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Jewish World Review March 2, 2005 / 21 Adar I, 5765

Michael Ledeen

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Revolution | Some ancient Chinese philosopher is said to have taught his students that one cannot understand an event simply by attempting to reconstruct a chain of causality leading up to it. Instead, one must immerse oneself in the context, to fully understand the moment in which the event took place. If you get the context right, you can understand what came before and what comes after.

That sort of understanding is important both for historians and leaders.

If that ancient wise man were alive today and were asked to summarize the unique characteristics of this historical moment, he would say "revolution." We are living in a revolutionary age that started more than a quarter century ago in Spain after the death of Generalissimo Francisco Franco. At that time, hardly anyone believed it possible to go from dictatorship to democracy without great violence, and most Spaniards feared that the terrible civil war of the 1930s — which ended when Franco seized power and installed a military dictatorship — would begin anew. Instead, thanks to a remarkable generation of political leaders, some savvy priests, and the grossly underrated King Juan Carlos, Spain passed smoothly and gracefully into democracy.

It was the beginning of the Age of the Second Democratic Revolution. Spain inspired Portugal, and the second Iberian dictatorship gave way to democracy. Spain and Portugal inspired all of Latin America, and by the time Ronald Reagan left office there were only two unelected governments south of the Rio Grande: Cuba and Surinam. These successful revolutions inspired the Soviet satellites, and then the Soviet Union itself, and the global democratic revolution reached into Africa and Asia, even threatening the tyrants in Beijing.

The United States played a largely positive role in almost all these revolutions, thanks to a visionary president — Ronald Reagan — and a generation of other revolutionary leaders in the West: Walesa, Havel, Thatcher, John Paul II, Bukovsky, Sharansky, among others.

There was then a pause for a dozen years, first during the presidency of Bush the Elder, who surrounded himself with short-sighted self-proclaimed "realists" and boasted of his lack of "the vision thing," and then the reactionary Clinton years, featuring a female secretary of state who danced with dictators. Having led a global democratic revolution, and won the Cold War, the United States walked away from that revolution. We were shocked into resuming our unfinished mission by the Islamofascists, eight months into George W. Bush's first term, and we have been pursuing that mission ever since.

The parallels between the first and second waves of revolution would be very interesting to the Chinese sage. During the Reagan years, the revolution began on the periphery of the major conflict, in Iberia. Following 9/11, the revolution was brought violently to the periphery of the Middle East, in Afghanistan. It swept through Iraq, taking time to liberate Ukraine (against whose independence Bush the Elder spoke so shamefully), and now threatens Syrian hegemony over Lebanon, if not the Syrian regime itself, and has forced the Egyptian and Saudi regimes to at least a pretense of democratic change.

While most of the revolutions have been accomplished with a minimum of armed force, military power has been used on several of the battlefields, and not only in the recent cases of Afghanistan and Iraq. It is often said that the Cold War was won without firing a shot, but that is false; there was fighting in Afghanistan, and in Grenada, and in Angola. The repeated defeats of Soviet proxies (Angola, Grenada) and the Red Army itself (Afghanistan) were important in shattering the myth that the laws of history guaranteed the ultimate triumph of communism. Once that myth had been destroyed, the peoples of the Soviet Empire lost their paralyzing fear of the Kremlin, and they risked a direct challenge.

In like manner, the defeats of the fanatics in Afghanistan and Iraq, followed by free elections in both countries, destroyed two myths: of the inevitability of tyranny in the Muslim world, and of the divinely guaranteed success of the jihad. Once those myths were shattered, others in the region lost their fear of the tyrants, and they are now risking a direct challenge. The Cedar Revolution in Beirut has now toppled Syria's puppets in Lebanon, and I will be surprised and disappointed if we do not start hearing from democratic revolutionaries inside Syria — echoed from their counterparts in Iran — in the near future.

Many of the brave people in the suddenly democratic Arab streets are inspired by America, and by George W. Bush himself. It should go without saying that we must support them all, in as many ways as we can. Most of that support will be political — from unwavering support by all our top officials, to support for radio and television stations, and tens of thousands of bloggers, who can provide accurate information about the real state of affairs within the Middle Eastern tyrannies, to financial assistance to workers so that they can go on strike — but some might be military, such as hitting terror camps where the mass murderers of the region are trained. We are, after all, waging war against the terrorists and their masters, as is proven by the daily carnage in Iraq and Israel, and the relentless oppression and murder of democrats in Iran.

