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King Abdullah II of Jordan and President Bush spoke with reporters in the Oval Office yesterday.
King Abdullah II of Jordan and President Bush spoke with reporters in the Oval Office yesterday. (AFP Photo)

Mideast events lifting world's view of Bush

Page 2 of 2 -- White House communications director Nicolle Devenish said in an interview that the president will use his forthcoming events on Social Security to ''define the problem" and will campaign more heavily for his solutions, including private investment accounts, at later times.

''I think when we turn the focus to talking about solutions, some of these [poll] numbers will be more relevant," she said.

Meanwhile, Bush is clearly encouraged by Middle East-related events over the past few weeks, including his meeting yesterday with King Abdullah II of Jordan, after which Bush spoke of his belief that ''peace is within hand" between the Israelis and Palestinians.

''The president is inspired by the actions of the Iraqis who went out to vote and the thousands who are protesting in Lebanon," Devenish said. ''But he certainly has a long view and understands that democracy takes its time and winds its way through these places."

In speeches, Bush has suggested it is no accident that democracy movements are emerging in the Middle East at a time when he has put unusual emphasis on promoting democracy.

The president's supporters say his willingness to go to war in Iraq despite international opposition, his demands for Syria to leave Lebanon, and his refusal to push hard for Mideast peace talks until new Palestinian leadership emerged sent strong signals to authoritarian regimes in the region that it is time to open up their political systems.

Democrats differ on how much credit to give Bush's hard-line policies for the Mideast developments.

Representative Rick Larsen, Democrat of Washington, said that the hopeful signs in the region are still just ''small steps forward" and that the administration's conduct could be crucial in determining the direction from now on. Still, with the Middle East in a time of cautious optimism, Democrats are modifying their criticisms to focus on the prosecution of the war against the Iraqi insurgency, such as the pace of training for Iraqi forces and the adequacy of US troops levels, instead of Bush's rationales for the invasion, Larsen said.

''The debate about whether or not we should be there has passed," said Larsen, a member of the House Armed Services Committee. ''The debate now has to be about the success strategy and how we get out."

Representative Robert E. Andrews, a New Jersey Democrat, went a little further, saying members of his party acknowledge that Bush deserves some credit for the trend toward democracy in the Middle East, since his decision to topple Hussein made the climate for such movement possible.

''Looking at the Middle East today versus where it was two years ago, prospects for a stable, market-based, tyrant-free region are better," Andrews said. ''I don't see any set of circumstances where that's not good for the United States."

But some Bush critics maintain that the president's policies did not precipitate the current rush of events in the Middle East.

Lawrence Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration who is a fellow at the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress, attributes recent optimism about the Middle East primarily to two events: the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, which created the opportunity for new leadership, and the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, which provoked outrage against the Syrian occupation.

Neither is in any way related to Bush's policies, Korb said.

''Arafat dying was more important than Iraq," said Korb, contending that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict remains the defining issue for the region. ''I don't think the Palestinian elections had anything to do with invading Iraq."

Korb also suggested that progress could evaporate quickly and that the success of democracy in Iraq remains in doubt, as well as effects to stem Iran's nuclear ambitions.

''You could have, in five years, an Iraq allied with Iran," said Korb. ''You could have an Iran with nuclear weapons." 

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