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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 November, 2003, 21:00 GMT
Analysis: Bush's defining moment

By Rob Watson
BBC correspondent in Washington

This speech may well turn out to be a defining moment in the presidency of George W Bush.

Its message was unmistakeable - that the countries of the Middle East must embrace democracy for the good of their peoples and the security of the world.

To set the stage and no doubt to warm the hearts of American conservatives, the president began by drawing a parallel with that hero of the Republican Party, Ronald Reagan.

The former president had predicted the downfall of Communism, which President Bush said had been considered naive at the time.

George Bush arrives to make his speech
Bush outlined a vision he compared with that of Reagan
The inference was clear - that people who doubt this president's belief in the spread of democracy, might also be proved wrong.

The president said there was no reason why the people of the Middle East should not enjoy democracy - "it should be clear to all that Islam - the faith of one-fifth of humanity - is consistent with democratic rule" - accusing those who doubted it of cultural condescension.

There was also a tough message for the region's rulers, the president posing them a question: "As changes come to the Middle Eastern region, those with power should ask themselves: Will they be remembered for resisting reform, or for leading it?"

What was perhaps most surprising about the speech though, was the president's verdict on the West's past policy in the region as a failure.

"Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe - because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty."

The speech appears to have been brewing ever since the 11 September attacks
The president said the US had therefore adopted a new policy on the Middle East, describing it as a "forward strategy of freedom".

Exactly what that will mean in practical terms the president didn't say.

Sensitive to Arab suspicions, the president was more anxious to spell out what it wouldn't mean, saying the US wasn't looking to westernise the east.

So why this speech and why now?

It may be the timing is connected to efforts by the White House to persuade the American people - who at this point need some persuading - that the occupation of Iraq is part of a wider and coherent strategy in the region.

On another level the speech appears to have been brewing ever since the 11 September attacks.

Many observers in Washington believe the Bush administration has since concluded that the biggest threat to US security is now posed by Islamic militants, and that the only long-term solution to that threat is reform of the Arab Muslim nations that produce those militants.

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