June 11, 2010 | Forbes
Iran’s Arc Of Injustice
When huge protests broke out in Iran over last year's rigged reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, U.S. President Barack Obama had some cool, calm answers. The brutality of Iran's regime he saw as a domestic matter, in which he preferred not to meddle. To the bloodied protesters he offered his assurance that America, as part of the “international community,” was “bearing witness.” Quoting Martin Luther King, he further assured them of his belief that the long arc of the moral universe “bends toward justice.”
Obama's more active preoccupation was with Iran's rogue nuclear projects. On that score, along with his offer of “mutual respect,” he offered Iran's rulers a choice. They could live up to their international obligations or find themselves increasingly “isolated.”
All this reliance on hope and choice was supposed to produce an Iran ruled by a more tolerant and tractable regime, its unclenched fist shaking the extended hand of the U.S.
Instead, the opposite has happened. Iran's dissidents have become more isolated, while Iran's regime has been bending the world its way: mocking Obama, arming terrorist mascots, piling up nuclear bomb fuel and firming up international alliances, old and new. Since ascending to his second term in office, Ahmadinejad has twice peacocked in New York on the United Nations stage, in September and again in May. In February his schedule included a terror-trio dinner in Damascus with Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and the terrorist leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah. This week, while Obama was repeating the line about Iran finding itself more “isolated,” Ahmadinejad was in the middle of a three-country swing through Turkey, Tajikistan and China. When he compared the latest U.N. sanctions resolution to a “used handkerchief,” he was speaking from Dushanbe, en route to the current World Expo in Shanghai, where he felt free to describe Israel as “doomed.”
Since Iran's massive protests flared up last June, Ahmadinejad has also been received in Russia, Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Denmark, Zimbabwe, Senegal, Gambia and Uganda. Some of these visits have been to rub shoulders at diplomatic pow-wows with regional or global top brass en masse. Some have been an opportunity for Iran's oil-rich regime to cut bilateral deals ranging from weapons procurement to energy projects to the lifting of visa requirements.
And that's just Ahmadinejad. Iran's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, leads a globe-trotting life which has taken him recently, for instance, to places ranging from Algeria to Gabon, Bulgaria, Oman, Mexico, Austria and Ireland (where demonstrators this week pelted Mottaki with eggs). In May Mottaki hosted a dinner in New York for delegates of the 15 member states of the U.N. Security Council–to which the U.S., among others, sent an envoy.
At the U.N., Iran's special posts go well beyond its much-publicized new seat on the Commission on the Status of Women. Despite its record of wrecking its own economy, murdering peaceful protesters, violating U.N. sanctions, spawning terrorists and leading the world in juvenile executions, Iran also sits on the governing boards of such major U.N. agencies as UNICEF, the U.N. Development Program and the World Food Program. Even this week's long-delayed vote by the U. N. Security Council to impose a fourth round of sanctions on Iran was hardly an isolating event. With the Security Council more divided on Iran than it ever was during the era of President George W. Bush, Iran's Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee used his turn at the Security Council microphone to attack the U.S., Britain and Israel, and to thank Turkey and Brazil (which voted against the new sanctions resolution) and Lebanon (which abstained).
Khazaee claimed in his statement to the Security Council that “the Islamic Republic of Iran today is more powerful than ever, supported by its people … and enjoys the support of the overwhelming majority of nations.” Before the closing gavel his words drew a brief rebuttal from the British ambassador but not a word of refutation from U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice or anyone else in the chamber. Such are the sorry standards of the “international community,” which for the most part finds it quite enough to produce the occasional U.N. sanctions resolution targeting Iran's nuclear program and then leave almost all the heavy lifting to the U.S. Treasury. Thanks to the limits of “smart sanctions,” Treasury is perforce focused not on human rights but on the narrower mandate of trying to shut down Iranian business tied specifically to nuclear proliferation. Beyond that, global interest in the atrocities, propaganda and terror-based character of Iran's regime ranges chiefly from “bearing witness” to cutting deals. This is giving rise to a growing axis of big trouble: Witness how unregenerate Iran now partners not only with the likes of Syria, North Korea and Venezuela but also with erstwhile moderate regional powers such as Senegal, Turkey and Brazil.
Meanwhile, despite Obama's faith in the long moral arc of the universe, Iran's dissidents in the here-and-now are increasingly isolated. The world spotlight has been on Iran's nuclear haggling, not its domestic repression. Protests continue to crop up here and there. But the momentum of last year is no longer visible. While America and its friends have been “bearing witness,” Iranian protesters have been persecuted, stifled, picked off by bullets, beatings and arrests, and faced with the example of executions.
Recent news reports have been describing a heavy security presence deployed in Tehran, as authorities there try to head off any revival of last year's uprising. For the anniversary this weekend of the June 12, 2009 fraudulent election, the two main leaders of the Green opposition movement, Mir Hussein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi, had applied for a permit to hold a demonstration. They were refused. Citing concerns for life and property, they then canceled their call for mass protests.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a display of oratory unlikely to send anyone to the ramparts, has called this cancellation “regrettable.” Sen. John McCain has a better idea. Speaking Thursday at the National Endowment for Democracy, McCain suggested that Obama–in the real spirit of the American Civil Rights Movement–stop waiting for the universe to come to the aid of Iranian dissidents and start bending some arcs himself: “If he were to make their quest for democracy the civil rights struggle of our time it could bolster their will to endure in their struggle, and the result could be historic.”
Claudia Rosett, a journalist in residence with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, writes a weekly column on foreign affairs for Forbes.