Citing hopeful signs from Lebanon to Afghanistan, President George Bush said today that democracy is beginning to spread across the Middle East and that authoritarian rule is “the last gasp of a discredited past".
He demanded anew that Syria pull its troops out of Lebanon and allow free elections.
“All Syrian military forces and intelligence personnel must withdraw before the Lebanese elections for these elections to be free and fair,” said the president
“Freedom will prevail in Lebanon,” Bush declared in a speech at Washington’s National Defence University, a centre for professional military education. “The American people are on your side.”
Bush’s speech was described as an update on the war on terrorism, a struggle that he linked with repressive conditions in the Middle East that he said give rise to extremism.
As he spoke the militant group Hezbollah rallied almost half a million people in a Beirut square who shouted anti-American slogans in a show of defiance and support for Syria.
“The advance of hope in the Middle East requires new thinking in the region,” the president said. “By now it should be clear that authoritarian rule is not the wave of the future. It is the last gasp of a discredited past.”
Bush said the entire world has “an urgent interest in the progress and hope and freedom in the broader Middle East.”
“Our duty is now clear,” he said. “For the sake of our long-term security, all free nations must stand with the forces of democracy and justice that have begun to transform the Middle East.”
Bush’s speech on terrorism marked a return to the trademark theme of his successful re-election campaign. After the election, Bush turned his focus to an uphill battle to radically redesign the Social Security program by offering personal investment accounts, a step that would be accompanied by a reduction in future benefits.
While more than half of Americans oppose his Social Security overhaul, a solid majority approve of his handling of the terrorism fight.