Commentary Magazine


Why the Kidnapping Business Is Booming

If you’re afraid of raising your blood pressure, you probably shouldn’t read two articles out today, in both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, about how Europeans are subsidizing al-Qaeda with millions of dollars in ransom paid for the release of their hostages.

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If you’re afraid of raising your blood pressure, you probably shouldn’t read two articles out today, in both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, about how Europeans are subsidizing al-Qaeda with millions of dollars in ransom paid for the release of their hostages.

The Times account by reporter Rukmini Callimachi is particularly detailed and especially enraging. It reports that al-Qaeda and its affiliates have earned $125 million to $165 million since 2008 in kidnapping ransoms. “These payments were made almost exclusively by European governments, who funneled the money through a network of proxies, sometimes masking it as development aid.”

This has now become the major source of funding for three al-Qaeda affiliates in particular: al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (North Africa), al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (Yemen), and Shabab (Somalia). “Put more bluntly,” Callimachi writes, “Europe has become an inadvertent underwriter of Al Qaeda.”

These al-Qaeda affiliates have stopped routinely killing Western hostages as al-Qaeda in Iraq used to do, because it is so much more lucrative to keep them alive. In fact these al-Qaeda groups coordinate their hostage-taking procedures, often helped by al-Qaeda central in Pakistan, with the actual pick-up of hostages contracted out to criminal gangs and with everyone along the way (including hostage negotiators) receiving a cut of the profits. This is big business, “and business is booming: While in 2003 the kidnappers received around $200,000 per hostage, now they are netting up to $10 million, money that the second in command of Al Qaeda’s central leadership recently described as accounting for as much as half of his operating revenue.”

Only the U.S. and Britain, it seems, are refusing to play along. While President Obama released Taliban prisoners in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. is not willing to pay money for hostages. Thus U.S. and British captives can expect to be killed or held indefinitely. But their principled stance has no impact in discouraging hostage-taking because the kidnappers know that the European states are such easy marks.

It’s hard to better the summary provided by a former U.S. ambassador to Mali, Vicki Huddleston. “The Europeans have a lot to answer for,” she told the Times. “It’s a completely two-faced policy. They pay ransoms and then deny any was paid.” She added, “The danger of this is not just that it grows the terrorist movement, but it makes all of our citizens vulnerable.”

And just when I thought I could not get any more disgusted with European policy–it’s bad enough that they subsidize Vladimir Putin, subsidizing al-Qaeda is even worse.

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John Kerry’s Ostentatiously Hurt Feelings

My column for the New York Post is on the continuing spectacle of John Kerry getting offended by what Israelis say about him and making a public show of it—and how speaking in his defense has become a strange habit for the administration of a nation vastly more powerful and important than the one that keeps hurting his feelings. Read More

My column for the New York Post is on the continuing spectacle of John Kerry getting offended by what Israelis say about him and making a public show of it—and how speaking in his defense has become a strange habit for the administration of a nation vastly more powerful and important than the one that keeps hurting his feelings.

Excerpt:

He’s a big boy. But there are those who seem to feel otherwise, that Kerry is a fragile and tender reed in need of delicate care — people who work for and with him. Not to mention Kerry himself.

Over the course of the past year, on several occasions, Kerry and other staffers have taken to whining — not sure there’s a nicer word — over how unfairly he’s being written and talked about in Israel.

In January, after Israel’s defense minister was twice quoted speaking disparagingly about Kerry’s peace-process efforts and his nuclear diplomacy with Iran, Kerry actually called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to complain.

The rest is here.

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Immigration and the Humanitarian Snare

Momentum seems to be building for granting asylum to the tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors who have illegally crossed into the United States from Central America. But lost amid the rush to brand opposition to asylum as uncaring, if not racist, is a serious discussion about whether the U.S. is really obligated to take in every illegal immigrant child who fled violence at home.

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Momentum seems to be building for granting asylum to the tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors who have illegally crossed into the United States from Central America. But lost amid the rush to brand opposition to asylum as uncaring, if not racist, is a serious discussion about whether the U.S. is really obligated to take in every illegal immigrant child who fled violence at home.

With the mainstream media seeking to stoke sympathy for these kids, it is hardly surprising that a new poll shows that 69 percent of Americans believe the children should be allowed to stay if it wasn’t safe for them to be sent home. Figures as diverse as Hillary Clinton and conservative icon George Will have also endorsed treating the kids as refugees.

While it is no surprise that Clinton would seek to play the sympathy card for the illegals, Will’s statement dismissing concerns about the children is a significant victory for immigration advocates:

My view is that we ought to say to these children, welcome to America. You’re going to go to school and get a job and become Americans. We have 3,141 counties in this country. That would be 20 per county. The idea that we can’t assimilate these 8-year-old criminals with their teddy bears is preposterous.

Will is right that these children are not in and of themselves a threat to the country. Immigration strengthens the country. These children may well make impressive contributions to the country if allowed to study and grow up here. Moreover, so long as the discussion about this topic centers on the plight of these kids and the awful conditions in places like Honduras, Guatemala, or El Salvador, it is hard to argue that children who have already suffered terribly during their dangerous treks to the U.S. should be sent back to a situation where their lives could be in danger.

But there is more at stake in this debate about their future than a test of the country’s ability to empathize with the downtrodden. A decision to allow these children to stay will end the issue but will not end this crisis. Instead, as we should have already learned, anything other than a strong signal that the illegals won’t be allowed to stay will ensure that the border will continue to be a magnet for an unending stream of illegals including children for the foreseeable future.

I sympathize with these children and their families who look to the United States as a haven from the awful conditions in much of Central America. Nor do I share the fear of immigrants or the belief that their presence damages the nation. Our broken immigration system should be fixed and, in the long run, some solution must be found for the 12 million illegals already here since talk of their deportation is merely empty rhetoric.

But any country, even the United States, is entitled to control its borders and to see its laws enforced. A failure to send the kids home will send a loud message to the region that will encourage more to try to cross the border, a dangerous process that hurts the children and winds up saddling the U.S. with more illegal aliens.

Moreover, the proposition that America has no choice but to allow the kids to stay as refugees is unsupported by law or common sense. The traditional definition of a refugee is a person who has been forced to flee their homes by war, persecution, or a natural disaster. As bad as conditions are in Central America where drug gangs have made the life of many hell, the idea that crime or poverty in the absence of those other factors can make someone a refugee with a legal right to stay here is virtually unprecedented.

Even more to the point, the notion that it is the job of the United States to not only aid neighbors in distress but to take as many of them into our borders without them obtaining permission is to create an open-ended definition of America’s obligations that has no end in sight. After all, those three nations are not the only ones where kids are in danger.

You don’t have to be an opponent of immigration or oppose reform to understand that the loose talk from the White House about allowing young illegals to stay helped set off the current crisis. To compound this mistake by failing to send these children home will be to send a message that America’s immigration laws are meaningless and that the border is no barrier to those who wish to take advantage of the country’s bounty regardless of legal rights.

The question here isn’t whether we can, as Will stated, assimilate these children. Of course we can. It’s whether an overly broad definition of refugee status will be manipulated by the administration in order to begin the process by which all illegals will be granted permission to stay, perhaps by executive orders in order to boycott Congress.

What is happening at the border is a humanitarian crisis, albeit a man-made one. But it cannot be used as an excuse to justify a lawless approach to governance that will make it impossible for genuine reforms to ever gain majority support. If the president wishes to help aid the people of Central America, he will, no doubt, have the majority of Americans behind him. But America cannot solve the problems of Central America by importing its children. Rolling out the welcome mat for these illegals is a humanitarian snare that will merely ensure that they will be just the first wave of an endless tide of undocumented migrants.

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Russia’s Treaty Violation Is Old News; Only Obama’s Interest Is New

Western reaction to Vladimir Putin’s continued provocations in Ukraine and general contempt for basic human rights has toughened in recent weeks, and took another step forward today. But they also have the effect of highlighting just how far Western leaders went to appease Putin and cover for his thuggish behavior.

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Western reaction to Vladimir Putin’s continued provocations in Ukraine and general contempt for basic human rights has toughened in recent weeks, and took another step forward today. But they also have the effect of highlighting just how far Western leaders went to appease Putin and cover for his thuggish behavior.

The efforts to punish Putin have been both rhetorical and financial. On the latter, sanctions have been instituted and more were added today, with the EU and U.S. willing to get more serious about confronting the Russian leader and President Obama making an afternoon statement today to accompany the announcement of sanctions. With regard to the rhetoric, however, the West’s record is a bit mixed.

I talked about one aspect of this last week: British Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision to allow a full investigation into the assassination of Putin critic (and British citizen) Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006. The British government had claimed in part that it wasn’t comfortable with a full inquest because of the state secrets that would have to be exposed to the investigators for an honest accounting to be taken. But the fact that Britain is apparently no longer concerned about that suggests Cameron’s initial hesitation was more about not angering Putin and upsetting UK-Russia relations.

Few will ask “why now?” when the result is what they think is just. Better late than never has been the prevailing reaction. But in truth countries that so baldly offered misdirection on such matters when the truth was inconvenient should at least have to answer for it.

