Move to Democracy Can Be Rocky, President Says
The Washington Post
By Michael A. Fletcher
President Bush cautioned last night that the recent burst of freedom in once-repressive nations such as Ukraine and Afghanistan is likely to be followed by heightened expectations and deep disappointments that can only be withstood by the solid pillars of democracy, including a free press, an independent judiciary and guaranteed rights for citizens.

Addressing an annual dinner of the International Republican Institute, a nonpartisan organization that uses public and private money to help fledgling democracies build the institutions of free government, Bush noted that “a period of challenge and confusion” has accompanied almost every new democracy.

“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,” Bush said.

Earlier in the day, Bush met with Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif at the White House, where he pressed Egypt to allow international monitors to observe its presidential elections in September. Egypt, the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid after Israel, has been rocked by political tremors in recent months after 24 years of tight control by President Hosni Mubarak.

This year, Mubarak, 77, for the first time is allowing opponents to run against him, even though he still dominates the media and has proposed constitutional changes that would severely limit his competition. In his remarks last night, Bush applauded the small steps toward democracy in Egypt, even as he pressed for more. “The success of this important step can be advanced by the presence of international monitors, and by rules that allow for a real campaign,” Bush said.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan also said the two men discussed the prospects of a free-trade agreement between the United States and Egypt. Laura Bush is to visit Egypt early next week during a trip to the Middle East, and she will “continue to deliver the freedom message,” he said.

Bush has made the spread of liberty a theme of administration foreign policy. Recent elections in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories have helped bolster that goal. But the ambitious goal of advancing freedom and ending tyranny around the world has sometimes collided with U.S. strategic interests or the nation’s political currents.

The Bush administration, for example, has maintained ties with Uzbekistan, an important ally in the war on terrorism, despite Uzbekistan’s bloody crackdown on demonstrators last week. Bush has been restrained in speaking out about what many observers call a continuing retreat from democracy in Russia. Also, the administration shuns Cuba as a communist dictatorship, while pursuing closer economic ties with China’s communist government.

The IRI honored Bush with its 2005 Freedom Award for what the organization termed “his dedication to the advancement of freedom and democracy.” The organization bestowed a similar honor on the late Pope John Paul II.

“No nation in history has made the transition from tyranny to a free society without setbacks and false starts,” Bush said. “What separates those nations that succeed from those that falter is their progress in establishing free institutions.”

Up ArrowTop