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Jewish World Review Feb. 18, 2003 / 16 Adar I, 5763

Michael Barone

Michael Barone
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Sakharov's advice for us

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As this is written, it is not known whether another U.N. resolution against Iraq--the 18th, as Donald Rumsfeld points out, not the second--will be proposed and approved. And it is not known what the course of action will be. But it is already time to talk about what comes next.

Guidance comes from two of the authentic heroes of our times, the Soviet dissidents Andrei Sakharov, who died in December 1989, and Natan Sharansky, who is now deputy prime minister of Israel. In the early 1970s, Sakharov and Sharansky opposed U.S. detente with the Soviet Union, and today Sharansky recalls Sakharov's advice to American policymakers: "Do not trust governments more than governments trust their own people." Woodrow Wilson sought to make the world safe for democracy through instrumentalities of international law. Democracy was imperiled when those instrumentalities failed. Sharansky and Sakharov teach that the world can be made safe for democracy only by more democracy. Safety is possible only when people are free.

Sakharov lived long enough to see this lesson partially proved. Sharansky describes what was happening in Russia in the 1980s and early 1990s: "The moment you give people a little bit of freedom, they want it all; the moment the virus of freedom is set loose, there is no way back. The soldier with his gun was tired." America and Russia have been at peace since 1991. Sharansky saw what happened when Israel rejected this lesson in 1993 when it sought peace with Yasser Arafat in Oslo. Yitzhak Rabin argued then that Arafat could be trusted to suppress terrorism because he would not be constrained by a "Supreme Court, human-rights organizations, and free press." But Arafat is a dictator and, as Sharansky argues, a dictator's "primary goal, and greatest headache, is how to keep the people under control. To do so, he always needs an enemy, against whom he can constantly mobilize his people." Arafat, given the choice of 98 percent of his goals or terrorism, chose terrorism.

Desperate dictators. The leaders of the states sponsoring terrorism in the Middle East give practical and ideological support to terrorists--Saddam Hussein, the Iranian mullahs, and Syria's Bashar Assad openly, the Saudis covertly--because they are dictators desperate to control their people. They give shelter and aid to the Wahhabis whose totalitarian doctrine is antithetical to our way of life and to al Qaeda terrorists who seek to destroy our civilization. Saddam Hussein has the capacity and will to arm terrorists with weapons of mass destruction they can wield against the United States without our knowing where they came from. Our country cannot be safe as long as his regime continues to exist.

In his National Security Strategy issued last September, George W. Bush paid heed to Sakharov's advice. "We seek," he wrote, "to create a balance of power that favors human freedom: conditions in which all nations and all societies can choose for themselves the rewards and challenges of political and economic liberty. In a world that is safe, people will be able to make their own lives better. We will defend the peace by fighting terrorists and tyrants. We will preserve the peace by building good relations among the great powers. We will extend the peace by encouraging free and open societies on every continent."

What is most important about Iraq is not military victory but what comes after. Bush writes, "The United States is guided by the conviction that all nations have important responsibilities." The responsibility of the United States is to build a peaceful, democratic, independent postwar Iraq. Bush has spoken eloquently about the need for democracy and the rule of law in the Middle East, and members of his administration have made serious preparations for setting Iraq on a path to democracy. But he has not said enough yet, at this writing, to prepare the American people for this task.

It will not be easy. Many people said in the 1970s that Latin Americans were unsuited for democracy, in the early 1980s that East Asians were unsuited for democracy, in the late 1980s that Eastern Europeans and Russians were unsuited for democracy. Many people worried in 1945 that the Germans and Japanese were unsuited for democracy. There were reasons for their doubts and fears. But the United States took chances on democracy, transforming Germany and Japan into decent independent nations we can live with and helping to move Latin America, East Asia, Eastern Europe, and Russia in the same direction.

We have no choice now but to do the same, first in Iraq and then in other parts of the Middle East.

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JWR contributor Michael Barone is a columnist at U.S. News & World Report and the author of, most recently, "The New Americans." He also edits the biennial "Almanac of American Politics". Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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©2002, Michael Barone