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The Case For Democracy
Sharansky's case for democracy
By Carol Devine-Molin
"I then explained why democracy was so crucial to international stability and security, why linkage had been so successful during the Cold War, and why the free world had betrayed its democratic principles at Oslo. I outlined my plan to help the Palestinians build a free society and help Israelis and Palestinians forge a lasting peace."
In his latest tome, The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror, Natan Sharansky (in cooperation with Ron Dermer) explains the transformative nature of democracy that promotes peace, human rights and economic opportunities. Democratization is an idea whose time has come, and which is integral to the Bush administration's philosophy on foreign policy and global security in this era of terrorism. The old diplomatic paradigm of underscoring "stability" and "engagement" with dictatorships, rather than encouraging much needed democratic reform, is now an unsuitable approach in these perilous times.
In the aftermath of 9/11, President Bush has issued the clarion call for democratization throughout the Middle East, with a view toward establishing open societies and thriving economies that will vastly improve the lot of those in the Islamic world. In contrast, tyrannical and oppressive regimes - that kill off hope and opportunity by their very nature - are breeding grounds for terrorists. Moreover, the author notes that President Bush's commitment to a Palestinian state is heartfelt and real, if the Palestinians are able to cooperate with needed change within their society. Bush requested that the Palestinians "build a practicing democracy, based on tolerance and liberty…If Palestinians embrace democracy, confront corruption and firmly reject terror, they can count on American support for the creation of a provisional state of Palestine". Sadly, given their hatred of Israel, it's doubtful that the Palestinians will ever comply.
Sharansky's unique background makes him eminently qualified to offer up his thesis on the dynamic power of freedom. Sharansky was a political prisoner in the Soviet Gulags for a nine year period as a result of his human rights activism on behalf of Soviet Jewry. Understandably, he renders strong opinions about the manner in which the USSR was impacted by US foreign policy. For Sharansky, Nixon and Kissinger's 1970s policy of détente with the Soviets was ill conceived and misguided. It ignored the USSR's abominable human rights record and propped-up its economy with western technologies and various economic plums. Sharansky states: "The Soviets seized the opportunity offered by détente to extract a range of concessions, including technology transfers, favorable arms control agreements, and preferential trading terms". According to Sharansky, the USSR was able to keep afloat – even though it was already near collapse – by manipulating this policy of "engagement" for its own purposes.
However, circumstances were soon in play that effectively caused the demise of the Soviet Union. The author particularly credits outspoken Soviet dissidents Andrei Sakharov and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and American leaders Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson and President Ronald Reagan, for bringing about the disintegration of the USSR in a timely manner. The Jackson amendment was a critical piece of legislation in terms of hemming in an awful dictatorship and imposing needed reform. Sharansky notes: "In linking American trade policy to freedom of emigration (which would primarily help Soviet Jewry), the amendment made improving human rights in the Soviet Union a condition of its relations with the United States".
Senator Jackson and President Reagan were incredibly insightful. They both grasped that the Soviet Union would soon collapse from internal pressures and that it was in the strategic interests of the US to pressure the Soviets in myriad ways. As noted by Sharansky, "A regime based on fear must maintain increasingly tight control over its population to remain in power, and such control inevitably triggers a process of decay". In the 1980s, President Reagan's build-up of the US military - including his Star Wars initiative – was pivotal in bringing about the downfall of the USSR. According to Sharansky, "Years later, close advisors of Gorbachev admitted that the realization that the USSR could never compete with Star Wars made them finally accept demands for internal reform…But Reagan's challenge to the Soviets was as much moral as it was economic, which is why the impact of his policies on the lives of Soviet dissidents was no less dramatic".
In his book, Sharansky also makes the critical distinction between "free societies" and "fear societies". The populace of a fear society or dictatorship will naturally engage in "doublethink" as a means of survival. In other words, there is a "disconnect" between what an individual says and what that individual actually thinks in a despotic regime. Sure, there are true believers who are thoroughly indoctrinated, but, over time, a dictatorship will generate an ever growing number of individuals that engage in doublethink. And as the author notes, there are always the "limits of indoctrination" when propaganda just fails to impact the populace with any real success.
Sharansky states: "Once the systematic brainwashing stops, once the truth begins to come to light, once the double-thinkers are no longer afraid, in every society a majority who will not be willing to live in fear again". Now, the author doesn't deny that creating democracies can be a long and arduous process; As demonstrated in Iraq, there can be significant problems. However, if given a choice, a population will not return to dictatorship. Moreover, depending on the level of punishment in a fear society, some people might even stand up for their beliefs, such as the author who was willing to risk imprisonment in the Soviet Gulags.
Sharansky indicates that because of the doublethink phenomenon, it's difficult for outsiders, such as journalists, to evaluate how the populace of a dictatorship really thinks and feels. What's espoused on the "Arab Streets" or in Beijing or Havana might have little to do with reality. It's Sharansky's contention that all people want to be free, despite what naysayers spout. Sharansky states: "To suggest, as the skeptics do, that the majority of a people would freely choose to live in a fear society is to suggest that most of those who have tasted freedom would freely choose to return to slavery".
In an Associated Press piece dated December 11, we see the Bush administration's foreign policy promoting democratization gaining headway: "Officials from more than 20 Islamic countries said Saturday that political, economic and social reforms must go hand in hand with steps toward settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The commitment to reforms came during a four-hour meeting that included those Muslim nations, industrialized democracies, the Arab League and other groups. The United States, a driving force behind the conference, sees the changes as a way to make these societies less of a breeding ground for political extremism...Secretary of State Colin Powell said he was not disappointed that the Muslim delegates insisted on linking internal reforms to the Mid-East dispute. Much of the discussion, conducted mostly in private, focused on raising the low literacy rates in the region and on ways to provide equal treatment for women. Economic development also was on the agenda", which is crucial considering that the unemployment rate in some Middle Eastern nations approaches fifty percent or more.
Carol Devine-Molin is a regular contributor to several online magazines.
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