Monday, November 10, 2008

“Mark my words,” Vice President-elect Joe Biden warned last month, “it will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy.” Among the first countries that will surely attempt to test the new president is Iran.

Tehran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons, and it is a leading supporter of terrorist groups including Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The Obama administration, which takes office Jan. 20, will be run by politicians who take a very soft stance toward Iran - putting them well to the left of many of their liberal Democratic colleagues. Messrs. Obama and Biden (as well as Sen. John Kerry, widely rumored to be under consideration for secretary of state) were among a minority of Democratic senators who opposed a Sept. 26, 2007, amendment that designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization. (The Revolutionary Guard is heavily involved in smuggling bombmaking material into Iraq in order to kill and maim American soldiers. It also trains Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists who are targeting Israel.) The nonbinding amendment, which was introduced by Sens. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and and Jon Kyl of Arizona, passed the Senate 76-22. Democrats including Sen. Hillary Clinton and Majority Leader Harry Reid voted 28-20 in favor of designating the Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization.

During the Democratic primaries Mr. Obama attacked Mrs. Clinton’s vote in favor of the Lieberman-Kyl Amendment, suggesting that it would be a pretext for a U.S. attack on Iran. Mr. Obama’s claim was false: Sen. Richard Durbin - an ardent dove and Obama supporter - noted at the time that the amendment included language making clear that it would do no such thing.

Since he clinched the Democratic nomination in June, Mr. Obama’s tone has changed markedly. The blame-America-first rhetoric suggesting that President Bush might be spoiling for war with Iran has stopped, and Mr. Obama has said repeatedly that force cannot be ruled out in dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat.

The reality, however, is that neither Mr. Obama (nor for that matter, Republican politicians who speak on the record) favor military action against Iran. Their hope is that sanctions and diplomatic pressure will be enough to persuade Tehran to change its behavior. In recent years, Messrs. Obama, Biden and Kerry have made numerous statements exhorting Mr. Bush to hold talks with the Iranian regime without conditions and suggesting that failure to do so was a colossal blunder.

The nation most in Tehran’s crosshairs has a very different perspective. Israeli Foreign Minister and Kadima Party Chairman Tzipi Livni is a moderate dove who expressed concern last week about Mr. Obama’s stated readiness to talk with Iran. Alluding to Iran’s role in sponsoring terrorism and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s repeated calls for the destruction of Israel, Mrs. Livni almost sounded like hawkish Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu, saying that Mr. Obama’s call for “dialogue” with Iran “is liable to be interpreted as weakness.” Asked if she favored dialogue with Iran, Mrs. Livni replied: “The answer is no.”

As Americans were choosing Mr. Obama to become the next president, Tehran’s terrorist proxies were sending their own message to Washington by firing 35 missiles into southern Israel. If Iran is prepared to act this way without nuclear weapons, what will it do if it obtains them? Look for Mr. Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to begin testing Mr. Obama and his national-security team in earnest well before Inauguration Day.

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