We’ve all heard of confirmation conversions, when a judicial nominee supposedly changes his tune to get confirmed for the bench. Barack Obama appears to have had a nomination conversion. Within a day of becoming the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, he changed his feathers on the Middle East.
At his speech on Wednesday to the America Israel Public Affairs Committee, Sen. Obama left behind his earlier limply dovish views and began issuing unconditionally hawkish statements: “As president I will never compromise when it comes to Israeli security,” he said, and later declared: “I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Everything.”
The politics here is obvious. Obama has had a problem appealing to Jewish and pro-Israel voters, and he set out to fix it in his AIPAC speech. The speech was moving at times, and received multiple standing ovations. The buzz afterwards was that he had done himself some good. But at the price of whiplash-inducing shifts in emphasis on the issues.
Obama had been unclear lately about how serious he thinks the Iranian threat is. At AIPAC, he was unmistakable: “There’s no greater threat to Israel or to the peace and stability of the region than Iran. The danger from Iran is grave and real and my goal will be to eliminate this threat.” When Sen. Clinton offered similar assurances back in May, Obama denounced her as using “language reflective of George Bush” and spat that she was practicing “cowboy diplomacy.” But Obama’s words at AIPAC might have been taken for Bush’s own: “Iran armed with a nuclear weapon poses a grave threat to the security of the world.”
As for his much-vaunted pledge to meet unconditionally with the leaders of Iran, at AIPAC it became a mere willingness to sit down with Iranians after careful preparation, if the national interest would be served by it. He declared that Israel was justified in striking a nuclear reactor in Syria. With his tough language about Iran — explicitly mentioning the possibility of using force — and his endorsement of the Syria strike, one could be forgiven for thinking he was trying to refurbish the Bush doctrine of preemption after the battering it’s taken from Democrats the last few years.
The AIPAC version of Obama is eager to pressure the Iranians. During the primaries, Obama inveighed against the Kyl-Lieberman resolution that urged that Iran’s infamous Islamic Revolution Guards Corps be declared a terrorist organization, empowering the U.S. to deploy financial sanctions or other actions against it. Obama’s campaign mercilessly criticized Hillary Clinton for supporting this “saber-rattling” and “blank check” for war. At AIPAC, Obama mentioned none of that, saying the Qods force of the IRGC has “rightly been labeled a terrorist organization” and calling for boycotting firms associated with the IRGC.
We’re always ready to welcome converts, but suspect that the real Obama is the one we knew until Wednesday, who has been smearing every American act to push back against our enemies in the Middle East as naked belligerence, who has spent months defending unconditional diplomacy as a keystone of American foreign policy, and has surrounded himself with left-wing foreign-policy advisers. We did learn something about Obama at AIPAC. Not that he’s not a dove, but that he’s a surpassingly opportunistic one.