Natan Sharansky, the former “Prisoner of Zion,” and present member of Sharon’s cabinet, has written a provocative and important book that has already received a great deal of buzz. It appears that President Bush not only invited Sharansky for an hour-long meeting after reading The Case for Democracy, but passed it on to Condoleeza Rice, thus making it required reading for his inner circle. An author could not ask for better public relations than that!
Sharansky makes a compelling argument that you cannot trust what he calls “fear societies” — governments that are run by dictators. He argues that the policy of détente, a policy identified with Nixon and Henry Kissinger that would have recognized the legitimacy of the Soviet dictatorship, was a policy doomed to failure, and that it was the Reagan administration that understood that only democratic governments could, in the long run, be trusted. Sharansky credits Reagan with confronting the Soviets by promoting a democratic revolution in Russia and its satellite states. This policy included support for the Jackson- Vanik Amendment, which tied American trade with the Soviet Union to the emigration of Soviet Jews. By modifying its tyranny, the communist “fear society” ultimately collapsed under pressure from the United States. True peace, argues Sharansky, can only be achieved by societies that are committed to democracy.
When it comes to a solution to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, Sharansky has much to offer. He argues that the Oslo Accords were doomed to failure from the start because Arafat’s dictatorship could never lead to peace. Sharansky points out that all fear societies need an external enemy, and Israel played this role for the Palestinian leadership, thus solidifying Arafat’s hold on his dictatorship. Sharansky contends that before peace can be achieved in the Middle East, democracy must first be implemented among the Palestinians. As one of Sharansky’s critics put it, the Palestinians must first become Sweden before they can have a Palestinian state.
One can understand the impression The Case for Democracy made on President Bush. Committed to a democratic Iraq, Sharansky’s argument reinforces his belief that only the creation of democratic societies can create real peace in the world. Sharansky, like the president, believes that freedom is a universal right and not subject to a people’s history, custom or tradition. Sharansky, however, also offers a caveat in support of his argument, and one wonders if the president, given his determination to use elections in Iraq as a marker for declaring democratic progress in that divided country, has noted it:
“Until the overwhelming majority of Iraqis and Afghans live without fear of speaking their minds, elections are just as likely to weaken efforts to build democracy as they are to strengthen them… the goal of those who genuinely want to advance democracy …would be better served by worrying less about how quickly elections are held and more about the atmosphere in which they will eventually take place”
This also holds true for the recent election held by the Palestinians.