Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 29, 2008

May You Have A Sweet Year

Shanah Tovah.

Shanah Tovah.

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Commentary of the Day

Kate, on Peter Wehner:

There’s an easy way to tell if you are looking objectively at this election. Remember the debate on Friday night. If you think Obama won: you’re biased. If you think McCain won: you’re biased. Both candidates occasionally looked flustered, had slip ups, but more importantly, neither made any huge gaffes. Personally, I think that this race is far from over and I think Thursday night’s debate will be a surprise to many. I am honestly not a fan of Palin, but even a monkey could perform better than what is currently expected of her, add to that that Biden has a history of putting his foot in his mouth and I get the sense that this debate will be like a car crash, you just can’t look away. In terms of the economy, of course BOTH democrats and republicans are to blame. Neither camp’s economic strategy works all the time, the important part is finding a balance. We’ll see where the election goes from here, but, speaking as an undecided voter, I can only conclude that the race is far from over.

Kate, on Peter Wehner:

There’s an easy way to tell if you are looking objectively at this election. Remember the debate on Friday night. If you think Obama won: you’re biased. If you think McCain won: you’re biased. Both candidates occasionally looked flustered, had slip ups, but more importantly, neither made any huge gaffes. Personally, I think that this race is far from over and I think Thursday night’s debate will be a surprise to many. I am honestly not a fan of Palin, but even a monkey could perform better than what is currently expected of her, add to that that Biden has a history of putting his foot in his mouth and I get the sense that this debate will be like a car crash, you just can’t look away. In terms of the economy, of course BOTH democrats and republicans are to blame. Neither camp’s economic strategy works all the time, the important part is finding a balance. We’ll see where the election goes from here, but, speaking as an undecided voter, I can only conclude that the race is far from over.

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McCain Can’t Score a Point

Barack Obama has definitely won the post-vote sound-bite war. Campaigning in Denver, he told people to “stay calm.”

“Things are never smooth in Congress,” Obama said. “Understand that it will get done, that we are going to make sure that an emergency package is put together, because it is required for us to stabilize the market.”

He continued, “It’s sort of like flying into Denver. You know you’re going to land, but it’s not always fun going over those mountains.”

It’s vague and it may be pie-in-the-sky, but it’s intended to reassure and anything is worlds better than John McCain’s sniping through his economic advisor.

As a campaign moment, this crisis has been slipping out of McCain’s hands since the news about Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch first broke two weeks ago. He’s thrown the kitchen sink at it, and it’s all been wrong. He said the wrong thing, then he did the wrong thing, and then he cemented his failure by ceding the economic part of Friday’s debate to Barack Obama. It’s not surprising then that his first reaction to today’s impasse was one of frustration and disgust. Nor is it surprising, for that matter, that Obama’s reaction was laid back and hopeful. That’s just where this race is right now.

Barack Obama has definitely won the post-vote sound-bite war. Campaigning in Denver, he told people to “stay calm.”

“Things are never smooth in Congress,” Obama said. “Understand that it will get done, that we are going to make sure that an emergency package is put together, because it is required for us to stabilize the market.”

He continued, “It’s sort of like flying into Denver. You know you’re going to land, but it’s not always fun going over those mountains.”

It’s vague and it may be pie-in-the-sky, but it’s intended to reassure and anything is worlds better than John McCain’s sniping through his economic advisor.

As a campaign moment, this crisis has been slipping out of McCain’s hands since the news about Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch first broke two weeks ago. He’s thrown the kitchen sink at it, and it’s all been wrong. He said the wrong thing, then he did the wrong thing, and then he cemented his failure by ceding the economic part of Friday’s debate to Barack Obama. It’s not surprising then that his first reaction to today’s impasse was one of frustration and disgust. Nor is it surprising, for that matter, that Obama’s reaction was laid back and hopeful. That’s just where this race is right now.

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The War Won’t End in Afghanistan

Senator Barack Obama said something at the presidential debate last week that almost perfectly encapsulates the difference between his foreign policy and his opponent’s: “Secretary of Defense Robert Gates himself acknowledges the war on terrorism started in Afghanistan and it needs to end there.” I don’t know if Obama paraphrased Gates correctly, but if so, they’re both wrong.

If Afghanistan were miraculously transformed into the Switzerland of Central Asia, every last one of the Middle East’s rogues gallery of terrorist groups would still exist. The ideology that spawned them would endure. Their grievances, such as they are, would not be salved. The political culture that produced them, and continues to produce more just like them, would hardly be scathed. Al Qaedism is the most radical wing of an extreme movement which was born in the Middle East and exists now in many parts of the world. Afghanistan is not the root or the source.

Naturally the war against them began in Afghanistan. Plans for the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States were hatched in Afghanistan. But the temporary location of the plotters of that strike means little in the wide view of a long struggle. Osama bin Laden and his leadership just as easily could have planned the attacks from Saudi Arabia before they were exiled, or from their refuge in Sudan in the mid 1990s. Theoretically they could have even planned the attacks from an off-the-radar “safe house” in a place like France or even Nebraska had they managed to sneak themselves in. The physical location of the planning headquarters wasn’t irrelevant, but in the long run the ideology that motivates them is what must be defeated. Perhaps the point would be more obvious if the attacks were in fact planned in a place like France instead of a failed state like Afghanistan.

Hardly anyone wants to think about the monumental size of this task or how long it will take. The illusion that the United States just needs to win in Afghanistan and everything will be fine is comforting, to be sure, but it is an illusion. Winning the war in Iraq won’t be enough either, nor will permanently preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons or resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict. The war may end somewhere with American troops on the ground, or, like the Cold War, it might not. No one can possibly foresee what event will actually put a stop to this war in the end. It is distant and unknowable. The world will change before we can even imagine what the final chapter might look like. Read More

Senator Barack Obama said something at the presidential debate last week that almost perfectly encapsulates the difference between his foreign policy and his opponent’s: “Secretary of Defense Robert Gates himself acknowledges the war on terrorism started in Afghanistan and it needs to end there.” I don’t know if Obama paraphrased Gates correctly, but if so, they’re both wrong.

If Afghanistan were miraculously transformed into the Switzerland of Central Asia, every last one of the Middle East’s rogues gallery of terrorist groups would still exist. The ideology that spawned them would endure. Their grievances, such as they are, would not be salved. The political culture that produced them, and continues to produce more just like them, would hardly be scathed. Al Qaedism is the most radical wing of an extreme movement which was born in the Middle East and exists now in many parts of the world. Afghanistan is not the root or the source.

