Location: Tulsa, Oklahoma, Tonga

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The Town Square Test

Natan Sharansky should hire our President as his book agent. Bush promotes Sharansky's Case for Democracy to all around him. He finds themes for his speeches in the text, and tells people that the book represents "how I feel" . Sharansky, in turn, generously refers to Bush as "dissident", although it's difficult for me to conceive of how one could apply that term to someone who claims a mandate.

Sharansky was a human rights activist and Jewish Refusenik in the USSR, convicted of and imprisoned for treason and espionage for the U.S. His human rights activities gained recognition early when he served as a translator for Andrei Sakharov, winner of the 1975 Nobel Peace Prize.

Sakharov led the USSR's nuclear arms research efforts until he became an advocate for disarmament. Sakharov spent seven years in internal exile in Gorky; his wife, Yelena Bonner, was later arrested and exiled when she attempted to leave the USSR for medical treatment. In a 1980 interview with the BBC, Sakharov stated, ""Our country, like every modern state, needs profound democratic reforms. It needs political and ideological pluralism, a mixed economy and protection of human rights and the opening up of society."

Even National Security Advisor (oops-- now she's Secretary of State) Condoleeza Rice's opening statement at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 18 January 2005,invoked Sharansky as a standard for measuring freedom. The White House wants us to use this test to determine if a nation is truly free, if it can tolerate dissent.

And soon the people of Iraq will exercise their right to choose their leaders, and set the course of their nation's future... The world should apply what Natan Sharansky calls the "town square test": if a person cannot walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm, then that person is living in a fear society, not a free society. We cannot rest until every person living in a "fear society" has finally won their freedom.

I wonder: to which Iraqi town square did Ahmad Chalabi go to express his views?

Jan 21, 2005 — DUBAI (Reuters) - Iraq's interim defense minister said on Friday the government would arrest Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi after the Eid al-Adha holiday on suspicion of maligning the defense ministry.

"We will arrest him and hand him over to Interpol. We will arrest him based on facts that he wanted to malign the reputation of the defense ministry and defense minister," Hazim al-Shaalan told Al Jazeera television.

Mr. Chalabi is currently a leading Shiite candidate for office in Iraq. Intermittently a neocon favorite, he reportedly provided some of the critical intelligence information that led the White House to attack Iraq. Last January, he was a special guest of the President and Laura Bush for the State of the Union address. Since that time, he has cycled in and out of favor with the White House.

Not that the President seems to remember his old friend. This exchange occurred on 1 June 2004, at a White House press conference regarding the Iraqi interim government.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. Mr. Chalabi is an Iraqi leader that's fallen out of favor within your administration. I'm wondering if you feel that he provided any false information, or are you particularly --
Q Yes, with Chalabi.
THE PRESIDENT: My meetings with him were very brief. I mean, I think I met with him at the State of the Union and just kind of working through the rope line, and he might have come with a group of leaders. But I haven't had any extensive conversations with him.

Wellll... maybe he met with Chalabi a time or two before, or at least that's what he told Tim Russert on Meet the Press on 8 February 2004.

Russert: If the Iraqis choose, however, an Islamic extremist regime, would you accept that, and would that be better for the United States than Saddam Hussein?

President Bush: They're not going to develop that. And the reason I can say that is because I'm very aware of this basic law they're writing. They're not going to develop that because right here in the Oval Office I sat down with Mr. Pachachi and Chalabi and al-Hakim, people from different parts of the country that have made the firm commitment, that they want a constitution eventually written that recognizes minority rights and freedom of religion.

Or perhaps he forgot that 2003 Thanksgiving meal in Iraq, the one where he posed with the plastic turkey. On the way back to Edwards Air Force Base, our President thanked the reporters for helping to pull of the surprise visit, and answered a few questions.

Q Mr. President, we were told you got to see Mr. Chalabi today?

THE PRESIDENT: I did see Chalabi. I met with -- well, let's see, I had the dinner, you saw that. I wasn't sure how long you were there, you probably timed it, but an hour or so -- are these the times? Oh, these are the people there.

I shook a lot of hands, saw a lot of kids, took a lot of pictures, served a lot of food and we moved on to see four members of the Governing Council -- the names are here. Talibani is the head of it right now, so he was the main spokesman. But Chalabi was there, as was Dr. Khuzaii, who had come to the Oval Office, I don't know if you all were in the pool that day, but she was there -- she was there with him, and one other fellow, and I had a good talk with them.

We were there for about maybe a little less than 30 minutes. I was able to assure them that we were going to stay the course and get the job done, but I also reminded them what I said publicly, that it's up to them to seize the moment, to have a government that recognizes all rights, the rights of the majority and the rights of the minority, to speak to the aspirations and hopes of the Iraqi people. I assured them that I believe in the future of Iraq, because I believe in the capacity of the people to govern -- as I said, govern wisely and justly. I meant what I said. I told them that privately. I told them I back Jerry Bremer a hundred percent. He's got my full confidence. He was sitting right there, as well. We had a nice visit.
So, we have come full circle back to the town square. Chalabi, now a dissident, speaks out against his government-- such as it is right now-- and is threatened with arrest.

We are definitely bringing freedom to Iraq.