As Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party were moving
toward capturing political power in Germany, in the aftermath of the last democratic
parliamentary elections there in March 1933, there was no indication that the
German Communist party was mounting any concerted response against the threat.
The relative inaction of the Communists reflected the belief among its leaders
that the new Nazi-dominated government was the dying gasp of moribund capitalism.
According to the prevailing Marxist doctrine of the time, Hitler's government
signaled the temporary triumph of Big Business and would create the conditions
for a "revolutionary upturn," accelerating the momentum toward a "proletarian
Taking into consideration all that happened after 1933, those German Communists
sound today like a bunch of lunatics. But in a way, the grand expectation that
the Nazis would help ignite a Communist revolution in Germany made a lot of
sense at that time if one had been a Marxist activist believing in a doctrine
that assumed that realities of Germany and the world were predetermined by political
and economic forces; that sooner than later the Good Guys – the workers – and
their leaders – the Communists – were bound to defeat the "reactionary" capitalists
and their "agent" Hitler. In its time, that was the Big Picture. The rest were
just small details.
Now that Communism is more or less dead and the few Marxists still around tend
to seek refuge in social science departments in universities, the tendency among
the chattering classes is to talk about the Death of Ideology, not to mention
the End of History.
The members of the political and intellectual classes have all become born-again
pragmatists and realists committed to practical solutions to the problems confronting
the nation-state and the market. The Big Picture consists of the small details
managed by the government officials and business executives that meet each year
in the Swiss resort town of Davos.
Alive and Well
But there is certainly one place in this world
in which the devotion to a grand ideological doctrine remains as powerful as
ever; where political leaders and their intellectual coaches still assume that
that the reality of the world is predetermined by powerful political and economic
That place is Washington, D.C., and these days, if you listened only to American
President George W. Bush's inaugural speech or his State of the Union Address,
you would have concluded that a historic "revolutionary upturn" has taken place
in Iraq that would be accelerating the tempo toward a "democratic revolution"
in the Greater Middle East and elsewhere. Indeed, the neoconservative ideologues
who have dominated the foreign policy thinking of the Bush administration and
have been the architects of the war in Iraq (and Iran? and Syria?) are sounding
more and more today like the Marxists of Germany in the '30s.
Forget those "little details": you know, no weapons of mass destruction in
Iraq and no Saddam-bin Laden ties; the anti-American insurgency; Abu Ghraib;
the rising political influence of the Shi'ite clergy; signs of civil war. What
counts is the march toward victory of democracy in Iraq and the spread of freedom
and liberty in the entire Muslim world. The theocracy in Saudi Arabia? The military
regimes in Egypt and Pakistan? These are just two more examples of those "small
These let's-make-the-world safe-for-democracy noises emanating from the White
House are for real. If you watch Mr. Bush's body language as he calls for the
spread of freedom worldwide, you do get the impression that he is a believer.
And not unlike those '30s Marxists, the vision espoused by Mr. Bush and the
neocons makes for good reading and has a prophet that promises to lead all of
us the promised land of liberty and democracy.
book is The
Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror,
and the prophet is the author, former Soviet dissident and current Israeli right-wing
politician Natan Sharansky, who is confident that America should lead what will
turn out to be a victorious crusade for global democracy. And for the cynic
(aka realist), he has a clear message: "To suggest, as the skeptics do," writes
Mr. Sharansky, "that the majority of a people would freely choose to live in
a fear society is to suggest that most of those who have tasted freedom would
freely choose to return to slavery." Indeed, Mr. Sharansky has become a cross
between the Karl Marx of the Democratic Revolution and the Michael Jordan-style
endorser of the American democratic brand, as well as a regular guest in the
White House. Mr. Bush has revealed that Mr. Sharansky's book has been his favorite
bedtime reading and that he invited the former Israeli cabinet member for a
discussion on how "the power of freedom" can transform the Middle East.
On a recent interview on CNN, Mr. Bush mentioned the "book by Natan Sharansky,
who was imprisoned in the Soviet Union. He's a heroic figure. He's now an Israeli
official who talks about freedom and what it means, and how freedom can change
the globe. And I agree with him. I believed that before I met Natan Sharansky.
