President George W. Bush was fond of saying that all people want democracy, and in a very general sense he was probably right. But his misadventures prove that wanting democracy isn't enough. People have to be willing to fight for it.
He is not the first president whose naive idealism was overtaken by the harshness of reality, and most of his predecessors stumbled in similar---though usually less spectacular---ways. John F. Kennedy failed in epic fashion, by landing Cuban counter-revolutionaries at the Bay of Pigs, with the mission of toppling Fidel Castro. The effort was an unmitigated disaster in every possible way. The young JFK learned lessons that evidently did not survive his assassination, for in the many intervening years---Kennedy would be 92 this year---all his successors erred, despite the recognition that in the battle between naked ideals and naked truncheons, ideals often lose.
It is ironic that, despite its reputation for aggressiveness, the Bush administration had a policy toward Iran that could charitably be called passive, a policy of hope alone. Hope that American entreaties alone would convince the bellicose leadership to change its policies. Hope that the Russians would magically recognize that it wasn't wise to support Iran's destabilizing behavior. Hope that the moderates inside Iran would revolt against the mullahs.
It should come as no shock that extremists revolt, but moderates usually do not. The Obama administration, perhaps understanding the implacability of the Iranian government and the very small number of options available to affect the situation, sounds increasingly frustrated. With great fanfare, the White House hailed the recent UN Security Council resolution chastising Teheran, but the resolution was toothless and predictably sank without a trace.
The latest charade was the Iranian election, and although the subsequent massive demonstrations have made for great television, they have resulted only in the death and injury of those demonstrating against the steel grip of the Iranian government and its Revolutionary Guards. Schooled in the effectiveness of mass communications in the United States, we are currently transfixed by the resolve of the plucky Iranian masses to increase their political leverage through modern means as they cleverly switch from banned text messaging to Twitter. The effort would be risible if it were not for the near inevitability of more bloodshed but without the attendant reform.
The American colonies became the United States through the force of arms, the revolutionaries among us recognizing presciently what Mao succinctly said two centuries later: political power grows out of the barrel of a gun. A velvet revolution is possible in Iran, and one should fervently hope for it. But hope is not a policy and will produce positive results only by chance. When George W. Bush said that everybody wants democracy, "everybody" meant Iran, too. But if Iranians want democracy, they, too, will have to fight for it. They will have to make the same investment made by our founders in our own Declaration of Independence: a pledge to commit their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor.