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Leading House Republican questions Bush's push for democracy

WASHINGTON—A leading Republican in the House of Representatives warned Thursday that President Bush's promotion of democracy worldwide could backfire, producing chaos rather than stability.

"There is no evidence that we or anyone can guide from afar revolutions we have set in motion," said Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois, the chairman of the House International Relations Committee.

Rather than a quick fix to America's problems overseas, pushing democracy in places that have no history of it "may, in fact, constitute an uncontrollable experiment with an outcome akin to that faced by the Sorcerer's Apprentice," Hyde said.

His remarks at a hearing with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reflect a growing unease on Capitol Hill over the direction of U.S. foreign policy after January's Palestinian parliamentary elections, won by the radical Islamic group Hamas.

They also appear to signify a division in Republican foreign-policy circles. While many conservatives back Bush's effort to spread democracy to the Middle East, some traditionalists have begun to express reservations.

The statement by Hyde, 81, who's retiring at the end of this year, didn't mention Bush or Rice, and aides said it was meant as a caution, not an attack on the White House.

Hyde spokesman Sam Stratman said: "Chairman Hyde strongly supports the president's strategy of promoting freedom around the world. In his remarks, Mr. Hyde provides a cautionary note that promoting democracy is a long-term process, not merely the result of some magic formula."

Nonetheless, the remarks amount to the most stinging critique to date of Bush's central foreign-policy initiative by a ranking member of his party.

In January's State of the Union address, Bush said, "Our nation is committed to an historic, long-term goal—we seek the end of tyranny in our world. ... Some dismiss that goal as misguided idealism. In reality, the future security of America depends on it." He declared that spreading democracy will reduce the threat of terrorism.

Rice makes similar points virtually every week, and Wednesday she announced that the White House will seek another $75 million to promote democracy in Iran.

Hyde, opening a hearing on Bush's foreign-affairs budget request, said promoting democracy always would have to be part of American foreign policy, in part because the public expected it.

"But I take issue with those who argue that it is self-propagating and that it invariably produces beneficial results, for this view rests on a misinterpretation of cause and effect in our history," he said.

The post-World War II growth of democracy in Europe and East Asia stemmed largely from "the direct and long-term presence of American power," Hyde said.

Now, he said, "implanting democracy in large areas would require that we possess an unbounded power and undertake an open-ended commitment of time and resources, which we cannot and will not do."

Rice didn't respond directly, but cited democratic advances in places as varied as Liberia, Haiti, Lebanon and Kyrgyzstan.

Democracy, she said, "is not always a process that produces outcomes that are in accordance with our desires, but I do think we have to speak out as Americans for the process."

In Capitol Hill appearances this week, Rice, while largely receiving praise from lawmakers, has encountered growing skepticism over U.S. policy in the Middle East.

Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., on Wednesday accused the administration of doing too little to support moderate Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in effect precipitating Hamas' victory.

Over Rice' disagreement, Chafee said: "And now we have a very, very disastrous situation of a terrorist organization winning elections."

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Hyde's comments are available at wwwc.house.gov/international(underline)relations/109/hyde021606.pdf

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(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

ARCHIVE PHOTOS on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Henry Hyde

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