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No Price Too High for Human Liberty

By David Warren

The Prague Democracy and Security Conference was cleverly scheduled to overlap with the G8 conference in Heiligenndam, this week. Politics is generally a rat's game, but the Prague meeting was more worth attending. I was delighted that President Bush chose to be there, and be seen, before proceeding to the company of the great posturing buffoons in Germany. I wish Stephen Harper had also been there.

It was, however, entirely appropriate for Bush, who has been aptly described by Richard Perle as, "A dissident in his own administration." At this point, fairly late in his presidency, it would seem that he has failed to mobilize the American electorate behind the "Bush doctrine," as declared so eloquently in the months after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington; and failed even to mobilize the U.S. bureaucracy, which has consistently resisted direct presidential orders throughout both his terms, and in such cases as the CIA and State Department, often sabotaged them. His principal allies within the administration have been successfully demonized by America's media and entertainment industry, and most have been driven out of public life. So that one wonders if anything of the Bush doctrine -- that America will fight not only terrorists but the dictators who support them -- will survive his administration.

The Prague conference was about something real: human liberty. Yet it was reported in most media as a theatrical stunt. The G8 conference, in which prominent heads of state and government discussed problems they were proposing to create rather than solve -- through poorly-thought-through environmental diktats, and choking Africa with more counter-productive foreign aid -- was mere political theatre.

Here are several statements made at the Prague conference, by leading pro-democracy dissidents from around the world, collected by Anne Bayefsky:

Natan Sharansky, of Israel: "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 totalitarian regimes."

Mudawi Ibrahim Adam, of Sudan: "U.N. handling of the Sudanese government has legitimized it regardless of the fact this government is killing its own people. Western states are sending the wrong message -- that democracy is primarily about elections, whereas it requires much more."

Garry Kasparov, of Russia: "Russia today is a police state masquerading as a democracy where elections are theatre. The problem is that the G8 treats Putin as an equal. ... Putin must be sent a message that he cannot act like an Alexander Lukashenko or Robert Mugabe and be treated like a democrat."

Saad Eddin Ibrahim, of Egypt: "We ask Western democracies to stop supporting dictatorships and the darkness of theocrats in the name of stability and continuity."

Bassam Eid, of Palestine: "The Arab world ... is not helped by the fact that the international community applies a double-standard to it -- refusing to insist that the society, including Palestinian society, must ready itself for democracy before handing millions to the security forces of autocracies."

George W. Bush, of USA: "Freedom can be resisted, and freedom can be delayed, but freedom cannot be denied."

This last is the only statement I'll contest. In my view, and my experience, freedom can be resisted, delayed, and denied, and moreover, it can be in decline, as it is in the West, where the nanny state grows insidiously and constantly -- regardless of who is elected to government -- with the expanding power of the self-appointed elites who control our legal systems, and regulatory regimes.

It is nice to say rhetorically that freedom will prevail, but we must realize that such statements apply to heaven and not to earth. For down here, civic freedom is invariably obtained at the cost of human blood and treasure. It is not obtained by negotiating with dictators, except from a position of invincible force, and then only when one is fully prepared to use it. The very argument used against the wisdom of invading Iraq -- that it costs blood and treasure -- is itself the signal of surrender.

Aristotle once wrote that the magnificent man "does not count the cost." He understood also the virtue of prudence, the need for calculation and tact. But prudence itself is not finally calculated in blood or treasure. In the words with which my own country, Canada, was once mobilized against the Hitler menace: "No price too high!"

There is no price too high for human liberty, and those who dispute this are, and deserve to be, slaves.

© Ottawa Citizen

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