When Natan Sharansky was finally released from the Soviet gulag in 1986, it was a triumphant moment for the Jewish dissident, who became not only a hero in Israel but a voice of freedom around the world.
Now a hawkish member of the Israeli government, Sharansky has written a new book, "The Case for Democracy," arguing that democratic change leads to peace. He has found his voice is being heard again — in very high places.
“We do not accept the existence of permanent tyranny because we do not accept the possibility of permanent slavery,” President Bush said in his inaugural address last month, quoting Sharansky.
“I remember when he said these words in the speech. I said, 'Oh, my God,'” says Sharansky.
The president has encouraged advisers and others to read Sharansky's book and discussed with the former Soviet dissident himself how his ideas could be applied around the world.
Did he want Sharansky’s advice?
“I think maybe sometimes he feels himself rather lonely in following his convictions and his ideas, and I think it was important for him to find out that he's not the only dissident,” Sharansky says with a laugh.
What Americans heard in the president's inaugural address — a promise to end tyranny around the world — was Sharansky's voice, suggesting that democracies don't start wars.
“It's always better to deal with a democracy which hates you than a dictator who loves you,” summarizes Sharansky.
A critic of the president's inaugural address called it “a recipe for endless war.”
“The free world doesn’t have to fight with dictatorships,” says Sharansky. “Dictatorships are very weak from the inside because they're spending all their efforts to control their own people.”
A supporter of the Iraq war, Sharansky thought it was a mistake to hold elections so soon, but he remains optimistic. If Iraq becomes a theocracy, allied with Iran and anti-American and anti-Israel, will Sharansky think it has been worth it in the end?
“If it will be [a] democratic state, [an] overwhelming majority of people will see the war as a last option,” says Sharansky. “Because [a] silent majority of people then doesn't want war.”
Iraq will test Sharansky's views and his prescriptions for lasting peace, which have become the engine of U.S. foreign policy.