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Barack's Middle East Education By: Amir Taheri
New York Post | Thursday, June 12, 2008

IN his address to the American Israeli Political Action Committee last week, Sen. Barack Obama discarded some of his most dangerous positions.

Of Iran, for example, he said: "The Iranian regime supports violent extremists and challenges us across the region. It pursues a nuclear capability that could spark a dangerous arms race and raise the prospect of a transfer of nuclear know-how to terrorists. Its president denies the Holocaust and threatens to wipe Israel off the map. The danger from Iran is grave, it is real, and my goal will be to eliminate this threat."

Except for the politically correct phrase "violent extremists" instead of the more accurate "terrorists," those words could have come from President Bush.

All who've supported the Bush Doctrine should welcome this dramatic change. No longer does Obama claim that talk of a threat from Iran is an "obsession instead, he recognizes the danger of nuclear proliferation - and acknowledges the Islamic Republic as something more than a "tiny" challenger.

He has also "evolved" on Iraq. He no longer shares Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's belief that America has already lost the war. And he's discarded his pledge to pull US troops out in the first year of his presidency. He now talks of "a responsible and phased withdrawal" - exactly what Bush is committed to.

More important: He no longer says "there are no good options in Iraq now, "there are not many good options" - which means there are some.

In the Middle East, many see this transformation as a bid to woo the Jewish vote. Unlikely: American Jews always vote Democrat by three to one.

Perhaps the change simply reflects the shift from the primaries, which Obama won in part by courting the virulent anti-war groups, to the general-election campaign, when he must appeal to the electorate at large. That is, he must tailor his message for the majority of Americans who think Iran is a threat, and the growing plurality are starting to see that Iraq isn't a quagmire after all.

I prefer to believe that Obama is simply learning "on the job."

This is no bad thing, provided his mind is not atrophied by dogma. No one gains experience without making mistakes and correcting them.

OBAMA should travel to the Middle East to get a feel of the place, talk to people at all levels and acquire a deeper understanding of the issues.

He should especially go to Iraq to see what is happening, and hear what Iraqis think about their future, and talk to the US civilian and military personnel, who have put their lives on the line to help Iraq defeat its enemies.

I know no one who went to Iraq without a hidden agenda and came back not supporting the building of a new, open and pluralist society there.

Once he has completed his educational tour, Obama would have to tackle the second half of the task facing him.

The first half was his abandonment of appeasement toward the Islamic Republic and defeatism on Iraq. The second half consists of announcing what he'll do about Iran and Iraq. Having adopted Bush's analysis, will he also adopt Bush's policies (albeit with variations to calm the virulent Bush-bashers)?

That is the key question of the coming campaign. For if Obama goes the whole way, he would facilitate the development of a bipartisan policy on the most crucial international issues the United States has faced since the end of the Cold War.

That would tell the terrorists and insurgents in Iraq that, even under President Obama, America won't feed its friends to the wolves and run away. It would also tell the mullahs that the United States won't let them dominate the Middle East in the name of Khomeinism.

The very perception of a truly united United States would go a long way in defusing the situation in the Middle East. On the other hand, the perception of the United States as a house divided will encourage those who hope the Americans will run away - leaving the Middle East to them, just to please Nancy Pelosi and the small anti-war network that helped fly Obama's kite to such heights.

The difference between the two perceptions could mean the difference between peace and war.

Amir Taheri's new book, "The Persian Night: Iran Under the Khomeinist Revolution," will be published this fall.

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