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Obama's Pander Pivot

Today he becomes a hawk on Iran.

12:00 AM, Jun 4, 2008 • By DANIELLE PLETKA
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TODAY, SENATOR BARACK OBAMA will speak before the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), where he will execute a maneuver likely to become familiar to the American people in the months ahead: the pander pivot. That is, a sharp turn to the right to satisfy a vital Democratic constituency whose support he now needs.

The story begins nine months ago, when the Senate took up debate on the so-called Kyl-Lieberman amendment--a bipartisan measure that urged the U.S. government to designate Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and a Specially Designated Global Terrorist.

These designations are more than just rhetorical; labeling the IRGC as a terrorist organization brings to bear a range of powerful sanctions that crack down on its ability to work in the global financial system.

The proximate cause of the Kyl-Lieberman amendment was a growing dossier of evidence from General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, documenting the IRGC's role in financing, training, arming, and directing extremists in Iraq responsible for the murder of hundreds of American and Iraqi soldiers and civilians.

Of course, that's not the full extent of the IRGC's malign influence. The group is an acknowledged supporter of terror (a fact even Senator Obama concedes), training, financing and arming Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and most recently, the Taliban. At home in Iran, the IRGC now dominates the regime, with 9 out of 21 seats in the Ahmadinejad cabinet held by former IRGC and IRGC-affiliated officials. The IRGC is also a vital player in Iran's licit and illicit economies, and dominates important sectors like construction.

Needless to say, the Kyl-Lieberman amendment won broad support in the Senate, passing 76-22. Senator Hillary Clinton voted for it, as did Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senator Chuck Schumer, and Senator Dick Durbin.

Senator Obama, however, was one of a handful of senators who opposed the amendment--which had aroused the ire of the left-wing blogosphere. In the frenzied minds of DailyKos and Moveon.org, Kyl-Lieberman--or "Lieberman-Kyl," as they preferred to call it--was nothing less than a stealth declaration of war on Iran.

The offending clause (a non-binding Sense of the Senate) suggests that the U.S. military presence in Iraq "will have critical long-term consequences for the future of the Persian Gulf." It emphatically does not suggest either that we "use our military presence in Iraq to counter the threat from Iran," as Senator Obama's website falsely claims, or that "we should maintain our forces in Iraq with an eye toward blunting Iranian influence," as Senator Obama frets.

That reading of the amendment is incomprehensible to most, including Durbin, the senior senator from Illinois and one of Obama's chief supporters. "It's rare that Barack and I disagree on an issue of this magnitude," Durbin told Bloomberg Television at the time. "I have the same concerns that Barack Obama does about this administration and what they might do with the power that they have. But I don't think this resolution gives them a green light to do anything."

Nonetheless, Senator Obama (who perceived the issue as a key wedge against the warmongering Senator Clinton) seized on the amendment--and proceeded to spend the next nine months boasting to every anti-war audience he could find about his brave opposition to it.

In subsequent debates, speeches, and interviews, Senator Obama kept up the attack. On his website, he offers only three points about his Iran policy; opposition to Kyl-Lieberman is one of them.

This week, in a speech before AIPAC, Senator John McCain condemned Senator Obama for his opposition to Kyl-Lieberman. "Over three quarters of the Senate supported this obvious step, but not Senator Obama," McCain said on Monday. "He opposed this resolution because its support for countering Iranian influence in Iraq was, he said, a 'wrong message not only to the world, but also to the region.'"

In response, Obama's campaign suddenly discovered that their man--despite having spent the last nine months campaigning on his opposition to Kyl-Lieberman--"has consistently urged that Iran's Revolutionary Guard be labeled what it is: a terrorist organization."

Well, not that consistently. Senator Obama has been scrupulously careful not to call explicitly for designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization. Now, however, with the Democratic nomination almost in hand, Obama feels comfortable telling a pro-Israel audience what it wants to hear.