The same is true with regard to the other American escalation of Putin’s reprimand. The New York Times reports:

The United States has concluded that Russia violated a landmark arms control treaty by testing a prohibited ground-launched cruise missile, according to senior American officials, a finding that was conveyed by President Obama to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in a letter on Monday.

It is the most serious allegation of an arms control treaty violation that the Obama administration has leveled against Russia and adds another dispute to a relationship already burdened by tensions over the Kremlin’s support for separatists in Ukraine and its decision to grant asylum to Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor.

But is this new? No, not really:

Russia first began testing the cruise missiles as early as 2008, according to American officials, and the Obama administration concluded by the end of 2011 that they were a compliance concern. In May 2013, Rose Gottemoeller, the State Department’s senior arms control official, first raised the possibility of a violation with Russian officials.

The New York Times reported in January that American officials had informed the NATO allies that Russia had tested a ground-launched cruise missile, raising serious concerns about Russia’s compliance with the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or I.N.F. Treaty as it is commonly called. The State Department said at the time that the issue was under review and that the Obama administration was not yet ready to formally declare it to be a treaty violation.

So what happened? The Obama administration decided to care:

In recent months, however, the issue has been taken up by top-level officials, including a meeting early this month of the Principals’ Committee, a cabinet-level body that includes Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, the defense secretary, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the secretary of state and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Senior officials said the president’s most senior advisers unanimously agreed that the test was a serious violation, and the allegation will be made public soon in the State Department’s annual report on international compliance with arms control agreements.

You would think it would be important enough to look into earlier. But the president has not, until Putin humiliated him one too many times on the world stage, been interested in seeing Putin for what he is. In today’s press conference, Obama was asked if this is a new Cold War. His response: “This is not a new Cold War.” Instead, it is “a very specific issue related to Russia’s unwillingness to recognize that Ukraine can chart its own path.”

Well, it’s one specific issue. But it’s part of a larger picture. And the violation of the missile treaty is another “specific issue.” When you start to piece together all the “specific issues” the West has with Putin’s Russia, they really add up. New Cold War or not, there’s obviously a serious and deteriorating and adversarial relationship between the U.S. and Russia, and the public could be forgiven for wondering why the president appears to have been the last to know.

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Why No One Cares About the Christians of Mosul

No one cares about the Christians of Mosul–or perhaps we should say the Christians formerly of Mosul. The reports in recent days suggest that the last Christians have now fled that city, forced out by Islamist militants who implemented a “convert or die” policy for Iraq’s ancient Christian community. The most assistance they have received thus far is an offer of asylum from France. If they can make it there, that is, since they have faced robbery, torture, and murder as they’ve made their exodus.

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No one cares about the Christians of Mosul–or perhaps we should say the Christians formerly of Mosul. The reports in recent days suggest that the last Christians have now fled that city, forced out by Islamist militants who implemented a “convert or die” policy for Iraq’s ancient Christian community. The most assistance they have received thus far is an offer of asylum from France. If they can make it there, that is, since they have faced robbery, torture, and murder as they’ve made their exodus.

None of this has gone entirely unreported. These events have been allotted some headlines and the kind of procedural news coverage that the persecution of Christians usually elicits. But if the last remnants of Iraq’s beleaguered Christian population were hoping for any real outrage or anguish from the West, then they were setting themselves up for disappointment. Not only has it long been apparent that no one was ever going to take any action on behalf of these people, but as we have seen, Western publics weren’t even going to trouble themselves to get too worked up about these atrocities.

Given the huge demonstrations, United Nations Security Council resolutions, and endless hours of reporting on events in Gaza, one is tempted to say that Iraq’s Christians had the misfortune of not being Palestinian. However, that suggestion would be unfair. The world has also neglected the suffering of thousands of Palestinians murdered and starved by the Assad regime in Syria. It is not being Palestinian that wins the world’s attention; it is the accusation that culpability rests with Israel that really provokes some strength of feeling. If only the Christians fleeing Mosul could somehow frame the Israelis for their plight, then they might stand a chance of seeing their cause championed by a host of tweeting celebrities, UN delegates, far-left radicals, and perhaps even the West’s Muslim immigrant populations who have turned out in huge numbers to passionately demonstrate on behalf of Gaza like they never did for their coreligionists in Syria or Libya.

With reports of how the doors of Christian homes were ominously marked by Islamists so as to streamline this campaign of ethnic cleansing, with incidents of Christians having been crucified–yes, crucified–you might have thought that some of those avid humanitarian activists attending the recent anti-Israel rallies could have at least organized a sub-contingent to highlight the terrible fate of the Iraqi Christians, but no, that might have risked detracting in some way from the anti-Israel political objectives of these protests.

There is always something distasteful about playing the numbers game with such situations. It is, however, the favorite pastime of Israel’s detractors. The body count in Gaza is endlessly wheeled out to justify the preeminent importance that so many attribute to this cause. You can almost feel the most hardline anti-Israel activists willing it upwards so as to better serve their campaign. Undoubtedly that is Hamas’s calculation. Yet if the liberal college kids and left-leaning journalists who refer to these figures as justification for their obsessive focus on the subject were being remotely honest with themselves, then they would have to find some way of explaining the utter disinterest that they have shown events in Iraq and Syria, where the death toll has been surpassing that in Gaza on almost a weekly basis.

The long-suffering Christians of Mosul are perhaps considered by the anti-Israel campaigners with the same suspicion with which they viewed the victims of MH17. When news of that attack broke, the first reaction of prominent British news anchor Jon Snow was to unguardedly tweet out: “Awful danger that the shooting down of flight MH17 will provide cover for an intensification of Israel’s ground war in Gaza.” Those attending demonstrations against Israel’s actions in Gaza essentially made the same complaint, that that incident was being awarded too much media attention. The only reason that they weren’t expressing the same accusation regarding the Iraqi Christians is because those atrocities have only been allotted the most token coverage.

The contrast between the world’s non-reaction to the decimation of Mosul’s once 60,000-strong Christian community and the hysterical hate-fueled frenzy being directed against Israel over the casualties in Gaza reminds us that in the liberal imagination, all human suffering is not considered equal. The determining factor here is not the identity of the victims, but rather who can be framed for the crimes. No one has protested Hamas’s execution of Gazan “collaborators” or the reports of the many Palestinian children killed during the construction of Hamas’s terror tunnels. Every misfiring rocket that kills Gazans is attributed to Israel if at all possible. The only Palestinian casualties that anyone has claimed to be concerned with are those that can be used as ammunition in the war to delegitimize Israel and its right to self-defense.

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Is There Something Worse Than Hamas?

Critics of the Pentagon, and indeed of all defense establishments, have often quipped that the term “military intelligence” is an oxymoron. As a general rule, that sort of comment is as inaccurate as it is unfair. But Lt. General Michael Flynn, the outgoing head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, bolstered this assumption by declaring that the destruction of the Hamas terrorist government of Gaza would lead to something worse.

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Critics of the Pentagon, and indeed of all defense establishments, have often quipped that the term “military intelligence” is an oxymoron. As a general rule, that sort of comment is as inaccurate as it is unfair. But Lt. General Michael Flynn, the outgoing head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, bolstered this assumption by declaring that the destruction of the Hamas terrorist government of Gaza would lead to something worse.

General Flynn warned that if Israel is seeking to either decapitate Hamas, remove it from power, or to eliminate it altogether, that might not be a smart move. He asserted that Hamas would be replaced by something far more radical and, by definition, more dangerous to both Israel and the rest of the world.

As Reuters reports:

“If Hamas were destroyed and gone, we would probably end up with something much worse. The region would end up with something much worse,” Flynn said at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.

“A worse threat that would come into the sort of ecosystem there … something like ISIS,” he added, referring to the Islamic State, which last month declared an “Islamic caliphate” in territory it controls in Iraq and Syria.

Is he right?

It is a reliable rule of existence on this planet than whenever you think things can’t get worse, they often do become even more unbearable. But that piece of general life wisdom aside, the argument that behind Hamas lurks more dangerous groups is not only unsubstantiated; to believe it you have to ignore everything we already know about Hamas.

As far as the possibility of more radical Islamists replacing Hamas, there is no question that the prospect of al-Qaeda-related groups becoming the address for Palestinian “resistance” to Israel’s existence would be scary for the West. Perhaps this fear is based on an assumption that they would not be content with slaughtering Jews as Hamas and Islamic Jihad attempt to do but would instead concentrate on killing Americans. But does anyone in the U.S.—even the spooks in the Pentagon—really believe that al-Qaeda types in the Middle East are not already doing their best to attack America right now?

Any group that replaced Hamas as the Islamist rival to the more secular Fatah would be competing in the same Palestinian political universe that grants credibility to groups that attack Israel, not Western targets. Whatever followed Hamas would not be a freelance Islamist terror group such as those in the Arabian Peninsula or North Africa but a Palestinian entity that would seek to escalate the fight against the Jewish presence in the country, not a scattered campaign against the West elsewhere.

But leaving that issue aside, the problem with Flynn’s thinking is that the more one looks at Hamas’s behavior, the harder it is to argue that there could be something that would be qualitatively worse in terms of conflict escalation or human rights.

