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Obama to Iran: The Whole World Is Watching the Moral Arc Bending Towards Justice

“The whole world is watching” is a chant that many of us shouted as we marched and protested in vain to stop the Iraq war before it began.   The phrase indicated both a belief that it was important for the outside world to see that there was resistance within the United States to President Bush’s reckless policies, as well as a fact that through the power of phones and video cameras that there was no act of aggression by the police that would not be recorded and put on the internet for world consumption.

Now President Obama has used that community activist phrase on the government of Iran in hopes that it might give heart to those protesting as well as a reminder to the Iranian religous and political figures that as much as they try to suppress information about the murder and incarceration of protesters  it will still be seen by billions of people around the world. 


Our President used another phrase that is perhaps one of the most striking progressive statements of the 21st century. Offered by Martin Luther King, Jr., the proclaimation reads: The Moral Arc of the Universe is long but it bends towards Justice.   As an African American, only our current President could have the moral authority and personal witness to proclaim this truth to the Iranian people and not have it sound false or self serving (imagine if Senator McCain or President Bush tried trotting out this line). 

After the Lebanese electon and before the Iranian one I wrote about the Obama effect on Middle Eastern elections.   Tobin Harshaw of the Opinionator at the NYTimes reported that some Bush officials are now claiming that it was the hard power of the Iraq war and subsequent “nascent democracy” in Iraq that caused these protest.    The fact that hardlner Ahmadinejad was was elected over a moderate candidate after the invasion of Iraq and that Iran’s power in the region has increased since the invason doesn’t seem to phase this neo-con fantasy of history.  


Instead it is clear that it is the election and leadership of our current president with his history of opposition to the Iraq war and the triumph of justice that his election represents to our own country, which is supplying the soft power of hope that America is able to provide to the pro-democracy forces in iran.

The whole world is watching, hoping, and believing that the moral arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice.    America is now helping to bend the world in the right direction.

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posted June 22, 2009 at 8:12 am

Obama’s position is the right one. The US can not let the Iranian regime blame the US for the opposition movement. There is a related post at

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Charles Cosimano

posted June 22, 2009 at 11:38 am

And if the Iranian military stays loyal to the government, the world may learn what its moral judgements are worth. Obama is doing all he can, but short of invasion, his options are pretty limited.

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Brian Griffith

posted June 22, 2009 at 5:44 pm

I think Obama’s words and degree of focus on this issue is appropriate.
But I worry about some news networks like CNN, which seem to have taken a role as round-the-clock cheerleaders for Iranians to risk themselves in the streets.

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Brian Griffith

posted June 24, 2009 at 6:46 am

We’ve watched the growing demands to condemn Iran for its shutdown of protests and violent treatment of demonstrators. It seems to be another moment for the West to rebuke the Iranian government, and push for even greater economic sanctions on the country.
The debate in recent days has been over how strongly the condemnations should be worded. The US Republicans have insisted there is no reason save moral weakness to hold back in denouncing Iran’s criminality. But as the US politicians debated how to respond, there was one consideration it seemed impossible to bring up: how far could they go without appearing to be self-righteous hypocrites?
On the same day Obama issued a sterner denunciation, saying that the US lamented every death in Iran’s streets, it was announced that a US drone aircraft had killed around 45 people attending a funeral in Pakistan. The funeral attendees had been mourning those killed in another drone bombing the previous week. Today the BBC announced a study showing that almost all Afghan people held without trial at the Bagram prison camp between 2002 and 2008 reported major abuse by the US prison guards.
Is it humanly possible in the self-righteous arena of US politics to discuss the danger of appearing hypocritical? And if the USA is in a position to assume moral superiority in rebuking other nations, why don’t they castigate the government of Saudi Arabia for it’s autocracy, attack Mexico for election fraud, abuse Sri Lanka and Israel for ethnic cleansing, and insult China for its authoritarian ways? How about Westerners tempering their attacks on others with some admission of their own nations’ guilt in causing civilian deaths in many countries around the world?
What do you think is fair to say, in light of everybody’s compromised position?

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