This is a book that, however, summarizes how I feel. I would urge people to
And while discussing Mr. Bush's foreign policy during her confirmation hearings,
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declared that "the world should apply what
Natan Sharansky calls the 'town square test': if a person cannot walk into the
middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest,
imprisonment, or physical harm, then that person is living in a fear society.
We cannot rest until every person living in a 'fear society' has finally won
Not surprisingly, Bill Kristol, the editor of the leading neocon magazine Weekly
Standard, is thrilled, writing recently that "it's good news that the president
is so enthusiastic about Sharansky's work. It suggests that, despite all the
criticism and the difficulties, the president remains determined to continue
to lead the nation along the basic foreign policy lines he laid down in his
first term" and, well, use the full political, economic and military resources
to ensure that China and Russia, Azerbaijan and Tajikistan, and other US allies
in the war on terror – not to forget the above-mentioned Saudi Arabia, Egypt,
and Pakistan – pass the "town square test."
Is it the responsibility and obligation of the U.S. to conduct such tests around
the globe, and does this democracy crusade really help advance core U.S. national
In fact, in his book, Mr. Sharansky argues that in the Arab world, morality
and American political interests are one and the same: as the best guarantee
of its national security, America must use all the tools at its disposal to
promote democracy throughout the region.
Mr. Bush can repeat Ronald Reagan's achievements in the former Soviet bloc
in the '80s: confront an ideological enemy, defeat it, and bring freedom to
a region that has lived under tyranny. This is a vision that represents the
post 9/11 Bush Worldview. Like Mr. Bush, Mr. Sharansky has a Manichaean view
of a world divided into good and evil, democracy and tyranny, "free society"
and "fear society."
Like Marxism, it sounds like a great theory, but what exactly has it to do
with the real world? How exactly would the breakup of Iraq and/or a bloody war
there and/or the rise of a pro-Iran Shi'ite government and/or the creation of
an independent Kurdish state and/or the need to maintain large numbers of U.S.
troops there forever (in order to prevent the previous scenarios) advance U.S.
interests in the Middle East?
Problems Worth Considering
Will the erosion in the rights of women and minorities
under a Shi'ite government in Baghdad mark the triumph of American-style democracy?
Will Christians and women who are not shrouded in black be able to walk into
the town square in Najaf, Karbala, and Sadr City and express their views without
fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm?
And what would be the results of the "town square test" if it were applied
in U.S.-occupied Fallujah or Israel-occupied Nablus? Indeed, when one considers
that Mr. Sharansky has been one of the most right-wing Israeli politicians –
he describes the West Bank and Gaza Strip as being "disputed" rather than "occupied,"
admires the Jewish settlers, and even accused Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of
being too soft on the Palestinians – the notion of "moral clarity" espoused
by Mr. Sharansky (and Mr. Bush) doesn't sound very convincing.
American commentator Pat Buchanan had it right when he confronted Mr. Sharansky
on a NBC television news show: "If you believe in democracy that much, would
you allow the fate of the settlers in Gaza to be decided by all the people of
Gaza? Let them vote on whether the settlers should stay or go."
Mr. Sharansky would not agree to permit the Palestinians to make that decision,
and he refuses to acknowledge that Palestinians too want freedom from foreign
rule, and recognition of Palestinian nationalism as legitimate. For the Israeli
ideologue, the notion of making the Middle East – and the West Bank – safe for
democracy under American leadership is self-serving.
It is an attempt to draw the U.S. into a never-ending war against the Arab
world in a way that would serve the interests of Mr. Sharansky's ultra-nationalist
vision of a Greater Israel ruling over the Palestinians until they are ready
Is President Bush, who summoned Mr. Sharansky to the White House nine days
after his reelection victory, buying into the Israeli politician's doublespeak?
Many of the neocons in Washington certainly do and insist that Mr. Sharansky's
book provides a coherent summary of the global vision of the White House. And
they are not going to permit any little unsettling detail to slow the momentum
toward the revolution.
Reprinted from the Singapore
Business Times, reprinted with author's permission. Copyright © 2005
Singapore Press Holdings Ltd.