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January 23, 2005


nur al-cubicle

The thinking in my house is that when Bush says freedom, he means laissez-faire, and is not even remotely referencing modern democracy.

John Turri

The average U.S. citizen can be counted on to understand "freedom and liberty" as implying democracy. But, as we both know, it does not, strictly speaking, imply that. So it's not quite code. Rather, it is, among other things, an easy way to get credit for committing oneself to something without actually expressing a commitment to it.

It's relatively easy to say when a country is a democracy: basically, you look and see whether they have a functioning constitution that provides for universal suffrage, and regular, meaningful elections in which elected leaders are held accountable, etc. By contrast, it's much more difficult to determine when a certain group of people is "free" or "at liberty." Free to do what? At liberty to do what? In which case, there's less chance one will be called out on one's failure to produce.

There's also this. Recall Rumsfeld's remark during the looting phase of early occupation: freedom can be an ugly thing, with people abusing their freedom, doing all kinds of nasty things to one another. It's plausible, then, that they think people could be free even when, say, they're being bombed, or in the midst of fighting a bloody civil war. The standards aren't very high.


Even in democracies you cannot always express views without fear for harm of course.
( http://www.dailykos.com/story/2004/12/30/114558/02 )

Or maybe she didn't mean town square, but free speech zones?

Heck, appearantly you cannot even write what you want to whom you want, in case your views have an impact.

Marc Schulman

Two days before the inauguration, Bush was interviewed by CNN. In his hand was a copy of Natan Sharansky's book, "The Case for Democracy." Bush suggested that everyone read it.

So, while your comments are interesting, I think they are off the mark. Sometimes, content analysis can be misleading.


Two days before the inauguration, Bush was interviewed by CNN. In his hand was a copy of Natan Sharansky's book, "The Case for Democracy." Bush suggested that everyone read it.

All that suggests to me is that the Bush Campaignistration is, as always, impressively well stage-managed.


Sharanky's book is terrible. It's basically about how the Israelis don't have to change anything and if only the Palestinians had a functioning democracy then the wouldn't care about losing their land.

I anti-recommend to anyone who wants to understand how the real world works.

By contrast, the new Halperin book (The Democracy Advantage) is quite good and well-researched.

No Preference

Before Sharansky, wasn't there an Israeli academic who floated the idea that Israel would never be safe until the surrounding countries had been transformed? My impression is that this was several years ago.


I think this crowd mostly has it right. Where's the democracy? Hell, where's the society and community?

Bush has also been talking about "free" Afghanistan and Iraq for years now...without anyone calling him on it.

In the early 1990s, Michael Moore's short-lived TV show did a great bit on "free" Kuwait after the Gulf War.

When Bush talks about "freedom" and "ownership" he means something like possessive individualism. Maybe someone in the Bush White House also read Herbert Hoover's 1922 book.


did you read tariq ramadan open letter to bush on alhayat?

David F.

If Rice wants to reach out to the Arab world, quoting Natan Sharansky is a great way to begin. Not.

My university has (or had) a Scharansky Lounge, presumably dating from his previous incarnation as a Soviet refusenik and human rights activist.


Bush should put down Sharansky and re-read Dostoevsky. I don't think "fire in the mind" means what he thinks it means.

No Preference

You fellas who have criticized Sharansky should reconsider. Newsweek has put the following imprimatur on his point of view:

"In his book, Sharansky makes a powerful case that there is a common thread tying together the anti-Western hostility of old regimes like the Soviet Union and that of new enemies like the Islamist terrorists and their sponsors, including the Iranian mullah state and the Palestinian Authority under the late Arafat. “While the mechanics of democracy make democracies inherently peaceful, the mechanics of tyrannies make nondemocracies inherently belligerent,” he writes. Whether they are communist or Islamist, he argues, they must achieve legitimacy by creating external enemies, he argues. That’s a recipe for eternal conflict, he argues--as the autocratic Arafat proved by consistently sidestepping a peace deal."


