‘When did America forget that it’s America?’Posted: April 25, 2015
A Message from Natan Sharansky, a Human rights Activist and Former Political Prisoner in the Soviet Union
Natan Sharansky writes: 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. The Obama 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
For starters, consider that the Soviet regime felt obliged to make its first ideological concession simply to enter into negotiations with the United States about economic cooperation. At the end of the 1950s, Moscow abandoned its doctrine of fomenting a worldwide communist revolution and adopted in its place a credo of peaceful coexistence between communism and capitalism. The Soviet leadership paid a high price for this concession, both internally — in the form of millions of citizens, like me, who had been obliged to study Marxism and Leninism as the truth and now found their partial abandonment confusing — and internationally, in their relations with the Chinese and other dogmatic communists who viewed the change as a betrayal. Nevertheless, the Soviet government understood that it had no other way to get what it needed from the United States.
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.
Of course, changes in rhetoric did not change the Soviet Union’s policy, which included sending missiles to Cuba, tanks to Prague and armies to Afghanistan. But each time, such aggression caused a serious crisis in relations between Moscow and Washington, influencing the atmosphere and results of negotiations between them. So, for example, when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan shortly after the SALT II agreement had been signed, the United States quickly abandoned the deal and accompanying discussions.
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.
Then there is the question of human rights. When American negotiations with the Soviets reached the issue of trade, and in particular the lifting of sanctions and the conferring of most-favored-nation status on the Soviet Union, the Senate, led by Democrat Henry Jackson, insisted on linking economic normalization to Moscow’s allowing freedom of emigration. By the next year, when the Helsinki agreement was signed, the White House had joined Congress in making the Soviets’ treatment of dissidents a central issue in nearly every negotiation.
Iran’s dismal human rights record, by contrast, has gone entirely unmentioned in the recent negotiations….(read more)
Natan Sharansky, a human rights activist and former political prisoner in the Soviet Union, is chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel.