THESE DAYS, ONE SEEKS IN vain for voices who contend that the Cold War was a lost cause. The reason, quite obviously, is that the West’s triumph over the forces of communist totalitarianism makes this a decidedly difficult notion to sustain.
So why such heated resistance to idea, which finds its most prominent expression in the Bush administration’s calls for democracy in the Middle East, that Arab and Muslim tyrannies should share a similar fate? After all, next to the fearsome intercontinental influence once wielded by the Evil Empire, the modest mandates of Middle Eastern potentates qualify them as little more than oil-pumping pygmies.
In his new book, The Case for Democracy, Natan Sharansky gives us the answer. At bottom, he writes, it has to do with moral clarity: there simply isn’t enough of it.
For instance, it is this lack of moral clarity that informs leftist critics’ resentment of the Bush administration’s admirably hard-line approach to Middle Eastern tyranny. Incapable of drawing distinctions between a democratic West and an autocratic Middle East, leftist activists reach for spurious analogies: President Bush becomes Hitler incarnate; America and Israel become the latter day versions of Nazi Germany; Islamist terrorists out to trip-up a democracy-bound Iraq become freedom fighters on par with the heroes of the American Revolution. And those are the flattering comparisons.
Nor is the dearth of moral clarity limited to the America-bashing Left. Sharansky notes that some within the mainstream of American political discourse suffer from a similar affliction. Even as they hold dear the values of American democracy, Sharansky argues, these “freedom’s skeptics” — among them the “realist” tacticians who counsel “engagement” with the worst the Middle East has to offer — deny the power of freedom to transform undemocratic societies. Reluctant to insist on the superiority of democratic virtues, these critics carp that America has “no right to impose its values.” Unwilling to place their faith in the transformative power of democratic freedoms, they instead urge America to make common cause with regimes that survive by denying those freedoms to their native populations. Thus do these skeptics make the case for dictatorship.
AS A FORMER DISSIDENT in the Soviet Union, Sharansky knows something about dictators. In mounting his central argument that the West should actively promote democracy in places that lack it, Sharansky, enlists his own struggles in the front lines of the Jewish dissident movement — a career that earned him imprisonment in KGB-run prisons. With impressive thoroughness, limpid clarity, and the singular conviction who a man who has seen freedom slay one of history’s most formidable tyrannies, Sharansky persuasively contends that the dictatorships that seem so formidable to Western eyes are, like the former Soviet Union, inherently unstable. His case for democracy comes down to this: All that’s needed for tyranny to crumble is for freedom to be introduced.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
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