Bush: A free Mideast essential

President Bush said Friday that just as the United States helped Europe rebuild after World War II, the two powers must now stand with newborn democracies like Afghanistan and Iraq and reach out to people yearning for liberty, especially in the Middle East.

Bush delivered his speech, a progress report on trans-Atlantic relations, in France, a nation that was crucial to America's quest for independence. Arriving in Paris from Rome where he met with Pope Benedict XVI, Bush took a motorcade ride to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and confidently pronounced U.S.-Europe relations the “broadest and most vibrant” ever.

A few short years ago that wasn't the case. Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and former French President Jacques Chirac clashed with Bush over the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Two of Bush's allies, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and ex-Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, paid a political price for backing him on the war, which fractured trans-Atlantic ties.

Bush has spent his second term successfully mending them. But while his administration has joined nations across the globe to try to solve a host of international threats, including North Korea's and Iran's nuclear programs, the president's initial, first-term go-it-alone reputation set the tone for his presidency.

In his speech Friday, Bush pushed European leaders not to work at cross purposes with the United States or their neighbors, but to address global challenges of energy, security and trade. Ultimately, he said, the only way for freedom and democracy to win out over terrorists is to defeat their ideology, especially in the broader Middle East.

“The rise of free and prosperous societies in the broader Middle East is essential to peace in the 21st century, just as the rise of a free and prosperous Europe was essential to peace in the 20th century,” he said. “So Europe and America must stand with reformers, democratic leaders, and millions of ordinary people across the Middle East who seek a future of hope and liberty and peace.”

The president timed his speech to the 60th anniversary of the start of the Marshall Plan to show how far the West has come in building a peaceful and prosperous Europe that rose out of the ruins of World War II.