Washington, May 18 — President Bush called Wednesday for patience in assessing the progress of Iraq and other nations toward democracy. He said the United States had gotten off to a rocky start after its independence and that it could take years for newly free countries to establish the institutions necessary for stability and prosperity.
Speaking to the International Republican Institute, Mr. Bush said the American Revolution had been followed by “years of chaos,” and that the first effort to develop a governing charter, the Articles of Confederation, had “failed miserably.”
“No nation in history has made the transition from tyranny to a free society without setbacks and false starts,” Mr. Bush said. “What separates those nations that succeed from those that falter is their progress in establishing free institutions.”
Mr. Bush has been criticized for underestimating how difficult it would be to stabilize and rebuild Iraq, and his remarks amounted to an argument as to why the transition from tyranny to democracy there and elsewhere is inherently challenging and prone to setbacks.
Mr. Bush listed a widely agreed upon set of prerequisites for success, including freedom of speech and assembly, a market economy and the rule of law.
He added another, freedom of worship, “because respect for the beliefs of others is the only way to build a society where compassion and tolerance prevail.”
Mr. Bush used the speech to continue his gradual reversal from a central commitment of the 2000 presidential campaign: that he would never use the United States military for what he called “nation building.”
On Wednesday night, he celebrated the military’s nation-building role, saying that while “the main purpose of our military is to find and defeat the terrorists overseas,” members of the armed forces are “also undertaking a less visible, but increasingly important task: helping the people of these nations build civil societies from the rubble of oppression.”
Aides to Mr. Bush have said that his change of view began early in his first term, during a visit to Kosovo. But even then, he seemed to draw limits on what kind of nation-building activities he thought were appropriate.
On Wednesday, he celebrated the military’s participation in actions that are normally considered civilian.
In Afghanistan, he noted, “Provincial Reconstruction Teams” were “helping the Afghan government to fix schools, dig wells, build roads, repair hospitals, and build confidence in the ability of Afghanistan’s elected leaders to deliver real change in people’s lives.”
In Iraq, he noted, the First Cavalry Division began “Operation Adam Smith — setting up local chambers of commerce, providing Iraqi entrepreneurs with small business loans, and teaching them important skills like accounting, marketing and writing business plans.”
He also talked about his proposal to create a new civilian Active Response Corps to help newly formed governments build institutions, including courts and tax systems.
The initial budget proposal for the office is small, about $24 million, but White House officials have said they expect the program will expand.
The president said promoting democracy was in the national interest because it would “isolate and defeat the forces of terror, and ensure a peaceful future for our citizens.”
Mr. Bush, who was introduced by his onetime rival for the Republican presidential nomination, Senator John McCain of Arizona, cited the progress toward democracy across the former Soviet Union and in the Middle East.
But freedom, he said, can create political vacuums and instability, citing the struggles in recent years in Slovakia, Romania and Ukraine.
“Democratic change and free elections are exhilarating events,” he said. “Yet we know from experience that they can be followed by moments of uncertainty. When people risk everything to vote, it can raise expectations that their lives will improve immediately — but history teaches that the path to a free society is long and not always smooth.”Top