Freedom from Fear; Sharansky Brings Moral Clarity to Another Fight

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Byline: Gary Rosen (Rosen is the managing editor of Commentary.)

One of the more curious leaks from the White House right after the election was word that U.S. President George W. Bush had been reading a book. Notable in itself--the president isn't exactly a bookworm--the story was made still more interesting by the fact that the work in question was "The Case for Democracy" (PublicAffairs. 303 pages ) by Natan Sharansky, who had even been summoned to the Oval Office for a chat. Supporters of Bush's policies in the Middle East took heart from this bit of news, while critics found yet another reason to grind their teeth. Sharansky's message, as he declares in his subtitle: "The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny & Terror."

Such rhetoric is vintage Bush, of course, but the argument of Sharansky's eloquent, deeply personal manifesto is borrowed from no one. A former Soviet dissident and political prisoner, he was instrumental in making the fate of the U.S.S.R.'s Jews a key issue in the cold war. Allowed to emigrate to Israel in 1986, Sharansky has since emerged as a unique voice in Israeli politics, insisting that the Jewish state will never be secure until democracy sweeps the region. "Free societies," he writes, can never trust "fear societies," whose self-serving rulers need a constant supply of external enemies. For peace to reign in the Middle East, the PLO (to begin with) must go the way of the Politburo.

In Sharansky's view, today's debate over how to deal with Arab and Islamic extremism is a replay of familiar cold-war disputes. …