Cliff May

Iran's Islamic Revolution took place 31 years ago today. The country's monarch, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, missed it. He had gone abroad in mid-January promising that, when he returned, he would only reign -- not govern.

That wasn't good enough for the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeni, then living in exile in France. On Feb. 1, he flew a chartered jet back to Iran where he was greeted by millions of supporters, many of whom believed he was, quite literally, the messiah, the "hidden imam" awaited by the Shi'a faithful for centuries. Less than two weeks later, the Shah's government collapsed.

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I was present at the creation - to borrow a phrase from Dean Acheson, Secretary of State to President Truman. Acheson, of course, was speaking of the origins of the Cold War. I am referring to the War Against the West that was sparked by the Islamic Revolution and which continues to this day with no resolution in sight.

I was a young foreign correspondent then, not wise to the ways of the Middle East. But I knew this about revolutions: Most fail. Life under the tsars had been hard; life under the commissars was exponentially harder. In China, the communist revolution led to the Cultural Revolution which led to tens of millions of deaths. The French Revolution deteriorated into The Terror.

The American Revolution is the great exception. It established a new nation based on the "self-evident" truths that those who govern require the consent of the governed; and that no government can legitimately deprive its citizens of rights endowed by "their Creator."

Today, brave Iranians are protesting, joining the Green Movement, because they, too, want to choose their leaders and have those leaders respect their unalienable rights. To date, they have received little support from the United States and other free nations.

On Monday, the U.S. and the European Union did release a joint statement calling on the ruling regime "to end its abuses against its own people [and] to hold accountable those who have committed the abuses." But what prevents President Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and other Western leaders from standing before the cameras and forcefully calling on Supreme Leader Ali Khameinei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to refrain from attacking Iranians peacefully demonstrating for democratic reform? How much effort would that require? How many lives might it save?

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.