Soon after the conclusion of World War II, America committed itself to the long-term transformation of Europe. Surveying the war's death and destruction -- including the loss of hundreds of thousands of American lives -- our policymakers set out to work for a Europe where another war was unthinkable. We and the people of Europe committed to the vision of democracy and prosperity, and together we succeeded.

Today America and our friends and allies must commit ourselves to a long-term transformation in another part of the world: the Middle East. A region of 22 countries with a combined population of 300 million, the Middle East has a combined GDP less than that of Spain, population 40 million. It is held back by what leading Arab intellectuals call a political and economic "freedom deficit." In many quarters a sense of hopelessness provides a fertile ground for ideologies of hatred that persuade people to forsake university educations, careers and families and aspire instead to blow themselves up -- taking as many innocent lives with them as possible.

These ingredients are a recipe for regional instability -- and pose a continuing threat to America's security.

Our task is to work with those in the Middle East who seek progress toward greater democracy, tolerance, prosperity and freedom.

As President Bush said in February, "The world has a clear interest in the spread of democratic values, because stable and free nations do not breed ideologies of murder. They encourage the peaceful pursuit of a better life."

Let us be clear: America and the coalition went to war in Iraq because Saddam Hussein's regime posed a threat to the security of the United States and to the world. This was a regime that pursued, had used and possessed weapons of mass destruction; had links to terror; twice invaded other nations; defied the international community and 17 U.N. resolutions for 12 years -- and gave every indication that it would never disarm and never comply with the just demands of the world.

Today that threat is gone. And with the liberation of Iraq, there is a special opportunity to advance a positive agenda for the Middle East that will strengthen security in the region and throughout the world. We are already seeing evidence of a new commitment to forging ahead with peace among Israelis and Palestinians.

At the Red Sea Summits in June, Israelis, Palestinians and neighboring Arab states united behind the vision the president has set forth -- a vision of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. Israeli leaders increasingly understand that it is in Israel's own interest for Palestinians to govern themselves in a viable state that is peaceful, democratic and committed to fighting terror. Palestinian leaders increasingly understand that terror is not a means to Palestinian statehood but instead the greatest obstacle to statehood.

The end of Saddam Hussein's regime also reinforces the progress already underway across the region. Arab intellectuals have called for Arab governments to address the freedom deficit. Regional leaders have spoken of a new Arab charter that champions internal reform, greater political participation, economic openness and free trade. From Morocco to the Persian Gulf, nations are taking genuine steps toward political and economic openness. The United States supports these steps, and we will work with our friends and allies in the region for more.

Even greater opportunities will come once Hussein's criminal regime is replaced by an Iraqi government that is just, humane and built upon democratic principles. Much as a democratic Germany became a linchpin of a new Europe that is today whole, free and at peace, so a transformed Iraq can become a key element of a very different Middle East in which the ideologies of hate will not flourish. And in the nearly 100 days since major combat operations ended in Iraq, the Iraqi people have reclaimed their country and begun to forge a more hopeful future. As this transition to freedom continues, America will work with other nations to help Iraqis achieve greater security and greater opportunity.

The transformation of the Middle East will not be easy, and it will take time. It will require the broad engagement of America, Europe and all free nations, working in full partnership with those in the region who share our belief in the power of human freedom. This is not primarily a military commitment but one that will require us to engage all aspects of our national power -- diplomatic, economic and cultural. For instance, President Bush has launched the Middle East Partnership Initiative to bind us together in building a better future through concrete projects. He further has proposed establishing a U.S.-Middle East free trade area within a decade, to bring the people of the region into an expanding circle of opportunity.

For all its problems, the Middle East is a region of tremendous potential. It is the birthplace and spiritual home of three of the world's great faiths, and an ancient center of learning and tolerance and progress. It is filled with talented, resourceful people who -- when blessed with greater political and economic freedom and better, more modern education -- can fully join in the progress of our times.

America is determined to help the people of the Middle East achieve their full potential. We will act because we want greater freedom and opportunity for the people of the region, as well as greater security for people in America and throughout the world.

The writer is national security adviser to the president.