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Important principles may, and must, be inflexible.
Read Natan Sharansky on President Bush in today’s Wall Street Journal;
George W. Bush has the courage to speak out
There are two distinct marks of a dissident. First, dissidents are
fired by ideas and stay true to them no matter the consequences. Second, they
generally believe that betraying those ideas would constitute the greatest of
moral failures. Give up, they say to themselves, and evil will triumph. Stand
firm, and they can give hope to others and help change the
Political leaders make the rarest of dissidents. In a
democracy, a leader’s lifeline is the electorate’s pulse. Failure to be in tune
with public sentiment can cripple any administration and undermine any political
agenda. Moreover, democratic leaders, for whom compromise is critical to
effective governance, hardly ever see any issue in Manichaean terms. In their
world, nearly everything is colored in shades of gray.
That is why
President George W. Bush is such an exception. He is a man fired by a deep
belief in the universal appeal of freedom, its transformative power, and its
critical connection to international peace and stability. Even the fiercest
critics of these ideas would surely admit that Mr. Bush has championed them both
before and after his re-election, both when he was riding high in the polls and
now that his popularity has plummeted, when criticism has come from longstanding
opponents and from erstwhile supporters.
With a dogged determination that
any dissident can appreciate, Mr. Bush, faced with overwhelming opposition,
stands his ideological ground, motivated in large measure by what appears to be
a refusal to countenance moral failure.
I myself have not been uncritical of Mr. Bush. Like my teacher,
Andrei Sakharov, I agree with the president that promoting democracy is critical
for international security. But I believe that too much focus has been placed on
holding quick elections, while too little attention has been paid to help build
free societies by protecting those freedoms–of conscience, speech, press,
religion, etc.–that lie at democracy’s core.
I believe that such a
mistaken approach is one of the reasons why a terrorist organization such as
Hamas could come to power through ostensibly democratic means in a
Palestinian society long ruled by fear and intimidation.
I also believe
that not enough effort has been made to turn the policy of promoting democracy
into a bipartisan effort. The enemies of freedom must know that the commitment
of the world’s lone superpower to help expand freedom beyond its borders will
not depend on the results of the next election.
Just as success in
winning past global conflicts depended on forging a broad coalition that
stretched across party and ideological lines, success in using the advance of
democracy to win the war on terror will depend on building and maintaining a
wide consensus of support.
Yet despite these criticisms, I recognize that
I have the luxury of criticizing Mr. Bush’s democracy agenda only because
there is a democracy agenda in the first place. A policy that for years had
been nothing more than the esoteric subject of occasional academic debate is now
the focal point of American statecraft.
For decades, a "realism" based on
a myopic perception of international stability prevailed in the policy-making
debate. For a brief period during the Cold War, the realist policy of
accommodating Soviet tyranny was replaced with a policy that confronted that
tyranny and made democracy and human rights inside the Soviet Union a litmus
test for superpower relations.
The enormous success of such a policy in
bringing the Cold War to a peaceful end did not stop most policy makers from
continuing to advocate an approach to international stability that was based on
coddling "friendly" dictators and refusing to support the aspirations of
oppressed peoples to be free.
Then came Sept. 11, 2001. It seemed as
though that horrific day had made it clear that the price for supporting
"friendly" dictators throughout the Middle East was the creation of the world’s
largest breeding ground of terrorism. A new political course had to be
Today, we are in the midst of a great struggle between the
forces of terror and the forces of freedom. The greatest weapon that the free
world possesses in this struggle is the awesome power of its
The Bush Doctrine, based on a recognition of the dangers posed
by non-democratic regimes and on committing the United States to support the
advance of democracy, offers hope to many dissident voices struggling to bring
democracy to their own countries. The democratic earthquake it has helped
unleash, even with all the dangers its tremors entail, offers the promise of a
more peaceful world.
Yet with each passing day, new voices are added to
the chorus of that doctrine’s opponents, and the circle of its supporters grows
Critics rail against every step on the new and difficult
road on which the United States has embarked. Yet in pointing out the many
pitfalls which have not been avoided and those which still can be, those
critics would be wise to remember that the alternative road leads to the
continued oppression of hundreds of millions of people and the continued
festering of the pathologies that led to 9/11.
Now that President
Bush is increasingly alone in pushing for freedom, I can only hope that his
dissident spirit will continue to persevere. For should that spirit break,
evil will indeed triumph, and the consequences for our world would be
Mr. Sharansky spent nine years as a political prisoner in the Soviet Gulag. A
former deputy prime minister of Israel and currently a member of the Knesset, he
is co-author, with Ron Dermer, of "The Case For Democracy: The Power of Freedom
to Overcome Tyranny and Terror" (PublicAffairs, 2004). You can buy "The Case For
Democracy" at the OpinionJournal bookstore here.
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