Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Sharansky on Iran: 'The Opposition Are Our Real Allies'

Eli Lake, The New York Sun:
The recent departure of the Bush administration's foreign policy from the unapologetic promotion of democracy expressed in the president's second inaugural address has led one of Mr. Bush's staunchest intellectual supporters to express his concern.

Yesterday, Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet dissident who became deputy prime minister of Israel, met with Vice President Cheney to discuss his worries about the failings of America's pro-democratic strategy.

In an interview yesterday, Mr. Sharansky would not get into details about his parley with Mr. Cheney other than to say, "Mainly this was about democracy and about American policy in Iran. We are now trying to engage Russia and Iran on the one hand and weakening the opposition there on the other. We need to understand the opposition are our real allies and not repeat the mistakes of the Clinton administration." READ MORE

Mr. Sharansky's 2004 book, "The Case for Democracy," prompted Mr. Bush in December 2004 to request a meeting with its author. It is widely seen as one of the main intellectual influences on the president's second in augural address in 2005.

In that speech, Mr. Bush declared that "it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world." Last week, the author of those words, former speechwriter and policy adviser, Michael Gerson, resigned to write a book.

In recent months the emphasis on supporting the "growth of democratic movements and institutions" has waned for the White House. On Thursday, for example, Secretary of State Rice worked closely with Senator Biden, a Democrat of Delaware, to defeat a Senate amendment that would have authorized $100 million for the Iranian democracy movement and tightened sanctions against Iran, in part because of fears such a measure would scuttle negotiations with Iran over abandoning its uranium enrichment.

Last night, Mr. Sharansky appeared with the author of the amendment, Senator Santorum,a Republican of Pennsylvania, at an event in Philadelphia sponsored by the Middle East Forum.

Other instances have also caused alarm. In May, Vice President Cheney met in Washington with the son of Egypt's president, Gamal Mubarak, just as his father's riot police were cordoning off Cairo and warning Egyptians they may not demonstrate in solidarity with two judges who tried to investigate irregularities in last November's parliamentary elections.

At Foggy Bottom, Mr. Cheney's daughter, Elizabeth, recently took an unspecified leave of absence from her post at the State Department, leaving in doubt the future of an aid program for Middle Eastern democrats she helped create.

Yesterday, Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick announced his retirement, strengthening the position of an undersecretary of state, Nicholas Burns, the architect of the recent entente with Iran.

Mr. Sharansky yesterday said he was not yet ready to offer a judgment of the administration's apparent change of mind. However, he did say he thought the opening with Iran was "dangerous" and could possibly give the mullahs there enough cover to make a serious move against their opposition.

"I don't think I should make judgments about this administration. My role is to bring this case to people's attention. It is so easy to go from engagement and talks and the atmosphere to make it easier for Iran to make nuclear weapons and take tough measures against dissidents," he said.

Mr. Cheney yesterday spoke at the National Press Club in Washington and seemed to be unwavering - at least on Iraq. When asked if he still thought the insurgency was in its last throes, as he said 13 months ago, he answered in the affirmative.

"I think the key turning point when we get back 10 years from now, say, and look back on this period of time and with respect to the campaign in Iraq, will be that series of events when the Iraqis increasingly took over responsibility for their own affairs," he said. "And there I point to the election in January of '05 when we set up the interim government, the drafting of the constitution in the summer of '05, the national referendum in the fall of '05 when the Iraqis overwhelmingly approved that constitution, and then the vote last December when some 12 million Iraqis in defiance of the car bombers and the terrorists went to the polls and voted in overwhelming numbers to set up a new government under that constitution."

Mr. Cheney added that these events "will have been from a historical turning point, the period that we'll be able to look at and say, 'That's when we turned the corner, that's when we began to get a handle on the long-term future of Iraq.'"

The vice president heard from another Middle East democracy advocate recently. The president of the Reform Party of Syria, Farid Ghadry, met with Mr. Cheney on June 17 at an American Enterprise Institute conference in Beaver Creek, Colo. "Mr. Ghadry urged the United States to increase its support for democracy and human rights in Syria, and stressed in particular the importance of vigorously defending these activists inside Syria who have recently been the target of a systematic and brutal crackdown by the Assad regime," according to a statement issued by the Syrian opposition group.

Meetings at the Beaver Creek conference between Mr. Cheney and Mr. Sharansky and a Palestinian Arab democracy activist, Omar Karsou, helped influence a Rose Garden speech that President Bush gave on June 24, 2002, that called for democracy for the Palestinian Arabs.
A must read.