George W Bush: The Middle East has a brighter future than it did seven years ago

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The Independent Online

The Middle East in 2008 is a freer, more hopeful and more promising place than it was in 2001. The people of Lebanon are free from Syria's military occupation. Libya's nuclear weapons equipment is locked away in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The regime in Iran is facing greater pressure from the international community than ever before. Terrorist organisations like al-Qa'ida have failed decisively.

Iraq has gone from an enemy of America to a friend of America, from sponsoring terror to fighting terror, and from a brutal dictatorship to a multi-religious, multi-ethnic constitutional democracy. Instead of the Iraq we would see if Saddam Hussein were in power – an aggressive regime vastly enriched by oil, defying the United Nations, bullying its Arab neighbours, threatening Israel, and pursuing a nuclear arms race with Iran – we see an Iraq emerging peacefully with its neighbours, showing the Middle East a powerful example of a moderate, prosperous, free nation.

There are still serious challenges facing the Middle East. Yet the changes of the past eight years herald the beginning of something historic and new. At long last, the Middle East is closing a chapter of darkness and fear, and opening a new one written in the language of possibility and hope. For the first time in generations, the region represents something more than a set of problems to be solved, or the site of energy resources to be developed.

Those who ask what this future will look like need only look around. We see the new story of the Middle East in Iraqis waving ink-stained fingers, with Lebanese taking to streets in the Cedar Revolution. We see it in women taking their seats in elected parliaments, and bloggers telling the world their dreams.

These are striking images, and they do point the way to a brighter future. Earlier this year, I laid out this vision in my address to the Israeli Knesset, and then in my address to the World Economic Forum in Egypt. It was not a Jewish vision, or an Arab vision, or an American vision. It is a universal vision. It unites all who yearn for freedom and peace in the Middle East. And if we lead, and if we persevere, and if we keep faith in our ideals, that vision will become a reality some day.

President Bush was speaking at the Brookings Institution last week