In a little-noticed but major speech last November, President Bush laid out a "forward strategy" to create more freedom in the Middle East. If nothing else, history may remember Mr. Bush's presidency for this ambitious doctrine.
Now the idea is gaining traction. A NATO summit is due in June, and the US has started to press its European partners to let that successful military alliance of the cold war spread its umbrella south and create a web of trust and common ideals from Morocco to Bahrain.
The most likely shared ideal: ending terrorism conducted in the name of Islam.
Last year, the alliance extended itself outside Europe for the first time when it put troops in post-Taliban Afghanistan. And it's long had Turkey, a Muslim, non-Arab, and modernized Middle East nation, as a member. From those two footholds it can find ways to create a Western/Muslim embrace that will both uplift the Middle East and make it less of a source for terrorism.
No one's talking yet of full partnership for an Arab nation within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization - only low-level activities, such as police training and joint military exercises. (The US has begun to do that in the Far East, just as NATO did with former Soviet Bloc states before it started to admit them as members.)
And NATO is really just the advance guard for the Bush administration idea of having Middle East nations sign on to a regional organization loosely modeled on the 1975 Helsinki Accords. That Soviet-West grouping helped the West support democratic forces under communism.
Under this "Greater Middle East Initiative," as it's called, the West would provide incentives in trade, aid, and military linkages for Arab nations already moving toward democracy, market reforms, and human rights (especially for women).
Germany's foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, has endorsed the idea, but he first wants to combine NATO's efforts in the region with the European Union's ongoing dialogue with North African nations. Europe likes the initiative as a way to prevent the US from using war against terrorism. Mr. Fischer says "destructive jihadist terrorism" can't be eliminated by military force.
Bush now seems to support that view. "As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment, and violence ready for export," he said in the November speech.
Exactly how NATO will deal with Israel in a largely Arab grouping and with nondemocratic regimes remains unclear. Doing nothing along these lines isn't an option anymore.