Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Recent Read: Natan Sharansky, The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror

I finally got around to reading Natan Sharansky's The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to
Overcome Tyranny and Terror (2006). Sharansky's argument is that freedom is good for everyone. The more freedom, the more security. Everyone will be happy and peaceful. Dictatorships are bad for their people, and threats to peace. It is an argument that President George W. Bush repeated during the invasion of Iraq.

Sharansky's struggle for freedom began as a dissident in the Soviet society of fear, where after years of agitation he was labeled a spy, and sent to the gulag. After Ronald Reagan personally mentioned Sharansky in a conversation with Mikhail Gorbachev, the dissident was fattened up, released, and allowed to immigrate to Israel. Sharansky entered politics in his adoptive land, and formed a party whose objective was to assimilate the massive influx of Soviet emigres into Israeli Society. The party was so successful, that it lost its purpose. A powerful figure in Israeli politics, Sharansky was active in the negotiations with Yasser Arafat throughout the 1990s. He believes that peace in the Middle East is elusive because of the dictators hold such tremendous power over their fearful and subjected people.  These regimes are propped up with a false ideology ruthlessly supported by state organized media, and maintained by a brutal oppression of civil rights and free thought. Sharansky sees the same pattern in Syria or the Palestinian Authority as he saw in the old Soviet Union.  These authoritarian regimes are abetted by the foreign policy realists in the West. As an example, he recounts a conversation he had with former president Jimmy Carter. In discussing his experience advocating peace in the Middle East, Carter stated he had a good partnership with Syrian dictator Hafez Assad because he felt that he could always trust the dictator to keep his word. To Sharansky, this line of thinking lacked moral clarity. Even if one could take a dictator's word to the bank, it still did not change the fact that they crushed human freedom and degraded the humanity of their peoples. The entire book is an argument for idealism in foreign policy and against realism or relativism.

Historians will find interesting insights on US-Soviet Detente (he opposed it), Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan (he speaks highly of the Gipper), his arrival in Israel (he was shocked by the division he found within a democratic society), and the Middle East peace negotiations in the 1990s (he wanted to couple concessions with guarantees of more open, transparent government). Future historians will undoubtedly look to this book to gain an insights into early year of the Global War on Terror.

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