Exclusive: Where Bush went wrong - Sharansky

Ex-Prisoner of Zion still praises US president as "a lonely dissident for democracy."

natan sharansky 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
natan sharansky 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Former minister Natan Sharansky, whose book, The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror has inspired US President George W. Bush, gives Bush a "C" grade for implementing his vision. Sharansky, the former Prisoner of Zion who currently chairs the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, told The Jerusalem Post Thursday: "I have to give Bush credit, because he brought back the agenda of linking security and democracy, which was abandoned by the free world after the defeat of the Soviet Union. [But] what makes it hard for him to implement it is that he's so lonely. "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." Asked if there was a candidate running for US president who could implement his vision better than Bush had, Sharansky said he did not know of anyone who believed in his ideas more than the current president. "He passionately believes in the power of freedom," he said. "But we saw it's not enough to believe. You have to be able to bring broad support for these ideas. It's not enough for a candidate to believe in the ideas, it's who can build a broad coalition around the ideas and sell them to the American people." Asked whether he thought Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu would be more loyal to his ideas if he returned to the Prime Minister's Office than he was in his first term, Sharansky said he hoped so. "From all the Israeli politicians, Bibi is the only one who has spoken about the principled difference between peace agreements with or without democracy, in a book he wrote years ago," Sharansky said. "That's not my only idea, but it's an important step. It's also important that the people not be skeptical. The ideas have no chance if the leader who believes in them will become a lonely dissident." One of the issues Sharansky focuses on at the Adelson Institute is Iran. He said the nuclearization of Iran could be stopped, even though the free world had a very limited time to do so. H said he knew firsthand that Bush wanted to stop Iran. Sharansky said his top accomplishments since resigning from the Knesset last November had been the formation of the institute, hosting a meeting of democratic dissidents in Prague, the translation of his book into many languages and receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Bush in Washington. "I don't regret leaving the Knesset for a second," Sharansky said. "Not because I think it's not important, but because I feel that if you cannot have influence from inside when such important things are happening, you have to find other ways to have influence, and that's what I'm doing here."