WASHINGTON - Decades after Syria invaded Lebanon, President Bush has used his strongest language yet to demand that Syria pull its troops out, insisting that "freedom will prevail" in Lebanon and that democracy is coming to the Middle East in "small but welcome steps."
Sounding optimistic in a speech at the National Defense University at Fort McNair, Mr. Bush said he is encouraged by the signs of a "hopeful new direction" toward democracy across the Middle East. If the move to topple authoritarian rule is successful in Lebanon, he said, "It is going to ring the doors of every Arab regime."
Authoritarian rule, he said, "is the last gasp of a discredited past."
In the midst of a swirling snowstorm, Mr. Bush was joined by several members of Congress, including Sen. Joe Lieberman, (D., Conn.) and of the diplomatic corps. At the carefully manicured ceremonial base, where he makes a major speech each year, he passionately repeated the theme of his second inaugural address - ending tyranny everywhere.
Mr. Bush clearly was not dissuaded from his demand that Syria withdraw from Lebanon by recent remarks of Syrian President Bashar Assad that leaving Lebanon is not an option anytime soon, nor by a massive demonstration of hundreds of thousands of pro-Syrian protesters in the streets of Beirut yesterday.
President Bush said progress is coming in the Middle East in "small but welcome steps."
He cited Saudi Arabia's municipal elections that "may allow greater participation in the future." He said Egypt "has now the prospect" of competitive, multiparty elections for president in September. "Each country in the Middle East will take a different path of reform. And every nation that starts on that journey can know that America will walk at its side."
In his speech, Mr. Bush won enthusiastic applause from the audience when he vowed that the United States will not rest until countries under authoritarian rule are freed and said he had no doubt that will happen.
"Those who place their hope in freedom may be attacked and challenged, but they will not ultimately be disappointed, because freedom is the design of humanity, and freedom is the direction of history," Mr. Bush said. "The trumpet of freedom has been sounded, and that trumpet never calls retreat."
He said the spread of freedom has been stymied by repressive regimes in Syria and Iran and warned them the United States will adhere to its demand that they stop.
"The time has come for Syria and Iran to stop using murder as a tool of policy and to end all support for terrorism," he said.
Mr. Bush said Iran "should listen to the concerns of the world and listen to the voice of the Iranian people, who long for their liberty and want their country to be a respected member of the international community."
The United States believes Syria, which has just under 15,000 soldiers in Lebanon, was involved in the bomb plot that killed the anti-Syria former prime minister of Lebanon, Rafiq Hariri, three weeks ago.
Mr. Bush said, "We meet at a time of great consequence for the security of our nation, a time when the defense of freedom requires the advance of freedom, a time with echoes in our history. Twice in six decades a sudden attack on the United States launched our country into a global conflict and began a period of serious reflection on America's place in the world.
"The bombing of Pearl Harbor taught America that unopposed tyranny, even on faraway continents, could draw our country into a struggle for our own survival. And our reflection on that lesson led us to help build peaceful democracies in the ruins of tyranny, to unite free nations in the NATO alliance, and to establish a firm commitment to peace in the Pacific that continues to this day."
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