Welcome to The New Chainik Hocker. I am your host, the eponymous Chainik Hocker, here to share news, reviews, pretty pictures, and silly opinions with you. Contact me at chainik DOT hocker AT gmail DOT com

Monday, February 20, 2006

Book Review: The Case For Democracy

I just finished reading The Case for Democracy, by Natan Sharansky.

It is hard to describe a book of such awe-inspiring breadth in just a few words, but I will try: this book is freaking awesome.

Using very simple sentences and plainly-stated, bald ideas, Mr. Sharansky lays out an ambitious plan to do nothing less than change the free world’s foreign policy.

He claims that the Soviet Union would have been a going concern today if not for the introduction of the Jackson-Vanik amendment to the 1974 Trade Act.

According to the 1974 Trade act, the Jackson-Vanik amendment, named for its major co-sponsors, Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson (D-WA) and Rep. Charles Vanik (D-OH), denied Normal Trade Relations to certain countries with non-market economies that restricted emigration rights. Permanent normal trade relations would be extended to a country subject to the law only if the President determined that it complies with the freedom of emigration requirements of the amendment. However, the President had the authority to grant a yearly waiver to the provisions of Jackson-Vanik, and these waivers were granted to the People's Republic of China starting in the late 1970s and later to Vietnam.

Jewish “refusniks” were jailed and sent to gulags simply for asking permission to leave the Soviet Union and immigrate to Israel. The Soviet Union, angry that dissidents wanted to leave the worker’s paradise, clamped down hard on these people, the most famous of which was Natan (Anatoly) Sharansky. Politicians in the US had been complaining about civil rights violations in the Soviet Union for a long time, but these denunciations had about as much practical effect as windy political pronouncements usually do.

However, the Soviet Union needed American technology in order to survive, as their own political system discouraged scientific innovation. They wanted to buy from the US, and they needed Most Favored Nation (MFN) status to do so. For the first time, real world benefits, in the form of favorable trade agreements, were linked to internal policies. If the Soviet Union wanted US technology, they would have to abide by American standards of civilized behavior. They would have to allow the refusniks to immigrate.

Sharansky says that allowing even the minor, tangential issue of immigration rights to be put on the table- by forcing the Soviet Union to allow people to dissent, even by allowing the dissenters to leave the country- the Soviets opened the floodgates of dissent to eventually destroy the political system of the country. By allowing a few people to dissent a little, they had to allow everyone dissatisfied with the way the country was run to dissent a lot. As the majority of people in the country was dissatisfied with the current political system, and as the only way the Soviets had survived for as long as they did was through a system of official terror to coerce their own citizens into compliance, one good kick was enough to bring the whole rotten structure down. As another enemy of the Soviets once put it.

In the last part of the book, Mr. Sharansky asks that the US be true to the ideals it was founded upon.

Currently, the US is propping up some pretty stinky dictators in the Middle East. Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, for one. All the innumerable princelings of the Saudi government, for another. The Palestinian Authority, for a third. The reason we are propping up these jerks may be good ones- we may have a legitimate need to prop them up for tactical or strategic reasons- but the fact of the matter is:

First, they wouldn’t be in power if not for the fact that the United States was backing them.

Second, they are dictators who trample on the human rights of their subjects.

Third, terrorism is a clear and present danger to the safety and security of the United States.


Terrorists have an easier time recruiting fighters in a society of oppressed, poor people than among well-off people who enjoy full civil rights. Lots of terrorists in Iraq, very few in Ohio.

In the three states we mentioned, much of the human misery is the fault of the local government; the government trample on the human rights of the people and pursue venal, shortsighted, kleptocratic economic policies designed to do little more than enrich a few people high in the government.

Therefore, let the United States, upon which the dictators rely on for support, tie support for the dictator to demands for real, meaningful governmental reform.

The Evil Empire was brought to its knees because it allowed a few Jews to move to Israel. A simple thing, but ultimately a powerful one. Maybe we can find our own Scoop Jackson to find the thing that brings about a civil society in Saudi Arabia.

Because a civil society will find it hard to recruit 19 guys to kill themselves by flying a commercial jet into the side of an office building.