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A central part of that sales pitch was his answer in the YouTube debate last July, in which he confidently said he would meet separately, without preconditions, within the first year of his administration, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea. (Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s face flashed on the screen when Iran was mentioned.)
Obama also assailed Clinton in an op-ed for the New Hamshire Union-Leader for being the only Democratic presidential candidate to vote for the Kyl-Lieberman amendment designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist group. In the article, Obama called the amendment “reckless,” and said it could be used to justify a continued troop presence in Iraq and exploited as a pretext to attack Iran.
But in an address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Wednesday, Obama repositioned himself on both fronts.
When he referred to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, he added, “whose Quds force has rightly been labeled a terrorist organization.”
As for negotiating with Iran, his shift was even more dramatic.
“Contrary to the claims of some, I have no interest in sitting down with our adversaries just for the sake of talking,” he said. “But as President of the United States, I would be willing to lead tough and principled diplomacy with the appropriate Iranian leader at a time and place of my choosing — if, and only if — it can advance the interests of the United States.”
But conducting diplomacy based on whether it will advance U.S. interests isn’t much of a departure from the current Bush policy, an “appropriate Iranian leader” is much different from meeting with Ahmadinejad, and “a time and place of my choosing” is different from a pledge to do so within the first year of his administration.
OBAMA’S REVERSALS on these issues, as well as the mixed signals he has been giving on taxes, trade, how he actually plans to withdraw troops from Iraq, and a host of other matters, can perhaps be seen in some sense as a positive. After all, if it turns out that Obama is just a typical, opportunistic politician, there’s reason to hope that he would govern more pragmatically than his ideologically liberal background, and voting record, would suggest.
On the other hand, given that Obama has such a thin public record, Americans have no way of evaluating him other than on the basis of what he is currently saying. If he is so willing to change his positions and alter his rhetoric on the basis of what is most politically convenient at the time, then voters have no way of assessing how he would actually govern.
In the final debate before the New Hampshire primary, McCain said to Romney, “We disagree on a lot of issues, but I agree you are the candidate of change.”
Come this fall, the line could just as easily be used on Obama.
Philip Klein is a reporter for The American Spectator.
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H/T to National Review Online