For example, it was reported today that Hamas executed 20 Palestinians who had the temerity to launch an anti-war protest in Gaza. The protesters were branded as traitors. Would a successor group seek to repress dissent or govern Gaza with more brutality than Hamas?

Hamas has funneled much of the humanitarian aid sent to Gaza into its “military” infrastructure, constructing an underground city of shelters and tunnels for its armaments and fighters and to facilitate terror attacks on Israelis. As Tablet magazine reported, 160 Palestinian children employed as laborers were killed during the course of the building of these tunnels. Would an ISIS-clone do anything worse than that?

Hamas’s purpose, as detailed in their charter and regularly reaffirmed by both their military and political leaders, is to destroy Israel and to ethnically cleanse it of its Jewish population. Would ISIS or al-Qaeda favor a more gentle form of genocide?

To study Hamas’s actual behavior and its beliefs undermines any notion that its elimination would result in the radicalization of Palestinians and their supporters. Hamas is already so radical in terms of its intransigence against peace and Israel’s existence that any more extreme shift under a successor would be purely cosmetic and result in no tangible increase in the threat level to the region.

More to the point, anyone who truly desires a two-state solution to the conflict must understand that the only hope for that outcome—and, admittedly, it is a slim hope—is for Hamas to be eliminated, giving a chance for the supposedly more moderate Palestinian Authority to govern Gaza and to make peace with Israel.

Given the difficulty and the cost of a campaign that would completely eliminate Hamas or to replace it as the government of Gaza it may well be that Flynn’s nightmare will never be realized. Hamas thinks it is in no danger and statements such as that of the general and the willingness of the U.S. to embrace cease-fire proposals that would grant it an undeserved victory only strengthen their conviction that they can continue to fight with impunity. But using this argument to bolster Hamas’s hold on power is a terrible error. The only way to end the conflict is to demilitarize Gaza. The only way to do that is to eliminate Hamas.

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Hillary’s Gracious Words About Bush

Hillary Clinton has done what Barack Obama rarely does: Show class, especially toward Mr. Obama’s predecessor. According to Secretary Clinton:

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Hillary Clinton has done what Barack Obama rarely does: Show class, especially toward Mr. Obama’s predecessor. According to Secretary Clinton:

let’s not forget the trend lines. George W. Bush is very popular in Sub-Saharan Africa. Why? Because of the president’s emergency program for AIDS relief. Whether you agree or disagree with a lot of what else he did — and I disagree with a lot of it — I am proud to be an American when I go to Sub-Saharan Africa and people say, “I want to thank President Bush and the United States for helping us fight HIV/AIDS.”

I understand that this kind of thing doesn’t foreshadow a new, irenic and unified moment in American politics. But in a nation where the partisan divisions are growing, where nearly 70 percent of those surveyed believe America is more divided than it was four years ago, it’s a nice gesture. The kind of thing, come to think of it, that Barack Obama promised to do when he said he’d put an end to the type of politics that “breeds division and conflict and cynicism.”

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Kerry’s Folly: Friends Can Say No to Friends

The Israeli government is doing its best to patch things up with the Obama administration after Secretary of State John Kerry was blasted by a broad consensus of opinion in the Jewish state as well as many respected American journalists for his bungled efforts to broker a cease-fire in Gaza that would have helped Hamas. But after all the umbrage from Washington and the apologies from Jerusalem, the real question we should be asking is not about Kerry’s hurt feelings but whether Israel has the right to tell its sole superpower ally “no.”

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The Israeli government is doing its best to patch things up with the Obama administration after Secretary of State John Kerry was blasted by a broad consensus of opinion in the Jewish state as well as many respected American journalists for his bungled efforts to broker a cease-fire in Gaza that would have helped Hamas. But after all the umbrage from Washington and the apologies from Jerusalem, the real question we should be asking is not about Kerry’s hurt feelings but whether Israel has the right to tell its sole superpower ally “no.”

Today’s cease-fire fiasco in which an initiative for a halt to the fighting from Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas demonstrated anew how irrelevant the man lauded by the United States as a peace partner has become in the current conflict. But the main focus of discussion in the last few days has been Kerry’s foolish decision to adopt the positions of Hamas’s Turkish and Qatari allies in putting forward a cease-fire proposal that effectively cut both Abbas and Egypt out of the process. Israel’s government was shocked at Kerry’s betrayal that would have granted Hamas terrorists an undeserved political victory.

But rather than be held accountable for Kerry’s blunder as well as his miscalculations during the course of his sponsorship of peace talks whose collapse led directly to the current round of violence, what we are hearing are complaints about Israel’s chutzpah in calling out the secretary for his mistakes. Some today are pointing out what they consider to be Israel’s foolishness in creating friction with its sole friend. Indeed, at a time when the safety of the Jewish state is directly related to the continued use of the Iron Dome system that was financed in large measure by the United States, and for which Israel will need more funding to keep it shooting down Hamas rockets, there is a sense that uppity Israelis are biting the hand that is feeding them.

There is a superficial logic to such criticism of the Israelis and anytime a foreign government and its press attack any American official. Yet to frame this issue as one of ingratitude on the part of Israelis—both for U.S. assistance and for Kerry’s efforts to broker peace—is to misperceive the problem. Israelis should treat U.S. officials with courtesy and to listen to their advice. Yet expecting them to compromise their security for the sake of good feelings isn’t merely unrealistic. It’s an act of hostility that undermines an alliance that is as much in America’s interest as it is Israel’s.

Such tension between these two close friends is nothing new. U.S. leaders have been pressuring Israel to make territorial withdrawals or “risks” for peace since the inception of the state. That pressure intensified after the Six-Day War when the U.S. switched from an interested onlooker in the conflict (few remember that the Israelis fought all of their wars up until the Yom Kippur War without U.S. arms or significant assistance) to an ally of the Jewish state. Arguments such as those of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan with Menachem Begin, George H.W. Bush and his Secretary of State James Baker with Yitzhak Shamir, and Bill Clinton and now Barack Obama with Benjamin Netanyahu all raised the same hackles about Israel’s refusal to consistently knuckle under to American demands.

But all these debates revolve around a basic principle that, like it or not, American leaders have had to learn to respect: Israel is a sovereign nation and cannot be asked to sacrifice the lives of its citizens in order to gratify the demands or the ego of American presidents and secretaries of state. In the current case, that means seeking to prematurely force Israel to cease operations against Hamas rocket fire and terror infiltration tunnels or to grant the terrorists concessions is simply unacceptable.

Moreover, as Kerry’s about-face after the weekend in which he agreed that demilitarization of Gaza should be the goal of any negotiations illustrated, even the Obama administration understands that the American people do not support a policy of pressure on Israel. Indeed, anyone thinking that Obama and Kerry might try to squeeze Netanyahu to make concessions by holding up more funding for Iron Dome got a dose of reality in the past few days when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell were competing with each other over who would give the Israelis the most additional Iron Dome money.

It can be argued that friends shouldn’t be rude to friends, although the disgust and anger that Kerry generated across the entire Israeli political spectrum, including many fierce critics of Netanyahu, renders the administration’s hurt feelings somewhat ridiculous. But friends have a right to tell a friend—even a generous one that supplies essential aid—that their requests are neither reasonable nor helpful. Israel is not a banana republic and has said no to the United States before this and will again. More to the point, so long as the requests coming from the administration remain as unreasonable and out of touch with the reality of the conflict as those adopted by Obama and Kerry have been, Netanyahu should be able to resist them in the full knowledge that most Americans both understand and support his position.

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Hamas Knows It Is Losing

Is Hamas on the ropes? The terrorist group certainly seems to think so. That’s one takeaway from the tragic news that Hamas terrorists infiltrated the Israeli kibbutz of Nahal Oz, fired an anti-tank missile, and killed five Israeli soldiers. According to Haaretz, it marks the fourth such infiltration by Hamas fighters via cross-border tunnels. Such events–especially the deadly assault at Nahal Oz–might appear to fall into one of two categories: a successful attack on Israel (Nahal Oz) or a disquieting signal of Hamas’s plans to invade undetected (the attacks that failed). But I think there’s a third explanation.

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Is Hamas on the ropes? The terrorist group certainly seems to think so. That’s one takeaway from the tragic news that Hamas terrorists infiltrated the Israeli kibbutz of Nahal Oz, fired an anti-tank missile, and killed five Israeli soldiers. According to Haaretz, it marks the fourth such infiltration by Hamas fighters via cross-border tunnels. Such events–especially the deadly assault at Nahal Oz–might appear to fall into one of two categories: a successful attack on Israel (Nahal Oz) or a disquieting signal of Hamas’s plans to invade undetected (the attacks that failed). But I think there’s a third explanation.

The network of tunnels Hamas has built underground has been at the center of the conflict’s escalation. The discovery of the planned Rosh Hashanah mass terror attack utilizing those tunnels has only reinforced to Israel’s leaders that the tunnels must be destroyed or rendered inoperative. Israel has also shown its determination to get a full picture of those tunnels, and has resisted efforts to let Hamas cover its tracks. The rockets are certainly a threat against which Israel has the right to self-defense. But because of Iron Dome, the rockets pale in comparison to the tunnels in terms of sophistication and the danger to Israel’s civilians. So why would Hamas fighters use the tunnels now?

