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  • Buchanan vs. Sharansky

    Posted by Jonathan on February 15th, 2005 (All posts by )

    Click this link and scroll down to read an exchange between Natan Sharansky and Patrick Buchanan. It’s worth the effort, as these two men perfectly represent the isolationist/anti-war vs. interventionist/neo-Wilsonian/democracy-spreading debate that is at the center of current controversy about U.S. involvement in the Middle East.

    It’s notable that Sharansky, whose spoken English isn’t very good, more than holds his own against the famously articulate Buchanan. I think this fact reflects partly on Sharansky’s great intelligence and focus, but more on the strength of his argument against appeasing dictators and for supporting democratic govt in places that have never known it.

    The crazy thing is that nobody in the Bush administration makes the case as effectively as does this foreign pol with his heavily accented English. Is this because Bush doesn’t recognize the importance of making his case directly to the public? Or are the Administration’s best spokespeople too encumbered with other duties to be involved in this important task? Either way it reflects poorly on the Administration’s priorities. Reagan, like W, faced a hostile press yet did an admirable job of explaining himself to the public. Bush seems to rely on a few allies in the mainstream press and on bloggers. It’s not enough.

    (via Ann Althouse)


    31 Responses to “Buchanan vs. Sharansky”

    1. aaron Says:

      The concepts are simple. I think the absence of the case being made by the administration is because of hope/expectation that the public will see it for themselves.

    2. ginny Says:

      Sharansky’s voice is strong because it comes from experience as well as vision. We trust him because he has been challenged and stood by that vision. That is different that politicians or even statesman who haven’t had such an experience. While Bush’s inaugural didn’t have that immediacy, I felt it did have an eloquence.

    3. Jonathan Says:

      I think that aaron is probably right, but even the strongest ideas require forceful and repeated promotion to be most effective, especially if they are often misrepresented by opponents. I am dismayed that the Administration does not seem to understand this point. Or maybe they do but are suboptimal at implementation. Either way, you’d expect that a skilled politician like Bush would do better at marketing his ideas.

    4. Craig R. Harmon Says:

      I realize that Ward Churchill is much more inflamatory, with nowhere near the same respect, but it seems to me that Buchanan’s basic premise, that interventionism causes terrorism, is not all that different than Churchill’s contention that America’s military and economic interventions are what caused 9/11.

    5. Jonathan Says:

      I agree.

    6. Craig R. Harmon Says:

      Jonathan, with whom do you agree?

    7. Ralf Goergens Says:

      You know, I’d like to see the Middle East democraticized as much as anyone, but can you quit doing it under the guise of removing the threat from WMDs? It worked in Iraq, but the shtick is getting old.

    8. Jonathan Says:

      Craig, I agree with your point about Buchanan and Churchill. Buchanan’s position is remarkable for someone who sounded like a classical liberal until just a few years ago.

      Ralph, I am arguing precisely that Bush & Co. have done a poor job of making their case to the public.

    9. Ralf Goergens Says:


      I didn’t just mean the Administration. The warbloggers are all talking about Iranian nukes and Syrian collusion in ceratin assasinations. :)

      Btw, it’s not just the American public that needs to be convinced. The interesting point is that the German public and press are quite receptive when it comes to Iraqi democracy, even if they opposed the war per se.

      As to Iranian nukes: By all accounts the democratic opposition there also wants to have their country nuclear power, and even nuclear weapons, not least because Pakistan, India, Israel and China have them. A direct strike against the nuclear program might motivate them to rally around the Mullahs, even if they generally loather them. The whole issue has to be handled carefully.

    10. Steve Says:

      Ralf, what “schtick” would you use? Countering WMD proliferation is an effective idea to organize an international coalition of democracies around because only the enemies of democracy are violating their anti-proliferation agreements (ie. Iran, Saddam’s Iraq, N. Korea).

      This used to be an uncontroversial priority.

      It’s similar to a bank holdup. But in this case, these are undemocratized, proliferating nations sticking missiles in our backs, and demanding we address the “root causes” for why “they hate us,” or else.

      He’re the options. Option A: Surrender, appease, give license, “don’t rock the boat.” Pay the Dhimmi tax, or prop-up Kim Thong-Pill for another decade. Option B: Fight, organize effective coalitions, and transform the regions.

      Lacking this unifying theme of anti-proliferation, proponents of M.E. democratization would have to emphasize another idea to organize a forceful, global, coalition around. Which returns me to my question. What unifying rhetorical tool would you suggest?

      (I’d like to think we can all agree to rule out option A.)

    11. Craig R. Harmon Says:

      Jonathan, I think that the similarity in their positions, Churchill’s and Buchanan’s, stem from different sources. Churchill, I think, genuinely sees the US government, in general, and the US military, in particular, as evil. I don’t know if he is an anarchist, but he is so anti government and anti military, that he is not above flat out making up lies to smear both–as if either have not had their share of genuine wrong-doing. I don’t think this is true of Buchanan, even today. Perhaps Pat has simply become a Libertarian when no one was looking.

