Bush Highlights Progress of Democracy, Freedom

WASHINGTON – Free societies are peaceful societies, President Bush said during his visit to Freedom House before flying to Cancun, Mexico, to meet with Mexican President Vicente Fox and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

“When governments are accountable to their own citizens, when people are free to speak and assemble, when minorities are protected, then justice prevails. And so does the cause of peace,” he said Wednesday, according to the White House.

Since its founding more than 60 years ago, Washington, D.C.-based Freedom House has been “a clear voice for the oppressed across the world,” vigorously opposing tyranny including dictatorships in Latin America, apartheid in South Africa, and Soviet Communism and domination of Eastern and Central Europe, and religiously-based totalitarian regimes including Sudan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.

“I appreciate very much the men and women of Freedom House,” Bush said. “For more than 60 years, this organization has been a tireless champion for liberty …. At Freedom House you understand that the only path to lasting peace is the expansion of freedom and liberty.”

Wednesday's speech was the president's third this month to bolster public support for the U.S. involvement in Iraq and to counter critics who say the U.S. presence in the war-torn nation is fueling the insurgency.

“We meet at a time of war, but also at a moment of great hope,” Bush said. “In our world, and due in part to our efforts, freedom is taking root in places where liberty was unimaginable a couple of years ago.”

The president noted that there were only 45 democracies in the world at the start of the 1980s. Today, he said, Freedom House reports there are 122 democracies, "and more people now live in liberty than ever before."

“The advance of freedom is the story of our time, and we're seeing new chapters written before our eyes,” Bush said. “Since the beginning of 2005, we've witnessed remarkable democratic changes across the globe.”

In citing examples, the president noted that the people of Afghanistan have elected their first democratic parliament in more than a generation and that the people of Liberia have overcome decades of violence and are now led by the first woman elected as a head of state in any African nation.

“And the courageous people of Iraq have gone to the polls not once, not twice, but three times, choosing a transitional government, a democratic constitution, and a new government under that constitution,” he added. “Each of these countries still faces enormous challenges that will take patience and the support of the international community to overcome. Yet, Freedom House has declared the year 2005 was one of the most successful years for freedom since the Freedom House began measuring world freedom more than 30 years ago.

“From Kabul to Baghdad to Beirut and beyond, freedom's tide is rising,” Bush stated, “and we should not rest, and we must not rest, until the promise of liberty reaches every people and every nation.”

The president later noted that unlike the past, when most democratic progress came with the end of a war, the situation today is different.

“Liberty is advancing not in a time of peace, but in the midst of a war, at a moment when a global movement of great brutality and ambition is fighting freedom's progress with all the hateful violence they can muster,” he said.

In explaining the divisions and instability that is currently plaguing Iraq, the president said “much of the animosity and violence we now see is the legacy of Saddam Hussein.”

“He is a tyrant who exacerbated sectarian divisions to keep himself in power,” Bush explained.

In the nation with many ethnic and religious and sectarian and regional and tribal divisions, “Saddam Hussein undertook a deliberate strategy of maintaining control by dividing the Iraqi people” in an attempt to “prevent these different groups from coming to challenge his regime.”

“By displacing Iraqi communities and dividing the Iraqi people, he sought to establish himself as the only force that could hold the country together,” Bush stated.

“In Saddam's campaign of repression and division, no Iraqi group was spared.”

The president said it was hard to overstate the effects of Saddam's brutality on the Iraqi nation.

“Iraq is a nation that is physically and emotionally scarred by three decades of Saddam's tyranny, and these wounds will take time to heal,” he said.

Bush said while liberation has brought its own set of challenges, Saddam Hussein's removal from power “was the necessary first step in restoring stability and freedom to the people of Iraq.”

And, according to the president, Iraqi leaders are coming to grips with an important truth: “The only practical way to overcome the divisions of three decades of tyranny is through democracy.”

“So Iraqis are working to overcome past divisions and build a free society that protects the rights of all its citizens. They're undertaking this progress with just a year's experience in democratic politics,” he added.

“Many of the institutions and traditions we take for granted here in America – from party structures to centuries' experience with peaceful transitions of power – are new to Iraq, so we should not be surprised if Iraqis make mistakes or face setbacks in their efforts to build a government that unites the Iraqi people.”

But Bush noted, “We're beginning to see the signs of progress.”