WASHINGTON // Calling the United States "the hope for the world", George W Bush spoke yesterday of America's commitment to - and stake in - global democracy, and said the country would continue its efforts to "defeat the ideology of hatred by spreading the hope of freedom". Mr Bush has made the so-called "freedom agenda" an ideological, even moral, centerpiece of his administration - despite criticism that his policies, particularly in the war on terror, have undermined some of those very freedoms, both at home and abroad. To that end, Mr Bush spoke yesterday, as he often has, in sweeping terms about the "universal desire for freedom", citing the words of previous presidents from George Washington to John F Kennedy, even as he looked ahead to the challenges he said future presidents would face. He painted the global fight for freedom as fundamental to American interests, saying freedom's advance is "necessary for our security and for world peace".
"At the dawn of a new century, our belief in the universality of freedom is being challenged once again," Mr Bush said in remarks in Washington in honour of Captive Nations Week, which was established during the Cold War as a show of solidarity for oppressed peoples. "We saw the challenge on September the 11th, 2001. On that day terrorists, harboured by a tyrannical regime thousands of miles from America, brought death and destruction to our shores.
"We learned important lessons: to protect America, we must fight the enemy abroad so we don't have to face them here at home," he said. "And to protect America, we must defeat the ideology of hatred by spreading the hope of freedom." Mr Bush also invoked what he called a "new ideological struggle against violent extremism" which will be best defeated, he said, by offering those who practise it "a hopeful alternative to their murderous ideology - and that alternative is based on human liberty".
Mr Bush, who has just six months remaining in office, has said he intends to "sprint to the finish" and has kept a busy travel schedule of late, visiting the Middle East in January - he promoted his freedom agenda in Abu Dhabi - and Europe in March. He has outlined what some view as an overly ambitious agenda for his final months, including the signing of an Arab-Israeli peace agreement, or the framework for one, by the end of his term.
But the reality is that Mr Bush has been largely overshadowed by the two men running to succeed him. Yesterday was no different: the speech that grabbed the spotlight was not Mr Bush's, but that of Barack Obama, who was in Germany as part of a week-long foreign policy fact-finding trip. In his remarks, Mr Bush noted a "hopeful beginning" in this century for the "cause of liberty", citing what he called democratic successes in the former Soviet bloc, including in Ukraine and Georgia, as well as in Lebanon, Liberia and Pakistan.
He said America should continue to "lead in the cause of human rights" and called for the release of all the world's political prisoners. He mentioned Egypt's Ayman Nour, an opposition politician who was jailed in 2005, and several others by name. Mr Bush also recognised several democratic activists who were in the audience at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center not far from the White House.
Among them: Olga Kozulina, daughter of a former presidential candidate in Belarus, Alexander Kozulin, who was arrested in 2006 and sentenced to 5˝ years in jail for his opposition to President Alexander Lukashenko; Manouchehr Mohammedi, who, along with his brother, suffered torture at the hands of Iranian authorities; and Cho Jin Hae, some of whose family members starved to death in North Korea and who was herself tortured by communist officials.
"This morning," Mr Bush said, "I have a message for all those throughout the world who languish in tyranny. "I know there are moments when it feels like you're alone in your struggle. And you're not alone. America hears you. Millions of our citizens stand with you, and hope still lives, even in bleak places and in dark moments. "Even now change is stirring in places like Havana and Damascus and Tehran.
"The people of these nations dream of a free future, hope for a free future and belief that a free future will come. And it will." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org