Garry Kasparov, Russia: “Russia today is a police state masquerading as a democracy where elections are theater. The problem is that the G-8 treats Putin as an equal, but democrats in Russian need the free world to treat him as a pariah.” “Putin must be sent a message that he cannot act like a Alexander Lukashenko [President of Belarus] or Robert Mugabe [Zimbabwe] and be treated like a democrat. The ruling elite are listening.”
Christian Schmidt, German Parliamentary State Secretary, Minister of Defense: “the success of democratization depends on its constituents having security and seeing an added value.”
Junning Liu, Institute of China Studies, Beijing: “Elections must be free and open to count, which is not the case in China. In China a transition to democracy will not happen without external pressure.”
Richard Perle: “it is not necessary to work with and legitimize oppressive regimes in the name of the war against terrorism; it is not always better to talk to officials — it is sometimes better to talk to those who don’t wield power.”
Natan Sharansky: “Democracy is on the march, but dictatorships are also on the march. There must be mutual reinforcement between the leader of the free world and dissidents. The most dangerous thing for a dissident is to be ignored; only the solidarity of the world makes it possible for dissidents to continue their struggle. Today there are dissidents in many different contexts but the underlying battle is the same — freedom versus fear. We improve our influence by uniting as dissidents against totalitarians regimes.”
Iranian Amir Abbas Fakhravar: “Freedom is not free.”
Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Egypt: “As freedom fighters we ask you to stop supporting dictators in our countries; we ask Western democracies to stop supporting dictatorships and the darkness of theocrats in the name of stability and continuity.”
Powerful stuff. Almost powerful enough to plant a seed in the most hardened cynic. But there was an elephant in the room that dominated conversations in the coffee breaks and the halls — Iran, its genocidal ambitions, its mad dash towards acquiring nuclear weapons, and its familial relationships with terrorists prepared to use them while screaming the suicide bombers closing argument of choice: Allah Akbar.
The disconnect, therefore, was disconcerting. The president announced he is certain that freedom will win out: “Freedom can be resisted, and freedom can be delayed, but freedom cannot be denied.” The problem with this rallying cry is that whereas in years gone by six million Jews and another 56 million others on the Allied side of World War II died waiting, nuclear weapons threaten to destroy the fabric of civilization before freedom “succeeds.” This worry explained a serious unease in the conference halls. Very presidentially, Mr. Bush proclaimed: “free nations must do what it takes to prevail.” Which begged the very unpresidential question, so what the hell are we waiting for?
One possible answer drew a shared guffaw — the United Nations — the peace and security organization which can’t define terrorism and is busy running out the clock on the Iranian side. The best answer to those who urge America to cede its national security to an institution with no democratic pre-conditions for membership and a human rights agenda controlled by non-democracies, came from Iraqi parliamentarian, Mithal al-Alusi. He said bluntly, the enemy of democracy and freedom “doesn’t care if you are Muslim, Jewish or Christian…the only thing they believe in is “kill, kill, kill”; …it is very clear Iran wants to buy time, but why should we wait?”
Such a call to action comes from someone who is a living testament to honor, truth and human dignity. In September 2004 I had the privilege of sharing a stage with al-Alusi at a counterterrorism conference held in Herzliyah, Israel. His very presence was electrifying and we gave him the ovation he so richly deserved. Five months later he paid the ultimate price for the quest for freedom when his two sons were murdered in Baghdad because of their father’s courage.
President Bush ended his remarks in Prague on this note: “It is the truth that guides our nation to oppose radicals and extremists and terror and tyranny in the world today. And it is the reason I have such great confidence in the men and women in this room. I leave Prague with a certainty that the cause of freedom is not tired, and that its future is in the best of hands. With unbreakable faith in the power of liberty, you will inspire your people, you will lead your nations, and you will change the world.”
Mr. President, the truth is that one of the most evil regimes in the world as we know it is on the verge of acquiring the most powerful weapon in the world as we know it. And the future is in your hands. The clear message from Prague was that you have friends around the world, even if not in your administration. You have the power to protect our nation and freedom for all people everywhere. You lead your nation now. And without exercising that leadership, with no further pretense that the U.N. has the authority to deny the necessities of America’s national defense, the triumph of hate over hope will be laid at your door.