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How well this line of theorizing goes down in today’s all-splenetic-all-the-time political climate is evidenced by the hostile reactions provoked by The Case for Democracy. For sensibly insisting that free societies must be the precondition to any lasting peace with the Middle East, Sharansky has come in for pointed rebuke from both the left and the right, which execrate him, respectively, as either a right-wing ideologue not above suspicion of neo-conservatism, or otherwise, a hopeless dreamer divorced from the real-life difficulties of fostering democracy in autocracy-plagued Middle East.
The Case for Democracy testifies that he is neither. Rather than merely willing democracy to take root in the Middle East, as he is frequently caricatured to do, Sharansky lays out policies to encourage the opening of Middle Eastern “fear societies.” Recalling his own fight for freedom, Sharansky explains how farsighted Cold War-era policies like the Jackson Amendment and the Helsinki Agreements, which introduced human rights measures behind the Iron Curtain, fatally undermined the power of the Communist diehards. Noting that many of the Middle East’s most anti-American countries are wholly dependent on Western, and specifically American aid, Sharansky urges policymakers to adopt similar policies, linking financial succor to the Middle East to the protection of human rights and the loosening of authoritarian controls.
ALREADY, HIS CRITICS HAVE thumbed their noses at Sharansky’s proposals, sneering that they smack of foreign policy as “social work.” As Sharansky convincingly demonstrates, however, the struggle against Arab and Islamic tyranny is not merely a humanitarian endeavor. Indeed, arguably the most important aspect of this book is Sharansky’s treatment of the oft-dismissed connection between tyranny and terrorism. Considered at length, this connection is as obvious as it is dangerous: Because all dictatorial regimes survive by crushing internal dissent, they must consistently evoke the threat of external enemies, which supposedly necessitate oppressive measures.
The result, as September 11 tragically showed, is that the West, particularly America and Israel, become the bull’s-eyes of choice. Fears of external enemies silence the democratic opposition while empowering the most violently radical elements Arab and Muslim society. Small wonder, as Sharansky points out, that studies show countries with the least amount of civic freedom are also the most anti-American and anti-Semitic. Put bluntly: by consenting to let Middle Eastern dictators literally get away with murder, the democratic West makes itself the next victim.
Paradoxically, the book is on weakest intellectual ground when it retreats from its own forceful thesis. At several junctures, for instance, Sharansky comes down against holding elections in Iraq and the Palestinian territories, arguing that societies with no tradition of freedom will produce leaders who will violate it at home and abroad. Yet Sharansky does not allow for another, equally plausible, possibility: That democratic elections may serve, as they did in Indonesia, to co-opt or marginalize the more fanatical elements of society, forcing extremists to moderate their views or risk political excommunication.
As we forge ahead in the War on Terror, the lessons of The Case for Democracy serve as a powerful guide, confirming that the promotion of free societies and representative government is not only “universally desired, it is universally desirable.” Perhaps more importantly, at a time when the wisdom of exporting democracy is under assault, Sharansky reminds us that those who cheer the demise of tyranny have history on their side.
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H/T to National Review Online