Naturally the war against them began in Afghanistan. Plans for the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States were hatched in Afghanistan. But the temporary location of the plotters of that strike means little in the wide view of a long struggle. Osama bin Laden and his leadership just as easily could have planned the attacks from Saudi Arabia before they were exiled, or from their refuge in Sudan in the mid 1990s. Theoretically they could have even planned the attacks from an off-the-radar “safe house” in a place like France or even Nebraska had they managed to sneak themselves in. The physical location of the planning headquarters wasn’t irrelevant, but in the long run the ideology that motivates them is what must be defeated. Perhaps the point would be more obvious if the attacks were in fact planned in a place like France instead of a failed state like Afghanistan.

Hardly anyone wants to think about the monumental size of this task or how long it will take. The illusion that the United States just needs to win in Afghanistan and everything will be fine is comforting, to be sure, but it is an illusion. Winning the war in Iraq won’t be enough either, nor will permanently preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons or resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict. The war may end somewhere with American troops on the ground, or, like the Cold War, it might not. No one can possibly foresee what event will actually put a stop to this war in the end. It is distant and unknowable. The world will change before we can even imagine what the final chapter might look like.

Most of the September 11 hijackers were Saudis. All were Arabs. None hailed from Afghanistan. This is not coincidental. Al Qaeda’s politics are a product of the Arab world, specifically of the radical and totalitarian Wahhabi sect of Islam founded in the 18th Century in Saudi Arabia by the fanatical Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab. He thought the medieval interpretations of Islam even on the backward Arabian peninsula were too liberal and lenient. His most extreme followers cannot even peacefully coexist with mainstream Sunni Muslims, let alone Shia Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, secularists, feminists, gays, or anyone else. Their global jihad is a war against the entire human race in all its diversity and plurality.

Wahhabism has spread outward from Saudi Arabia by proselytizers funded by petrodollars who have set up mosques, madrassas, and indoctrination centers nearly everywhere from Indonesia to the United States. In the Balkans, for instance, Wahhabis are actually replacing traditional moderate Ottoman mosques destroyed by the Yugoslav Army and Serbian paramilitary units with their own extremist knockoffs. They’re staking out new ground in the West where they deliberately gin up virulent hatred among immigrants from Muslim countries. They tried to car-bomb their way into power in parts of Iraq, and in the cities of Baqubah, Fallujah, and Ramadi they even succeeded for a while.

In some places the ideology flourishes more than in others. It was effectively transplanted to Afghanistan with the assistance of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency. In thoroughly secular Muslim countries like Azerbaijan and Albania, bin Ladenism remains thinner on the ground than in Western Europe. Its adherents are unevenly distributed, but it began in the Middle East and has since metastasized.

Al Qaeda leaders did not spring up from the ground in Afghanistan, nor are they chained there. They move around. Any country where they are located becomes crucial whether American soldiers are present or not. Like the Cold War, this conflict is not exclusively military, but the theaters of armed conflict have already been widened well beyond Afghanistan. And the war isn’t America-centric. It is not all about us. Fighting between violent Islamists and their enemies broke out in Arab countries like Algeria and Lebanon, and even in countries without a Muslim majority like Russia and the Philippines. Many of these conflicts started before the attacks on September 11, before anyone could even imagine that American troops would fight a hot war in Afghanistan.

And let’s not forget the radical Shias. While Sunni Wahhabis export their fundamentalist creed from the Arabian Peninsula, the Khomeinists in the Islamic Republic of Iran are busy exporting their own revolutionary and totalitarian brand of Shia Islam to countries like Lebanon and Iraq. So far the Iranians and their proxies have been less violent and extreme than Al Qaeda, but Iran remains the biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world. While the leaders are Shias, that has not – contrary to mistaken conventional wisdom – stopped them from forming tactical alliances with radical Sunnis from Hamas in Gaza to Ansar Al Islam.

Before the U.S. demolished the regime of Saddam Hussein, Ansar Al Islam was based in and around the town of Biara in Northern Iraq. Al Qaeda in Iraq founder Abu Musab al Zarqawi was one of its members. American Special Forces and Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters pushed Ansar into the Northern Iranian city of Mariwan where they remain today and receive support from the government of Iran. They have since changed their name to Al Qaeda in Kurdistan.

On some level even Senator Obama himself understands that Afghanistan is unlikely be the beginning and the end of this war. He correctly argues that more needs to be done to shut down the safe havens bin Laden and company have established in Pakistan. He likely doesn’t believe some of his own rhetoric about Afghanistan even though it’s a standard staple of his campaign. His dovish liberal base seems sometimes desperate to believe that Afghanistan was the beginning and will be the end of a war they have little stomach to wage.

Wishing will not make it so. Afghanistan, indeed all of Central Asia, is on the periphery. The violent ideologies that animate the most dangerous terrorist movements in the world are Arabic and, to a lesser extent, Persian. The Middle East is central. It is not a distraction. It is where the war truly began because it is where most of the combatants, ideological leaders, and supporters were born and raised. While there’s a chance it won’t end there, most of it will be fought there.

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Re: A Terrible Vote

Max, the only thing worse than the vote was the complaining afterwards that Nancy Pelosi’s speech was too partisan. So they voted against the only viable measure to prevent a market meltdown because Nancy was mean to them?! That takes the cake.

And although the House GOP did its part to create this mess Pelosi is responsible for delivering her side. Losing 95 votes is the height of incompetence.

For John McCain, if he’s looking for a grand gesture, offering to help campaign and defend any member of either party who votes for this would be a nice start. But for now, McCain plays the partisan card. Is he rallying the troops on his side or pressuring Barack Obama to get his side in order? For now, no one is or appears to be in charge. I hope everyone has his excuses in order.

Max, the only thing worse than the vote was the complaining afterwards that Nancy Pelosi’s speech was too partisan. So they voted against the only viable measure to prevent a market meltdown because Nancy was mean to them?! That takes the cake.

And although the House GOP did its part to create this mess Pelosi is responsible for delivering her side. Losing 95 votes is the height of incompetence.

For John McCain, if he’s looking for a grand gesture, offering to help campaign and defend any member of either party who votes for this would be a nice start. But for now, McCain plays the partisan card. Is he rallying the troops on his side or pressuring Barack Obama to get his side in order? For now, no one is or appears to be in charge. I hope everyone has his excuses in order.

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A Terrible Vote

Just five days ago I wrote these words explaining why I was still “bullish on America”:

Although the current crisis exposes vulnerabilities in the American
financial system, it also shows one of our greatest strengths: the ability
of our politicos to cross party lines and formulate a decisive response in
a time of crisis. We saw that kind of bipartisan action after 9/11, and
there is a good chance that we will see it now — assuming that lawmakers
can agree on a bailout package that makes sense.

