Richardson Lauds Bush on Mideast

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Support for President Bush's mission of spreading democracy throughout the world, especially the Mideast, is winning accolades from an unlikely source — New Mexico's Gov. Bill Richardson (search), a prominent Democrat often mentioned as a possible presidential candidate.

Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations (search) and energy secretary under President Clinton, on Monday cited Syria's promise to lower the profile of its 14,000 troops in Lebanon as a "very significant" result of U.S. pressure.

The presidents of Syria (search) and Lebanon announced Monday that the Syrian troops would be pulled back to eastern Lebanon's Bekaa Valley (search) by March 31.

"I believe the Bush administration deserves credit for putting pressure and saying that authoritarian regimes have to go," Richardson said on NBC's "Today" show. Bush's stated mission of spreading democracy around the world "is working, whether it's by design or by accident," he said.

In the past, "U.S. policy has winked at Saudi Arabia and Egypt" because of America's stakes in the region, such as energy interests and military bases, Richardson said. "We kind of said 'OK, it's all right not to be democratic.' "

"The president, in talking about freedom and democracy, is sparking a wave of very positive democratic sentiment that might help us override both Islamic fundamentalism that has formed in that region and also some of the hatred for our policy of invading Iraq (search)," he said.