President Bush says a free Iraq can help bring peace and stability to the entire Middle East. Mr. Bush outlined his vision of a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq during a speech Wednesday night in Washington.
The president had two goals in the speech: to prepare the American people for possible war, and to win support in the Muslim world for military action to disarm Iraq.
Mr. Bush spoke in optimistic terms about his hopes for the Middle East, casting his strong stand against Iraq as part of an effort to spread democracy throughout the region.
"...and from Morocco to Bahrain and beyond, nations are taking genuine steps toward political reform," he said. "A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region."
He went on to say the ouster of Saddam Hussein would create a new opportunity to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. He said it would starve anti-Israel terrorists of key support and set the stage for a "truly democratic" Palestinian state.
"Without this outside support for terrorism, Palestinians who are working for reform and long for democracy will be in a better position to choose new leaders, true leaders who strive for peace," he said.
The president made the comments to a highly supportive audience, a conservative private policy research group called the American Enterprise Institute. He said dealing with the challenge posed by Iraq will not be easy. But he stressed once again that the world cannot allow a brutal dictator with dangerous weapons to defy disarmament demands.
"The safety of the American people depends on ending this direct and growing threat," he said. "Acting against the danger will also contribute greatly to the long term safety and stability of our world."
More than he has in past public appearances, the president looked beyond a possible war to lay out a vision of a new democratic Iraq. He did not talk about the costs of military action or reconstruction. Instead, he spoke in more philosophical terms, turning to the lessons of American history.
"We will remain in Iraq as long as necessary and not a day more. America has made and kept this kind of commitment before - in the peace that followed a world war," he emphasized.
Mr. Bush said America did not leave occupying armies, but constitutions and parliaments. He said there were those who at the end of the second World War were sure that democracy would never come to the vanquished. He made specific mention of the post-war reconstruction of Germany now one of the strongest opponents of military force to disarm Saddam Hussein.
"We established an atmosphere of safety, in which responsible, reform-minded local leaders could build lasting institutions of freedom," said Mr. Bush. "In societies that once bred fascism and militarism, liberty found a permanent home."
The president said it will take a sustained commitment to rebuild Iraq. He did not talk about the price in dollars and cents, which is now under debate in Washington. There are reports that a military campaign to disarm Iraq and help rebuild the country could cost as much as $95 billion. That is roughly twice as much as the Gulf War of 1991, that drove Iraqi forces out of Kuwait.