Is Iran next? Yes -- at least I hope. But, no -- not like Iraq.

Yes, Iran (search) sure deserves going next, right onto the ash-heap of history.

Since the fall of the Shah (search) in 1979, the Iranian regime has been distinctly corrupt and tyrannical to its own people. Plus it’s a clear and present danger to its neighbors, and to us, by backing terrorism and pursuing a nuclear weapons capability.

What Michael Ledeen cleverly calls the “mullahcracy” (search) has disintegrated into an incompetent clique of corrupt mullahs (search), straining to govern a major Islamic state. Iran today, like Afghanistan yesterday, stands as the poster child of a fanatical Muslim (search) state.

In one respect, at least, that’s fortunate. The birth of a new, democratic and competent Iraqi government -- America’s prime goal now -- comes at a prime time. The long-pulverized Iraqi people can glance across their border -- or afar, across Iran’s border into Afghanistan (search) -- and see what disasters arise when fanatics seize power.

In 1991, former U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick (search) and I journeyed to South Africa (search) to meet with President F. W. de Klerk (search) and ANC (search) leaders around Nelson Mandela (search). When we asked about the ANC’s communist rhetoric and links, the just-freed South African blacks shrugged that off. Look, they told us, at what disasters came from communism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union (search). We’re bound to make new mistakes, they delightfully admitted, but surely not to repeat mistakes made before.

By then, communism was a known failure. Likewise, by now, radical Islamic rule is a known failure. Thinking Iraqis today will want to make their own mistakes, and not rerun the ruins of the Taliban or the mullahcracy.

Ditto for thinking Iranians today. That’s why, yes, the Iranian regime may be the next to fall.

But, no, not by a liberation of coalition forces. For unlike in Saddam’s Iraq, which was competent in its tyranny, Iranian students, workers and academics can liberate themselves. And that’s precisely what they’re doing now. Hardly a week goes by without protests in a major Iranian city.

The mullahs will crack down, as best they can, but eventually they too will face a “Ceausescu moment” -- the stunning instance when the decades-ruling tyrant of Romania, Nicolae Ceausescu (search), stood on the balcony delivering another vapid speech when “his” people suddenly rose up. For a few seconds, Ceausescu tried to continue his babble. Then, suddenly, he and his dastardly wife froze, and fled. They too realized that their people had quite enough. A few days later, the pathetic pair were caught, and on Christmas Day 1989, tried and shot for their crimes against Romania.

But great historical events don’t just happen. They’re made to happen. Hence, the Bush administration has a big role to play in the third great liberation of oppressed Muslims (fourth, if you count Kosovo (search)).

The big “don’t” is to avoid legitimizing the Iranian government through State Department contacts. Playing “hawks versus doves” within the mullahcracy will work no better than did playing hawks vs. doves within the Sovietocracy. It gained us nothing, but gained some of those rulers legitimacy.

The main “do” is accordingly to legitimize, and assist, the Iranian liberators. The Bush administration should take the playbook used by the late Carter and Reagan administrations in Poland, when Solidarity (search) was getting going. Both presidents spoke directly to the oppressed people, subtly encouraging them.

Secretly, both supplied tools of liberation -- outside broadcasting of the truth, especially about the ongoing protests, plus some walking-around money to fund internal communications, money for striking workers, publications, etc.

Back then, in Poland, we used the AFL-CIO (search) to launder our funds. Where there’s a will, there’s surely a way to pass along sums to the Iranian protestors now.

With some un-American subtlety, we could help bring liberation on the cheap. That would be another major achievement of this Bush administration for Muslim decency -- and for our security.

Kenneth Adelman is a frequent guest commentator on Fox News, was assistant to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld from 1975 to 1977 and, under President Ronald Reagan, U.N. ambassador and arms-control director. Mr. Adelman is now co-host of TechCentralStation.com.