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Gates Presents 'Realist's View of Promoting Democracy Abroad'

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

WILLIAMSBURG, Va., Sept. 17, 2007 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates presented his “realist’s view" of promoting democracy abroad during a speech delivered at the World Forum on the Future of Democracy here today. (Video)

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Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates speaks during the World Forum on the Future of Democracy in Williamsburg, Va., Sept. 17, 2007. Defense Dept. photo by Cherie A. Thurlby
  

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Gates said democratic reform takes time, and to abandon Iraq would be a setback for freedom and stability in the region, and it would not be in the United States’ best interest.

“For America to leave Iraq and the Middle East in chaos would betray and demoralize our allies there and in the region, while emboldening our most dangerous adversaries,” Gates said. “To abandon an Iraq where just two years ago 12 million people quite literally risked their lives to vote for a constitutional democracy would be an offense to our interests as well as our values, a setback for the cause of freedom as well as the goal of stability.”

The secretary spoke to a group of international delegates, scholars and leaders gathered for the World Forum on the Future of Democracy. The final conference in a yearlong series, the World Forum brought together top leaders from 16 countries to examine the global advance of democracy, its challenges and prospects. 

Gates told the group that the United States must balance its practical and ideological interests in its efforts to spread democracy.

While not specific about a timeline in Iraq, he said it could take “many years or decades” for democratic values to take hold across the globe. He added that Americans should look to the United States’ early years when becoming impatient with progress in other regions.

“We would do well to be mindful of the turbulence of our own early history as we contemplate the challenges facing contemporary fledgling democracies struggling to find their footing,” Gates said. “Four hundred years removed from those early days, it is all too easy to forget about these stormy beginnings.”

And, Gates said, the United States cannot allow what may appear to be discouraging progress to dissuade its idealistic goals.

“Though achievement of the ideal may be limited by time, space, resources, or human nature, we must not allow ourselves to discard or disparage the ideal itself. It is vital that we speak out about what we believe and let the world know where we stand. It is vital that we give hope and aid to those who seek freedom,” he said.

Gates called Afghanistan a litmus test of whether an alliance of advanced democracies can still make sacrifices and meet commitments to promote democracy. He said that America and its allies want stability in the region that was once home to al Qaeda and “one of the most oppressive governments in the world.” But, some are now reluctant to dedicate the resources and forces to the region.

“For our friends and allies, as well as for our enemies and potential adversaries, our commitment to democratic values must be matched by actions,” the secretary said. “It would be a mark of shame on all of us if an alliance built on the foundation of democratic values were to falter at the very moment that it tries to lay that foundation for democracy elsewhere, especially in a mission that is crucial to our own security.”

During the 20-minute speech, Gates joked about his own self-described pessimism while serving in intelligence. And, today -- with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an ambitious and fanatical theocracy in Iran, a nuclear North Korea and terrorism -- there would seem to be ample grounds for pessimism, Gates said.

But, from a wider perspective, there has been record growth in human freedom since 1989, he said.

“Hundreds of millions of people -- from Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, to South Africa, Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere -- have been liberated; they have left the darkness of despotism and walked into the bright sunshine of freedom,” Gates said. “Many have seized the opportunity, and freedom has prospered and strengthened. Others liberated from the yoke of tyrannical ideologies or dictators continue to struggle to fully realize the dream. At no time in history, though, has freedom come to so many in so short a time.”

In every case, the United States played a role in their liberation, he said.

Gates said the underlying theme of American history is that we are compelled to defend our security and our interests in ways that, in the long run, lead to the spread of democratic values and institutions.

“The spread of liberty both manifests our ideals and protects our interests. In making the world safe for democracy, we are also the champion and vindicator of our own,” he said.

The secretary acknowledged the price America has paid for its own freedoms and those of others.

“It is our country’s tragedy and our glory that the tender shoots of freedom around the world for so many decades have been so often nourished with American blood,” he said.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDefense Secretary Robert M. Gates reviews his speech aboard a Blackhawk helicopter on his way to attend the World Forum on the Future of Democracy in Williamsburg, Va., Sept. 17, 2007. Defense Dept. photo by Cherie A. Thurlby  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDefense Secretary Robert M. Gates meets with former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor during the World Forum on the Future of Democracy in Williamsburg, Va., Sept. 17, 2007. Defense Dept. photo by Cherie A. Thurlby   
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageSecretary of Defense Robert M. Gates presents his "realist's view of promoting democracy abroad" during the World Forum on the Future of Democracy in Williamsburg, Va., Sept. 17, 2007. Defense Dept. photo by Cherie A. Thurlby  
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