Has there ever been a more dramatic moment than this one? The Middle East is boiling, as the failed tyrants scramble to come to terms with the political tsunami unleashed on Afghanistan and Iraq.
The power of democratic revolution can be seen in every country in the region. Even the Saudi royal family has had to stage a farcical "election." But this first halting step has fooled no one. Only males could vote, no political parties were permitted, and only the Wahhabi establishment was permitted to organize. The results will not satisfy any serious person. As Iraq constitutes a new, representative government, and wave after wave of elections sweep through the region, even the Saudis will have to submit to the freely expressed desires of their people.
The tidal wave has even reached into the planet's darkest corners, most recently shaking the foundations of the North Korean hermit kingdom. A new leader is announced at the same time the monsters in Pyongyang whisper "We've got nukes" and demand legitimacy from George W. Bush. Given the opacity of the country, and the irrationality of its leaders, nobody seems to know whether the Dear Leader is still alive, or, if he is, why the transition has been proclaimed. But the North Koreans, as tyrants everywhere on the planet, are acting like a regime no longer confident in its own legitimacy. Notice that the world's longest-running dictator, old man Castro, is conjuring up the illusion of American assassination teams planning the murder of his buddy in Venezuela, even as Fidel promises death to anyone who has the nerve to propose popular validation of his own failed tyranny. Such is the drama of our time.
Free elections do not solve all problems. The fascist tyrants of the last century were enormously popular, and won huge electoral victories; Stalin was truly loved by millions of oppressed Soviets; and fanatics might win an election today in some unhappy lands. But this is a revolutionary moment, we are unexpectedly blessed with a revolutionary president, and very few peoples will freely support a new dictatorship, even one that claims Divine Right.
But the wheel turns, as ever. Such moments are transient, and if they are not seized, they will pass, leaving the bitter aftertaste of failure in dry mouths and throttled throats. The world looks to us for more action, not just brave words, and we must understand both the quality of this moment and the revolutionary strategy we need to adopt to ensure that the revolution succeeds. Above all, we must applaud those who got it right, starting with the president, and discard the advice of those who got it wrong, including some of our "professional experts."
The two great elections of recent months were held in Iraq and Ukraine. In both cases, the conventional wisdom was wrong. The conventional wisdom embraced the elitist notion that neither the Ukrainians nor the Iraqis were "ready" for democracy, because they lacked one or another component of the so-called requirements for a free society. Their alleged limitations ranged from historical tradition and internal conflicts to a lack of education and culture and insufficient internal "stability." How I hate the word stability! Is it not the antithesis of everything we stand for? We are the embodiment of revolutionary change, at home and abroad. Most of the time, those who deplore a lack of stability are in reality apologizing for dictators, and selling out great masses of people who wish to be free. And even as those un-American apologists invoke stability, we, as the incarnation of democratic capitalism, are unleashing creative destruction in all directions, sending once-great corporations to history's garbage heap, voting once-glorious leaders into early retirement, and inspiring people everywhere to seek their own happiness by asserting their right to be free.
The Ukrainians are now in control, but the Iraqis still have to contend with the discredited meddlers and schemers who never believed in their democracy, and still seek to place failed puppets in positions of power in Baghdad. Anyone who reads the dozens of blogs from Iraq -- which express a wide range of political opinion -- must surely see that the Allawi interregnum has failed. The results of the election speak clearly: The Allawi list was outvoted five to one by its major opponents, even though Allawi commanded a treasure chest vastly greater than that of the others. Ambassador Negroponte, Secretary of State Rice, and DCI Goss should tell their "experts" to admit error, and cease their efforts to install a president and prime minister who reflect the consensus of Foggy Bottom rather than the will of the Iraqi people. If they persist in attempting to dictate the makeup of the new Iraqi government, and continue to meddle in the drafting of the new Iraqi constitution, they will turn the majority of Iraqis against us. Despite countless errors of judgment and commission, we have, for the moment at least, won a glorious victory. We should be smart enough, and modest enough, to accept it.
This glorious victory is due in large part to the truly heroic performance of our armed forces, most recently in that great turning point, the battle of Fallujah. Our victory in Fallujah has had enormous consequences, first of all because the information we gathered there has made it possible to capture or kill considerable numbers of terrorists and their leaders. It also sent a chill through the spinal column of the terror network, because it exposed the lie at the heart of their global recruitment campaign. As captured terrorists have told the region on Iraqi television and radio, they signed up for jihad because they had been told that the anti-American crusade in Iraq was a great success, and they wanted to participate in the slaughter of the Jews, crusaders, and infidels. But when they got to Iraq -- and discovered that the terrorist leaders immediately confiscated their travel documents so that they could not escape their terrible destiny-- they saw that the opposite was true. The slaughter -- of which Fallujah was the inescapable proof -- was that of the jihadists at the hands of the joint coalition and Iraqi forces.
Thirdly, the brilliant maneuvers of the Army and Marine forces in Fallujah produced strategic surprise. The terrorists expected an attack from the south, and when we suddenly smashed into the heart of the city from the north, they panicked and ran, leaving behind a treasure trove of information, subsequently augmented by newly cooperative would-be martyrs. Above all, the intelligence from Fallujah -- and I have this from military people recently returned from the city -- documented in enormous detail the massive involvement of the governments of Syria and Iran in the terror war in Iraq. And the high proportion of Saudi "recruits" among the jihadists leaves little doubt that the folks in Riyadh are, at a minimum, not doing
Thus, the great force of the democratic revolution is now in collision with the firmly rooted tyrannical objects in Tehran, Damascus, and Riyadh. In one of history's fine little ironies, the "Arab street," long considered our mortal enemy, now threatens Muslim tyrants, and yearns for support from us. That is our immediate task.
It would be an error of enormous proportions if, on the verge of a revolutionary transformation of the Middle East, we backed away from this historic mission. It would be doubly tragic if we did it because of one of two possible failures of vision: insisting on focusing on Iraq alone, and viewing military power as the prime element in our revolutionary strategy. Revolution often comes from the barrel of a gun, but not always. Having demonstrated our military might, we must now employ our political artillery against the surviving terror masters. The great political battlefield in the Middle East is, as it has been all along, Iran, the mother of modern terrorism, the creator of Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, and the prime mover of Hamas. When the murderous mullahs fall in Tehran, the terror network will splinter into its component parts, and the jihadist doctrine will be exposed as the embodiment of failed lies and misguided messianism.
The instrument of their destruction is democratic revolution, not war, and the first salvo in the political battle of Iran is national referendum. Let the Iranian people express their desires in the simplest way possible: "Do you want an Islamic republic?" Send Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel to supervise the vote. Let the contending parties compete openly and freely, let newspapers publish, let radios and televisions broadcast, fully supported by the free nations. If the mullahs accept this gauntlet, I have every confidence that Iran will be on the path to freedom within months. If, fearing a massive rejection from their own people, the tyrants of Tehran reject a free referendum and reassert their repression, then the free nations will know it is time to deploy the full panoply of pressure to enable the Iranians to gain their freedom.
The time is now. Faster, please.
Michael Ledeen, an NRO contributing editor, is most recently the author of "The War Against the Terror Masters." He is resident scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute.
By Michael Ledeen
Reprinted with permission from National Review Online