Few western public officials understand the current geopolitical situation, and especially the rationale for promoting democracy in the Muslim world, as well as Sharansky does. Of those who do understand, I don’t think any can explain things as clearly as he can.
There’s a quite good interview with him now in the Jerusalem Post:
“Many politicians and institutions that should be promoting democracy and freedom are cynically reluctant to do it, because Bush raised the agenda,” Sharansky went on. “That’s why I give Bush an “A” for raising the idea, a “C” for implementation and I give his opponents, who abandoned the idea, an “F,” because they are attacking Bush not for inconsistency in implementing the agenda but for raising it. Their approach denies the people of the Middle East the ability to live in freedom.”
Sharansky called Bush “a lonely dissident for democracy in the White House” because of his lack of support. But he cited three cases where Bush could have and should have been more consistent in his insistence on democratization: the Palestinians, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
On the Palestinian issue, Sharansky tried unsuccessfully three times to persuade Bush not to allow the Palestinian Authority election last year that was won by Hamas.
“I told Bush before and after [the vote] that quick elections cannot replace the democratic process,” Sharansky said. “Elections require a free society. Elections have to be the last step of the democratic process.”
Sharansky credited Bush and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for encouraging liberty in Egypt, Lebanon and Syria. The 4,000 Egyptian judges who wrote President Hosni Mubarak that their electoral system had to be changed would not have taken such a risk without American support, Sharansky said. He praised Bush for pressuring Mubarak to release from jail a dissident for democracy, Saad Eddin Ibrahim.
But when the Iraq war became more complicated, the US State Department insisted on supporting loyal secular dictators such as Mubarak, despite their corruption, and Bush acquiesced, Sharansky said.
“America was afraid that if they would fight corrupt dictators, the Muslim Brotherhood would come to power in the Middle East. When America starts speaking powerfully, democratic dissidents are strengthened. But when America makes dictators allies, the dissidents are weakened and Islamic fundamentalism is strengthened. That’s why America should not support Mubarak or Saudi Arabia,” the former Soviet dissident said.
On the Saudi issue, Sharansky said he told Rice she was wrong when she included the kingdom in her list of “moderate countries in the Middle East.” He said that when he asked her what was moderate about the Saudi regime, she admitted that he had touched a weak point and from then on, she referred instead to “responsible Middle Eastern countries.”
“America has wanted for many years to make Saudi Arabia part of the solution in the Middle East, but if you believe in a link between security and democracy, it’s not possible,” Sharansky said.
“It’s true that Saudi Arabia is against Iran, but it’s ridiculous to say Israel has to make concessions to bring the Saudis on board the Middle East peace process. Bush said only leadership that brings democratic reforms can bring peace to the Middle East. That’s the last thing the Saudis want to do. Democratic reforms are almost as big a threat to the Saudis as Iran.”
It’s a short piece and well worth reading in full.
(via Kesher Talk)
6 thoughts on “Sharansky Still Gets It”
Encouraging “democracy” in Muslim countries is a mistake. Just like during the Cold War, regional dictators are more likely to survive a popular demand for governments which will be hostile to the USA. Islamic fundamentalists would be elected in Egypt if there were elections. Sharansky is saying to adopt the Jimmy Carter approach. Carter allowed the Shah and Somoza, two US-backed dictators, to fall. They were replaced by regimes which were very hostile to the USA.
No more Carter style moralizing about political processes in foreign countries.
Find allies who are aligned with American interests, and who will use the needed means to suppress the popular, anti-American demands of their populations.
That’s not an accurate characterization of what Jimmy Carter did, nor do I think it’s an accurate read on what our experience in Iraq implies for our future policies. Carter paid lip service to freedom and liberalization but 1) didn’t effectively support struggling liberal reformers in the Middle East, 2) naively saw slick leftist or Islamist totalitarians as liberal reformers, 3) refused on principle to support the less-bad against the terrible and 4) appeased our enemies generally. His mishandling of Iran combined all of these mistakes. Subsequently the same mistakes were repeated by Reagan, who rescued Arafat from Tunis, and by successive US and Israeli governments who foolishly backed the gangsters while ignoring reasonable Palestinians.
Sharansky has long been a critic of these policies and is arguing for a consistent policy of real support for liberal reformers in authoritarian societies, and for not appeasing dictators.
The friendly-dictator policy that you advocate is inherently unreliable, because dictators are inherently unreliable, and failed in many instances. We are still attempting to follow it in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian territories and Pakistan. In Pakistan I don’t think there is an alternative. In Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the PA we are getting screwed. And by supporting these dictators we are making enemies of the populations they control. (It’s no accident that the 9/11 hijackers came from Egypt and SA.)
I think you are reacting to the word “democracy” without paying attention to Sharansky’s actual proposals. If you read the interview you will see that he thinks that we rushed elections in Iraq and that formal democracy is less important than is fostering the development of liberal institutions and attitudes. I don’t see why we can’t learn from our mistakes in Iraq and do things better in other countries.
Voters in Middle Eastern countries are going to elect Islamists if there are no, or no effective, competing groups. The best course for us in the long run is to support the Islamists’ competitors rather than the dictators.
Maybe what Les means by democracy is elections in the context of votes that are held in societies that lack political and social infrastructure.
As we are taught yet again in Iraq, elections are virtually meaningless in the absence of established institutions such as a free press, independent judiciary and a positive direction in economic development.
Building democracy means supporting or creating, even, the civil institutions the enable it. Toppling a dictator is easy, but when doing so actually degrades or destroys civil institutions, it’s bound to be counterproductive.
Then let’s learn how to support or create the necessary civil institutions. And I think that we are learning (or relearning) how to do this.
In the countries at issue there are no good alternatives. Finding the right dictator is a quick fix with a poor long-term record. Fostering political freedom is most difficult yet offers the possibility of a better outcome in the long run. Plan A didn’t work, so it’s time for Plan B.
Tom Barnett agrees with Jonathan on this point, it seems.
(They still disagree about Iran, though.)
I’m sure that you and I agree on some topics and disagree on others, and vice versa.
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