My Sharansky

How to read juicy books.
Jan. 26 2005 6:47 PM

My Sharansky

Bush's favorite book doesn't always endorse his policies.

George W. Bush
GWB: Read a little more carefully

In the past week, Natan Sharansky has become the most famous Israeli minister for Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs in history. The Sharansky boomlet started with a trickle earlier this month when Bush used a Washington Times interview to tell "opinion makers" that he wanted to put a book on their "recommended reading list." "If you want a glimpse of how I think about foreign policy read Natan Sharansky's book, The Case for Democracy," Bush said. "It's a great book." Then, two days before his second inaugural address, Bush told CNN that the book "summarizes how I feel. I would urge people to read it." Soon, the former Soviet dissident began getting more credit than Michael Gerson for Bush's rhetoric about the relationship between democracy and peace. Newsweek called The Case for Democracy Bush's "own manifesto in the Middle East—a tome he recommends to all comers in the Oval Office."

Most of the discussion surrounding Sharansky's book has focused on what he calls "the town square test" for free societies. Here's how Sharansky defines the test, which Condoleezza Rice endorsed during her Senate confirmation hearings: "Can a person walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm?" Sharansky uses this test to devise the central policy recommendation in The Case for Democracy: He wants to "turn a government's preservation of the right to dissent—the town square test—into the standard of international legitimacy," and he recommends sanctions and pariah status for the nations that fail it.

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Administration officials have been insisting that Bush's inaugural address did not signify a shift in policy, but adopting Sharansky's advice would be a dramatic change. So would taking Sharansky up on a number of other suggestions. For a book that the president claims summarizes his thinking, there's a surprising—if still small—amount of criticism of the Bush administration and its policies. Here's where Sharanksy disagrees with the president's policies, plus a grab bag of other interesting tidbits.

Slower Elections:
Pages 72-74: Sharansky directly criticizes the administration's haste to hold elections in Afghanistan and Iraq. He writes that "elections are not a true test of democracy." In fact, "elections are never the beginning of the democratic process." The Allied powers after World War II "wisely decided not to hold federal elections in Germany for four years. Had elections been held in 1945 or 1946, the results probably would have undermined efforts to build German democracy, something those who hope to build democratic societies in Afghanistan and Iraq would be wise to keep in mind."

Pages 250-251: Sharansky also questions the legitimacy of the Palestinian elections won by Mahmoud Abbas. "As I have explained, elections in a fear society can never come at the beginning of a reform process. Invariably, such elections cannot be free because they will be held in an environment of fear and intimidation." He proposes a transition period of "at least three years" before truly democratic Palestinian elections can be held.

Criticizing U.S. Policy Provides Aid and Comfort to Whom?
Page xii: Reading The Morning Star, a London Communist daily, "would prove highly subversive" for young Sharansky. Rather than absorbing the content of the paper, he was astounded by "the very fact that people outside the Soviet Union were free to criticize their own government without going to prison.

Are You Sure You Wanted To Mention "Freedom From Want"?
Page xix: Sharansky sharply criticizes the way human rights "has come to mean sympathy for the poor, the weak, and the suffering," because "sympathy can also be placed in the service of evil."

Stop Following the Road Map:
Page 257: "It will not bring genuine freedom to the Palestinians, and therefore will not bring genuine peace."

Pages 258-259: Sharansky says Mahmoud Abbas desires only a "temporary truce" with Israel. In fact, he "was trying to do with the Road Map what Arafat had done with the Oslo agreement": wring concessions from Israel without reforming Palestinian government.

Page 195: "For the last decade, many in the free world were convincing themselves that the rise of anti-Semitism in the Middle East was an unfortunate but passing episode on the way to peace. Now, it appears as though the peace process was a passing episode on the way to a revived anti-Semitism."

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