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Bush On The Middle East

In a speech in Washington that dealt with American policy toward the Middle East over the past 8 years, President George Bush said the United States changed from an approach that encouraged stability to one that advocated freedom:

"With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the primary threat to America and the region became violent religious extremism. Through painful experience, it became clear that the old approach of promoting stability is unsuited to this new danger – and that the pursuit of security at the expense of liberty would leave us with neither one."

The Middle East was suffering from "a deep deficit in freedom," said Mr. Bush, where most people had no voice in choosing their leaders and there was little talk about democratic change.

Against this backdrop, the terrorist movement was growing in strength and ambition. Violent radicals, said Mr. Bush, landed "painful blows against America," starting with the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979 by followers of Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, to the bombings of the U.S. embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, to the devastating September 11th Al-Qaida attacks on the U.S. in 2001.

In response to these realities, America changed strategy, Mr. Bush said -- first, by taking the fight against the terrorists overseas and waging a persistent campaign to break up extremist networks and deny them safe havens; second, by making it clear to hostile regimes that they must end their support for terror and their pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, or face concerted opposition by the world; third, by helping to advance freedom and democracy in the Middle East as the alternatives to repression and terror.

The change in policy has had successes, said Mr. Bush -- a nascent democracy in Iraq, Lebanon free from Syrian military occupation, places like Bahrain and the UAE emerging as centers of commerce, the regime in Iran facing great pressure from the international community, and the failure of Al-Qaida to take over any nation.

But many challenges remain, including realizing the vision of 2 states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace; preventing Iran from sponsoring terrorism and pursuing nuclear weapons, and helping the people of the Middle East shed the shackles of oppression. Mr. Bush believes a brighter future beckons, when "people from Cairo and Riyadh to Baghdad and Beirut, to Damascus and Tehran, live in free and independent societies. ... [and] Muslims across the region realize the emptiness of the terrorists' vision and the injustice of their cause."