"Sharansky's book confirmed … what I believe," President George W. Bush commented during his February 2005 trip to Europe. Few books have been as immediately influential upon U.S. foreign policy as Israeli cabinet minister Sharansky's passionate appeal to put democracy at the center of foreign policy. Taking his lead from Sharansky, Bush declared in his second inaugural speech, "The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world."
In The Case for Democracy, Sharansky draws from his experience as a Soviet dissident to argue that no matter how solid the façade of authoritarianism may appear, any state that denies freedom to its citizens is weak. While acknowledging skeptics of Arab democracy, Sharansky dismisses the idea that the stability of Middle Eastern dictatorships—which Western policymakers have long tolerated—can bring enduring security. The 9-11 attacks, he suggests, should have been the wake-up call.
Sharansky bases his argument in history. Asking "is freedom for everyone?" he retraces the twentieth century rise and fall of totalitarianism in Europe and Japan. "With a half-century of hindsight," he argues, "what seems absurd is that anyone ever believed that democracy could not take hold in Germany, Italy, or elsewhere in Europe." He suggests that those who say that the Arab world is unable to grasp democracy are equally misguided. He draws upon his own experience in the Gulag to describe the mechanisms of tyranny, double-think, Western self-doubt, and the exhilaration of freedom. Casting aside the jargon of political scientists and diplomats, he proposes a simple "town-square test" to determine the nature of society: if a person can walk into a town square and express himself without fear of arrest, he lives in a free society; if not, he lives in fear.
The subsequent analysis, well-written and flowing, rotates between past and present to show the fallacy of stability through dictatorship given the tendency of autocrats to construct external enemies in order to justify domestic abuse. Sharansky spares little criticism for his adopted homeland, taking fellow Israeli politicians to task for having promoted, in the wake of the 1993 Oslo accords, a Palestinian dictatorship that, he argues, embraced terror rather than peace.
Sharansky's final chapters chide the West for its lack of moral clarity. He recounts missed opportunities to push for democracy and hold dictators to account for their terror, be they in the immediate wake of 9-11 or in the failure of the State Department to hold Palestinian politicians accountable to the standards Bush himself outlined in his June 24, 2002 speech following the Jenin operation. Rather than pursue a process at any price, Sharansky suggests that real Israeli-Palestinian peace should be "anchored in freedom."
Sharansky's arguments are a passionate call to abandon Realpolitik for a realism based in the fact that freedom is the Achilles' heel of dictatorships. But, even if not convinced by the idea that democracy can take root in countries like Syria, Libya, and Saudi Arabia, the influence of The Case for Democracy makes Sharansky's work a worthwhile book to read.