According to what we’ve learned about the tunnels during Operation Protective Edge, they were a grand accomplishment–a city under the sand in the 21st century. They were also to be used for the kind of concerted terror attack that would, to Hamas and its backers, make them worth the investment. The Rosh Hashanah attack certainly would appear to fit that bill. It’s unclear whether the goal would be to take entire kibbutzim hostage, to kill everyone in range and all at once, or to kidnap large numbers of Israelis from all over the country and take them back to Gaza. It could, I suppose, have been a combination of the three.

But there are no indications the tunnels were constructed for desperate jihadis to lure Israel into playing whack-a-mole. It certainly doesn’t make much sense to do so now, anyway. Israel and Hamas are currently at war. Israel is taking this fight very seriously–too seriously for the chuckleheads in Turtle Bay and Foggy Bottom, in fact. The nation is at high alert, the reserves have been called up, and the IDF knows the tunnels are there and are intended to be used for an attack on Israeli territory.

This is, then, easily the worst time for Hamas to start using those tunnels in relatively ad-hoc attacks. Doing so now puts them at a distinct disadvantage, with the IDF ready for them to pop out of the ground. It risks exposing the existence of tunnels the IDF may not have found, and thus expanding the mental map the IDF is piecing together of this underground city.

It reduces if not completely erases the element of surprise, and it ensures the IDF is staffed up enough to respond immediately and forcefully to any breach of its territory. One isolated attack may or may not be considered a casus belli–Hamas is surely aware of just how hesitant Benjamin Netanyahu was in committing ground troops at all–but an attack during a war guarantees a response.

There is always some risk in trying to explain the behavior of a barbaric terrorist organization with logic and reasoning. So maybe Hamas looks like it doesn’t know what it’s doing because it doesn’t know what it’s doing. But even if that’s the case, Hamas’s recent behavior is a tell. Hamas believes Israel means it this time. The Israeli leadership is united, as is much of the Israeli public, and they have resisted pressure from the U.S. to let Hamas off the ropes. Hamas, then, is in “use it or lose it” mode with the tunnels. They expect Israel to leave them no avenue of cross-border attack, so they’re utilizing them while they can.

The U.S. even stepped aside this week to let the UN take a swing at Israel. According to Foreign Policy’s Column Lynch, one expert, the Council on Foreign Relations’ Robert Danin, even “suggested that the United States may be seeking to leverage its position by playing on Israeli fears of being left to fend for itself at a United Nations that appears to be universally opposed to the current offensive.”

Israel is at war, and the American president wants to send a message by playing on Israel’s fears of being abandoned. How nice. And yet, Israel still insists on protecting its civilians instead of begging forgiveness for insulting the magnificent stupidity of the American secretary of state’s attempt to force Israel to appease the terrorists currently popping out of the ground in Israeli territory firing anti-tank shells.

Hamas was expecting the Jews to tie themselves to the tracks and save them the work. When that failed, they expected John Kerry to take care of it, preferably with sturdy Qatari rope. But they are now realizing that Israel intends to win, and that it is well on its way to doing so. And they are acting with evident recklessness, because it might be all they have left.

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Laying Off the Army in a Dangerous World

Is the world becoming a more dangerous place? To answer that question all you have to do is mention a few places where wars are currently raging: Ukraine, Libya, Gaza, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Islamic Caliphate. You might do a double-take on the last one since it isn’t an internationally recognized country, but in recent months the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has transformed itself into a “caliphate” whose border stretches across the now-outdated border separating Iraq from Syria.

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Is the world becoming a more dangerous place? To answer that question all you have to do is mention a few places where wars are currently raging: Ukraine, Libya, Gaza, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Islamic Caliphate. You might do a double-take on the last one since it isn’t an internationally recognized country, but in recent months the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has transformed itself into a “caliphate” whose border stretches across the now-outdated border separating Iraq from Syria.

That’s right: a new terrorist state has been established in the heart of the Middle East but it’s not getting the media attention it deserves because there are so many other conflicts going on at the moment. And that’s not even to mention the potential conflicts all around China’s borders where it is pushing aggressively to expand its boundaries.

And what should the policy be of the United States when the world is becoming more dangerous? The tried and true answer is to keep our powder dry and prepare for trouble. But that’s not what we’re doing at the moment. Instead we are in the process of a willy-nilly downsizing of our military capabilities driven by the inability of lawmakers and the White House to turn off the sequestration process which will result, along with other budget cuts, in a roughly 30 percent cut in the size of our military—and an even larger cut in military capability since an increasing share of the budget is devoted to health care, pensions, and other personnel costs.

It is a sign of the times that the army is sending “pink slips” to 1,100 captains, some while they are actually deployed in combat zones. These are men and women who have devoted the last decade of their lives to defending America from the threats we face. Many have deployed multiple times to combat zones. These are front-line leaders; many of them former platoon leaders, now in many cases company commanders.

Now they are headed for unemployment and an uncertain future. The social contract they thought they had—they would deploy in harm’s way, move their families multiple times, accept multiple risks and discomforts, in return for the security of a 20-year career and a safe retirement—has been unilaterally breached. From the front line to the unemployment line: not an edifying spectacle.

The army is arguing it has no choice and in some sense that’s true. Mindless budget cuts are forcing the army to reduce from a wartime peak of 570,000 active duty personnel (itself insufficient to fight two wars at the same time) to a low, if sequestration remains in effect, of perhaps 420,000. The cuts could have been better handled–the army could have waited for captains to get back from deployments to tell them they were being “separated.” But the larger problem is not with the army. It’s with the mindset in Washington that insists on foolish budget cuts that will eviscerate our military capability to deal with an increasingly dangerous and uncertain world.

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Romney Beats Obama and 2016

Republicans are chortling this week over a new CNN poll that shows that if a new presidential election were to be held today, Mitt Romney would beat Barack Obama by a 53 to 44 percent margin. Democrats dismiss this as merely the normal second-term blues while the GOP sees it as buyer’s remorse that bodes well for the midterms. Both may be right, but either party would be foolish to mortgage their futures on these results.

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Republicans are chortling this week over a new CNN poll that shows that if a new presidential election were to be held today, Mitt Romney would beat Barack Obama by a 53 to 44 percent margin. Democrats dismiss this as merely the normal second-term blues while the GOP sees it as buyer’s remorse that bodes well for the midterms. Both may be right, but either party would be foolish to mortgage their futures on these results.

This is not the first poll to show a reversal of the last presidential election. In November 2013, an ABC News/Washington Post poll reported that Romney was favored by a 49-45 percent margin. The further decline of the president’s popularity in the new poll demonstrates just how far we’ve come from November 2012 when Obama won by a clear 51-47 margin that, thanks to a series of close victories in almost every swing state, translated into a 332-206 Electoral College landslide.

Obama thought he could be the exception to the iron rule of the presidency that dictates that virtually every occupant of the Oval Office will rue the day he won reelection. But neither his historic status as our first African-American president nor his decision to swing hard to the left on policy issues and to distract the public by harping on income inequality and the minimum wage helped him avoid an inevitable slide into lame duck status.

Try as they might to minimize the shift in the polls, Democrats can’t pretend that this is anything other than a decisive negative verdict from the public about the course of Obama’s second term. Over the course of the last 19 months, a rash of scandals (IRS, Benghazi, spying on the press and the VA) have undermined the credibility of the government. The ObamaCare rollout illustrated the incompetence of the president’s team and, despite the White House’s touchdown dances, set the stage for even more trouble in the future once the unpopular individual and employer mandates begin to be enforced. The crisis at our southern border was in no small measure the result of Obama’s miscalculated attempts to promote immigration reform. A host of foreign-policy disasters involving Russia, Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Hamas terrorists in Gaza was exacerbated by the ineptitude of the president’s new foreign/defense policy team of John Kerry and Chuck Hagel. All these have undermined America’s prestige abroad and sapped confidence in Obama’s ability to govern or effectively promote America’s values and interests.

The president also believed that he could survive scandals and setbacks because of the unpopularity of his congressional opponents. But not even a disastrous government shutdown orchestrated by Tea Party stalwarts or the fumbling of golden opportunities to break open the scandal stories by overly partisan grandstanding House committees was enough to preserve the popularity of a president who is now widely seen as having run out of steam and ideas.

All this bodes ill for a Democratic Party that already had the odds stacked against it in the 2014 midterm elections. While it doesn’t appear that Republicans are able to leverage any single issue into the focus for a genuine wave election in the way that anger about ObamaCare lifted the GOP in 2010, the only truly national issue in 2014 appears to be discontent with Obama. Indeed, without the ability to claim their opponents will do the president’s will, the Republicans’ increasingly good chances of winning control of the Senate would be diminished.

But anyone on the right who thinks buyer’s remorse about Obama, which is perhaps also enhanced by a rethinking of the way the Democrats smeared Romney—a flawed politician who is also one of the finest men in contemporary American public life—means the Republicans have the edge heading into 2016 are not thinking straight. And that’s not just because the same CNN poll shows Romney trailing Hillary Clinton, the likely 2016 Democratic nominee, by an even greater margin (55-42) than his 2012 loss to Obama.

