(CNSNews.com) - Democratization efforts are experiencing success "in the shadows" that are not widely appreciated as a result of the attention and focus on Iraq, former presidential advisor Karl Rove said during a debate Friday at Regent University in Virginia Beach.
Rove expressed confidence in the future of Iraq and urged audience members to be mindful of recent international trends that suggest the United States has positioned itself on the right side of history.
Rove, a long-time confidant and top advisor to President Bush, took part in Regent University's fifth annual "Clash of the Titans" debate. He was joined by former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, former Democratic Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia and Barry McCaffrey, a retired four star general.
The participants were asked to share their thoughts on the following question: "Should America Bring Democracy to the World?" Rove and Bush argued in the affirmative, while Cleland and McCaffrey expressed misgivings over the direction of U.S. foreign policy.
The creation of a functioning democracy in the heart of the Middle East could have a transforming influence on a troubled region of world, Rove maintained. He also took issue with those who are inclined to believe Muslims are not equipped to operate and sustain a democracy.
"This is simply not right," he said. "The vast majority of Muslims in the world today live in democracies."
To bolster his point Rove cited the modern day examples of Indonesia, Turkey, Bangladesh, Morocco and Nigeria. He also said there were a substantial number of Muslims in North America and Europe who have accommodated themselves to democratic governments.
But McCaffrey and Cleland took issue with many of Rove's central arguments. They told audience members the U.S. was over-reaching in its current policy. Both McCaffrey and Cleland said future policymakers should make a more concerted effort to lead by example, rather than intervening in areas unaccustomed to democratic values.
McCaffrey expressed his support for a "conservative international philosophy" that called for judicious and measured application of American military power.
"There is no democracy in any province in Iraq," he said. "It disappears at the edge of the Green Zone. What we see is violence and chaos and a struggle for power. The people are not searching for freedom. They are trying to dominate their adversary to prevent from being slaughtered in the post war world."
Cleland said the U.S. presence in Iraq was "creating more terrorists." He also criticized the Bush administration for fixating on Iraq at the expense of capturing Osama bin Laden, who was behind the 9/11 attacks.
To this charge, Rove offered a sharp rebuke. "We spent every possible resource trying to find bin Laden, and it doesn't reflect well on our military to suggest that we didn't," he said.
The U.S. military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan have already yielded tangible dividends that will become more apparent over time, Rove said.
Libya has "given up" its chemical, biological and nuclear programs, while Syria has been expelled from Lebanon, Rove observed. Moreover, at a time when democracy is continuing to take root in Afghanistan, Egypt, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are now holding elections in certain regions, he added.
Iraq has now experienced "three historic elections," which have in turn produced a "reasonably modern constitution," a democratic parliament, Rove said. These achievements can be coupled in with the expanded role women now have in the political system, he further observed.
These recent developments that are occurring "in the shadows" plug in with recent trends that lend credence to Bush administration polices, Rove said. He said that there were only 22 democracies in the world in 1950, and 40 in 1974, while there are 143 free or partially free nations today.
America should help bring democracy to other parts of the world because the history of the 20th Century shows there is a tremendous cost in treasure and in human life when freedom is in retreat, Rove said.
"Democracies are a source of stability in the world," he said. "Democracies are more likely to be accountable to their people and have governments that serve the needs of their people. Few people openly desire and want war with their neighbors ... democracies are more prosperous, more innovative, more educated, healthier and more egalitarian."
Jeb Bush agreed with Rove's central assertion that America had a responsibility to be engaged on behalf of those who struggle for freedom. "We live in a dramatically different world than just a decade ago," Rove said.
"We live in interconnected world. Historically, the U.S. could correctly say that we were safe because we were self-sufficient, had natural resources, great oceans that protected us. We could have a different foreign policy. But we can no longer say that. The world is completely intertwined - it is more dangerous, and we need to be engaged," he added.
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