President Obama doesn't know much about history.
In his therapeutic 2009
He also believes history follows some predetermined course, as if things always get better on their own. Obama often praises those he pronounces to be on the "right side of history." He also chastises others for being on the "wrong side of history" -- as if evil is vanished and the good thrives on autopilot.
When in 2009 millions of Iranians took to the streets to protest the thuggish theocracy, they wanted immediate U.S. support. Instead, Obama belatedly offered them banalities suggesting that in the end, they would end up "on the right side of history." Iranian reformers may indeed end up there, but it will not be because of some righteous inanimate force of history, or the prognostications of
Obama often parrots
Another of Obama's historical refrains is his frequent sermon about behavior that doesn't belong in the 21st century. At various times he has lectured that the barbarous aggression of Vladimir Putin or ISIS has no place in our century and will "ultimately fail" -- as if we are all now sophisticates of an age that has at last transcended retrograde brutality and savagery.
In Obama's hazy sense of the end of history, things always must get better in the manner that updated models of iPhones and iPads are glitzier than the last. In fact, history is morally cyclical. Even technological progress is ethically neutral. It is a way either to bring more good things to more people or to facilitate evil all that much more quickly and effectively.
In the viciously modern 20th century -- when more lives may have been lost to war than in all prior centuries combined -- some 6 million Jews were put to death through high technology in a way well beyond the savagery of Attila the Hun or Tamerlane. Beheading in the Islamic world is as common in the 21st century as it was in the eighth century -- and as it will probably be in the 22nd. The carnage of the Somme and Dresden trumped anything that the Greeks, Romans, Franks, Turks or Venetians could have imagined.
What explains Obama's confusion?
A lack of knowledge of basic history explains a lot. Obama or his speechwriters have often seemed confused about the liberation of Auschwitz, "Polish death camps" the political history of
Contrary to Obama's assertion, President
A Pollyannaish belief in historical predetermination seems to substitute for action. If Obama believes that evil should be absent in the 21st century, or that the arc of the moral universe must always bend toward justice, or that being on the wrong side of history has consequences, then he may think inanimate forces can take care of things as we need merely watch.
In truth, history is messier. Unfortunately, only force will stop seventh-century monsters like ISIS from killing thousands more innocents. Obama may think that reminding Putin that he is now in the 21st century will so embarrass the dictator that he will back off from
In 1935, French Foreign Minister
There is little evidence that human nature has changed over the centuries, despite massive government efforts to make us think and act nicer. What drives Putin, Boko Haram or ISIS are the same age-old passions, fears and sense of honor that over the centuries also moved
Obama's naive belief in predetermined history -- especially when his facts are often wrong -- is a poor substitute for concrete moral action.