In the 21 months since the last presidential election, Republicans have exploited Obama’s failures but they have yet to address the chronic demographic problems that undermined them in 2012. It should be remembered that most conservatives spent that year serenely confident that Obama was certain to be defeated. But the ability of Democrats to mobilize minorities and unmarried women to turn out in unprecedented numbers doomed Romney even though the president failed to make a good case for reelection. Part of that is rightly attributed to Obama’s personal popularity and his historic status. Indeed, the best thing the GOP has going for it in 2016 is that Obama won’t be on the ballot again. But none of that helps Republicans win all the battleground states they lost in 2012 if they are unable to get a greater share of those demographic groups that shunned them the last time around.

There are no simple answers to that problem. Merely passing an immigration reform bill that gives illegal immigrants a path to citizenship won’t do it, especially since the debacle on the Rio Grande shows the perils of attempting to legislate that without first securing the border. Nor can Republicans win single women by abandoning their principles on social issues. Similarly, the GOP needs to be wary of advice from liberal pundits calling for them to disassociate from their own conservative and Tea Party base even if some of their ideas—like Sarah Palin’s talk about impeaching Obama—should be ignored.

The solution to the problem does involve going back to some of the issues raised in COMMENTARY by Peter Wehner and Michael Gerson in March 2013 when they spoke of “saving” the party with new thinking that understood that merely channeling the politics of the 1980s would not work. It also involves listening more to people like Romney running mate Paul Ryan who continues to chart a reformist course that embraces a message of economic growth and a recognition that the GOP must reach out to working class Americans, not just Wall Street.

The recognition by a majority of Americans that two terms of Obama was a dreadful mistake is a good start for Republicans. But in and of itself it won’t help any Republican beat Hillary Clinton in 2016 unless the party does the hard work of rebuilding that all parties must do after they’ve been out of power.

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Obama and Ceasefire: A Little History

As the controversy over John Kerry’s bungled efforts to negotiate a ceasefire continues, we should look back on the last time America spoke of such things.

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As the controversy over John Kerry’s bungled efforts to negotiate a ceasefire continues, we should look back on the last time America spoke of such things.

On November 21, 2012, Israel agreed to an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire that concluded the eight-day Operation “Pillar of Defense,” which Israel began after a day on which Hamas launched 100 rockets at Israel. President Obama made a phone call to Bibi Netanyahu that day. This is part of the White House “readout” of that phone call:

The President made clear that no country can be expected to tolerate rocket attacks against civilians….The President commended the Prime Minister for agreeing to the Egyptian ceasefire proposal – which the President recommended the Prime Minster do – while reiterating that Israel maintains the right to defend itself. The President said that the United States would use the opportunity offered by a ceasefire to intensify efforts to help Israel address its security needs, especially the issue of the smuggling of weapons and explosives into Gaza. [emphasis mine]

Well, that went well, didn’t it? Between the ceasefire in 2012 and the outbreak of hostilities in 2014, Hamas made or smuggled in thousands of new rockets and went even more hog-wild with the tunnels. And how did Hamas go hog-wild with the tunnels? With cement that the United States, among others, insisted Israel allow into Gaza for humanitarian reasons in January 2014. That’s not America’s fault, but it’s worth noting that the president made an explicit promise to “intensify efforts to help Israel address its security needs,” and clearly did not follow up on that promise.

The last sentence of the phone-call readout from 2012 was this: “The President said that he was committed to seeking additional funding for Iron Dome and other U.S.-Israel missile defense programs.” And indeed, in 2014, the United States did authorize $235 million over three years for Iron Dome. The administration deserves commendation for that, but Iron Dome money is a no-brainer—Iron Dome is effectively a real-world testing ground for American missile defenses, and would be cheap at twice the price.

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Cuomo, Ethics, and a One-Party State

Anyone who wants to know what happens when the two-party system collapses in a state need only have read the New York Times’s astounding report published last week about the way Governor Andrew Cuomo sabotaged a state ethics commission investigation. In a competitive state, the story would have doomed Cuomo’s chances for reelection. But if the bringing to light of this corruption won’t stop Cuomo in November, it does give us a case study in how low the Empire State has sunk under unchallenged Democratic rule.

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Anyone who wants to know what happens when the two-party system collapses in a state need only have read the New York Times’s astounding report published last week about the way Governor Andrew Cuomo sabotaged a state ethics commission investigation. In a competitive state, the story would have doomed Cuomo’s chances for reelection. But if the bringing to light of this corruption won’t stop Cuomo in November, it does give us a case study in how low the Empire State has sunk under unchallenged Democratic rule.

Cuomo broke several days of silence about the investigation to deny that his administration had ordered the Moreland Commission not to issue a subpoena to a media buying firm that had placed millions in ads for state Democrats including Cuomo. The governor’s top aide reached out to quash the subpoena and it swiftly complied with the demand. Instead of the independent inquiry into Albany’s pay-to-play culture the governor promised when he rolled it out last year, the commission turned out to be a mere show that Cuomo disbanded halfway through its intended 18-month tenure.

But the best the governor could do in defense of this indefensible record was to claim that since he created the commission, he shouldn’t be accused of interfering with it. This is the sort of lame excuse that would make even absolute monarchs blush. But Cuomo is unashamed. Not satisfied with pulling this sort of “L’Etat C’est Moi” routine out of the Louis XIV playbook, Cuomo channeled George Orwell when he told the Times today that the commission was a “phenomenal success” and completely independent.

It’s not clear that anyone, even his biggest supporters, believes Cuomo. But the only conclusion to be drawn from this shabby exercise in bald-faced lying is that with polls showing the governor holding a 33-point lead over Republican challenger and Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, he thinks it doesn’t matter that even the Times—the bible for New York liberals—has labeled him a corrupt charlatan.

Perhaps he’s right. Though Astorino gives the GOP a credible alternative to Cuomo, it’s hard to envision the circumstances whereby a bankrupt state Republican Party can do much to put a dent in Cuomo’s reelection drive. New York is one of the bluest states in the union and though it had a three-term Republican governor as recently as only eight years ago in the person of George Pataki (who first gained office by ousting Cuomo’s father Mario in the 1994 Republican landslide), the state’s GOP is now in ruins. Republicans haven’t run a competitive race for governor or U.S. senator in New York since Pataki’s last victory in 2002 and there’s no sign that even an able politician like Astorino can change that.

There are a lot of reasons why New York’s GOP has lost its way and Pataki’s uninspiring reign in Albany is part of the answer, along with the demographic decline in the more conservative upstate regions and the shift of the suburbs from red to blue as has happened in many other places. But let’s leave aside the explanation for how New York became, for all intents and purposes, a one-party state with the exception of a strong GOP presence in the State Senate. It is the consequences of this situation that should concern liberals as well as the conservative minority in the state.

The problem is accentuated by the fact that in the past, an independent attorney general might have helped keep the governor and his gang honest. But the current New York AG Eric Schneiderman is a left-wing extremist more obsessed with hounding the state’s economic engine on Wall Street than in chasing white color criminals in Albany.

A government that cannot be held accountable is one that is indistinguishable from tyranny. Cuomo’s cavalier dismissal of the scathing Times report about his laughable foray into ethics should remind its readers of the kind of crackpot politics that New Yorkers tend to associate with less sophisticated constituencies in the deep south like Louisiana. But comparing New York to that ethically challenged state is an insult to the home of the Big Easy. Baton Rouge or any other historic cesspool of corruption in this country has nothing on Albany, and Cuomo’s empty show of reform only adds insult to injury for state voters. But if New Yorkers are not prepared to draw conclusions about Cuomo, then they shouldn’t be surprised to find themselves overtaxed and underserved by a government led by a man more interested in pandering to the far left on guns and abortion than in keeping New York competitive.

The memory of this story may haunt Cuomo should he ever be so foolish as to attempt a quixotic presidential candidacy. But in the meantime, he’s probably right not to worry about New Yorkers paying attention to his misdeeds. Yet New Yorkers would do well to ponder whether liberal ideology should be prioritized over good government. When you have a one-party state the latter is impossible.

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Kerry v. Israel: Why It Gets Personal

The Obama administration is fuming about the anger in Israel about Secretary of State John Kerry’s bumbling efforts to negotiate a cease-fire in Gaza. But while senior U.S. officials are claiming the attacks on Kerry from Israelis across the political spectrum puts the relationship between the two countries in jeopardy, the change in tune today from Kerry in his statements about the goals of negotiations illustrated just how deep is the hole that he has dug for himself and the United States in the current crisis.

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The Obama administration is fuming about the anger in Israel about Secretary of State John Kerry’s bumbling efforts to negotiate a cease-fire in Gaza. But while senior U.S. officials are claiming the attacks on Kerry from Israelis across the political spectrum puts the relationship between the two countries in jeopardy, the change in tune today from Kerry in his statements about the goals of negotiations illustrated just how deep is the hole that he has dug for himself and the United States in the current crisis.

