Freedom Fighter

An Interview with Natan Sharansky

President Bush of course was a big believer in the power of democracy, and of the desire of people to be free. I think that the he believed that the people of Iraq are not lovers of Saddam Hussein, and he was right. But the military operation was only the beginning of the effort.

In most of the cases it's not military operations which bring democracy, but permanent changes inside the country. The free world was absolutely blind about the Arab Spring and I can say that not only me, but many democratic dissidents in the Middle East were predicting, were writing, were warning about the coming of revolutions against Mubarak, against Assad.

I believe that the continual mistake of the free world is that each time we decide what regime is better for us, and that's what should we support, we forget that in fact the United States of America has very little influence on what regime will be next. Very little. But they can have a lot of influence if it is clear that they have a permanent policy of supporting civil rights activists. Whatever regime it is, they're supporters of those who support civil society, and it's never given to the opposite side. It's a tough policy, because sometimes it will be in conflict with your allies. Sometimes it can go against your immediate security interests and then you must have a correction. After all, Churchill and Roosevelt were allies of Stalin until 1945, and the mistake was that they didn't move immediately to confrontation after 1945.

I can understand how the President of Egypt today can be a necessary partner in the struggle against terrorists, but at the same time if he is a dictator, then he will be overthrown by his own people. So you have to remember that your final allegiance has to be to those who are fighting against dictatorships — and not those who may be, this year, your immediate allies.

That's something which is not part of the discussion among governments either as regards day-to-day policy or building long-term strategy in any country of the free world, and that's very upsetting. So I think we'll have many more surprises like the Arab Spring, but there will be almost no follow-up policy, and as a result, each time it will be a new surprise, a new jubilation, a new celebration, then a new disappointment.