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The president clearly understands this, but, in one of the most frustrating paradoxes of the moment, this vision is rather more popular among the peoples of the Middle East than among some of our top policymakers. For anyone to suggest to this president at this dramatic moment, that he should offer a reward to Iran for promising not to build atomic bombs, or that we should seek a diplomatic "solution" to Syria's oft-demonstrated role in the terror war against our friends and our soldiers, is a betrayal of his vision and of the Iranian, Israeli, Lebanese and Syrian people. Yet that sort of reactionary thinking is surprisingly widespread, from leading members of congressional committees, from the failed "experts" at State and CIA, and even some on the staff of the National Security Council.

Our most lethal weapon against the tyrants is freedom, and it is now spreading on the wings of democratic revolution. It would be tragic if we backed off now, when revolution is gathering momentum for a glorious victory. We must be unyielding in our demand that the peoples of the Middle East design their own polities, and elect their own leaders. The first step, as it has been in both Afghanistan and Iraq, is a national referendum to choose the form of government. In Iran, the people should be asked if they want an Islamic republic. In Syria, if they want a Baathist state. In Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Libya, if they want more of the same. We should not be deterred by the cynics who warn that freedom will make things worse, because the ignorant masses will opt for the fantasmagorical caliphate of the increasingly irrelevant Osama bin Laden. Mubarak and Qadaffi and Assad and Khamenei are arresting democrats, not Islamists, and the women of Saudi Arabia are not likely to demand to remain shrouded for the rest of their lives.

Faster, please. The self-proclaimed experts have been wrong for generations. This is a revolutionary moment. Go for it.

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JWR contributor Michael Ledeen is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of, most recently, ""The War Against the Terror Masters," Comment by clicking here.


02/23/05: Some Jihad!
02/15/05: Watersheds
02/02/05: The Vision Thing
01/26/05: Hersh Predux
01/24/05: The Hersh File
01/11/05: Circle Squared: Iran, Iraq, Syria
01/07/05: Not-So Great Debate: Torture and the war
12/31/04: Journalists at war
12/24/04: Values and Interests: The “insurgency” and the future of the Middle East
12/03/04: The End of the Left’s History: The world has moved on
11/30/04: Europe’s Ritual Dance: The Western counterpart of Iran’s deception
11/18/04: Porter’s Purge: What spymasters? 10/10/04: The War Cabinet: President Bush needs to reshape his top structure
10/08/04: Guardian Angels: Once again, our enemies save America
10/06/04: Iran, when? The war on terror cannot be won without addressing Iran
09/28/04: Know Thine Enemy: The beheadings are about them, not us

