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Saturday, February 05, 2005

16 Shells From A 30.6

From The Economist:

“INTELLECTUAL” is hardly the first word that springs to mind when you contemplate George Bush. . . .

Yet for the past few months this paragon of good ol' boy common sense has been infatuated with a book about an abstract noun by a Jewish intellectual. Mr Bush recommends Natan Sharansky's “The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror” (Public Affairs) to almost everyone he meets (including Condoleezza Rice, who mentioned the book during her opening remarks at her Senate confirmation hearing). Nine days after winning re-election he spent over an hour discussing the book in the White House with Mr Sharansky himself. The meeting must have sounded extraordinary, given Mr Sharansky's thick Russian accent and Mr Bush's Texan drawl. But by all accounts they got on famously.

Mr Sharansky's message comes down to three points. First, “realpolitik” is bankrupt. America cannot go on coddling tyrannical regimes like Saudi Arabia because those regimes invariably try to buy stability at home by exporting hatred abroad. Second, democracy is the best insurance against aggression. Third, the world really is divided between good and evil.

There are few things that irritate foreign-policy types more about Mr Bush than his Manichean view of the world. His infatuation with Mr Sharansky suggests that he is not likely to be any more “sophisticated” in his second term. Mr Sharansky not only sees the world in black and white terms—good versus evil and free societies versus “fear societies”, with a bunch of “realists” dithering in the middle. He has also earned a right to such Manicheanism during his heroic years as a Soviet dissident.

There are nevertheless two substantial criticisms that can be made against the Bush doctrine, criticisms all the more telling for Mr Sharansky's presence on the freedom ticket. The first is that democracy is unlikely to promote peace if it is coupled with a burning sense of unresolved injustice. For Mr Sharansky, Palestinian rage is something that is artificially created by Palestinian and Arab elites as a way of keeping themselves in power. So turning Palestinians into democrats is a necessary first step to turning them into peacemakers. But Palestinian rage is also surely rooted in a sense that they have had their country stolen from them (not least by Mr Sharansky's settler friends). Democracy may simply give them another mechanism for expressing that rage: hence Hamas's success in municipal elections. If Mr Bush is serious about tackling the Middle East, he should choose a mouthpiece who is a bit less partisan.

The second is that you cannot spread goodness around the world unless you hold yourself to the same standards. Mr Sharansky has lost some of his moral authority because of his relative silence on the sufferings of the Palestinians—and not just among pampered Europeans but also among fellow Israelis, who know what it means to live in a tough neighbourhood. When Mr Bush talks about freeing captives, the rest of the world looks at Guantánamo Bay.

The trouble with Mr Bush's new doctrine is not that he has naively embraced freedom and democracy, but that he hasn't embraced them tightly enough.

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