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.

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."

And Start Following Your Rhetoric:
Page 15: "Even within the Bush administration, the president's words, expressing a profound faith in freedom, are not always translated into policies that reflect that faith."

Pages 242-244: In particular, Sharansky adores a June 24, 2002, speech by President Bush in which the president called on the Palestinians "to elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror" and "to build a practicing democracy, based on tolerance and liberty." Sharansky calls the speech "almost too good to be true." "From my perspective, the president's speech was potentially no less dramatic than when, twenty years earlier, Ronald Reagan had called the Soviet Union an evil empire. … Now, Bush's speech could finally dispel the delusions of those who believed that a fear society would fight terrorism and that peace could be made with a dictator."

Page 265: But by 2004, Sharansky is disappointed with the president's empty rhetoric. "The culture of death and violence that has engulfed Palestinian society can also change quickly," he writes. "It will happen when the world's democratic leaders, especially those in the United States and Israel, embrace the principles that President Bush outlined on June 24, 2002, and ensure that those principles shape their policies."

Let a Thousand Frances Bloom!
Page 95: "The democracy that hates you is less dangerous than the dictator that loves you."

Reagan's Senior Moment:
Page 140: In September 1987, Reagan calls Sharansky and his wife "Mr. and Mrs. Shevardnadze."

Farewell, Fukuyama:
Page 278: "I do not believe in an end of history."

Trouble With Footnotes:
Page 7: Sharansky says Arthur Schlesinger Jr. opined in the 1980s that "those in the United States who think the Soviet Union is on the verge of economic and social collapse, ready with one small push to go over the brink are wishful thinkers who are only kidding themselves." But Sharansky's footnote for this remark declares vaguely, "Schlesinger is reported to have made this statement after his return from a trip to the Soviet Union in 1982."

Page 138: Sharanksy quotes a "leading Soviet economist" as saying, "[I]f it had not been for the Reagan defense buildup … we probably would not be sitting here today having a free discussion between Russians and Americans." The footnote on Page 286 reads only, "See Freerepublic.com."

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