The august members of the House of Representatives seem determined to prove me wrong. Rather than fall in behind the bipartisan compromise laboriously negotiated over the past week they have chosen to vote it down. I am not an economist or financier, so I have no opinion on the line-by-line merits of the legislation that was just rejected. But it doesn’t take a Nobel Prize winner to see that the financial markets are melting down and that the compromise package was the the best short-term answer available. By voting it down, lawmakers were guilty of contemptible short-sightedness — putting their fear of being criticized for providing a “bailout for the wealthy” ahead of the urgent needs of the country. They have already tanked the stock market for today. Worse may be ahead-and if a serious recession does come it will cost far more than $700 billion and the victims will be the vaunted “middle class” that everyone in Washington professes to care about.

Although plenty of Democrats voted against the package, the impetus for the opposition came, I am sorry to say, from conservative Republicans. (Two-thirds of House Republicans voted “nay”, compared to fewer than 50% of Democrats.) Hearing the explanation of some Republicans — that they were offended by Nancy Pelosi’s speech in which she blamed Bush for our current woes — makes the outcome even more risible and baffling. Petulence at Democratic partisanship is no reason to send the economy down the tubes. At a moment like this, I am ashamed to call myself a conservative.

I only hope this vote was a passing political gesture that soon will be put right. Otherwise the underpinning of our national strength-our economy-has been put in serious jeopardy.

Just five days ago I wrote these words explaining why I was still “bullish on America”:

Although the current crisis exposes vulnerabilities in the American
financial system, it also shows one of our greatest strengths: the ability
of our politicos to cross party lines and formulate a decisive response in
a time of crisis. We saw that kind of bipartisan action after 9/11, and
there is a good chance that we will see it now — assuming that lawmakers
can agree on a bailout package that makes sense.

The august members of the House of Representatives seem determined to prove me wrong. Rather than fall in behind the bipartisan compromise laboriously negotiated over the past week they have chosen to vote it down. I am not an economist or financier, so I have no opinion on the line-by-line merits of the legislation that was just rejected. But it doesn’t take a Nobel Prize winner to see that the financial markets are melting down and that the compromise package was the the best short-term answer available. By voting it down, lawmakers were guilty of contemptible short-sightedness — putting their fear of being criticized for providing a “bailout for the wealthy” ahead of the urgent needs of the country. They have already tanked the stock market for today. Worse may be ahead-and if a serious recession does come it will cost far more than $700 billion and the victims will be the vaunted “middle class” that everyone in Washington professes to care about.

Although plenty of Democrats voted against the package, the impetus for the opposition came, I am sorry to say, from conservative Republicans. (Two-thirds of House Republicans voted “nay”, compared to fewer than 50% of Democrats.) Hearing the explanation of some Republicans — that they were offended by Nancy Pelosi’s speech in which she blamed Bush for our current woes — makes the outcome even more risible and baffling. Petulence at Democratic partisanship is no reason to send the economy down the tubes. At a moment like this, I am ashamed to call myself a conservative.

I only hope this vote was a passing political gesture that soon will be put right. Otherwise the underpinning of our national strength-our economy-has been put in serious jeopardy.

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Perhaps

Well, now we shall see? Perhaps the House Republicans whose objections to the bailout bill gave sufficient cover to House Democrats terrified of their constituent calls to join them in torpedoing the legislation will be proved right somehow, and legislation can be substantively improved or the market can somehow stabilize on its own in the intervening days before a new bill can be designed. Perhaps the stock markets around the world will not crash. Perhaps the credit markets will not instantly calcify. Perhaps the fact that Republicans broke against the bill 2-to-1 will not lead to a general consensus that the failure of the bailout legislation was entirely due to Republicans, since 94 Democrats voted against it as well. Perhaps people will accept the Republican complaint that Nancy Pelosi gave a really nasty speech just before the vote tally and made ten Republicans so angry they decided to vote “nay.”

Perhaps.

But probably not.

Well, now we shall see? Perhaps the House Republicans whose objections to the bailout bill gave sufficient cover to House Democrats terrified of their constituent calls to join them in torpedoing the legislation will be proved right somehow, and legislation can be substantively improved or the market can somehow stabilize on its own in the intervening days before a new bill can be designed. Perhaps the stock markets around the world will not crash. Perhaps the credit markets will not instantly calcify. Perhaps the fact that Republicans broke against the bill 2-to-1 will not lead to a general consensus that the failure of the bailout legislation was entirely due to Republicans, since 94 Democrats voted against it as well. Perhaps people will accept the Republican complaint that Nancy Pelosi gave a really nasty speech just before the vote tally and made ten Republicans so angry they decided to vote “nay.”

Perhaps.

But probably not.

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Re: Bad News for Europhiles

Emanuele, the Austrian election has already ushered in that special brand of ugliness that characterizes the European Right.

Police are blaming far-Right extremists for desecrating a Muslim cemetery in Austria, in the same weekend that the political parties of the far-Right made huge gains in the country’s general election.

More than 90 graves were severely damaged at the cemetery in Traun, near Linz, some time between Friday night and this morning, in what police believe was an organised action.

The offenders sprayed Jewish symbols such as the Star of David over some of the graves, but detectives believe that this may have been a bid to disguise the motives of extremists driven by a hatred of Muslim immigrants.

Austrian Jews might want to be on the lookout for crescent and star graffiti on the graves of their loved ones.

Emanuele, the Austrian election has already ushered in that special brand of ugliness that characterizes the European Right.

Police are blaming far-Right extremists for desecrating a Muslim cemetery in Austria, in the same weekend that the political parties of the far-Right made huge gains in the country’s general election.

More than 90 graves were severely damaged at the cemetery in Traun, near Linz, some time between Friday night and this morning, in what police believe was an organised action.

The offenders sprayed Jewish symbols such as the Star of David over some of the graves, but detectives believe that this may have been a bid to disguise the motives of extremists driven by a hatred of Muslim immigrants.

Austrian Jews might want to be on the lookout for crescent and star graffiti on the graves of their loved ones.

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Is There Any Shame?

I share others’ outrage that the Democrats are evading proper blame for the financial mess which originated in a misbegotten policy of promoting affordable housing and worsened by willful ignorance of those in Congress charged with oversight. And there is good reason to question why John McCain didn’t immediately and forecefully point the finger directly at his colleagues and make the case that they and his opponent are at the core of the mess.

And the Democrats irresponsibilty isn’t quite over.  A Senate source reports:

On the floor just now, [Senator Mitch] McConnell asked about the timing of a vote, wondering if we could get it done this afternoon.  [Senator Pete] Domenici also expressed his concern about the consequences of waiting. And suddenly we get all this absurd faux outrage from Dems about a “rush to judgment” and being “stampeded.”  The Senate has had the same amount of time to read the bill that the House has, and they’re voting right now. But here’s what we get from Democrat senators: 
Reid: “I think it’s inappropriate to charge into this without having the opportunity to work on it.” 
Leahy: “Let’s not be stampeded into things without even reading it.” He then bizarrely (and obsessively) compared this to the DOJ investigations about the US attorney firings. 
Salazar: “I think the majority leader is correct in terms of wanting us to take the time to review this legislation, which none of us have yet seen, to view it into — through Tuesday . . . .”
 
