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Obama Scoots to the Center at AIPAC

The newly-minted presumptive Democratic nominee faced the audience of the powerful pro-Israel lobby Wednesday, and adjusted his stance on some key issues — like Iran. A sign of shifts to come?

by
Jennifer Rubin

Bio

June 5, 2008 - 12:22 am
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Obama also threw in a few equivocations on direct meetings with the Iranian President, now saying:

We cannot unconditionally rule out an approach that could prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. We have tried limited, piecemeal talks while we outsource the sustained work to our European allies. It is time for the United States to lead.

There will be careful preparation. We will open up lines of communication, build an agenda, coordinate closely with our allies, and evaluate the potential for progress. Contrary to the claims of some, I have no interest in sitting down with our adversaries just for the sake of talking. 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.

Again, that marks a change, if not a complete about face, from his promises to meet directly and unconditionally with Ahmajinedad.

He also claimed credit for having opposed the Palestinian elections in 2006:

That is why I opposed holding elections in 2006 with Hamas on the ballot. The Israelis and the Palestinian Authority warned us at the time against holding these elections. But this Administration pressed ahead, and the result is a Gaza controlled by Hamas, with rockets raining down on Israel.

However, in January 2006 speaking to Palestinian students he did not appear to take issue with the idea of elections at all. He said at the time, according to this report:

“Part of the opportunity here with this upcoming election is to consolidate behind a single government with a single authority that can then negotiate as a reliable partner with Israel.”

After Obama’s AIPAC address, the McCain camp struck back.

In a conference call for the media arranged by the McCain camp, Senator Joe Lieberman took Obama to task for his flip-flop on the Iranian National Guard while McCain national security advisor Randy Scheunemann ripped Obama for efforts to work with European allies ( Obama deemed it “subcontracting”), calling it “cowboy diplomacy” – denigrating our friends and rushing off to embrace state terror sponsors.

But it was up to John McCain to lower the boom. In the blogger conference call I asked about Obama’s change of heart. McCain’s answer, detailed here and here, made clear that he was not buying the new and revised general election version of Obama.

Neither did the Republican Jewish Coalition appreciate Obama’s newfound appreciation for the importance of classifying the Iranian National Guard as a terrorist organization:

Today before the pro-Israel community at AIPAC, Senator Obama tried to run from his Iran policy. In September 2007, a bipartisan effort in the Senate passed the Kyl-Lieberman resolution designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization. At the time, Obama vehemently opposed this effort and used the opportunity as a political diversion to attack Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Now that he has the Democratic nomination, Obama is attempting to rewrite his history and pretend his opposition to Kyl-Lieberman never happened. But in truth, when given the opportunity to demonstrate principled leadership and judgment, Obama instead worked against the bipartisan effort to increase the economic pressure on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

Addressing AIPAC was likely not the way Obama would have chosen to spend the day after wrapping up his nomination.

However, Israel – like his Iraq policy and domestic issues ranging from taxes to free trade – represents a challenge familiar to politicians who transition abruptly from primary dominated by the extreme wing of their base to a general election. Put bluntly, his task will be to scoot to the center without anyone noticing. So far, however, they are noticing.

So what are Jewish voters and non-Jews who are deeply concerned about Israel to believe? McCain hopes they take the admonition of Rep. Eric Cantor who reminded the media yesterday that support for Israel is “easy to say, hard to do” and that voters can look to McCain’s “thirty year record” of supporting Israel.

Obama supporters likely wish that many of those YouTube clips would just disappear and that voters will accept his lovely, reassuring, but newly fashioned words of support for Israel.

CORRECTION: In a previous version, the article said that Sen. Obama voted against the Kyl-Lieberman amendment. Sen. Obama skipped the vote, but opposed it and defended his opposition in the debate discussed in the piece.

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Jennifer Rubin blogs at the Washington Post.
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