Bush: Democracy Is On The March

Citing hopeful signs from Lebanon to Afghanistan, President Bush said Tuesday that democracy is beginning to spread across the Middle East and that authoritarian rule is "the last gasp of a discredited past."

Mr. Bush demanded anew that Syria pull its troops out of Lebanon and allow free elections. "All Syrian military forces and intelligence personnel must withdraw before the Lebanese elections for these elections to be free and fair."

"Freedom will prevail in Lebanon," Mr. Bush declared in a speech at the National Defense University, a center for professional military education. "The American people are on your side."

The president's speech was described as an update on the war on terrorism, a struggle that he linked with repressive conditions in the Middle East that he said give rise to extremism.

"The advance of hope in the Middle East requires new thinking in the region," the president said. "By now it should be clear that authoritarian rule is not the wave of the future. It is the last gasp of a discredited past."

Mr. Bush said the entire world has "an urgent interest in the progress and hope and freedom in the broader Middle East."

"Our duty is now clear," he said. "For the sake of our long-term security, all free nations must stand with the forces of democracy and justice that have begun to transform the Middle East."

While the president declared that the U.S. was more secure because of moves toward democracy in the Middle East, CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller reports that Mr. Bush also issued a blunt demand on those states in the region still viewed as sponsors of terrorism.

"The time has come for Syria and Iran to stop using murder as tool of policy, and to end all support for terrorism," Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Bush cited progress in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Palestinian territories, as well as the uprising in Lebanon against Syria's occupation.

"Across the Middle East, a critical mass of events is taking that region in a hopeful new direction," the president said. "History is moving quickly and leaders in the Middle East have important choices to make," the president said.

Mr. Bush's speech on terrorism marked a return to the trademark theme of his successful re-election campaign. After the election, he turned his focus to an uphill battle to radically redesign the Social Security program by offering personal investment accounts, a step that would be accompanied by a reduction in future benefits.

While more than half of Americans oppose his Social Security overhaul, a solid majority approve of his handling of the terrorism fight.

"In this war on terror America is not alone," Mr. Bush said. "Many governments have awakened to the dangers we share and have begun to take serious action. Global terror requires a global response and America is more secure today because dozens of other countries have stepped up to the fight."

He credited Pakistan with capturing more than 100 extremists last year, and said Britain had arrested an al Qaeda operative who had provided detailed reports on possible American targets to senior al Qaeda leaders. Mr. Bush also cited efforts by Germany, the Philippines and Poland.

He said that spreading democracy in the Middle East was essential to winning the war on terrorism. He said prospects for democracy "have seemed frozen in place for decades. Yet at last, clearly and suddenly, the thaw has begun."