I missed this debate yesterday when it was raging so here’s a bit of eleventh-hour video to put a bow on it. It started with Obama apologist Joe Klein at Time wondering why the GOP always accuses Obama of wanting to meet with Ahmadinejad and not Khamenei, the real power in Iran. Klein’s predictable answer: Ahmadinejad’s a notorious Jew-hater while Khamenei is less conspicuously so, so he’s more useful in painting Obama as an anti-semite by association. The actual answer: Ahmadinejad’s the one who goes to the UN every year, he’s the one who did the honors at the British sailors’ televised humiliation, he’s the one who presides whenever a new nuclear facility opens. He’s the international face of the regime so he’s more recognizable to Americans. If that face is uglier than Khamenei’s, too bad for Barry; that’s the one his “partners in peace” chose.

Even so, the left seized on Klein’s distinction as a handy escape hatch for Obama and his ever evolving nuance (ABC’s word, not mine) on whether he’ll meet personally with Iran without preconditions, like he promised at last year’s debate. He can’t reverse course now without being branded a flip-flopper but he’s obviously nervous about sticking to that position lest he be branded weak (a double Kerryesque whammy). Hence his new position: He’ll meet with Iran without preconditions but not without preparations, whatever that means, and he’ll meet with the “leadership” but not necessarily mean ol’ Ahmadinejad, the dour yet powerless Hitler figure to Khamenei’s supposed moderate, Jimmy Carter-esque supreme leader. The idea that Ahmadinejad is nothing but a mouthpiece is a fiction, of course; the most dramatic evidence of that was his replacement last year of Ali Larijani, a Khamenei favorite, with Saeed Jalili as Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator. That’s not to suggest he went over Khamenei’s head in doing so, merely that he has enough influence and enough of Khamenei’s trust that he’d have leeway to appoint his own favorites even to so sensitive a position as nuke liaison to the west. It’s a useful fiction from Obama’s perspective, though, just like the all-important “head of state” distinction between Iran and Hamas. So here he is yesterday on CNN, pitifully ducking Blitzer’s point-blank question on whether he’ll meet with A’jad and coming tantalizingly close, in vintage Obama form, of dismissing it as a distraction.

Exit question one: We can’t even get a meeting with Sistani in Iraq. What makes Obama think the supreme Shiite leader is going to deign to meet personally with him as president? Exit question two: What’s really the most pitiful aspect of all this? Obama’s squirming, the fact that McCain stupidly refuses to press him on what he’s prepared to concede if he does negotiate, or the fact that no matter what Obama says he probably still won’t be making as many concessions as Bush was prepared to make?