Sunday, November 4, 2007

Weekend Interview with Natan Sharansky

Natan Sharansky, the Israeli Zionist and former Soviet dissident, comes about as close as possible to living a life of neoconservativism.

Sharansky's the subject of
this weekend's Wall Street Journal interview. A main theme of the interview is that democracy promotion, especially as that practiced by the Bush administration, is on the ropes. Sharansky, as the author of The Case for Democracy, has been a major influence on the adminstration's agenda.

Here's a key excerpt from the article:

But democracy is a dirty word these days. So Mr. Sharansky is lonely too, bounced out of Israeli politics and out of favor. He, Vaclav Havel and other former Eastern European dissident faces of the freedom agenda are dismissed as Cold War naïfs, pernicious Utopians, or worse--men whose moral Manichaeism has no business in the "complex Middle East."

America is back to its realist ways in the region, propping up Egyptian and Saudi gerontocrats. The day I visit Mr. Sharansky, Condi Rice is here to prod all sides to another Middle East peace conference, with no mention of political opening as part of the bargain.

Across town at the Shalem Center, his new professional home in Jerusalem's German Colony, Mr. Sharansky puts a brave face on this latest turn in his life. Nine years in a Siberian prison camp without seeing his young wife, he says, puts everything that follows in healthy perspective. His smiling eyes are framed by a recognizable bald pate and graying sideburns (he's almost 60). An anecdote or joke is never absent for long in conversation. As almost any East European will tell you, humor makes unpleasant reality go down easier.

Mr. Sharansky says of his adversaries among the Western intellectual elite: "Those people who are always wrong--they were wrong about the Soviet Union, they were wrong about Oslo [the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian peace deal], they were wrong about appeasing Yasser Arafat--they are the intellectual leaders of these battles. So what can I tell you?"

But his side is today on a back foot. The war in Iraq and the rise of Hamas in the Palestinian territories, aided by the ballot box, are Exhibits A and B in the case against the Bush Doctrine and its contention that democracy can put down roots in Arab soil.
Mr. Sharansky considers these cases immaterial. "What's happening today in Iraq has nothing to do with the question whether promoting democracy is a good idea, or whether people in Iraq want to live in freedom." The Iraqis' refusal to defend Saddam Hussein and courage in voting for a new constitution and parliament settled that argument for Mr. Sharansky. Iraq's Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites are, he says, engaged in a different, no less ferocious struggle over "identity"--his current obsession, and the subject of his next book.

The victory of Hamas in last year's Palestinian elections is widely considered a defeat for the Bush Doctrine. Mr. Sharansky recalls seeing friends at the White House the day of the vote. "They said, 'Oh, it's the first time, it's a good experiment.' And I said, 'I fully disagree. It's a terrible experiment!' Now of course they come back and say, 'You see, you want to promote democracy and you get Hamas.'"

As he argued in his bestselling book, the West confuses the ballot box with democracy. "The election has to be at the end of the process of building free society," he says. "If there is no free and democratic society, elections can never be free and democratic."

Having not even attempted a "bottom up" overhaul of its politics and economy, the Palestinians weren't ready for a poll, he says, nor were other post-Cold War Western protectorates. He faults successive U.S. administrations for pushing votes before their time in Bosnia right after its war ended in 1995, Iraq and in the Palestinian territories. "Nobody thought in 1946 to have elections in Germany and Japan."
I think the neoconservative vision for Iraq will be vindicated ultimately (sooner rather than later, the way things are looking). History shows that the spread of freedom is generally welcomed. The controversy starts when that vision is backed by military power.

I noticed that Sharansky was spared a thrashing by the left blogosphere, as indicated by
the dearth of blog posts at Sharansky's Memeorandum link. Perhaps he's old news, or perhaps the lefties don't have a clue on Sharansky's neoconservative significance. Considering his impact on President Bush (here and here), that would be a surprise.

Neo-Neocon 's on top of it, in any case.