So are they going to take responsibility if something bad happens in the markets tomorrow?

One wonders how voters will react on Election Day — when they have thier  third quarter 401K statements in hand and wonder what the Democrats have been doing with their majority.

Meanwhile the House is ten votes short of passage and the Dow is down over 400 points. Welcome to the deluge of political irresponsibility and financial panic. Not a pretty sight.
 

I share others’ outrage that the Democrats are evading proper blame for the financial mess which originated in a misbegotten policy of promoting affordable housing and worsened by willful ignorance of those in Congress charged with oversight. And there is good reason to question why John McCain didn’t immediately and forecefully point the finger directly at his colleagues and make the case that they and his opponent are at the core of the mess.

And the Democrats irresponsibilty isn’t quite over.  A Senate source reports:

On the floor just now, [Senator Mitch] McConnell asked about the timing of a vote, wondering if we could get it done this afternoon.  [Senator Pete] Domenici also expressed his concern about the consequences of waiting. And suddenly we get all this absurd faux outrage from Dems about a “rush to judgment” and being “stampeded.”  The Senate has had the same amount of time to read the bill that the House has, and they’re voting right now. But here’s what we get from Democrat senators: 
Reid: “I think it’s inappropriate to charge into this without having the opportunity to work on it.” 
Leahy: “Let’s not be stampeded into things without even reading it.” He then bizarrely (and obsessively) compared this to the DOJ investigations about the US attorney firings. 
Salazar: “I think the majority leader is correct in terms of wanting us to take the time to review this legislation, which none of us have yet seen, to view it into — through Tuesday . . . .”
 
So are they going to take responsibility if something bad happens in the markets tomorrow?

One wonders how voters will react on Election Day — when they have thier  third quarter 401K statements in hand and wonder what the Democrats have been doing with their majority.

Meanwhile the House is ten votes short of passage and the Dow is down over 400 points. Welcome to the deluge of political irresponsibility and financial panic. Not a pretty sight.
 

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They Like Us Down There

For those who fret endlessly about American popularity in other countries, there is good news in this survey of Australian opinion just released by the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney, a nonpartisan think tank. From the report summary:

The perceived overall importance of the ANZUS alliance reached its highest level since the Lowy Institute Poll began in 2005. Trust in the United States has also bounced back. In 2006, of four powers, the United States ranked near equal last with China in terms of overall trust to act responsibly in the world. This year it jumped to equal first place with Japan.

Not all the findings are as encouraging. The summary goes on to note:

However, the United States’ influence in the world is perceived negatively by a majority of Australians. Almost two-thirds also continue to say Australia takes too much notice of the views of the United States in our foreign policy.

But that skepticism about the United States is more than balanced by increasing Aussie wariness of China, whose “soft power” offensive has been much lauded by those critical of Bush administration deficiencies in this regard. The report finds that

trust in China has dropped since 2006 and a slim majority of Australians are in favour of joining with other countries to limit China’s influence. Only about a third of Australians agreed that Australia’s interests would not be harmed if China gained more power and influence and that Australia is doing enough to pressure China on human rights. Around a third viewed the development of China as a world power as a critical threat to Australia’s vital interests in the next 10 years, a nine-point rise since 2006.

Perhaps it will not take the coming of The One to change America’s reputation, after all, even if the vast majority of Aussies, like most other foreigners, favor his candidacy. My take is that U.S. standing in the world took a major hit after the invasion of Iraq-not so much because of the decision to invade, unpopular though that was, but because the chaos which followed the invasion. That prevented the U.S. image from bouncing back as it did after Vietnam, another unpopular war. But now that Iraq is looking better, so is America, and that process will continue whoever wins in November, barring any major new screw-ups-like, say, a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq that could destabilize the region again.

For those who fret endlessly about American popularity in other countries, there is good news in this survey of Australian opinion just released by the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney, a nonpartisan think tank. From the report summary:

The perceived overall importance of the ANZUS alliance reached its highest level since the Lowy Institute Poll began in 2005. Trust in the United States has also bounced back. In 2006, of four powers, the United States ranked near equal last with China in terms of overall trust to act responsibly in the world. This year it jumped to equal first place with Japan.

Not all the findings are as encouraging. The summary goes on to note:

However, the United States’ influence in the world is perceived negatively by a majority of Australians. Almost two-thirds also continue to say Australia takes too much notice of the views of the United States in our foreign policy.

But that skepticism about the United States is more than balanced by increasing Aussie wariness of China, whose “soft power” offensive has been much lauded by those critical of Bush administration deficiencies in this regard. The report finds that

trust in China has dropped since 2006 and a slim majority of Australians are in favour of joining with other countries to limit China’s influence. Only about a third of Australians agreed that Australia’s interests would not be harmed if China gained more power and influence and that Australia is doing enough to pressure China on human rights. Around a third viewed the development of China as a world power as a critical threat to Australia’s vital interests in the next 10 years, a nine-point rise since 2006.

Perhaps it will not take the coming of The One to change America’s reputation, after all, even if the vast majority of Aussies, like most other foreigners, favor his candidacy. My take is that U.S. standing in the world took a major hit after the invasion of Iraq-not so much because of the decision to invade, unpopular though that was, but because the chaos which followed the invasion. That prevented the U.S. image from bouncing back as it did after Vietnam, another unpopular war. But now that Iraq is looking better, so is America, and that process will continue whoever wins in November, barring any major new screw-ups-like, say, a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq that could destabilize the region again.

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Quizzing the Candidates

Sarah Palin’s perfectly fine interview with Charlie Gibson and her somewhat disastrous one with Katie Couric are being cited as evidence of the “frightening” nature of John McCain’s “irresponsible” pick. While critics pretend that John McCain pulled Palin’s name from a hat, it’s worth pointing out the uselessness of these quiz show-type interviews.

In 1999, Andy Hiller asked George W. Bush to name the leaders of Pakistan, India, Chechnya, and Taiwan. Bush was only able to give a partial answer on the Taiwan question, drawing complete blanks on all the others.