After delivering demands to Israel that amounted to an American surrender to Hamas, in a speech delivered this morning Kerry said that “demilitarization” of Gaza was a necessary element of hopes for peace. He’s right about that, but after seeking to hamstring Israeli efforts to halt Hamas rocket fire and to eliminate the tunnel network they use to store their arsenal and to launch cross-border attacks on Israeli targets, the umbrage that administration figures are expressing about the reaction to the secretary’s behavior is unjustified.

The fact that it has become personal between Kerry and Israel does neither country any good and that is why even though the anger in the Jewish state at the secretary was universal, Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., rightly sought to disassociate his government from any personal attacks on Kerry today. But as with previous tiffs in which the administration expressed anger about criticism of the secretary, the focus on defending Kerry’s honor or good intentions is beside the point. Though he continues to pose as the tireless worker for peace that is being unfairly targeted for his even-handed approach, it’s time to realize that Kerry actually deserves a not inconsiderable share of the blame for the situation.

Even if we are to credit Kerry, as Dermer suggests, for his good intentions, the secretary deserves every bit of the opprobrium that has been leveled at him by Israelis from the right to the left.

Kerry’s disastrous intervention in the current fighting demonstrated the utter and complete incoherence of the position that he has carved out for the United States. On the one hand, Kerry has prioritized the effort to create a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But by seeking to save Hamas by granting it concessions in the form of open borders rather than forcing the demilitarization that he belatedly endorsed, Kerry is making such a peace deal impossible.

The depth of the contradictions here are hard to comprehend. On the one hand, following President Obama’s lead, Kerry has praised Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas endlessly as a true partner for peace even though the PA chief has repeatedly turned down chances to negotiate seriously. But by seeking to place constraints on Israeli military actions directed at degrading Hamas’s capability to launch terror attacks, Kerry is actually undermining Abbas. His cease-fire proposal wasn’t so much an insult to Israel as it was to the PA. Though publicly condemning Israeli actions, it’s no secret that Abbas is hoping that the Jewish state will remove his on-again-off-again rival/partner in the Palestinian government from the scene. By endorsing the proposal for a cease-fire that came from Hamas allies Qatar and Turkey, Kerry stabbed Abbas in the back.

But the incompetence didn’t begin with one ill-considered piece of diplomatic ineptitude. It must be understood that nothing that is going on today—including the grievous casualty toll inside Gaza—would have happened had not Kerry single-handedly forced both Abbas and the Israelis into a negotiation that both knew would only lead to disaster. Throughout the nine months during which the secretary orchestrated a new round of peace talks between Israel and the PA, the administration was warned that the problem wasn’t just that the effort couldn’t succeed so long as the Palestinians were divided between Abbas’s Fatah and Hamas. It was that once the failure occurred, it would provide a justification for a new round of violence in the same manner that past such efforts had done. Kerry not only ignored those warnings but raised the stakes by personally speaking about a third intifada happening if the two sides didn’t do as he bid. Those who pointed out that this was a self-fulfilling prophecy were denounced as insufficiently supportive of peace. But the reality is that Kerry not only set the stage for this new outbreak, he more or less gave Hamas a green light to go ahead and start shooting.

The only common threads in Kerry’s diplomatic endeavors have been his enormous self-regard and a clear animus for the Netanyahu government. Either of these foibles would be forgivable if Kerry were focused on actions that would advance a two-state solution. But by pushing for a settlement when Abbas was unable to comply and then disingenuously blaming his failure on Israel, Kerry hurt the PA and set back any chance for peace. Once Hamas escalated the current fighting, he again took his eye off the ball and focused entirely on pushing for a cease-fire that would enhance the Islamists’ prestige and marginalize the Palestinians that he had championed.

Israelis who are forced to seek refuge in bomb shelters from Hamas missiles or await terror attacks from Gaza tunnels may be forgiven for losing patience with Kerry’s self-righteous lectures about casualties and human rights. But the attention given the anger he has generated there ought not to divert us from his record of failure. On Iran, Syria, and Russia, Kerry has done little to advance U.S. interests or to protect human rights. But with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he has done worse than that. Having set the region up for conflict, he is now doing everything possible to ensure that the violence will continue at some point in the future by allowing Hamas to survive and even claim victory. Seen from that perspective, his good intentions and the insults being thrown his way from Israelis are mere footnotes to a historic legacy of failure.

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When It Comes to Israel, Liberals Can’t Handle the Truth

Here is an excerpt from an interview with Charlie Rose and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal that’s noteworthy:

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Here is an excerpt from an interview with Charlie Rose and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal that’s noteworthy:

ROSE: I think I just heard you say — and this — we will close on this — you believe in the coexistence of peoples, and, therefore, you believe in the coexistence of Palestinians and Israelis in the Middle East?

MESHAAL (through translator): I can’t coexist with occupation.

ROSE: Without occupation, you can coexist?

MESHAAL (through translator): I’m ready to coexist with the Jews, with the Christians and with the Arabs and non-Arabs and with those who agree with my ideas and those who disagree with them. However, I do not coexist with the occupiers, with the settlers, and those who…

ROSE: It’s one thing to say you want to coexist with the Jews. It’s another thing you want to coexist with the state of Israel. Do you want to coexist with the state of Israel? Do you want to represent — do you want to recognize Israel as a Jewish state?

MESHAAL (through translator): No. I said I do not want to live with a state of occupiers. I do coexist with other…

ROSE: I’m assuming they’re no longer occupiers. At that point, do you want to coexist and recognize their right to exist, as they would recognize your right to exist?

MESHAAL (through translator): When we have a Palestinian state, then the Palestinian state will decide on its policies. But you cannot actually ask me about the future. I answered you. But Palestinian people can have their say when they have their own state without occupation. In natural situations, they can decide policy vis-a-vis others.

So there you have it. The leader of Hamas says, point blank, it does not want a two-state solution. Yet scores of liberal commentators continue to make arguments like this: “We have to get a solution. And it has to be a two-state solution. And it has to be basically encouraged, if not imposed, I think, from without.”

This is an example of what social scientists call “motivated reasoning.” It refers to when people hold to a false belief despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. In this instance, the Hamas charter and the Hamas leader don’t accept Israel’s right to exist. And yet liberals don’t seem to care. They appear to be content to live in world made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust. A world of make believe. And so in the context of Israel’s war with Hamas, they continue to revert to arguments that simply don’t apply–for example, arguing that Israel needs to “end the occupation” despite the fact that Israel completely withdrew from Gaza nearly a decade ago.

Israel, on the other hand, has to live and survive in reality. Israelis know the nature of the enemy they face–implacable, committed, ruthless, malevolent. Given all this, and given that Israel itself is a nation of extraordinary moral and political achievements, you might think that the United States government would be fully supportive of the Jewish state in its war against Hamas. But you would be wrong.

The Obama administration is racheting up pressure on Israel. Hamas’s war on Israel, combined with its eagerness to have innocent Palestinians die as human shields in order to advance its propaganda campaign, is pushing America (under Obama) not toward Israel but away from her. Mr. Obama and the left perceive themselves as reality based and their critics as fantasy based. It’s a conceit without merit. And in no case is it more evident than in the left’s stance toward Hamas and Israel.

This is a case where reality and all the arguments, including all the moral arguments, align on one side; and yet Obama and the left are on the other.

They live in a fantasy world. In this instance, doing so has diabolic consequences.

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New Dem Strategy: Say the Word “Impeachment” Over and Over

A recurring theme of the Obama administration and the upcoming election to succeed him is the continuing relevance of Bill Clinton and his presidency. Obama and the GOP fought over welfare reform, which Clinton signed. The president (and now Hillary Clinton) disavowed the religious freedom protections signed into law enthusiastically by Bill Clinton. On free trade, taxes, and gay marriage the Clinton presidency has been in the room.

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A recurring theme of the Obama administration and the upcoming election to succeed him is the continuing relevance of Bill Clinton and his presidency. Obama and the GOP fought over welfare reform, which Clinton signed. The president (and now Hillary Clinton) disavowed the religious freedom protections signed into law enthusiastically by Bill Clinton. On free trade, taxes, and gay marriage the Clinton presidency has been in the room.

The comparisons became particularly specific when the two sides threatened, and then went through with, a government shutdown. The parallel was invoked: Clinton is perceived to have won the battle for public opinion over the 1995 shutdown, when the president sparred with Newt Gingrich and a reenergized conservative faction in the House. Now a similar comparison is cropping up again: impeachment.

Although Republican congressional leaders are not remotely taking the idea of impeachment seriously, this issue has the very same plot twist as the debate over the government shutdown. Because history declared Clinton the victor in 1995, top Democrats in the Obama era actually wanted the shutdown, convinced it would play to their political advantage. Republican leaders were unenthusiastic about shutting down the government precisely because they agreed. (There was even a “hot stove” theory as to why Speaker Boehner eventually let it proceed: the backlash would teach the conservative supporters of the shutdown–some of whom had presidential aspirations–a lesson they’d remember.)

That’s the backdrop to Rich Lowry’s headline-question at NRO today: “Does Obama WANT to Get Impeached?” The answer, I think, was revealed during a bizarre back-and-forth at White House press secretary Josh Earnest’s briefing on Friday. Earnest was sent to the podium to convey the Looney Tunes notion that the GOP leadership was considering impeachment. Because this is flatly and demonstrably false, Earnest was challenged on his assertion.

