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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 June, 2004, 16:40 GMT 17:40 UK
Bush sets out Mid-East vision

By Matt Frei
BBC correspondent travelling with President Bush

US President George W Bush brought his vision of exporting democracy to the Middle East to a very symbolic venue.

President Bush
President Bush addressed Nato leaders from the Bosphorus straits

Standing in front of a mosque at Istanbul's Galatasaray University, he peered over the Bosphorus, the narrow stretch of water that is the traditional dividing line between Europe and Asia.

He said freedom was the future of the entire Middle East and he hailed Turkey as a model to other nations, calling it a strong secular democracy.

He stated, as he has done so often before, that Islam and democracy were not incompatible and he called on Muslim nations not to be put off by the crass commercialism of the West.

Once again, he urged the European Union to embrace Turkey as a member.

This, he said, would expose the clash of civilisations as a passing myth of history.

It is a grand idea that is bound to upset President Jacques Chirac of France, who has already slapped the president's wrists for not minding his own business about the EU.

But Mr Bush has soldiered on with his moral certainties.

We will finish the work that history has given us, he said under the blistering afternoon sun.

Nation-builder

In many ways Turkey is a key to his vision.

Istanbul protests
Street protests greeted President Bush's Turkish visit

Many in the administration, especially the neo-conservative idealists, still hope Iraq will become another Turkey, a secular Muslim democracy.

The message may be popular here but the messenger is not.

The only vocal students this week have been those demonstrating in their thousands against Mr Bush.

His speech was not interrupted once by applause and the ovation at the end was muted.

There can be little doubt that the president's vision is more than mere words - some 140,000 US troops on the ground in Iraq have made that point.

But whether the vision becomes reality depends - for now - on the goodwill of Iraqis.

Who today remembers the days when President Bush paid little interest in the rest of the world, and looked upon the nation-building instincts of his predecessor with disdain?

But the fusion of the alarm raised by the 11 September 2001 attacks and the president's values have recast him as a born-again Woodrow Wilson, who believes in the spread of democracy but does not shy away from the use of force.

President Bush has become a nation builder, if ever there was one.

Nato's new role

It has been a good week for Mr Bush.

Monday's handover of power in Iraq may have been somewhat furtive, but it signals the end of one painful chapter and the beginning of another in which the Iraqis will assume a much greater role in the running of their country.

President Bush and President Chirac
President Bush (far left) and Jacques Chirac do not agree on Iraq

The violence is expected to continue - Americans soldiers, Iraqi civilians and others will continue to die.

But the buck in Baghdad now also stops with the Iraqi government, not just with President Bush in the Oval Office.

Iraq has overshadowed the election campaign at home. That shadow may not become shorter.

As for Nato, the organisation has at least acknowledged publicly that, more than a decade after the end of the Cold War, it needs to look beyond the borders of Europe to find a new role.

It has now done so, albeit tentatively.

Hour of need

Nato has agreed to train Iraqi troops. The bar of co-operation has been lowered enough for even the French to jump over.

Training troops may be rather modest compared to the original American idea of Nato peacekeeping troops in Iraq, but it is a beginning.

The troubles in Iraq have forced the Bush administration to stop beating its chest and switch to a diet of humble pie.

This has helped to secure the support of key international organisations who cannot afford to turn their back on America in its hour of need.

The United Nations issued its Iraq resolution, the EU backed the reconstruction of Iraq, and now Nato has put aside its past differences to stand behind the US.

The healing process has begun and although many Europeans may still want the president to fail in his re-election bid, Mr Bush can now claim he has done something to reverse the international isolation of the US.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Stephen Sackur
"Turkey the backdrop. Turkey also the inspiration"




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