Obama has developed a habit of fudging.
As the election creeps nearer and the polls increasingly favor Barack Obama, it is worth considering the implications of another "say anything" president. Such a president moves swiftly from state to state and country to country, adapting his talking points for the audience at hand. Consistency is not his goal; he aims to satisfy his listeners. Bill Clinton was such a president, and Mr. Obama promises more of the same.
At home, a leader who regularly misleads the public eventually earns the ire of voters and demands for accountability. Abroad, he fosters misunderstanding of American intentions and resolve, inviting adversaries to test the limits of U.S. power.
The desire to be all things to all people is common among politicians of every ideological stripe. Yet the public record, an eagle-eyed media, and a commitment to a particular set of ideas and policies keep most politicians on the straight and narrow. But there are other public figures who, having gotten away with what Mr. Clinton himself called "fudging," find the habit hard to kick. Mr. Obama fits into this group.
On June 4, he told a pro-Israel crowd that "Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided." A day later he decided that it would be "up to the parties to negotiate a range of these issues. And Jerusalem will be part of those negotiations." Six weeks later, he wrote off his commitment to a united Jerusalem as "an example where we had some poor phrasing in the speech."
In July 2007, Mr. Obama was asked whether he would "be willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea." He said: "I would." A year later, to a much different audience in Israel, he said: "I think that what I said in response was that I would, at my time and choosing, be willing to meet with any leader if I thought it would promote the national security interests of the United States of America."
In May 2008, in Oregon, he explained to an antiwar audience that Iran doesn't "pose a serious threat to us the way the Soviet Union posed a threat to us." Two months later in a speech in Israel, suddenly Iran "would pose a grave threat." A month later he said that "the danger from Iran is grave, it is real, and my goal will be to eliminate this threat."
In January 2007, he explained, "I don't know any expert on the region or any military officer that I've spoken to privately that believes that [deployment of more troops to Iraq] is going to make a substantial difference on the situation on the ground." A year later he had reversed not only his position, but his memory of his position: "Now, I had no doubt -- and I said at the time, when I opposed the surge, that given how wonderfully our troops perform, if we place 30,000 more troops in there, then we would see an improvement in the security situation."
There are many additional examples from a relatively short political career. In May 2007, Mr. Obama told a national TV audience he supported funding for troops though he opposed the war. The next day, he voted against the funding. A few years ago, he excoriated the "utterly failed" Cuba embargo, but recently told a Cuban-American audience in Florida he would continue the embargo.
There is plenty of scope for an evolution of views among America's leaders. As we have learned all too well from George W. Bush, failure to learn from one's mistakes can be enormously harmful to the national interest. Yet evolving according to who is listening is hardly the antidote to the stubbornness of America's current president.
America's enemies see an opportunity to gain ground with a new leader more inclined to "sit down with" rather than confront the world's rogues. Terrorist leaders from Hamas, as well as dictators from Iran to Venezuela, have hailed the approach of an Obama presidency. But which Obama presidency will they -- and we -- get?
A Flip-Flopping President Could Cost Us Abroad - WSJ.com