Former Soviet dissident and Israeli politician Natan Sharansky sharply criticized President Barack Obama in a recent interview for failing to uphold his pledge to support human rights in the Middle East.
Sharansky told the Times of Israel that Obama initially assured him before the 2008 election that he would continue the tradition of American presidents’ support for dissidents abroad. However, he said Obama “doesn’t take a position” on turmoil in the Middle East and has yet to meet with prominent human rights activists who do not back parties in power.
He said Obama was silent when democratic dissidents protested in Iran in 2009 and is again reticent to speak out against the Egyptian military’s repression of political opponents:
In a dismal summary, Sharansky said that “if American politicians had treated [Andrei] Sakharov the way American leaders today are treating Egyptian dissidents, the Soviet Union might still exist.”
He noted that it was Jimmy Carter — a president about whom “we have so little good to say” — who personally corresponded with Sakharov early in his presidency, when the nuclear physicist and leading anti-Soviet dissident most needed outside support. “That personal letter, the promises he made, had such a big influence on the status of Sakharov in the minds of double thinkers” — by which he means those living under dictatorships who don’t believe in the ideology but have not yet become dissidents, prepared to speak their mind and risk the consequences. “There was a growing number of double thinkers in the Soviet Union, and they had to feel that the free world (was with them).”
Carter, in short, came through. “He was a beginning president. To start by establishing personal relations with Sakharov, for the first time in history? The KGB was bewildered. Was it that he didn’t understand that it could undermine many interests? Of course he did. But America took a position.”