Different Era, But Same Talk

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As
Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party were moving towards 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 signalled the temporary triumph
of Big Business and would create the conditions for a "revolutionary
upturn," accelerating the momentum towards a "proletarian revolution."

Taking
into consideration all that had 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 an doctrine that assumed that realities of
Germany and the world were pre-determined by political and economic
forces; that sooner then 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 when the few Marxists that
are 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 pre-determined by powerful political
and economic forces.

That
place is Washington, DC, and these days, if you’ve listened to American
President George W Bush’s inaugural speech or to 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
towards 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 Shiite clergy;
signs of civil war. What counts is the march towards 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 details."

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.

The
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 would 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 sceptics 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 favourite 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, summarises how I feel. I would urge people
to read it."

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 their
freedom."

Not
surprisingly, Bill Kristol, the editor of the leading neocon magazine,
Weekly Standard is so 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 US to conduct such tests
around the globe and does this democracy crusade really helps advance
core US national interests?

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 World View. Like Mr. Bush, Mr.
Sharansky has a Manichean 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 all 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 Shiite government
and/or the creation of an independent Kurdish state and/or the need
to maintain large number of US troops there forever (in order to
prevent the previous scenarios) advance US interests in the Middle
East?

Problems
worth considering

Will
the erosion in the rights of women and minorities under a Shiite
government in Baghdad mark the triumph of American-style democracy?
Will Christians and women that are not shrouded in black be able
to walk into the town square in Najaf, Krabala and Sadr City and
express their views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical
harm?

And
what will be the results of the "town square test" if
it had been applied in US-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)
don’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 to recognize 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 US 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 would "be ready" for democracy.

Is
President Bush, who summoned Mr. Sharansky to the White House nine
days after his re-election 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 towards
the revolution.

February
23, 2005

Leon
Hadar [send him mail] is
Washington correspondent for the Business
Times of Singapore
. Reprinted with permission of the author.

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