The US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, has called for a worldwide commitment to spread democracy.
Speaking in New York, Mr Powell said the work would require the commitment of a generation.
His comments follow a speech last week in which President Bush called for a new policy of supporting democracy in the Middle East.
Mr Powell said that for the United States it was a policy of enlightened self-interest because, he explained, remote political tragedies could now directly affect America.
The secretary of state gave a picture of reform already spreading across the Arab and Muslim world and he stressed the contribution that free trade could make, opening markets and helping to build civil societies.
Specifically Mr Powell said success in rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan as democracies would help reshape their regions.
His comments show that the Bush administration is trying to recast the conflict in Iraq as part of a wider struggle.
Both Mr Powell and President Bush are arguing that the fight for democracy is a historic mission, similar to the battle with communism during the Cold War.
Their critics will be watching to see if Washington is really willing to condemn and perhaps even to destabilise its allies in the name of freedom.