By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
WASHINGTON, Sept. 19, 2006 – A more hopeful world free of terrorism is within reach, and the international community must make a decision to support reformers in the Middle East and work together to secure that peaceful future, President Bush said today in New York City. Speaking at the 61st session of the United Nations General Assembly, Bush urged the nations present to support Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries in the region as they move toward democracy.
"We must stand with democratic leaders and moderate reformers across the broader Middle East," Bush said. "We must give them voice to the hopes of decent men and women who want for their children ... the same things we want for ours. We must seek stability through a free and just Middle East, where the extremists are marginalized by millions of citizens in control of their own destinies."
Five years ago, after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Bush addressed the U.N. and called on the international community to defend civilization against terrorism. Today he reiterated that message, and noted the progress that's been made in the Middle East as democracy begins to take hold.
Five years ago the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, and its seat in the U.N. was contested, Bush noted. Now, the freely elected government of Afghanistan, represented by President Hamid Karzai, holds the seat.
Also five years ago, a dictator who killed his citizens, invaded his neighbors, and showed his contempt for the world by defying more than a dozen U.N. Security Council resolutions, held Iraq's seat in the U.N., Bush said. Today, a democratic government that embodies the aspirations of the Iraqi people holds Iraq's seat, he said.
"With these changes, more than 50 million people have been given a voice in this chamber for the first time in decades," Bush said.
Other changes are happening in the Middle East, and while they may take time, the region is on its way to a brighter future, Bush said.
"Every nation that travels the road to freedom moves at a different pace, and the democracies they build will reflect their own culture and traditions," he said. "But the destination is the same: a free society where people live at peace with each other and at peace with the world."
Those who argue that democratic changes in the Middle East are destabilizing the region are operating on a false assumption that the region was stable to begin with, Bush said. In reality, for decades, millions of men and women in the region have been trapped in oppression and hopelessness, and those conditions left a generation disillusioned and made the region a breeding ground for extremism, he said.
Every civilized nation, including those in the Muslim world, must support those in the Middle East who offer a hopeful alternative to violence and extremism, Bush said. When people have a voice in their future and the leaders are accountable to the people, they are less likely to engage in violence and the leaders will seek national greatness, he said.
"As liberty flourishes, nations grow in tolerance and hope and peace," he said. "And we're seeing that bright future begin to take root in the broader Middle East."
Speaking directly to the people of the Middle East, Bush said the U.S. desires peace and respects Islam. However, the U.S. will protect its people from those who pervert Islam to sow death and destruction, he said.
"Our goal is to help you build a more tolerant and hopeful society that honors people of all faiths and promotes the peace," he said.
America has made its choice to stand with the moderates and reformers in the Middle East and work for a hopeful future, Bush said. The choice now rests on the international community to make the same stand for freedom that people in the Middle East have already made, even amidst violence and oppression, he said.
"Freedom, by its nature, cannot be imposed, it must be chosen," he said. "From Beirut to Baghdad, people are making the choice for freedom. And the nations gathered in this chamber must make a choice as well. Will we support the moderates and reformers who are working for change across the Middle East, or will we yield the future to the terrorists and extremists?"