Aardvark, why do you hate democracy and HTML?


Sharansky, interestingly enough, strongly opposes the Gaza pullout.

Additionally, I've read his book, and it sucks.

I will not reconsider.

Marc Schulman

praktike - Is this what you mean by Sharansky's " strong opposition" to the Gaza pullout:

MEQ: Is your opposition to the Gaza disengagement plan a matter of principle, or are you concerned over its practical implementation?

Sharansky: Questions of principle and practical matters are always connected for me. I was against the disengagement plan not because I believed we should stay in Gaza but because one-sided concessions could transform Gaza into a beachhead for a terrorist state. If a Palestinian democracy developed, then a Palestinian state would not be dangerous.

link: http://www.meforum.org/article/666



He was busy organizing the settlers against it. As such, I don't take him at face value.

Marc Schulman


Well, that's not inconsistent with his belief that democracy among Palestinians must precede peace with Palestinians. If the former is achieved and Sharansky still opposes withdrawal from Gaza, then you'll be right and I'll be wrong.

Are you assuming that he would still oppose withdrawal, i.e., that he's a liar? If you do, what evidence can you cite? -- it would contradict everything he's said. And if you don't, why don't you take him at face value?


Maybe he's lying to himself.

I explained it on my blog:


He also wants to keep Jerusalem in its entirety.


Sharansky's analysis is wrong, and self-serving on many levels. As Pratke said, it really strains credibility to suggest that Palestinians would be happy if they just had democracy while Israel denies them basic rights like freedom of movement and control over their own land. On the contrary, a truly democratic Palestinian Authority would take more hard-line stands on settlements, Jerusalem, refugees, etc. and would probaly not have the popular support to crackdown on terrorism (this would be especially true if Palestinian refugees in places like Lebanon and Jordan were allowed to vote in these elections, which they are currently not).

I am certainly no apologist for Arafat, but, compared to Jordan and Egypt, the Palestinian Authority is a democratic paradise. Yet Sharanasky doesn't explain why Israel was able to make peace with these autocratic governments.

On the subject of his *own* government's human rights violations, Sharansky has been slient. As Housing Minister under Barak and Sharon, he supported the construciton of illegal settlements in East Jerusalem, while demolishing Palestinian homes and confiscating Palestinian property.

Instead, whenever Sharansky is asked about these human rights abuses, Sharansky changes the subject to Palestinian "tyranny". This allows Sharansky to preserve his image as a brave champion of human rights while enabling him to preserve support among his constituency, Russian Israelis, who are extremely hawkish and right-wing.

Marc Schulman

"The main problem with Sharansky is that in comparing the oppressed, unfree Palestinians to the Soviet Union against which he quite nobly struggled, he rejects the idea that their grievances against Israel are in any way legitimate."

No he doesn't. His argument is that Arafat needed to maintain Israel as an enemy in order to keep the Palestinians from turning their anger against him, and, therefore, peace couldn't be achieved with Arafat in power.

Sorry, I have to question whether you really read his book. If you have, I don't see how you could possibly have reached the conclusion summarized in the passage I quoted.


This is a comment about Praktike's blog entry concerning where Zakaria gets his $6000 figure from. It's in a book by Przeworski, Alvarez, Cheibub, and Limongi, titled Democracy and Development. This is an odd book, driven entirely by number cruching and an odd definition of Democracy. Basically, by the authors' count, no "democracy" (that the authors define as such) reverted to a "non-democracy" when its per capita GDP rose above $6000. Not clear how the $6000 figure was arrived at (that is, is it by PPP, for example? One might guess that Chile and Argentina of the old may well have had per capita GDP over $6000 depending on how you count). Needless to say that the book has some serious issues.



Yes, you're right, the figure does have some major issues, which is why I brought it up. I should have explained myself better. While it's meant to be a general rule of thumb rather than a hard-and-fast line in the sand, I think it's no good. There are too many Malis and Senegals and Ugandas out there.

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