09/27/04: Iran, Impossible? Nope. The mullahs will go the way of the Evil Empire
09/21/04: Iranian Tales: An evil regime
09/01/04: An improbable molehunt
08/17/04: The Terror Masters Revisited: Let’s go to the videotape
08/16/04: The Iran-Iraq War, Again: Listen to the Iraqis (And, faster please)
08/11/04: Intelligence and Imagination: The only real 'fix' is good leadership and accountability
07/27/04: The Nature of the Enemy: Win first. Hearts and minds will come
07/26/04: The 9/11 Vision: Better, but not there yet
07/20/04: Are you sitting down? Iran is a terrorist state
07/13/04: The Great Intelligence Committee Report: Some mysteries remain unsolved
06/30/04: The Fears of the Terror Masters: If we want a peaceful Iraq we will have to confront the mullahs
06/29/04: The Iraqis and the Neocons: Arab democracy is a work in progress
06/23/04: Ready for $60-a-Barrel Oil?: The Iranian election strategy at work
06/15/04: Iran is making trouble, and finessing it is a dangerous strategy
06/02/04: Reagan Seen Plain: He changed the world 06/02/04: Quattrocchi's Killers: We are dealing with a truly international terror network
05/25/04: The Agency Rides Again: Angleton on Chalabi
05/24/04: Lying into the mirror: Misunderstaning the war on terror
05/18/04: Kristof’s Iran
04/19/04: The Iranian Hand: Regime change in Tehran is necessary for peace in Iraq
04/15/04: Dealing with the Libyans: Is Khaddafi about to cash out?
04/08/04: From Tyranny to Freedom: Democracy in Iraq has precedent
03/18/04: Drifting, Dangerously: We must support freedom
03/02/04: Once Upon a Spymaster, Part II: Returning to a conversation
02/24/04: The Great Iranian Election Fiasco: What actually happened; what we must do
02/20/04: Stalinist Mullahs: The Iranian regime is in open battle with its own people
02/11/04: The Jihadis' Primal Scream: Zarkawi's "Yaarrrhhh!"
02/04/04: Inelegant Lies: Making sense out of mullahs
02/03/04: Potemkin WMDs? Really?
01/27/04: The Jihad on Iraq: Bad analysis and bad policy
01/20/04: Our Moment of Vainglory: A p.c. mess
01/06/04: Aftershocks: The West must read the meter in Bam and Tehran
12/02/03: Managing Iraq: We can't continue this way
11/26/03: Back to the Angleton Files
11/25/03: The Turks, Italians & us — never again
11/06/03: Regional Struggle: Fighting narrow vision in Iraq
11/04/03: Unpunished Failure: What are we waiting for?
10/21/03: Curses: Diamonds and Naples
10/15/03: Into the Quagmire: Important days ahead for Iran
09/18/03: The Ayatollahs’ bomb: An invulnerability strategy
09/12/03: You can't make peace until the war is won
09/11/03: Ron Paul, dishonorable congressman
09/03/03: The Latest Horrors: Still organized
08/29/03: The Peace Trap: Back to the war, please
08/27/03: Angrier and Angrier: Self-deception, big-time
08/25/03: Iraq's terrorists have friends in high places
07/10/03: The Future of Iran: Armitage might want to rethink that "democracy" line
07/02/03: Looking Toward July 9: Independence Day in Iran?
06/24/03: Iran: Back the freedom fighters
06/17/03: The Iranian Revolution, 2003: Regime change in the air
06/05/03: Academic Standards: A Middle East scholar has his way with the truth.
05/28/03: The Moment of Truth? U.S. policy could determine Iran's destiny
05/15/03: Iran's Path: Stopping the mullahs in their tracks
05/13/03: The Nuclear Axis of Evil: The people solution
05/08/03: Inside the Dark: Applebaum's ‘Gulag’
05/06/03: Tough Guy: Powell's curious priority list
05/01/03: Desert Shame Redux: Want a free Iran and a free Syria? We have to fight for it
04/25/03: Timing Is Everything: We have a narrow window in Iraq to win Shiite support
04/15/03: Political war can remove terror masters in Syria and Iran
04/07/03: The Others: We have miles to go in eliminating the Axis
04/02/03: French Lies: Take the foreign minister at his word
03/31/03: Why muzzle Saddam's foes?
03/28/03: The post-war terror threat
03/26/03: All Fronts: Military war, political war, psychological war
03/24/03: More Bad News for Daschle: Taking out terror of all nationalities
03/21/03: The Killer Pneu: Virus terror from China
03/13/03: Iran: Nuclear suicide bombers?
03/11/03: A Theory: What if there's method to the Franco-German madness?
03/05/03: The Iranian-Election Revolt: The people speak. The West won't listen
02/19/03: The willful blindness of those who will not see
02/12/03: The Europeans Know More Than They Now Pretend? They choose to dawdle and obstruct
02/03/03: Monumental failure: Nelson Mandela had promise
01/30/03: Elevation: The president knows what it's all about
01/29/03: No Leader: France's Chirac is all about personal interest
