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11/17/03 - BUSH ON FREEDOM POLICY - 2003-11-18

The U.S. has adopted a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East. President George W. Bush announced the policy at a twentieth anniversary celebration of the National Endowment for Democracy. The N-E-D was established in 1983, the year after President Ronald Reagan addressed the British parliament on the need to promote democracy around the world. Through the N-E-D, says President Bush, Americans of all parties “are working together to advance human liberty”:

“In June of 1982, President Ronald Reagan spoke at Westminster Palace and declared the turning point had arrived in history. He argued that Soviet Communism had failed, precisely because it did not respect its own people -- their creativity, their genius, and their rights. . . . He gave this organization its mandate: to add to the momentum of freedom across the world.”

The great democratic movement got underway in the 1970s. Portugal, Spain, and Greece held free elections. By the 1980s, there were new democracies in Latin America, and free institutions were spreading in South Korea, Taiwan, and elsewhere in Asia. By the end of 1989, every Communist dictatorship in central Europe had collapsed. In 1990, the South African government released Nelson Mandela from prison; four years later, he was elected president. In 1991, the Soviet Union broke up, and many of its newly independent republics began moving toward democracy.

But in most Middle Eastern countries, says President Bush, “democracy has not yet taken root”:

“And the questions arise: Are the peoples of the Middle East somehow beyond the reach of liberty? Are millions of men and women and children condemned by history or culture to live in despotism? Are they alone never to know freedom, and never even to have a choice in the matter? I, for one, do not believe it. I believe every person has the ability and the right to be free.”

The promotion of freedom in the Middle East will require the same persistence, energy, and idealism that led to the expansion of democratic rule in Europe, Latin America, Asia, and other parts of the world. But as President Bush said, “the advance of freedom leads to peace. The advance of freedom is the calling of our time.”