Monday, May 02, 2005

Natan Sharansky, making the case for democracy

Recently finished The Case for Democracy by Natan Sharansky. A former Soviet dissident and currently active in Israeli politics (he resigned today from the Israeli cabinet today), . . . Read more . . .Sharansky defends this thesis: instead of dividing foreign policy theorists into realpolitik "realists" who prop up friendly foreign governments even when those are run by regimes that abuse their own people and Wilsonian "idealists" who see foreign policy as a way of achieving humanitarian goals, we should recognize that the promotion of democracy around the world is vital to the self-interests of countries like the U. S. Sharansky sees the desire to find non-democratic strongmen who can secure peace for Western democracies to be a failing that we have made time and again, whether we speak of the U.S. policy of detente, or Israel's attempt to forge a peace in the 1990's by effectively setting up Yasser Arafat as a Palestinian enforcer.

What makes this book more than just another bit of political theorizing is the personal perspective that Sharansky brings to these situations. When he was a dissident, he saw first-hand how terrified totalitarian regimes were of people who were willing to speak the truth. While in Israel, he saw how democracies were willing to deal with the devil himself if that devil promised peace. He also saw that the devil is incapable of delivering peace, as he rules and derives his power by inciting war -- peace renders him impotent.

Natan Sharansky's nice mix of memoir and advocacy is worth a read. I hope he has some influence in the way we think about foreign policy. President Bush and Condoleeza Rice have both said they were reading this book earlier this year. We'll see if they keep up the pressure on non-democratic regimes.
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