“I think that there are senior members of the Republican political party or certainly prominent voices in the Republican Party who are calling for exactly that,” Earnest said. The reporters were slightly confused by an obviously untrue charge coming from the president’s chief spokesman. There ensued an argument that has to be seen to be believed. Via the White House transcript:

Q    And who is that?  Sarah Palin is one.

MR. EARNEST:  She mentioned it.  Somebody mentioned earlier that –

Q    She would be a prominent voice in the Republican political –

Q    Anybody in the Republican leadership seriously talking about that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think Sarah Palin considers herself to be a leader –

Q    Hang on, Jon, it’s my question.

Q    Sorry.  (Laughter.)

Q    There’s been a lot of fundraising emails from the Democratic Party with the word “impeachment” in it.  This sounds like a fundraising ploy, a political ploy, not a real thing.  You don’t really think the President is going to be impeached, do you?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jim, I think that there are some Republicans, including some Republicans who are running for office, hoping they can get into office so that they can impeach the President.  That is apparently a view that they hold, because it’s one that they have repeatedly expressed publicly.

I think what’s really important –

Q    Is the White House Counsel’s Office looking at this?  Are you studying the possibility of being impeached?

MR. EARNEST:  Here’s the thing that I think is important about this.  And again, we’re coming up on a pivotal week.  Next week will be the last week that Congress is in session before Labor Day.  There are at least two items of business that members of Congress themselves have identified as important priorities.

The mention of the Democratic Party fundraising emails about impeachment hits the nail on the head. As the world burns, and as his secretary of state piles on the firewood, the president spends his time at fundraisers. Each issue can be measured not according to bedrock principles but by its monetary value with regard to raising campaign funds.

That’s how we get the White House’s “war on women” and the left acting as though the Religious Freedom Restoration Act permits–nay, requires, if the GOP has its way–the Talibanization of American life. The president’s grand vision for reelection boiled down to Big Bird and birth control. Big Bird seems to be out of the woods, so now it’s almost exclusively birth control, though this requires the left to simply make stuff up, since the truth is not offensive enough to rile the Democratic base.

And that’s how we get a fundraising scheme designed by Democrats pushing the idea of impeachment with Republicans pushing back against the idea. It would otherwise seem strange, no doubt, to see the president and his spokesmen gleefully push the idea of impeachment with Republicans trying to talk Democrats down from that ledge. Which is where we are now in this farcical saga of presidential self-pity.

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Pictures Don’t Justify Anti-Israel Media Bias

Most talking heads and foreign-policy pundits as well as the Obama administration are united on one proposition. They say that while Israel’s efforts to defend its people against Hamas rockets and terrorist attacks are justified, it cannot continue to do so if their counter-attacks continue to result in terrible pictures of civilian casualties in Gaza. But letting such pictures dictate policy or to excuse media bias against Israel does nothing to promote peace or alleviate the suffering of the Palestinians.

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Most talking heads and foreign-policy pundits as well as the Obama administration are united on one proposition. They say that while Israel’s efforts to defend its people against Hamas rockets and terrorist attacks are justified, it cannot continue to do so if their counter-attacks continue to result in terrible pictures of civilian casualties in Gaza. But letting such pictures dictate policy or to excuse media bias against Israel does nothing to promote peace or alleviate the suffering of the Palestinians.

National Journal’s influential Ron Fournier spoke for many today when he wrote that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s arguments in favor of his country’s positions were both “accurate and archaic.” He believes they are accurate in the sense that any country has the right to stop people from shooting rockets at their cities or digging tunnels whose purpose is to allow terrorists to commit atrocities against their citizens. But Fournier believes the prime minister’s position—one that is backed by the overwhelming majority of the Israeli people—is untenable. That’s because he believes the pro-Israel consensus in the West that once would have sanctioned a campaign against Gaza is rapidly disappearing because a new generation of leaders and journalists has arisen that has no patience with Israel and sympathizes with the Palestinians. Since this generation thinks Israel is oppressing the Palestinians regardless of recent events in Gaza and denying them independence, they are no longer willing to support the Jewish state’s efforts.

The pictures of suffering Palestinians and the lopsided casualty figures dovetail with Fournier’s analysis. His point, shared by many others speaking out on the issue, is that the terrible images of Palestinian casualties are feeding a narrative in which Israel is increasingly viewed as the bad guy in the conflict regardless of the justifications put forward by Israelis and their supporters.

Fournier’s conclusion that the solution is for Israel to be more accommodating to the Palestinians shows a disregard for logic that isn’t normally to be found in his cogent analyses of domestic political issues. His attempt to use the distorted coverage of the conflict—of which his facile conclusions about peace are a part—as evidence of a festering problem that Israelis are not addressing fails to take into account the fact that this is a self-fulfilling prophecy on the part of media figures and an administration that doesn’t grasp the realities of the situation. Just as important, his claim that a new hostility to Israel in the American media is something new and therefore a herald of a decline in general U.S. support for the Jewish state is simply unfounded.

Let’s address the basic assumption of Fournier’s analysis, which also seems to be the foundation of the administration’s policy: the Middle East conflict is complicated but the real reason for the failure to attain peace is the decision of Israel’s government to not fully embrace a two-state solution or to make it possible for the Palestinians to achieve independence. This is simply not true. Israel’s offers of an independent state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem in 2000, 2001, and 2008 may be ancient history in our 24/7 news cycle. But their rejection by the Palestinians and the continued refusal of even the “moderate” Palestinian Authority to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn gives the lie to this off-repeated fallacy about Israel’s guilt.

Fournier’s belief that the outrageous anti-Israel bias on the part of U.S. journalists covering the current conflict for MSNBC and CNN is a new development also demonstrates that he hasn’t been paying much attention to the coverage of Israel over the last 40 years. The assumption that most Western journalists were inherently sympathetic to the efforts of the small Jewish state to resist efforts by the Arab and Muslim world to destroy it went out the window in the 1980s during the First Lebanon War and was buried during the first two intifadas. That journalists are now willing to publicly label Israelis as “scum” is a function of the way social media has changed the way the news business works. But these sentiments have been on display in much of the mainstream media—especially important outlets like NBC News or the New York Times—for decades. Nevertheless polls have consistently shown that the vast majority of Americans still sympathize with Israel and rightly view groups like Hamas as terrorists that must be defeated. This illustrates the disconnect between much of the liberal mainstream media and the American people, not the end of the bipartisan pro-Israel consensus.

The problem is the willingness of much of the international media to buy into Palestinian propaganda while ignoring the plain facts about the culpability of Hamas for the fomenting of the current conflict and the casualties that have resulted from its launching of the latest round of fighting. A media that isn’t willing to place the video of Palestinian suffering in a context of Hamas decisions to build shelters in the form of a vast tunnel network for their fighters and rocket arsenal while staking out civilians as human shields to be killed when Israel responds to rocket and tunnel attacks is one that can’t then turn around and advise Netanyahu that his country’s public-relations problems are its own fault. To the contrary, the willingness of much of the international media to whitewash Hamas and vilify Israel has only convinced Israelis that this is not the moment to hazard their lives on promises from the Palestinians or the Obama administration.

Asymmetrical warfare between a nation state and a terror movement that operates for all intents and purposes as an independent state in Gaza does generate problems for Israel. But if the goal is peace, then the only answer for Israel and the United States is to crush Hamas, not allow the pictures of the suffering that the terror group has orchestrated to force–as Kerry’s proposals have indicated–the West to grant them concessions. If both the administration and journalists like Fournier don’t understand this, the fault lies with them, not Netanyahu.

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The Fabled Non-Anti-Semitic Gaza Protests

Last week, the foreign ministers of France, Germany, and Italy released an unusual joint statement. They banded together, they explained, to denounce their own countries. Specifically, they wanted to denounce the rank anti-Semitism that has exploded throughout Europe, where the public used the Israeli counteroffensive in Gaza as a pretext to rally in support of the destruction of the Jewish state and in some cases the extermination of the Jewish people on the whole. The main source of disagreement among Europe’s pro-Hamas demonstrators is the desirable extent of the anti-Jewish genocide.

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Last week, the foreign ministers of France, Germany, and Italy released an unusual joint statement. They banded together, they explained, to denounce their own countries. Specifically, they wanted to denounce the rank anti-Semitism that has exploded throughout Europe, where the public used the Israeli counteroffensive in Gaza as a pretext to rally in support of the destruction of the Jewish state and in some cases the extermination of the Jewish people on the whole. The main source of disagreement among Europe’s pro-Hamas demonstrators is the desirable extent of the anti-Jewish genocide.

It’s a difference in degree, not in kind. And while at first glance the foreign ministers’ joint statement might appear to be laudable, such goodwill evaporates when you realize that they are talking instead of doing. Anti-Semitism is often a lagging indicator of state rot, and it is no different here. The foreign ministers are essentially pleading with the world to withhold judgment for their states’ respective failures. In France, the state has given up on protecting its Jews; “France’s Jews are staying indoors for fear of their lives,” a resident of Paris told the Algemeiner recently. In Germany–in Germany–protesters called for the Jews to be gassed. And the best the German state can come up with is to sign a joint letter denouncing such hateful barbarism.

