Natan Sharansky: US has 'lost the courage of its convictions'

A brilliant op-ed in the Washington Post by the former face of the Refuseniks, Natan Sharansky. The former Soviet dissident spent a considerable part of his life in jail for advocating for freedom in the old Soviet Union. He asks the question, "When did America forget that it’s America"?

On a number of occasions during the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, the Israeli government has appealed to the United States and its allies to demand a change in Tehran’s aggressive behavior. If Iran wishes to be treated as a normal state, Israel has said, then it should start acting like one. Unfortunately, these appeals have been summarily dismissed. TheObama administration apparently believes that only after a nuclear agreement is signed can the free world expect Iran to stop its attempts at regional domination, improve its human rights record and, in general, behave like the civilized state it hopes the world will recognize it to be.

As a former Soviet dissident, I cannot help but compare this approach to that of the United States during its decades-long negotiations with the Soviet Union, which at the time was a global superpower and a existential threat to the free world. The differences are striking and revealing.

Sharansky draws striking differences between the way we negotiated with the Soviets vs. the way the Obama administration has talked with Iran. 

Imagine what would have happened if instead, after completing a round of negotiations over disarmament, the Soviet Union had declared that its right to expand communism across the continent was not up for discussion. This would have spelled the end of the talks. Yet today, Iran feels no need to tone down its rhetoric calling for the death of America and wiping Israel off the map.

Indeed, it's not just Iranian rhetoric that the US ignores: Using the Soviet's aggressiveness in Cuba, Prague, and Afghanistan as examples, Sharansky shows the stark differences in the response by the US to those aggressions compared to what Iran is doing today:

Today, by contrast, apparently no amount of belligerence on Iran’s part can convince the free world that Tehran has disqualified itself from the negotiations or the benefits being offered therein. Over the past month alone, as nuclear discussions continued apace, we watched Iran’s proxy terror group, Hezbollah, transform into a full-blown army on Israel’s northern border, and we saw Tehran continue to impose its rule on other countries, adding Yemen to the list of those under its control.

Finally, Sharansky suggests the real reason for the timidity of the US in the face of Iran's aggressive, expansionist policies:

I am afraid that the real reason for the U.S. stance is not its assessment, however incorrect, of the two sides’ respective interests but rather a tragic loss of moral self-confidence. While negotiating with the Soviet Union, U.S. administrations of all stripes felt certain of the moral superiority of their political system over the Soviet one. They felt they were speaking in the name of their people and the free world as a whole, while the leaders of the Soviet regime could speak for no one but themselves and the declining number of true believers still loyal to their ideology.

But in today’s postmodern world, when asserting the superiority of liberal democracy over other regimes seems like the quaint relic of a colonialist past, even the United States appears to have lost the courage of its convictions.

We have yet to see the full consequences of this moral diffidence, but one thing is clear: The loss of America’s self-assured global leadership threatens not only the United States and Israel but also the people of Iran and a growing number of others living under Tehran’s increasingly emboldened rule. Although the hour is growing late, there is still time to change course — before the effects grow more catastrophic still.

We are told that the world is too complex, too nuanced for such moral clarity. I call baloney on that. Previous administrations had no problem advancing US interests because they believed America was in the right. While this may not always be the case, it was true often enough that we beat back the greatest challenge to the freedom of the world in the 20th or any other century. 

Now the president is calling for "creative" negotiations to bridge the massive gap between our understanding of the framework nuclear deal and Iran's. This almost certainly means more cave ins to the Iranian position, more concessions, more desperation to avoid having to stand up to aggression. 

Sharansky sees what is happening with a moral clarity not found in the White House or State Department.And if past is prologue, we're not likely to see it anytime soon.


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