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In the footsteps of FDR, Truman, JFK

"THE SAME revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought" -- the president was speaking in Washington -- "are still at issue around the globe: the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God."

George W. Bush has articulated this conviction many times, so it comes as no surprise to hear him say it again. Except that these aren't President Bush's words. The speaker was John F. Kennedy; the words are from his inaugural address on Jan. 20, 1961. Moments later came his famous assertion of an American mission to diffuse freedom and decency in the world:

"Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty."

When President Bush delivers his second inaugural address next month, he will doubtless restate his case for advancing democracy in the Arab Middle East. Bush argues that the promotion of freedom is directly linked to national security, since governments accountable to the people are inherently peaceful, while dictatorships are belligerent and untrustworthy. That is a view he shares with the Israeli statesman and former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky, who develops it at length in a new book, "The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror."

Bush has read Sharansky's book; last month he spent more than an hour discussing it with him in the Oval Office. But his belief that the spread of liberty should be a cornerstone of US foreign policy is one he has been expressing for many months.

"The advance of freedom is the calling of our time," he said last fall in an address to the National Endowment for Democracy. "As in Europe, as in Asia, as in every region of the world, the advance of freedom leads to peace." He compared the current war against Islamist and Ba'athist fascists in Iraq to an earlier struggle against dictatorship -- the Cold War with the Soviet Union that began after World War II: "As in the defense of Greece in 1947, and later in the Berlin Airlift, the strength and will of free peoples are now being tested before a watching world."

The president who had come to the defense of Greece and West Berlin when they were threatened by communism was Harry Truman, and he too had used his inaugural address to sound a call for expanding the frontiers of liberty and democracy.

"We believe," Truman had said on Jan. 20, 1949, "that all men have a right to equal justice under law and equal opportunity to share in the common good. . . . We believe that all men are created equal because they are created in the image of God. From this faith we will not be moved. . . .   Continued...

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