    12. Jonathan Says:

      Buchanan shares foreign-policy opinions with some libertarians, but he’s not libertarian except on some marginal (for him) issues like the RKBA. On many burning issues of public policy, particularly WRT economics and immigration, he is conservative in the literal sense of the term, or even reactionary.

    13. Craig R. Harmon Says:

      Sorry, Jonathan, the Alphabet was never my best subject in school. RKBA? WRT?

    14. Jonathan Says:

      With respect to the right to keep and bear arms.

    15. Craig R. Harmon Says:


    16. Mark Says:

      I found this comment interesting: Reagan, like W, faced a hostile press yet did an admirable job of explaining himself to the public. Bush seems to rely on a few allies in the mainstream press and on bloggers. It’s not enough.

      In contrast to commentary like this: MEDIA ALERT: PRIORITIES OF POWER – The Real Meaning Of Elections In Iraq
      MEDIA LENS: Correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media
      February 8, 2005
      Introduction – At The ‘Mainstream’ Fringe

    17. Mark Says:

      Or even this characterization by Paul Craig Roberts: Not so long ago I would have identified the liberal media as the New York Times and Washington Post, CNN and the three TV networks, and National Public Radio. But both the Times and the Post fell for the Bush administration’s lies about WMD and supported the US invasion of Iraq. On balance CNN, the networks, and NPR have not made an issue of the Bush administration’s changing explanations for the invasion.

      Apparently, Rush Limbaugh and National Review think there is a liberal media because the prison torture scandal could not be suppressed and a cameraman filmed the execution of a wounded Iraqi prisoner by a US Marine. Do the Village Voice and The Nation comprise the “liberal media”? The Village Voice is known for Nat Hentoff and his columns on civil liberties. Every good conservative believes that civil liberties are liberal because they interfere with the police and let criminals go free. The Nation favors spending on the poor and disfavors gun rights, but I don’t see the “liberal hate” in The Nation’s feeble pages that Rush Limbaugh was denouncing on C-Span.

    18. Yehudit Says:

      A great talk by Sharansky in streaming video, scroll down till you see his name.

      Some of the others are good too.

    19. Yehudit Says:

      Should I bother fisking this? Okay.

      “both the Times and the Post fell for the Bush administration’s lies about WMD”

      Bush didn’t lie about WMD. He got the same intelligence as Clinton and the UN, who also thought saddam had WMD. You don’t make 14 Chap.7 UN resolutions over a decade telling one leader to disarm, unless you think he has them. The latest report on the UN is that the so-called inspectors regularly got drunk and let all sorts of stuff get smuggled over the border.

      On balance CNN, the networks, and NPR have not made an issue of the Bush administration’s changing explanations for the invasion.”

      Bush didn’t change explanations. Spreading democracy, stopping an oppressive tyrant, drying up terrorist funding, keeping Saddam from restarting his WMD program were all reasons given from the beginning, in ever speech Bush made about the war. (They were also Clinton’s reasons for his plan to depose Saddam, which he could not enact because the public wouldn’t have accepted it without a casus belli like 9-11.)

      “The Village Voice is known for Nat Hentoff and his columns on civil liberties.”

      He’s the only sane person on their entire staff.

      Typical Zmag cluelessness.

    20. James R. Rummel Says:

      “You know, I’d like to see the Middle East democraticized as much as anyone, but can you quit doing it under the guise of removing the threat from WMDs?”

      I dunno, Ralf. I always thought that the basic reasoning behind removing Saddam from power was to destroy a regime that supported terrorism.

      So far as the WMD thing is concerned, I was convinced that he had some before the invasion began. I think that just about everyone else who was concerned with the issue did as well. The fact that we didn’t find any might be a political black eye, but it doesn’t change the reasoning behind the decision one whit.


    21. Ginny Says:

      Another, this the c-span with Gjelten:

    22. Barnabus Says:

      Bush doesn’t talk about it more because it would cause him to loose what little support he has. If the arguement is cased in terms of homeland security then he has support. However,the American public does not support an idealistic vision of the U.S. actively forcing change in the ME. The only reason Bush has been able to pursue an interventionist foreign policy is because of the 9/11 attacks. That support is fading rapidly.

    23. Ralf Goergens Says:

      James and Steve,

      before the war I also was convinced the Saddam had WMDs, and thus I was all for the war. Problem is, he didn’t have them, and now the Bush administartion is making almost exactly the same arguments. That doesn’t help to make their arguments look very credible.

      And David Kay agrees with me.

    24. Shannon Love Says:

      Ralf Goergens,

      “Problem is, he didn’t have them..”

      That depends on what the meaning of “have” is. Saddam surprised the world’s analyst by not having tactical chemical weapons ready to go but as the Duefler report makes clear, he had merely mothballed them.

      Had he wished to, Saddam could have created the few tens of liters of nerve gas needed to kill thousands in a terrorist attack in a matter of days or weeks. He had the money, the technology (which is off the shelf) and most importantly the technical cadre to do so.

