Bush renews push for Middle East reforms
ISTANBUL: Using Turkey and the day-old sovereign government in Iraq as models, US President George W. Bush on Tuesday urged people in the Middle East to embrace democracy fashioned in their own image.
“I believe that freedom is the future of the Middle East, because I believe that freedom is the future of all humanity,” Bush said in a speech to students at Galatasaray University on the banks of the Bosphorus. The US leader, wrapping up his maiden visit to Turkey, worked to soothe worries in the Muslim and Arab worlds that his frequent calls for political reforms in the Middle East mask an effort to impose US values.
Bush stressed that although embracing democracy means practicing religious toleration, it does not mean giving up individual religious faith or embracing what he called the “the worst of Western popular culture.”
“When I speak about the blessings of liberty, coarse videos and crass commercialism are not what I have in mind. There is nothing incompatible between democratic values and high standards of decency,” he said.
Citing Islam’s stated commitment to justice, Bush said “Turkey has found what nations of every culture and every region have found: If justice is the goal, then democracy is the answer.” A day after Iraq’s interim government took power, Bush said that country was now a battleground pitting “political extremism and civilized values” against each other and that democracy would triumph despite deadly unrest there.
He thanked NATO leaders meeting in Istanbul for agreeing to help train Iraq’s nascent security forces, calling that decision “a great advantage and crucial success for the Iraqi people.”
Bush said changes in Iraq were emboldening reformers throughout the Middle East, especially in Syria and Iran, “where tired and discredited autocrats are trying to hold back the democratic will of a rising generation.”
“A free and sovereign Iraq is also a decisive defeat for extremists and terrorists, because their hateful ideology will lose its appeal in a free, tolerant, successful country,” he said.
Bush said that Western nations, including the United States, had propped up or tolerated repressive regimes in the past in a vain attempt to “purchase stability at the price of liberty” that yielded neither.
“It has not made Western nations more secure to ignore the cycle of dictatorship and extremism. Instead we have seen the malice grow deeper, and the violence spread, until both have appeared on the streets of our own cities,” he said.
Bush spoke after winning support for a watered-down version of his Broader Middle East Initiative, which aims to promote democratic and free-market reforms throughout the volatile region.
The president said democracies “reflect their people, every democracy has its own structure, traditions, and opinions” but also adhere to bedrock principles that must not be compromised.
“The promise of democracy is fulfilled in freedom of speech, the rule of law, limits on the power of the state, economic freedom, respect for women, and religious tolerance,” he said. afp