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What sparked Bush's democracy speech?


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When President Bush spoke last week about his vision of spreading democracy in the Middle East, it might have struck some as a canny effort to wrap his Iraq troubles in a fresh burst of soaring rhetoric.

But the speech grew out of a trip in June to Aqaba, Jordan, where Bush met with then Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and Israel's Ariel Sharon. Speaking later to Republican congressional leaders, Bush "went off on a riff," says an official who was there, about the promise for democracy in the embattled region.

California Representative Chris Cox issued an invitation on the spot to have Bush reprise his remarks for last week's meeting of a Reagan-inspired group called the National Endowment for Democracy.

Bush's ardor for the topic grew during a trip to Japan last month. He told aides that if Japan, which had little or no experience with democracy before World War II, could embrace the system, so could the people of the Middle East.

The speech, written by Michael Gerson, went through 10 drafts, with input from Condoleezza Rice and other national-security aides.

All were aware that Bush's words would implicitly criticize his father's Administration, among others, for its support of dictatorships: "Sixty years of excusing and accommodating ... did nothing to make us safe."

After delivering the speech, Bush made a joking aside to aides: "No one was listening." Judging by the headlines it received, he was wrong.

Copyright © 2003 Time Inc.

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