Jewish World Review May 11, 2011 / 7 Iyar, 5771
Pact With the Devil
By Paul Greenberg
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Why write a newspaper column when someone else has said it so much better and shorter?
The someone in this case is Natan Sharansky, who went from unsuppressible Russian dissident to outspoken Israeli leader without skipping a beat. Now he's summed up the basic problem with American policy in the
American policy continues to flounder, he contends, because it lacks sufficient respect and appreciation for man's yearning for freedom. His own faith in freedom has never faltered, even in the darkest hours, when faith such as his was considered folly.
Everybody knew the
Natan Sharansky, whether free or imprisoned at the time, never bought that kind of "realism." And it was his distinctly minority view that proved the accurate one. He's seen so clearly over the years because he's held to a single, saving realization: that men wish to be free. And will be.
Strangely enough, the "realists" who belittle principle in foreign policy inevitably prove unrealistic when principle -- no matter how long denied or diverted or dammed up -- breaks through like an irresistible flood, and sweeps tyranny away.
Natan Sharansky came to understand all this early. The way Solzhenitsyn did in a succession of Soviet labor camps, and
Sharansky had felt the power of The Thaw in
Today it's an Arab spring, and it's broken out from
Hope has stirred, then revolution, and soon ... well, we shall see. The only thing sure is that, when freedom reaches high tide and breaches the walls that once confined it, an American administration will, once again, be awfully surprised.
Why is that? Because we thought we had the Mideast figured, and put our faith not in freedom but in princes. And in the magic of Realpolitik. Just as all those old
So we worked out a deal: We'd give the kings and oil sheikhs and bemedaled autocrats what they wanted from us -- arms, money, cover -- and they'd keep the people, that great beast, quiet. Now we can't figure out quite what's happening, or what we should do about it.
Here, let Natan Sharansky explain, as he did in the
"For decades, the policy of the free world toward the Arab and Muslim Middle East was based on a simple principle: The overriding aim was stability, purchased by deals struck with leaders. That the leaders in question were autocrats of one stripe or another mattered little; neither did the cruelty and rank corruption endemic to their rule. To the contrary, tyranny was seen as the guarantor of stability, just as corruption guaranteed that the regimes' friendship could be bought. ... Repeatedly, however, and now definitively, that pact has been exposed as a sham, yielding not stability but its opposite."
Will we ever learn? The lesson is simple enough: No matter how long it is suppressed, freedom will break through -- and upset the best-laid plans of diplomats and deal-makers.
Ah, but tyranny can be so attractive. It's simple, understandable and seemingly permanent. That's why it's such a temptation to make a bargain with it. It's a temptation as old as Faust.
Freedom is no simple thing. It can be a slow, tricky, unpredictable process. It can percolate through a society slowly -- or hit like a flash flood. As if out of nowhere. Americans should have learned as much by now, the 150th anniversary of the great war that made us a nation. O, Freedom! It can be long in coming, but it will come. Something in man will stir, and when it does ... all deals are off.
Keeping faith with freedom will require strong nerves and constancy of purpose. Just as it does now in
Cynics will scurry about looking for complicated explanations for these latest revolutions in the
There are some truths much too basic, even mythic, for our capital-E Experts, the Scowcrofts and Kissingers and Brzezinskis of the world, to absorb. As soon as reality overturns all their talk of Detente or a Grand Bargain or whatever today's catch phrase may be, these great thinkers don't change their minds. They just redouble their losing bets on Realpolitik, like a desperate amateur at the roulette table, and call it Statesmanship.
Or as Natan Sharansky describes the reflexive response of our intelligentsia to being caught off guard once again:
"Surveying the fall or near-fall of the Arab dictators, some in the West have reverted to habit, turning wistfully to well-organized structures within the society shaped by those same dictators: notably, the military on the one hand, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups on the other. The unspoken idea is to replicate the old pact but with a different set of players with whom the West can continue to do business on the same terms.
"Once again the goal is stability and security, rationalized now by pointing to the alleged absence of any other centers of potential leadership within Arab society, and by the 'discovery' of moderate elements within some of the region's worst actors. This is delusion squared. What is really being justified is an abdication of the free world's own ability to influence the momentous developments now gripping the Muslim world."
In the end, all these modern, up-to-date, scholarly Fausts have only their theories to assert, not any principle. That is why they are reduced to reacting to events instead of shaping them. And why, once again, an American administration has been surprised by something as fundamental as man's yearning to be free.
Foggy Bottom, the well-named locale of our
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