      In the end, WMD’s aren’t discrete weapons like Excaliber in the stone but rather they are production processes that can churn out numerous instances of each weapon type. Destroying the actual weapon is utterly pointless if the production capability is left in take.

      The big lie of the anti-war and sanctions movements was that it was ever technically possible to force a nation state to permanently surrender its technological capacity to produce chemical weapons.

    25. Ralf Goergens Says:


      I know, but the argument wasn’t made like that before the war, so this explanation looks too much like a rationalisation to those who aren’t already convinced. And of course, this argument also goes for any other hostile regime besides Saddam’s.

      There also was the claim made by one of Chalabi’s exiles that Iraq had chemical weapons ready for deployment within 45 minutes. That cost a lot of credibility. And we only had Cahalabi’s and his exiles’ word for it that Saddam had the intention to use his WMDs in a terrorist attack.

      And to put it bluntly, what you are saying means that due to the existence of WMDs there is no room for undemocratic regimes in the world. That’s a valid point actually, but you’ll be hard put to follow through soon enough to do much good, and you also give the bad guys plenty of motivation to get WMDs of their won, as insurance against invasion.

    26. Jonathan Says:

      And to put it bluntly, what you are saying means that due to the existence of WMDs there is no room for undemocratic regimes in the world. That’s a valid point actually, but you’ll be hard put to follow through soon enough to do much good. . .

      You have to start somewhere. Once you knock down the worst threats, the others might get the idea that they could be next, which might help to persuade them to clean up their acts. Seems to be working so far, and the credible alternatives (appeasement, diplomacy) haven’t worked.

    27. Shannon Love Says:

      Ralf Goergens,

      “I know, but the argument wasn’t made like that before the war…”

      Actually, it was, especially by the technical experts such as weapons inspectors. They repeatedly said they could not disarm Saddam against his will. The people reporting on these statements either didn’t understand the significance of what the techs were saying or chose to ignore it.

      I think the Bush administration erred by being to deferential to the UN and letting the illusion of inspections continue. This created the widespread belief that inspection were actually effective. In retrospect it would have better if they had hammered on the technical realities and forced liberation opponents to admit that Saddam could never be involuntarily disarmed.

      The Bush administration was severely hampered in its communications by the need to maintain a diplomatic facade. They had to pretend in public that the UN was (1) effective and (2) actually an ally. As result officials could not explicitly state what was glaringly obvious to the technically informed.

    28. Steve Says:

      Ralf, If I read you correctly, you believe that the usefullness of Bush’s WMD rhetorical focus is compromised, and that another political strategy may be more helpful.

      I found myself agreeing more as I mulled over some alternates through my day. Afterall, you wouldn’t repeat the same chess strategy game after game, would ya?

      The problem is the options that arent’ overly abstract, or too distant from their immediate national interests to alter our detractor’s policies, are limited.

      Can you conceptualize another schtick that may move world public opinion more our way?


    29. Ralf Goergens Says:


      the elections in Iraq have exceeded the most optimistic expectations. So the most important part of the new strategy would be to go for broke on that front and declare that you want to see this process repeated across the whole Middle East, and will do anything to help it along, including military action when it is practible.

      The time is ripe for it; Syria has no hope to fend off an invasion, not least because it also has to be mindful of Israel and has to keep troops on the Western border. Once Assad falls, Iran’s commitment to help Syria will backfire on the Mullah’s, for they won’t be able to follow through. Iran will lose face, something that ordinary Iranians won’t be willing to forgive, for they are by all accounts very patriotic. That alone very likely won’t make them overthrow the Mullahs, but their position will be weakened, and it won’t take many of these disgraces to make them fall. I’m sure that there won’t be a lack of oportunities to deliver those.

      Those disgraces are vital for another reason: Before the Mullahs fall, they must be demoralized, and to be made to think that they simply don’t have what it takes to rule anymore; for if they are still defiant and feel cornered, they just might blow their pipelines and attack Saudi Arabia’s.

    30. Steve Says:

      Ralf, I think you’re onto something. “Face”, and the maintenance of it, can be a huge motivating force.

      It is more of a “negative reinforcement” tactic, however, rather than a positive one designed to entice or attract folks to our side.

      “You’ll catch more bees with honey, than you will with vinegar,” my Grandma always says. I’d like to think we could entice Malaysia, Germany and France to vote with us in the U.N. with a grander political message, if only we could put our heads together to devise one.


    31. Noel Says:

      After proposing “the right of return” in order to extinguish the Jewish state demographically, Buchanan closes by saying “Justice will not wait for democracy”, to which Sharansky replied “There will be no justice without it.” Just so. Democracy itself is a form of justice.

      The fact is, we’ve already tried it all; bribery, foreign aid, stability, realism, no-fly zones, containment, diplomacy, sticking our head in the sand, etc., etc.

      All that got us was WTC1, Khobar Towers, Oklahoma City, The Embassy Bombings and then 9/11.

      The only thing we haven’t tried is what we are now doing.