As a predictive measure this test was a big bust. Bush may have been familiar with President Lee Teng-hui, but such familiarity didn’t stop the U.S. from consistently failing, over the course of Bush’s presidency, to give Taiwan the proper support in its struggles with China. And after 9/11, it didn’t really matter what name came after the title President Gen. in Pakistan. Whoever it was, they were going to be pressed to help fight extremists and they would be sure to fail for fear of their lives. If there is a spot on the globe where the U.S. holds less sway than in Chechnya, I’m unaware of it. As an Islamist tangle subsumed by a Russian nightmare, Chechnya has simply been the recipient of vast American humanitarian aid for years. As for India, Bush’s policies in the subcontinent are nothing less than an unqualified success. Bilateral trade deals and energy deals have inspired unprecedented allegiance from this critical ally. Bush didn’t know Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s name, but Indians revere the name George W. Bush.

Nine years later, the question that still stumps me is: who exactly is Andy Hiller?

Sarah Palin’s perfectly fine interview with Charlie Gibson and her somewhat disastrous one with Katie Couric are being cited as evidence of the “frightening” nature of John McCain’s “irresponsible” pick. While critics pretend that John McCain pulled Palin’s name from a hat, it’s worth pointing out the uselessness of these quiz show-type interviews.

In 1999, Andy Hiller asked George W. Bush to name the leaders of Pakistan, India, Chechnya, and Taiwan. Bush was only able to give a partial answer on the Taiwan question, drawing complete blanks on all the others.

As a predictive measure this test was a big bust. Bush may have been familiar with President Lee Teng-hui, but such familiarity didn’t stop the U.S. from consistently failing, over the course of Bush’s presidency, to give Taiwan the proper support in its struggles with China. And after 9/11, it didn’t really matter what name came after the title President Gen. in Pakistan. Whoever it was, they were going to be pressed to help fight extremists and they would be sure to fail for fear of their lives. If there is a spot on the globe where the U.S. holds less sway than in Chechnya, I’m unaware of it. As an Islamist tangle subsumed by a Russian nightmare, Chechnya has simply been the recipient of vast American humanitarian aid for years. As for India, Bush’s policies in the subcontinent are nothing less than an unqualified success. Bilateral trade deals and energy deals have inspired unprecedented allegiance from this critical ally. Bush didn’t know Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s name, but Indians revere the name George W. Bush.

Nine years later, the question that still stumps me is: who exactly is Andy Hiller?

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Some Thoughts on Where Things Stand

1. Friday’s debate was one of the better presidential debates we’ve seen. Both Senators McCain and Obama did well. McCain was sharp and often on the offense, particularly when it came to national security issues. Concerns that he would come across as unprepared, haltering, or old didn’t materialize; in fact, he was the opposite. He was in many respects a commanding presence.

Senator Obama was more often on the defensive, but we saw what an effective counter-puncher he is. He is impossible to fluster and came across to many viewers as temperate, steady, and knowledgeable. As one McCain supporter I know wrote me in an e-mail, “I was reassured by Obama’s debate performance in some ways. I can easily imagine him as President.”

That impression is the most damaging one for McCain – and one he frankly doesn’t have a lot of control over. McCain did well in the debate; but so did Obama. And since the main task of Obama is to reassure the public that he’s not a risky choice, the debate helped him more than it helped McCain. And that is showing up in the polls, most of which show a small but significant boost for Obama.

2. The last few weeks have been quite damaging for McCain. For one thing, this period has acted as an unfortunate circuit breaker. Senator McCain came out of his convention with a blast, achieving the first real lead in the polls. That bounce was almost certainly artificial, but it was something to build on. What the crisis in the financial system did was to dramatically shift the election debate onto terrain that is more favorable to Obama.

What compounded the problem is that McCain’s actions during that period – when his early responses seemed all over the lot and later, when his gamble to temporarily halt his campaign and postpone the debate if no deal was reached didn’t work – have damaged him further. It also seemed to me that McCain’s criticism of SEC Chairman Christopher Cox was symptomatic of a larger failure, which was to explain to voters the key role Democrats played in blocking necessary reforms, backed by both McCain and President Bush, of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. This allowed the history of the crisis to be presented in a way that was very incomplete and far too generous to Democrats.

That McCain tried a game-changing tactic was bold and in some ways impressive. He appears to have played an important role in bringing House Republicans into the negotiations. Yet the acid test on these things is whether they work or not — and in this instance, given how things unfolded, the McCain campaign gambled and lost. As a top McCain aide told the Washington Post, “Thursday was a disaster. The vision on Wednesday did not play out as we thought.”

On Wednesday, when McCain announced his gambit, it appeared to many people as if it might work to his advantage (showing him as a forceful, decisive leader). Twenty-four hours later, having walked into a snare set by Democrats (who leaked word that a bail-out deal was imminent when it clearly was not, thereby making McCain look to be a disruptive force), things looked quite different. The McCain campaign was forced to engage in damage control and eventually back down from its declaration that they would not attend the debate absent a deal.

3. What helps a campaign immeasurably is when the charge it makes seems to fit the person against whom the charge is being made. So, for example, the Bush strategy in 2004 to make John Kerry appear to be a flip-flopper and haughty was aided by the fact that it played to a pre-existing (and largely accurate) view of Kerry.

The difficulty Senator Obama presents is that his demeanor and countenance seem to act as a shield against the charge that he is, in terms of his policies and political philosophy, quite liberal and on the extreme end of the political spectrum. Senator Obama’s voting record certainly shows that to be the case. But the way he carries himself — combined with his post-primary, head-snapping shifts in policy — are designed to make Obama appear as a centrist. I don’t for a moment believe he is; Obama’s political career, taken in its totality, makes him the most liberal presidential candidate since George McGovern. But Obama has shown himself to be a nimble candidate, against whom it is difficult to land clean blows.

In addition, Obama came across in the debate as mostly agreeable, repeatedly saying “I agree with John” on this or that. I think that was an effective tactic; it gave Obama the patina of being bipartisan and a man ever in search of common ground. In fact, Obama has complied, in the words of Joshua Muravchik, “one of the most partisan of all voting records.” But once again, his style and manner send a different signal.

Potentially, the most lethal political charge against Obama is that he is a deeply liberal/ideological figure who has associated with radical individuals in order to advance his political career. The question is whether Obama’s countenance and personal style make those charges seem far-fetched; or whether the McCain campaign can convince voters that Obama’s appeal is at its core fraudulent and his new-found centrism a mirage.

I have some sympathy with the task faced by Team McCain; telling a campaign what needs to be done is much easier than actually carrying it out. That’s why it would be useful for more commentators to actually have had some experience in governing and political campaigns, which tend to be more complicated and difficult than pontificating.

4. Adding to McCain’s problems is the altitude that Sarah Palin has lost. Her selection, and especially her nomination speech, electrified many conservatives, as well as independent women. She came across as a fresh new face, charming and anti-political, a very popular governor and a reformer. But for a variety of reasons, including cultural ones, the media turned on her and began a systematic effort to portray her in the worst possible light. It is undeniable that many members of the MSM took an instant dislike to her, or at least to what they took her to embody. And so they went after her with particular ferocity.

