iraq and Afghanistan, a common theme of recent presidential speeches. He has frequently argued lately that his legacy, while now defined by war and conflict, will reveal him to be a "man of peace," as he put it in a recent interview with the London newspaper the Times.
There were only two passing references to military force in Bush's address, which was delivered at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a successor to the group that doled out Marshall Plan money to rebuild Europe following World War II.
Bush singled out Sarkozy for praise for pledging money and more French troops for the continued military campaign against Taliban forces in Afghanistan. He cited "a commitment to a powerful and purposeful Europe" by Sarkozy and three other leaders: German Chancellor Angela Merkel; Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whom he met with earlier in the week; and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who he is slated to meet with Sunday.
Citing a "revitalization of the relationship" between Europe and the United States, Bush said: "Instead of dwelling on our differences, we're increasingly united in our interests and ideals." He referred to the Suez crisis of the 1950s and fights over missile bases in Europe in the 1980s, saying that "with the distance of time, we can see these differences for what they were -- fleeting disagreements between friends."
Bush argued that "since 2001, the freedom movement has been advancing in the Middle East." He cited elections and voting reform in Saudi Arabia and other states, noting that the world's democracies have grown in number from 45 to 120 in the last three decades. "This is a strange time to doubt the power of liberty," Bush said.
Reginald Dale, a senior fellow for European affairs at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, disputed Bush's comparison of postwar Europe to the modern Middle East. He noted that there is no comparable plan to pour development money into a region still foundering in military conflict. "It's a false analogy," he said.