The joint statement is a white flag. European governments have no idea what to do. France’s foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, took to the pages of the New York Times on July 10 to declare: “France Is Not an Anti-Semitic Nation.” Three days later, an attempted pogrom broke out in Paris. The France of Laurent Fabius’s imagination is clearly a wonderful place. The one that actually exists is descending into madness.

All this is drawing attention to another aspect of the world’s discomfort with Jewish self-defense. We are constantly told that you can criticize Israel without being anti-Semitic; this is undoubtedly true. Israeli officials are criticized in Israel as much as anywhere else. But the demonstrations claim to be in protest of Israeli policy or in the name of peace. That sounds awfully nice in theory. In practice, the demonstrators aren’t keen on making such distinctions.

It’s not just in France, Germany, and Italy, of course. A pro-Gaza protest in London called for the elimination of Israel. Here’s the Daily Beast on how protests in the Netherlands have become outright rallies in support of ISIS, the too-violent-for-al-Qaeda terrorist offshoot carving up Iraq:

Many of the demonstrators covered their faces with Palestinian scarves or balaclavas. “Anyone who doesn’t jump is a Jew,” someone shouted as the whole group started jumping in a scene that might have been ludicrous if it weren’t for the hateful message. “Death to the Jews!” the crowd shouted in Arabic.

This scene last Thursday came in the wake of an earlier demonstration supposed to defend the Palestinians suffering in Gaza, which turned quickly into a hatefest targeting Israel, with people carrying placards that screamed “Zionism is Nazism.” But while the comingling of pro-Palestinian, anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic sentiment has become all too common in European protests in recent weeks, that the battle flag of the Islamic State waved in the streets of The Netherlands on July 24 is something new and particularly dangerous.

Read that last sentence again: “the battle flag of the Islamic State waved in the streets of The Netherlands.” I’m sure behind that black flag is just genuine concern for the humanitarian needs of Gaza City. America has not been immune to this phenomenon, in which protesters insist they care about Palestinian statelessness so they can push thoroughly disgusting anti-Jewish blood libels. Here is a picture our own Abe Greenwald took at a rally in Manhattan. Above scenes of blood-soaked children are the words “This is Bloody Israel! These are Bloody Jews!” And then, if you still didn’t get the point, in parentheses: “Blood Suckers.”

It’s not subtle, and it’s not about humanitarianism. The anti-Israel rallies around the world have been marked by consistency. We are told of the existence, or of the possibility at least, of pro-Palestinian rallies or protests against Israeli policy that are not about pushing a medieval hatred of Jews. We should not have to take it on faith, or make do with Laurent Fabius’s deepest apologies.

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No, Israel Isn’t Losing a War It’s Winning

One of the oddest tropes of the past week has been too-clever-by-half theorizing that Israel is losing its war against Hamas even if, from all accounts, it is winning the war against Hamas—by knocking out Hamas’s missiles from the air, destroying its tunnels on land, killing its terrorists, and going after its weapons depots. The only way it can be deemed to be losing is if you think the war is primarily a public-relations battle for the hearts and minds of people who already have a fixed opinion of who the good guys and bad guys are in this struggle. It’s not.

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One of the oddest tropes of the past week has been too-clever-by-half theorizing that Israel is losing its war against Hamas even if, from all accounts, it is winning the war against Hamas—by knocking out Hamas’s missiles from the air, destroying its tunnels on land, killing its terrorists, and going after its weapons depots. The only way it can be deemed to be losing is if you think the war is primarily a public-relations battle for the hearts and minds of people who already have a fixed opinion of who the good guys and bad guys are in this struggle. It’s not.

If reports are true, over the past week Israel managed to uncover and disrupt a plot for the mass killing of Jews inside Israel on Rosh Hashanah. Forget the missiles; for that reason alone, the war has already been won.

So how is Israel losing? Oh, it seems Israel is getting bad press.

What else is new? What else is new about any of it?

Is Israel isolated in Europe? That isolation has been deepening for a decade. Has Barack Obama turned unfriendly? Well, his unfriendliness is far from new, as this piece of mine from July 2009 would suggest. Has the incursion led to an increase in overt anti-Semitism? Well, if so, any effort to excuse away such monstrousness by citing this war is nothing less than an act of blaming-the-victim. If Israel were to restrain itself from countering a mortal threat because it feared the promulgation of documents like this, it would be betraying its own reason for existence: a homeland for the Jewish people that needed and needs to exist precisely because of sentiments that help create documents like these—sentiments that are then turned into action, and into Kristallnacht, and into gas chambers.

The one deeply troubling fact that has emerged over the past week, in a Gallup poll, is that Americans under the age of 30 believe Israel’s action in Gaza is unjustified by a margin of 51-25 (24 percent have no opinion). Every friend of the Jewish state should be troubled; every enemy should rejoice. But then, why should it be otherwise, exactly? There is a man in the Oval Office who has spent five and a half years effectively preaching that extrication from conflict is a noble act. Is it any wonder that the age cohort most supportive of Obama—the cohort, by the way, that knows and cares the least about the world outside the borders of the United States—would be discomfited by a country that makes unapologetic use of its military in its own defense?

UPDATE: A new Pew poll suggests the views of Americans 18-30 are more favorably disposed toward Israel than Gallup–38 percent say Israel’s response has either been appropriate or hasn’t gone far enough, compared to 29 percent who say it’s gone too far.

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Ukrainians Get the Gaza Connection; Why Doesn’t the West?

Much of the world appears to view the current fighting in eastern Ukraine as totally unconnected to the fighting in Gaza. And since the Ukrainian government is desperately seeking support from both Europe and the Obama administration, neither of which is enamored of Israel’s Gaza operation, one could have forgiven Ukrainian officials for seeking to nurture this illusion. Instead, they have repeatedly gone out of their way to dispel it.

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Much of the world appears to view the current fighting in eastern Ukraine as totally unconnected to the fighting in Gaza. And since the Ukrainian government is desperately seeking support from both Europe and the Obama administration, neither of which is enamored of Israel’s Gaza operation, one could have forgiven Ukrainian officials for seeking to nurture this illusion. Instead, they have repeatedly gone out of their way to dispel it.

Three weeks ago, Andriy Parubiy, the head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, compared eastern Ukraine’s situation to what Israel faces and warned that terrorists would likely adopt similar tactics in other countries if the West didn’t take a firm stance against them.

“We, of course, studied the experience of both Croatia and Israel, but here a lot of new features are added,” Parubiy said. “And, if Russia sees that this experience is successful, this experience can very easily be used in any Baltic countries, and even in Belarus and Kazakhstan.”

Yesterday, Ukrainian Ambassador to Israel Henadii Nadolenko made both the comparison and the warning even more explicit in an op-ed in Haaretz. Unambiguously titled “Ukraine and Israel: Together in fighting terrorism,” it declared, “We, the representatives of Ukraine, have, together with the people of the State of Israel, personally felt the totality of the threat posed to civilians by the criminal activities of the terrorists.”

After enumerating the losses both countries have suffered, Nadolenko continued, “I am convinced that the huge loss of civilian and military life might have been avoided had the activities of terrorist organizations had been condemned by the international community.” Then, citing the recent downing of a civilian airliner over eastern Ukraine, he drove the point home:

I would like to emphasize once again that the crime, which killed 298 innocent civilians from around the world, is another confirmation of the fact that today’s terrorism is not constrained by borders…

In this regard, once again I would like to appeal to the thinking and caring people of the world to demonstrate their support for these peoples, who came upon a fight with an evil that threatens the security of everyone, regardless of nationality or place of residence.

I believe that the countries that are faced with terrorism and who try to fight this evil should support each other, and should join their efforts in order to draw the world’s attention to our cause. We must begin to receive real help and support from international organizations in order to combat this threat.

Clearly, Nadolenko understands what too many European and American officials seem to have missed: The West’s fine shades of distinction–under which some terrorist groups, like al-Qaeda, are utterly shunned; others, like Hamas, are denounced but deemed to have “legitimate grievances that must be addressed”; while still others are positively feted, like Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah, whose Gaza branch boasts of its contribution to the rocket fire at Israel–are meaningless. All terrorists are equally enemies of the civilized world, and all of them learn from each other’s tactics. Thus if the West rewards a given tactic in one location, terrorists in other countries will soon replicate it.

For Hamas, launching rockets at Israel has so far paid handsome dividends: No less a personage than U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has pledged that if it ceases its fire, he will personally see to it that all its economic demands are met–including opening the border crossings, paying Hamas employees’ salaries, “ensuring the social and economic livelihood” of Gaza residents and providing “major humanitarian assistance”–while not insisting that it forfeit any of its military capabilities (all Kerry offered Israel was a vague promise to “address all security issues”).

Kerry clearly hasn’t grasped that if targeting Israeli civilians with rockets pays economic and diplomatic dividends for Hamas, this will encourage other terrorists worldwide to adopt similar tactics. Nadolenko and his fellow Ukrainians, in contrast, understand this very well. The question is whether anyone in the West is listening to them.

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