At the same time, we need to recognize that it’s perfectly legitimate to ask tough questions of Palin, and it’s perfectly appropriate to expect her to answer them in a way that is informed, fluent, and confident. She hasn’t always done that, particularly in her uneven interview with Charles Gibson and a worse one with CBS’s Katie Couric. It may be we’re seeing Palin in the midst of a learning curve; if so, it better be complete by Thursday night, when she debates Senator Biden (it should help Palin that Biden’s record is a target-rich environment, including in his supposed area of specialty, national security; see this op-ed I wrote in the Wall Street Journal).

It’s worth bearing in mind that in her brief political career, Palin has shown herself to be smart and tough, an effective communicator, and extremely popular with the voters of Alaska. And under enormous pressure, she delivered an excellent convention speech. Those are all important qualities for a political candidate, as is basic good judgment. Palin has the capacity to rise to the occasion. At the same time, it is easier to deliver a speech to an overwhelmingly supportive audience than it is to participate in a debate that may influence the outcome of a presidential election. A lot is on the line for both Palin and McCain on Thursday; she needs to shine.

5. The truth is that Senator McCain, facing a considerable uphill struggle, has made the race closer than it ought to be, given all the advantages Democrats have this year. And one thing this campaign has taught us is that a new dynamic can be injected in the blink of an eye. We still have five weeks before the election. But then again, we only have five weeks to go before the election. And the task Senator McCain faces is to alter, in some fundamental way, the trajectory of the race. Friday’s debate certainly didn’t do that; if anything, his job is now harder.

John McCain has faced far more difficult challenges in his life than he does now. But politically speaking, the race, never an easy one, looks considerably more difficult. Senator McCain can still prevail, but at this point, he may need an assist from outside events or from Barack Obama. And one thing Senator Obama has shown is that, for whatever flaws he has, he doesn’t make many glaring, stupid, and unforced errors. He’s hard to knock off stride. Obama and his team, while certainly not flawless, have run a very impressive campaign for 20 months. To hope they’ll badly slip up in the last five weeks is asking for a lot. As we’ve seen this year, a lot can happen, including in a short period of time. But for McCain it needs to happen, and soon.

1. Friday’s debate was one of the better presidential debates we’ve seen. Both Senators McCain and Obama did well. McCain was sharp and often on the offense, particularly when it came to national security issues. Concerns that he would come across as unprepared, haltering, or old didn’t materialize; in fact, he was the opposite. He was in many respects a commanding presence.

Senator Obama was more often on the defensive, but we saw what an effective counter-puncher he is. He is impossible to fluster and came across to many viewers as temperate, steady, and knowledgeable. As one McCain supporter I know wrote me in an e-mail, “I was reassured by Obama’s debate performance in some ways. I can easily imagine him as President.”

That impression is the most damaging one for McCain – and one he frankly doesn’t have a lot of control over. McCain did well in the debate; but so did Obama. And since the main task of Obama is to reassure the public that he’s not a risky choice, the debate helped him more than it helped McCain. And that is showing up in the polls, most of which show a small but significant boost for Obama.

2. The last few weeks have been quite damaging for McCain. For one thing, this period has acted as an unfortunate circuit breaker. Senator McCain came out of his convention with a blast, achieving the first real lead in the polls. That bounce was almost certainly artificial, but it was something to build on. What the crisis in the financial system did was to dramatically shift the election debate onto terrain that is more favorable to Obama.

What compounded the problem is that McCain’s actions during that period – when his early responses seemed all over the lot and later, when his gamble to temporarily halt his campaign and postpone the debate if no deal was reached didn’t work – have damaged him further. It also seemed to me that McCain’s criticism of SEC Chairman Christopher Cox was symptomatic of a larger failure, which was to explain to voters the key role Democrats played in blocking necessary reforms, backed by both McCain and President Bush, of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. This allowed the history of the crisis to be presented in a way that was very incomplete and far too generous to Democrats.

That McCain tried a game-changing tactic was bold and in some ways impressive. He appears to have played an important role in bringing House Republicans into the negotiations. Yet the acid test on these things is whether they work or not — and in this instance, given how things unfolded, the McCain campaign gambled and lost. As a top McCain aide told the Washington Post, “Thursday was a disaster. The vision on Wednesday did not play out as we thought.”

On Wednesday, when McCain announced his gambit, it appeared to many people as if it might work to his advantage (showing him as a forceful, decisive leader). Twenty-four hours later, having walked into a snare set by Democrats (who leaked word that a bail-out deal was imminent when it clearly was not, thereby making McCain look to be a disruptive force), things looked quite different. The McCain campaign was forced to engage in damage control and eventually back down from its declaration that they would not attend the debate absent a deal.

3. What helps a campaign immeasurably is when the charge it makes seems to fit the person against whom the charge is being made. So, for example, the Bush strategy in 2004 to make John Kerry appear to be a flip-flopper and haughty was aided by the fact that it played to a pre-existing (and largely accurate) view of Kerry.

The difficulty Senator Obama presents is that his demeanor and countenance seem to act as a shield against the charge that he is, in terms of his policies and political philosophy, quite liberal and on the extreme end of the political spectrum. Senator Obama’s voting record certainly shows that to be the case. But the way he carries himself — combined with his post-primary, head-snapping shifts in policy — are designed to make Obama appear as a centrist. I don’t for a moment believe he is; Obama’s political career, taken in its totality, makes him the most liberal presidential candidate since George McGovern. But Obama has shown himself to be a nimble candidate, against whom it is difficult to land clean blows.

In addition, Obama came across in the debate as mostly agreeable, repeatedly saying “I agree with John” on this or that. I think that was an effective tactic; it gave Obama the patina of being bipartisan and a man ever in search of common ground. In fact, Obama has complied, in the words of Joshua Muravchik, “one of the most partisan of all voting records.” But once again, his style and manner send a different signal.

Potentially, the most lethal political charge against Obama is that he is a deeply liberal/ideological figure who has associated with radical individuals in order to advance his political career. The question is whether Obama’s countenance and personal style make those charges seem far-fetched; or whether the McCain campaign can convince voters that Obama’s appeal is at its core fraudulent and his new-found centrism a mirage.

I have some sympathy with the task faced by Team McCain; telling a campaign what needs to be done is much easier than actually carrying it out. That’s why it would be useful for more commentators to actually have had some experience in governing and political campaigns, which tend to be more complicated and difficult than pontificating.

