Atlantic senior editor Andrew Sullivan has a short post up titled “No Recognition Of Ahmadinejad” in which he asserts, “This is the first and absolute requirement of all Western governments. The disgusting visuals of Medvedev and Ahmadinejad yesterday must not be repeated.”

But Sullivan was one of the most prominent Obamacons, conservatives who supported Barack Obama in last year’s election for a variety of reasons.  Sullivan superbly articulated his on his blog and in a December 2007 cover story in his magazine called “Goodbye to All That: Why Obama Matters.”

Obama could not have been more clear on this issue. Who can forget this moment from the July 24, 2007 Democratic debate? 

Here’s the text of that exchange:

QUESTION: In 1982, Anwar Sadat traveled to Israel, a trip that resulted in a peace agreement that has lasted ever since. In the spirit of that type of bold leadership, would you 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, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?


OBAMA: I would. And the reason is this, that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them — which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration — is ridiculous. (APPLAUSE) Now, Ronald Reagan and Democratic presidents like JFK constantly spoke to Soviet Union at a time when Ronald Reagan called them an evil empire. And the reason is because they understood that we may not trust them and they may pose an extraordinary danger to this country, but we had the obligation to find areas where we can potentially move forward. And I think that it is a disgrace that we have not spoken to them.

To be sure, he was excoriated for this by Hillary Clinton, Chris Dodd, and others.  Rightly so, perhaps, given the full connotations of “without preconditions.”  But as I laid out in my October 2008 post “Preconditions, Preparations, and Posturing,” while he never wavered from those words, Obama’s actual policy position quickly evolved into a more nuanced and quite defensible one indistinguishable from John McCain’s and that of President Bush’s second term.

Obama stood steadfast on this through the end of his campaign. Indeed, It’s still part of “Barack Obama and Joe Biden’s Plan to Secure America and Restore our Standing“:

Diplomacy: Obama supports tough, direct presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions. Now is the time to pressure Iran directly to change their troubling behavior. Obama and Biden would offer the Iranian regime a choice. If Iran abandons its nuclear program and support for terrorism, we will offer incentives like membership in the World Trade Organization, economic investments, and a move toward normal diplomatic relations. If Iran continues its troubling behavior, we will step up our economic pressure and political isolation. Seeking this kind of comprehensive settlement with Iran is our best way to make progress.

Nothing has fundamentally altered this picture.  Ahmadinejad is still a thug and his legitimacy as a representative of Iran’s people is still in question. Furthermore, he’s still not the one who calls the shots in Iran.

Should Obama now be willing to sit down with Iran’s leadership to discuss interests vital to us both only on the rather stringent precondition that the mullahs oust Ahmadinejad? That would fly in the fact of his entire foreign policy platform.

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.  

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