Former President George W. Bush said the U.S. has a duty to support democratic revolutions throughout the world to foster the spread of freedom, while warning the path forward is never straight or steady.
“Freedom is a powerful force, but it does not advance on the wheels of historical inevitability,” Bush said today in Washington at an event organized by his presidential center to honor dissidents and democratic activists.
Bush, who left the White House in January 2009 after two terms in office, cited the example of the Arab Spring, which he called “the greatest challenge to authoritarian rule since the fall of communism.” The U.S. can’t decide when such revolutions begin or end, only “what side it is on.”
To support democracy activists, the George W. Bush Presidential Center is collecting interviews with dissidents around the world to document their struggles and motivation.
Bush was introduced by Syrian dissident Ammar Abdulhamid, founder of the Tharwa Foundation, which supports democratic movements in the Middle East and North Africa.
Abdulhamid said the interviews help “break the barrier of fear” for democracy activists. “The collection shows freedom advocates are not alone.”
Myanmar opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi also addressed the conference via videoconference. Suu Kyi took her seat in parliament this month after 15 years under house arrest.
Her fight has led to an opening for democracy in Myanmar, also known as Burma. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last month that the U.S. would begin the process of easing some economic sanctions on the country.
Suu Kyi said a suspension of sanctions rather than a lifting of sanctions against Myanmar is a “possible first step” to ensure the government continues moving toward democratization. Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona has proposed suspending U.S. sanctions, except for an arms embargo and provisions targeted at individuals and entities in Myanmar that impede the movement toward democracy.
Suu Kyi said her country still has a long way to go.
“The democratization process is not irreversible,” she said.
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