4. Adding to McCain’s problems is the altitude that Sarah Palin has lost. Her selection, and especially her nomination speech, electrified many conservatives, as well as independent women. She came across as a fresh new face, charming and anti-political, a very popular governor and a reformer. But for a variety of reasons, including cultural ones, the media turned on her and began a systematic effort to portray her in the worst possible light. It is undeniable that many members of the MSM took an instant dislike to her, or at least to what they took her to embody. And so they went after her with particular ferocity.

At the same time, we need to recognize that it’s perfectly legitimate to ask tough questions of Palin, and it’s perfectly appropriate to expect her to answer them in a way that is informed, fluent, and confident. She hasn’t always done that, particularly in her uneven interview with Charles Gibson and a worse one with CBS’s Katie Couric. It may be we’re seeing Palin in the midst of a learning curve; if so, it better be complete by Thursday night, when she debates Senator Biden (it should help Palin that Biden’s record is a target-rich environment, including in his supposed area of specialty, national security; see this op-ed I wrote in the Wall Street Journal).

It’s worth bearing in mind that in her brief political career, Palin has shown herself to be smart and tough, an effective communicator, and extremely popular with the voters of Alaska. And under enormous pressure, she delivered an excellent convention speech. Those are all important qualities for a political candidate, as is basic good judgment. Palin has the capacity to rise to the occasion. At the same time, it is easier to deliver a speech to an overwhelmingly supportive audience than it is to participate in a debate that may influence the outcome of a presidential election. A lot is on the line for both Palin and McCain on Thursday; she needs to shine.

5. The truth is that Senator McCain, facing a considerable uphill struggle, has made the race closer than it ought to be, given all the advantages Democrats have this year. And one thing this campaign has taught us is that a new dynamic can be injected in the blink of an eye. We still have five weeks before the election. But then again, we only have five weeks to go before the election. And the task Senator McCain faces is to alter, in some fundamental way, the trajectory of the race. Friday’s debate certainly didn’t do that; if anything, his job is now harder.

John McCain has faced far more difficult challenges in his life than he does now. But politically speaking, the race, never an easy one, looks considerably more difficult. Senator McCain can still prevail, but at this point, he may need an assist from outside events or from Barack Obama. And one thing Senator Obama has shown is that, for whatever flaws he has, he doesn’t make many glaring, stupid, and unforced errors. He’s hard to knock off stride. Obama and his team, while certainly not flawless, have run a very impressive campaign for 20 months. To hope they’ll badly slip up in the last five weeks is asking for a lot. As we’ve seen this year, a lot can happen, including in a short period of time. But for McCain it needs to happen, and soon.

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The Drumbeat Continues

The move to censure and/or banish Senator Joe Lieberman from the Democratic Party is well underway. The latest rhetorical outrage comes from Ken Dixon of the Connecticut Post, who begins his indictment with this:

Joe Lieberman is a politician without a state. The long-time Democrat, now a party of one who is accused of crimes against the Democratic State Central Committee, thinks he transcends state lines. In reality, he’s now the senator from John McCain — and Israel.

Lieberman’s Communications Director Marshall Wittmann writes in response that the bolded comment

was an outrageous anti-Semitic slur unworthy of being published in any honorable newspaper.  Disagreeing about policies is part of a healthy democratic debate, but playing the old anti-Semitic canard of dual loyalty and attacking someone because of their Jewish religion is absolutely disgraceful. From the Dreyfus Case in France in the 1890s to purges of Jews in the Soviet Union, the dual loyalty charge has been used by anti-Semitic bigots to try to oppress and intimidate the Jewish Community. It was terrible to see your paper join this ignoble tradition, and for it your newspaper owes an apology to Senator Lieberman, to the Jewish community, and to all fair-minded citizens of Connecticut.

But, as we have come to see, this is increasingly standard fare for blogosphere and for MSM outlets that wade through the swamp of such rhetoric.

This does raise an interesting question. If Barack Obama prevails on Election Day, rejects the “J Street” agenda and employs obvious proponents of a a robust alliance with Israel (e.g. Dennis Ross) to continue essentially the same approach of the second Bush term, what then? (Obama does, after all, have a habit of hanging his frenzied netroot base out to dry –on Iran sanctions, on Georgia’s admission to NATO, etc.) Where will the anger and bile go?

The move to censure and/or banish Senator Joe Lieberman from the Democratic Party is well underway. The latest rhetorical outrage comes from Ken Dixon of the Connecticut Post, who begins his indictment with this:

Joe Lieberman is a politician without a state. The long-time Democrat, now a party of one who is accused of crimes against the Democratic State Central Committee, thinks he transcends state lines. In reality, he’s now the senator from John McCain — and Israel.

Lieberman’s Communications Director Marshall Wittmann writes in response that the bolded comment

was an outrageous anti-Semitic slur unworthy of being published in any honorable newspaper.  Disagreeing about policies is part of a healthy democratic debate, but playing the old anti-Semitic canard of dual loyalty and attacking someone because of their Jewish religion is absolutely disgraceful. From the Dreyfus Case in France in the 1890s to purges of Jews in the Soviet Union, the dual loyalty charge has been used by anti-Semitic bigots to try to oppress and intimidate the Jewish Community. It was terrible to see your paper join this ignoble tradition, and for it your newspaper owes an apology to Senator Lieberman, to the Jewish community, and to all fair-minded citizens of Connecticut.

But, as we have come to see, this is increasingly standard fare for blogosphere and for MSM outlets that wade through the swamp of such rhetoric.

This does raise an interesting question. If Barack Obama prevails on Election Day, rejects the “J Street” agenda and employs obvious proponents of a a robust alliance with Israel (e.g. Dennis Ross) to continue essentially the same approach of the second Bush term, what then? (Obama does, after all, have a habit of hanging his frenzied netroot base out to dry –on Iran sanctions, on Georgia’s admission to NATO, etc.) Where will the anger and bile go?

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Whose Downfall, Again?

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s fiery speech at the UN was not just a showcase of his dark and vicious hatred for the Jews. It was also an indictment of the existing international order that reflects Mad-Jad’s worldview: not just anti-Zionist, anti-Semitic, and anti-American, but also anti-globalization, anti-capitalist and anti-Western. Mad-Jad, no doubt, looked around and saw the signs of his hopes nearing fulfillment: The markets are crumbling, Israel’s leadership is in turmoil, the West is divided on how to confront Iran, Russia is on Iran’s side, and America is paralyzed by a financial crisis, a presidential election and a war in Iraq.

