In my judgment, the most important event of 2009 was the Green Revolution in Iran. But I think it is important to grasp that it was more than a simple event. It is a continuing process. It is far from over and it is gaining strength.
Next week, on the critically important date of February 11, we will witness another set-piece battle between the military junta and the people. The junta is already hanging young protesters as yet another desperate tool to intimidate the opposition in advance. It's heart-breaking. But it leads, in today's New York Times, to this remarkable statement from a Muslim in the country that, in some ways, pioneered the Islamist wave still engulfing and decimating the Muslim world and so many beyond it:
“My son is a martyr for democracy.”
Those of us who initially supported the Bush administration's war on terror, including its catastrophic invasion of Iraq, did so in part because we believed that a statement like this could alone change the dynamic that led to 9/11. I am unrepentant about the motive and the analysis. I am unrepentant in believing that constitutional democracy is the only long-term way to defeat Islamism's threat apart from the self-defeating violence of al Qaeda and of its allies and fellow-travelers. I am deeply ashamed that I failed to foresee the sheer impossibility of imposing this by force of arms on cultures deeply resistant to Western norms and engaging in utopian fantasies and ahistorical amnesia.
Nonetheless, almost a decade after 9/11, here we have the real thing: a Muslim democratic movement that has grown from within and is led by the next generation, in which the symbols and tropes and color of Islam are being marshaled to defend human rights, and democratic processes, and the civil sacredness of un-rigged elections.
So let the neocons, ex-neocons, cons and libs, realists and internationalists come together on this point: these people are the ones we have all been waiting for. This statement above is a moment worth stopping to absorb. I believe, moreover, that it is vital - vital - that the West does not get in the way between these people and their own democratic revolution. In fact, Obama's steady handling of this moment - quiet encouragement of the Greens and a public refusal to be baited by the regime - has been, in my view, helpful to the revolution's success.
And yes, I believe it is succeeding. The courage of the Iranian people - especially when compared to the cowardly, self-serving cynicism that courses through the American republic - is indisputable. And next week, we will see their latest battle, against a regime whose legitimacy has gone, whose isolation around the world is deeper than at any time in its history, and whose fate is as sealed as those tyrants in Moscow two decades ago.