When Barack Obama finally piped up last year about the massive protests following the rigged June 12 presidential election in Iran, he quoted Martin Luther King Jr.: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” An eloquent line, but, as Obama used it, grossly misplaced.
King, when he talked about an arc of history, was not sitting around waiting for that arc to bend. He was fully committed to a great struggle for equality, and urging his followers to keep going. Obama, when he brought up the long arc, was at pains to tell the world he had no interest in getting involved with the protesters who were dying in the streets of Iran. He described their calls for freedom, and the brutal response of the Iranian regime, as “not something that has to do with the outside world.” Obama contented himself with ”bearing witness” – or at least tuning in on TV — while he waited for the demonstrations to simmer down, so he could resume extending his hand to the mullahs. That was the context in which he brought up “the arc of the moral universe,” assuring us all that he and the “international community” believed the arc would bend “toward justice.”
It was a strange choice of phrase from the president who rode to office on slogans not about any long arcs of anything, but “this is our moment,” “now is our time.” Apparently that was fine for things like 2,000 pages of ObamaCare legislation. But in Obama’s worldview, when Iranians rose up to challenge the Tehran regime that has bedeviled America since the days of Jimmy Carter, it was not their moment, and not their time.
And now, here we are, a year after the ”re-election” of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sparked those demonstrations calling for justice. Whatever the final shape of history’s arc, right now it is bending toward an Iranian nuclear bomb, and a rising Iranian-centered axis of trouble that extends not only to Syria, Venezuela and North Korea, but to Turkey and Brazil (with China and Russia arranging for their cut of the action). And what of the Iranian demonstrators who braved the beatings and bullets in the streets? After a year of terror, arrests and executions, there were still reports of sporadic demonstrations on Saturday, here and there in Iran. Try to imagine how much courage that must take. But the huge protests of last year have been smothered, thwarted, silenced. Obama talks about the increasing “isolation” of Iran’s regime, but — as I argue in a column on Iran’s Arc of Injustice – those who are genuinely suffering from isolation are not Iran’s rulers, but Iran’s dissidents.
And, from the White House, here it comes again: the arc of history, this time not from the lips of Obama himself, but from one of his “human rights advisors,” reading a presidential statement (which may explain why either the AFP or the advisor bungled the phrase, and referred this time not to the “arc” but to the “arch” of history).
Here’s the quote, from the AFP story: “The courage of the Iranian people stands as an example to us and it challenges us to continue our efforts to bend the arch of history in the direction of justice.”