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U.S. News
Bush: A free, democratic post-war Iraq could lead to Israeli, Palestinian peace

Thursday, February 27, 2003

By Dana Milbank and Peter Slevin, The Washington Post

WASHINGTON -- President Bush paused last night in the methodical march toward war in the Persian Gulf to outline a hopeful vision of a a free Iraq serving as a catalyst for peace in the ever-troubled region.

Looking beyond hostilities to topple Saddam Hussein -- an outcome administration officials have increasingly portrayed as inevitable -- Bush also sought to assure doubters across the globe that the United States' ultimate aims in the region were not imperialist but democratic.

"Success in Iraq could begin a new stage for Middle Eastern peace, and set in motion progress towards a truly democratic Palestinian state," Bush said. "The passing of Saddam Hussein's regime will deprive terrorist networks of a wealthy patron that pays for terrorist training, and offers rewards to families of suicide bombers. And other regimes will be given a clear warning that support for terror will not be tolerated."

The remarks, carried live on a number of television news outlets, came as U.S. officials struggled to build support at the U.N. for military action. A senior Russian envoy predicted that his country would not veto a Security Council resolution, offered this week by the United States, Britain and Spain, that would clear the way toward war. The Russian move could boost prospects for U.N. support and weaken France's opposition campaign.

Bush, speaking in a business suit before a 1,400-person black-tie dinner of the American Enterprise Institute at the Washington Hilton, offered few specifics that he and his deputies had not already mentioned in recent weeks. But the speech was the first time he offered a comprehensive picture of a post-Saddam Iraq. Officials said the speech's purpose was to assure angry Arabs and skeptical Europeans that Bush does not seek conquest

While explicitly linking Saddam's ouster to a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians and pledging his "personal commitment" to reach such a peace, Bush also presented a neo-Wilsonian view of the imperative to spread liberty and democracy in the world, challenging a panoply of experts and diplomats who say an American attack will foster instability and backlash.

"A liberated Iraq can show the power of freedom to transform that vital region, by bringing hope and progress into the lives of millions," the president said. "A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region."

Bush sought to rebut the growing perception in foreign opinion that the United States represents more of a threat to peace and stability than Iraq. "I've listened carefully, as people and leaders around the world have made known their desire for peace," he said. "All of us want peace. The threat to peace does not come from those who seek to enforce the just demands of the civilized world; the threat to peace comes from those who flout those demands."

The effort to highlight Bush's noble intentions come at a time when world opinion has turned sharply against the United States. The hostile public attitudes abroad has jeopardized the second U.N. resolution against Iraq that the administration has offered this week, and the foreign opposition has worried many Americans that the country is becoming isolated.

Bush sought to demonstrate his benign aims by referring to the country's presence in Germany and Japan after the Second World War. "After defeating enemies, we did not leave behind occupying armies, we left constitutions and parliaments," he said. "We established an atmosphere of safety, in which responsible, reform-minded local leaders could build lasting institutions of freedom. In societies that once bred fascism and militarism, liberty found a permanent home."

The president called it "presumptuous and insulting" to believe that the Muslim world would not welcome freedom and democracy. "There was a time when many said that the cultures of Japan and Germany were incapable of sustaining democratic values. Well, they were wrong. Some say the same of Iraq today. They are mistaken."

While aiming to reassure the world, Bush balanced his promises of humanitarian steps with a firm assertion of American might and right. He spoke of medicines and food for Iraqis, and a guarantee of Iraqi democracy and territorial integrity. Yet he also said that "the hope of millions depend on us, and Americans do not turn away from duties because they are hard." And he argued that while part of the history of the nation and civilized world was written by others, "the rest will be written by us."

In an answer to those who have said he has not been honest about the cost of rebuilding Iraq, Bush allowed that it "will not be easy" to bring stability and unity. "Rebuilding Iraq will require a sustained commitment from many nations, including our own, he said. "We will remain in Iraq as long as necessary, and not a day more."

Officials have estimated it could be two years after Saddam falls before a transition to full Iraqi control is complete. Iraq will be administered by the United States for a period of time after a war begins, but the Bush administration has taken pains to say the leadership will be benevolent and forward-looking. Iraqis from inside and outside the country will have only a consulting role at first, but will take more authority as months pass, under the evolving plan being developed by the U.S. government.

Bush's critics at home and abroad have said his attack on Iraq will imperil any remaining peace hopes in the Middle East. Thomas Carothers, a democracy specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said an American attack on Iraq will heighten anti-Americanism, strengthen Islamist groups and deter many Arab government from experimenting with political change.

"This does not mean the Arab world will never democratize," Carothers wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine. "But it does mean that democracy will be decades in the making and entail a great deal of uncertainty, reversal and turmoil."

The president attempted to turn that argument on its head, explicitly making peace in Israel and Palestine conditional on Saddam's ouster. Referring to support by the Iraqi leader for suicide bombers, Bush said: "Without this outside support for terrorism, Palestinians who are working for reform and long for democracy will be in a better position to choose new leaders."

"America will seize every opportunity in pursuit of peace" in the Middle East conflict, Bush said. "And the end of the present regime in Iraq would create such an opportunity."

Bush also called on Israel to end its settlement activity in the occupied territories.

By chance, Bush's words came on the same day Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon formed a hard-line government that favors expanded settlements and is hostile to a peace accord.

A senior administration official acknowledged that Bush had no particular timetable in mind as it assembles a "roadmap" for peace in the region.

"We're working on it and it will be implemented when it's completed," is all the official would say.

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