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February 21, 2005
How Bush Stands With Those Who Stand For Freedom

In his expansive vision of democratization voiced in his inaugural speech, George Bush promised to stand with those who stand for freedom and liberty. The world got a taste of his sincerity today at the first event of his European trip, as he echoed the protestors in the streets of Beirut in demanding an end to the Syrian occupation of Lebanon after the murder of Rafik Hariri:

He also had direct words for Syria, calling on leaders in Damascus to withdraw its forces from Lebanon. As Bush spoke, thousands of opposition supporters in Beirut shouted insults at Syria and demanded the resignation of Lebanon's pro-Syrian government, marking a week since the assassination of Rafik Hariri, Lebanon's most prominent politician.

"The Lebanese people have the right to be free, and the United States and Europe share an interest in an independent, democratic Lebanon," he said, adding that if Syrians stay out of Lebanon's parliamentary elections in the spring, the vote "can be another milestone of liberty."

Nor did Bush stop there. He also scolded Russian president Vladimir Putin for his retreat on democratization in Russia, and told him that democracy would occupy a central position in US-Russian diplomacy:

The president has been pushing Russian President Vladimir Putin some say not strongly enough to work toward, not away from, democratic reforms and transparency in government.

"We recognize that reform will not happen overnight," Bush said, just three days before he meets with Putin in Slovakia. "We must always remind Russia that our alliance stands for a free press, a vital opposition, the sharing of power and the rule of law. The United States should place democratic reform at the heart of their dialogue with Russia."

Many thought that Bush would go easy on Putin in public but privately press him for better progress on democracy. Instead, Bush spoke to strengthen his ties to the democracies of Europe -- he used the word "alliance" twelve times and spoke of an unending friendship based on shared values -- while making clear that the US had serious concerns about the direction of Russia under Putin's leadership. While Bush defended Russian membership in WTO and indirectly in G-8 as necessary for continuing engagement, he also demonstrated that his patience is not as endless as our friendship with the European democracies.

Russia was not the only "friend" to experience Bush's emphasis on liberty. He told Saudi Arabia and Egypt that they had to start expanding the right of their citizens to determine their own political leadership, a message that certainly will not warm hearts in Riyadh and Cairo:

"The government of Saudi Arabia can demonstrate its leadership in the region by expanding the role of its people in determining their future," Bush said, urging greater move toward giving Saudi more political freedom.

"The great and proud nation of Egypt, which showed the way toward peace in the Middle East, can now show the way toward democracy in the Middle East," Bush said.

People have always underestimated George Bush, both in terms of his boldness and his ability. After shrewdly leading his party to three straight electoral-cycle wins and delivering on his promise to hold successful elections in Afghanistan and Iraq, some will still find themselves surprised that he acted on the beliefs stated so eloquently in his inaugural address. Bush intends on expanding the reach of democracy during his term and setting the stage for an eventual democratic revolution in Southwest Asia in order to eliminate the root cause of terrorism. For those who doubt his will to pursue this strategy, be prepared for continual surprise during his second term.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 21, 2005 9:27 AM

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