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Is the "Obama effect" real?

You've been probably hearing an interesting debate about "the Obama effect" -- as in, "Is there really an Obama effect?" -- in the Middle East. The broad notion is that his efforts to re-start American relations with the Muslim world may help more moderate elements advance in the region, the kind of notion so alien to the kind of folks whose idea of searching for comity in the Arab world* was also known as "shock and awe." There was speculation it played a role in a victory for the moderate, more Western-friendly faction in Lebanon, but the election in Iran was clearly the Big Kahuna.

Except the (very) bad guy, the America-hating, holocaust-denying Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, there's no Obama effect, obviously. Well, except for the fact that Ahmadinejad didn't really win, he "won." With polls in Iran suggesting a close race and a possible victory for reform candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, the finally tally showed Ahmadinejad winning with a whopping 64 percent of the vote, which is much more than Reagan received against Mondale in 1984 or LBJ's massive 1964 landslide against Barry ponder that math.

So maybe the "Obama effect" wasn't the defeat of Ahmadinejad, but rather the need to carry out this massive cheating in a nation where past elections have been considered relatively fair and where reform candidates have occasionally even won. But now, the old and decrepit ayatollahs who cling to power, watching their country grow younger, better educated and more diverse, have conspired with Ahmadjinead to press the panic button in a desperate attempt to cling to power.

The tragedy is -- despite the dramatic protests in the streets -- I think it's going to work.

This time. Probably not the next time, but it's going to be a wild and probably bloody ride in the region until then.