Symposium: The War for the Soul of Iraq

Jamie Glazov conducts some of the best interviews and symposiums on the web. He interviewed Natan Sharansky about a year ago. His most recent symposium was on the war in Iraq. Sharansky’s co-author for his book The Case for Democracy is Ron Dermer.

Ron Dermer had the best comments in this symposium
….here are his views. I highlighted the points that were particularly well spoken…

Jenny Hatch

Dermer: I think it’s worth repeating Mr. Marshall’s observation that much of our controversy revolves about what we mean by the term “democracy.” All too often, critics of policies promoting democracy create a straw man by defining democracy as elections. But to do so is to present a phoney argument. Instead of pointing out the dangers of democracy, such critics are in fact pointing out the dangers of holding elections in fear societies – of which there are many.
Natan Sharansky and I were very clear in our book about what democracy promotion means.
It means helping to build societies where people can walk into the town square and say what they want without fear of arrest, imprisonment or physical harm, and helping these societies build the institutions which are necessary to protect that freedom.
(This freedom was not present in Algeria in 1991 nor is it present, for example, in the Palestinian territories today). That is why elections are not a substitute for democracy and why they should whenever feasible be held only after the process of building a free society is well underway. Had federal elections been held immediately in post-war Germany, the Nazi party would have won. But after a four-year hiatus from the poison of state-sponsored Nazi propaganda and four years of exposure to a free society, sentiment within Germany changed quickly.
Moreover, by limiting democracy to elections, we dig ourselves into the trap of believing the free world must accept the legitimacy of regimes that are inherently anti-democratic. To be considered democratic, a government must not only come to power democratically, it must also preserve a basic democratic order, especially the right of dissent.
Jamie and Michael are quite right to point out the dangers of insincere democrats and potential terrorists using the democratic process to achieve undemocratic goals. But in my view, the danger lies less in insincere democrats getting elected than in the free world failing to do anything when their insincerity becomes apparent.
Indeed, the real danger from 1930s Germany came not from the democratic election of the Nazi party, but from the refusal of the democratic world to take action once the Nazi destroyed democracy within Germany. Much the same can be said concerning Iran following the 1979 elections.
Imagine if the free world were to form a united front in the face of any regime – democratically elected or not – that failed to protect the right of dissent.
Any society that did not keep the town square open would not be considered legitimate, might be sanctioned, and would risk a potential military response from the free world if that regime threatened its neighbors or committed savagery against its own people.
If this sounds utopian, it is not because it is based on what some regard as a quixotic faith that “Arabs want freedom” or that “Islam is compatible with democracy” but rather because the free world is not acting as it could and should act.
The reason why the free world does not create such a united front is not merely the result of a European propensity toward appeasement. It is also because many policymakers in democratic countries do not see democracy promotion beyond their borders as fundamental to security.
But to believe that American security is not fundamentally connected to what Mr. McCarthy calls “global political arrangements” is in my view terribly myopic. It was precisely the “global political arrangements” of the East Bloc during the Cold War – namely, Soviet tyranny – that was at the root of America’s security dilemma. Once those “global political arrangements” changed, so too did the American security paradigm.
If fighting terror is more urgent than promoting democracy, it is not because the former focuses on American security and the latter deals with abstract values, it is that the former is a short-term response to terror and the latter is a long-term response. The real defense against the reemergence of Nazism and Japanese militarism is not the number of NATO tanks or the size of America’s Pacific fleet, but rather the strength of German and Japanese democracy.
By allowing the pathologies of the Middle East to fester in a swamp of Middle East tyranny, America is endangering its own security. On the other hand, by helping the people of the region create free societies, America is not only giving hope to hundreds of millions living in tyranny, it is draining the swamp in which terrorists are bred and thereby protecting American security.
The cost to the free world of failing to help democratize the Middle East is enormous.
Never before in human history could a small group of people, let alone a rogue regime, destroy a city. Today, that is possible. There is no doubt that the free world’s way of life is at stake in the Middle East.
In my view, its survival is as well. In many ways, the threat from Islamic fundamentalist terror is greater than the threat from Soviet communism. While the Soviets, like the Islamists, were bent on world domination, the means they used to achieve that goal were rational and therefore subject to deterrence.
Every time the Soviets were faced with the choice of their ideology or their survival – e.g. Berlin, Cuba – they chose their survival (How many communist suicide bombers were there?) There are no guarantees that Islamists will make the same choice. Because traditional deterrence may be ineffective, the need to act to help transform these societies becomes far more urgent.

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