Iran rings the bell

Iran today is South Africa with Mandela in prison. Poland with Walesa under martial law. Nicaragua before the election of Chamorro. Czechoslovakia with Havel detained and the Berlin Wall as the bricks began to fall.

Remember: The Czechoslovakia that detained Havel is the Czech Republic today. Mandela is now one of the most revered men in the world, a retired head of state who proved again that even against the greatest odds, the greatest dreams can come true.

Iran is one more step in a great continuum of history as a generation steps forward to stake its claim for a better life — as many generations, in many places, have done before them.

Perhaps in the short term Iran will end with tragedy, perhaps with hope, but we must clearly understand what is happening.

When the Monday New York Times writes of Ahmadinejad, in a front-page story co-written by its executive editor, that “A Shrewd Leader Emerges With A Stronger Hand,” this is so wrong it must be answered.

The stealing of an election, the beating of opponents, the lockdown of the media with a disastrous economy by the loser of the election is not a sign of shrewdness or strength. Quite the contrary.

Poland. Hungary. Bulgaria. Romania. South Africa. East Germany. The Czech Republic. Spain. Chile. The Philippines. Guatemala.

Some believed that dictators in those states and others were shrewd and strong, before they entered the dustbins of history.

This continuum of history is long and hard, from ancient Greece to Rome, from the Magna Carta to Philadelphia in 1776, from the days when American blacks were beaten by whips and murdered by bombs to when we learned, only months ago, that in America, anyone truly can be president.

Now that president addresses the Muslim world, and the entire world, and says that the young must inherit a world that is better than endless hatred, hunger, poverty, futility, bloodshed, bombs, oppression and war.

I know what it’s like to stand on the streets of Warsaw, in the freezing ice of a Cold War winter, when a Polish dictator was sworn in, joined by Soviet leaders and watched by the KGB, when martial law was being planned, and speak with heroes of freedom in Poland, who endured unendurable suffering before winning one of the great triumphs in the history of freedom, as others have done from Prague to Pretoria, from Boston to Berlin, centuries apart.

The president’s appeal is both timeless and timely. Make no mistake — it will be hard.

Forces of hatred and oppression clutch power with an iron grip. The powers in Iran consider their course in the coming 10 days and seek reconciliation that gives the majority that voted for change a seat at the table of power, or they may set loose forces they cannot control.

The U.S. should speak the truth about the Iranian election, even if we must negotiate with Iran as we negotiated with Soviet leaders since Stalin.

May leaders and people from Israel to Gaza to Iran and throughout the Middle East hear what voters in Lebanon and Iran have told them.

President Obama has created a huge and transcendent moment. Let’s make the most of it.

Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at