WASHINGTON – While preparing to sign an $87.5 billion supplemental spending bill for Iraq and Afghanistan on Thursday, President Bush said that Arab states experiencing a "freedom deficit" are falling behind the rest of the world in economic and human development.
"This freedom deficit ... has terrible consequences for people in the Middle East and for the world. In many Middle Eastern countries, poverty is deep and it is spreading. Women lack rights and are denied schooling, whole economies remains stagnant while the world moves ahead," Bush said.
"These are not the failures of a culture or a religion, these are the failures of political and economic doctrines," he said.
In a speech delivered on the 20th anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy (search), a private organization in Washington set up to strengthen democracy around the world, the president blamed the United States and other nations that allowed Middle Eastern governments to continue without demanding democratic freedoms.
"Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe because in the long run stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty," Bush said.
The president pointed out several nations around the globe in which people are still victimized by torture and oppression. He pointed to Cuba, Burma, North Korea, Zimbabwe, Iran and Syria. He said China has opened up commercially, but still places strong controls on the distribution of wealth.
"We will stand with these oppressed peoples until the day liberty and freedom finally arrives," Bush said.
Bush's speech can be considered a rebuttal to skeptics of U.S. military operations who say that Westernization is America's main motive. The administration argues that the stakes in Iraq and Afghanistan are not only high militarily, but offer hope for stability in a region that has long frustrated U.S. policy makers.
Bush said that efforts in Iraq do not represent the United States' desire to impose its own goals on the country, but to help its citizens achieve the freedoms they wish to enjoy.
In a speech last week, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (search) said it took nearly two generations of U.S. work to win the Cold War and defeat communism. U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq won't take as long, but the benefits to the United States as well as other countries in the region could be just as important.
Violence has been escalating in Iraq over the last week. On Thursday, American soldiers held a memorial service for 15 GIs killed when their CH-47 Chinook (search) helicopter was hit by a rocket on Sunday. The service was held as two more U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq and Polish forces suffered their first combat death — a major who was ambushed while on patrol.
Bush argued that Democratic governments in Afghanistan and Iraq won't arrive overnight, but that does not make the struggle futile. However, he said, without U.S. success in Iraq, terrorists will be emboldened.
Bush said Islam is not a barrier to democracy, and pointed to several predominantly Muslim countries — Turkey, Indonesia, Senegal, Albania, Niger and Sierra Leone — with democratic governments. He added that Muslims are good citizens in the United States, European nations, South Africa and India.
"It should be clear to all of Islam that the faith of one-fifth of all humanity is consistent with democratic rule," he said.
He also pointed out movements toward democracy in the Middle East and Arab nations. Qatar has a new Constitution, Morocco's king has introduced a bill in Parliament to extend rights to women, Kuwait has a directly-elected national assembly, Bahrainians elected their first Parliament in three decades.
Bush said democracy has failed in nations where leaders have held on to the "dogmas of socialism" and seek to take total control of political parties, media and universities.
He said successful societies limit the power of state and military, protect freedom with consistent and impartial rules of law, allow civic institutions and political parties, labor unions and independent media; permit religious liberty; privatize economies and secure rights of property; invest in health and education and recognize the rights of women.
"Rather than directing their hatred at other people, successful societies appeal to the hopes of their own people," Bush said.
He added that democracy does not have to take the congressional form seen in the United States — it can be a parliamentary system or constitutional monarchy.
He also explained how democracy in the Middle East is not only good for America, but for the world.
"We've witnessed in little over a generation the swiftest advance of freedom in the 2,500-year history of democracy," Bush said. "It's no accident that the rise of so many democracies took place at a time when the world's most influential nation was itself a democracy. The United States made military and moral commitments in Europe and Asia, which protected free nations from aggression and created the conditions in which new democracies can flourish."