01/28/03: The Axis of Evil Redux: Same place, a year later
01/27/03: The Return of the Ayatollah: Washington could afford a little more attention on Iran
01/13/03: How we could lose
01/09/03: Fish are Better than Women: Gauging U.S. priorities
01/07/03: The Shape of Things to Come: The terror masters are now waiting for us
12/20/02: A Prophecy for the New Year --- Faster, please!
12/16/02: Scud Surrender: The "W" factor
12/13/02: The Heart of Darkness: The mullahs make terror possible
12/12/02: The Real War
12/09/02: Tom Friedman's Reformation: His Iran
11/26/02: How Tyrannies Fall: Opportunity time in Iran
11/22/02: The Blind Leading the Blind: The New York Times and the Iranian crisis
11/13/02: The Temperature Rises: We should liberate Iran first --- now
11/05/02: End of the Road: Iran's Mohammed Khatami, on his way out
10/29/02: The Angleton Dialogues, Contnued: What George Tenet doesn’t know
10/24/02: The Iranian Comedy Hour: In the U.S., the silence continues
10/16/02: Sniper, Saboteur, or Sleeper? Channeling James Jesus Angleton
10/01/02: The real foe
09/27/02: The Iranian String Quartet: The mullahs get increasingly nervous
09/25/02: The Dubya Doctrine
09/23/02: Intelligence? What intelligence?
09/12/02: America's revenge: To turn tyrannies into democracies
09/10/02: Iran & Afghanistan & Us: We'll have to deal with the mullahcracy, sooner or later
09/04/02: Iran, according to the Times: All the nonsense that's fit to print
08/21/02: Life and death of Abu Nidal tells us a great deal about our enemies
08/08/02: Can You Keep a Secret?: The media silence on Iran
08/06/02: Fantasy Reporting: The latest disinformation from the Washington Post
08/02/02: Propping Up the Terror Masters: Europe's Solana on tour
07/16/02: Bush vs. the Mullahs: Getting on the side of the Iranian freedom fighters
07/12/02: The State Department Goes Mute: It's official: State has no message
07/09/02: History being made, but the West appears clueless
06/05/02: Is George Tenet endangering peace in Israel?
06/03/02: Ridiculous, even for a journalist
05/20/02: So how come nobody's been fired yet?
05/14/02: Open doors for thugs
04/20/02: Iran on the Brink … and the U.S. does nothing
04/16/02: It’s the war, stupid … someone remind Colin Powell
04/08/02: Gulled: In the Middle East, Arafat doesn't matter
04/02/02: Faster, Please: The war falters
03/26/02: The Revolution Continues: What's brewing in Iran
03/18/02: Iran simmers still: Where's the press?
03/05/02: We can't lose any more ground in Iran
02/14/02: The Great Iranian Hoax
02/12/02: Unnoticed Bombshell: Key information in a new book
01/31/02: The truth behind the Powell play
01/29/02: My past with "Johnny Jihad's" lawyer
01/21/02: It's Munich, all over again
01/08/02: What's the Holdup?: It's time for the next battles in the war against terrorism
12/11/01: We must be imperious, ruthless, and relentless
12/06/01: Remembering my family friend, Walt Disney
11/28/01: The Barbara Olson Bomb: Understanding the war
11/13/01: How We're Doing: The Angleton Files, IV
11/06/01: A great revolutionary war is coming
10/25/01: How to talk to a terrorist
10/23/01: Creative Reporting: Learning to appreciate press briefings
10/19/01: Not the Emmys: A Beltway award presentation
10/15/01: Rediscovering American character
10/11/01: Somehow, I've missed Arafat's praise of the first stage of our war on terrorism
10/04/01: What do we not know?
09/28/01: Machiavelli On Our War: Some advice for our leaders
09/25/01: No Room for the U.N.: Keeping Annan & co. out of the picture
09/21/01: Creative destruction
09/14/01: Who Killed Barbara Olson?
08/22/01: How Israel will win this war
08/15/01: Bracing for war
08/09/01: More Dithering Democrats
08/02/01: Delirious Dems
07/31/01: Consulting a legendary counterspy about Chandra and Condit, cont'd
07/19/01: Be careful what you wish for
07/17/01: Consulting a legendary counterspy about Chandra and Condit
07/05/01: Let Slobo Go
05/30/01: Anybody out there afraid of the Republicans?
05/09/01: The bad guys to the rescue
05/07/01: Bye-bye, Blumenthal
04/20/01: Handling China
04/11/01: EXAM TIME!
04/05/01: Chinese over-water torture
03/27/01: Fighting AIDS in Africa is a losing proposition
03/14/01: Big Bird, Oscar, and other threats
03/09/01: Time for a good, old-fashioned purge
03/06/01: Powell’s great (mis)adventure
02/26/01: The Clinton Sopranos
02/20/01: Unity Schmoonity: Sharon is defying the will of the people
01/30/01: The Rest of the Rich Story
01/22/01: Ashcroft the Jew
01/11/01: A fitting close to the Clinton years
12/26/00: Continuing Clinton's shameful legacy
12/21/00: Clinton’s gift for Bush

© 2005, Michael Ledeen