One problem with this vision? Reality. According to the latest figures on the state of Iran’s economy, Iran’s food prices have jumped 50% in September. Add to this a galloping inflation of almost 28%, a widespread unemployment (about 20%) and 10% of the workforce living under the poverty line and you have the perfect recipe for disaster. Iran’s economy is sustainable only thanks to the continuing oil windfall. Despite the surplus, the idiotic management of the economy by Ahmadinejad is to blame for mounting prices, rising poverty and a shortage of jobs. No regime can be toppled by hunger alone – as long as it controls the repressive apparatus it can ride the wave of discontent, and Iran is probably no different. But its leaders should ponder on the irony of the man they put inside the presidential palace to run their economy going to the UN to foretell the West’s downfall.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s fiery speech at the UN was not just a showcase of his dark and vicious hatred for the Jews. It was also an indictment of the existing international order that reflects Mad-Jad’s worldview: not just anti-Zionist, anti-Semitic, and anti-American, but also anti-globalization, anti-capitalist and anti-Western. Mad-Jad, no doubt, looked around and saw the signs of his hopes nearing fulfillment: The markets are crumbling, Israel’s leadership is in turmoil, the West is divided on how to confront Iran, Russia is on Iran’s side, and America is paralyzed by a financial crisis, a presidential election and a war in Iraq.

One problem with this vision? Reality. According to the latest figures on the state of Iran’s economy, Iran’s food prices have jumped 50% in September. Add to this a galloping inflation of almost 28%, a widespread unemployment (about 20%) and 10% of the workforce living under the poverty line and you have the perfect recipe for disaster. Iran’s economy is sustainable only thanks to the continuing oil windfall. Despite the surplus, the idiotic management of the economy by Ahmadinejad is to blame for mounting prices, rising poverty and a shortage of jobs. No regime can be toppled by hunger alone – as long as it controls the repressive apparatus it can ride the wave of discontent, and Iran is probably no different. But its leaders should ponder on the irony of the man they put inside the presidential palace to run their economy going to the UN to foretell the West’s downfall.

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Bad News for Europhiles

Austrian elections went the worst possible way. First, the far-right Freedom Party won 18% and its sister party, the breakaway faction led by Carinthian governor Jorg Haider won 11%. The two traditional mainstream parties – Social Democrats (30%) and Christian Democrats (26%) will still form a coalition probably – but the PM designate, Social Democratic leader Werner Faymann, is also a strong Euro-sceptic. Chances are, this will be an additional slow down to EU enlargement (not necessarily a bad thing), a further obstacle to the Lisbon Treaty (also not terribly bad) and a boost to the more racist elements of the anti-immigration voices in Europe (bad).

Immigration remains a challenge for European societies, where huge numbers of immigrants have not been welcome by effective integration policies. The difficulty in absorbing foreign workers and asylum seekers has been coupled with a politically correct language of denial by ruling elites about the undeniable challenges posed by fast immigration and the need to rethink our overall policies in Europe. The result has been a shift of popular support to the extreme right – Austria is just the latest example.

Perhaps European integrationists will heed this call – after it came repeatedly elsewhere, such as Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Denmark. Or perhaps they will keep on burying their heads in the sand, pretend the problem is not there, and pretend that progressive rhetoric about the brotherhood of mankind will defeat racism. It will not, and it is a recurring theme of European politics that our moderate centres give away to radical extremists out of their lack of courage and resolve.

Austrian elections went the worst possible way. First, the far-right Freedom Party won 18% and its sister party, the breakaway faction led by Carinthian governor Jorg Haider won 11%. The two traditional mainstream parties – Social Democrats (30%) and Christian Democrats (26%) will still form a coalition probably – but the PM designate, Social Democratic leader Werner Faymann, is also a strong Euro-sceptic. Chances are, this will be an additional slow down to EU enlargement (not necessarily a bad thing), a further obstacle to the Lisbon Treaty (also not terribly bad) and a boost to the more racist elements of the anti-immigration voices in Europe (bad).

Immigration remains a challenge for European societies, where huge numbers of immigrants have not been welcome by effective integration policies. The difficulty in absorbing foreign workers and asylum seekers has been coupled with a politically correct language of denial by ruling elites about the undeniable challenges posed by fast immigration and the need to rethink our overall policies in Europe. The result has been a shift of popular support to the extreme right – Austria is just the latest example.

Perhaps European integrationists will heed this call – after it came repeatedly elsewhere, such as Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Denmark. Or perhaps they will keep on burying their heads in the sand, pretend the problem is not there, and pretend that progressive rhetoric about the brotherhood of mankind will defeat racism. It will not, and it is a recurring theme of European politics that our moderate centres give away to radical extremists out of their lack of courage and resolve.

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Post-Sobering

In the Australian, Greg Sheridan says what John McCain could not say during Friday’s debate: Iran is “a threat bigger than Wall Street.” Sheridan previews a soon-to-be released bipartisan report on Iran written mostly by Middle East expert Michael Rubin. The term “sobering” is really no longer up to the task of describing the predicament we’re in with the mullahs. From the report:

A nuclear ready or nuclear-armed Islamic Republic ruled by the clerical regime could threaten the Persian Gulf region and its vast energy resources, spark nuclear proliferation throughout the Middle East, inject additional volatility into global energy markets, embolden extremists in the region and destabilise states such as Saudi Arabia and others in the region, provide nuclear technology to other radical regimes and terrorists (although Iran might hesitate to share traceable nuclear technology), and seek to make good on its threats to eradicate Israel.

The threat posed by the Islamic Republic is not only direct Iranian action but also aggression committed by proxy. Iran remains the world’s most active state sponsor of terrorism, proving its reach from Buenos Aires to Baghdad.

Good luck finding “common ground” for discussions with that lot. As Sheridan points out, we’ve been fooling ourselves about the effectiveness of diplomacy and sanctions. The upcoming report

states quite plainly that no approach can work on Iran that is not much, much tougher on the economic sanctions front, so that the cost to Iran of continuing to pursue nuclear weapons becomes too great, while the incentives of normalisation would become correspondingly more attractive to Tehran. But the report makes it clear that tougher sanctions cannot possibly work without the full co-operation and enthusiastic implementation by not only the US but the European Union, Russia, China and the other Persian Gulf states.

This is simply not happening. As is, Europe finds itself unable to stick to the sanctions they’ve signed on for. Germany can’t resist doing oil business with Tehran and exports from all over the EU to Iran have gone up since sanctions were “imposed.” Russia is thrilled about the prospect of a U.S. attack on Iran. As Sheridan notes, the condemnation of the global community will prevent the U.S. from lecturing Moscow about human rights violations and regional hegemony, and energy prices will sky-rocket making Russia’s energy oligarchy that much richer. Of course, as Sheridan writes, “And even if that international unity is achieved and the strategy implemented, Iran’s rulers may decide to go ahead with their nuclear weapons ambitions anyway.” Given the regime’s history and its messianic mission, the smart money is on changing that “may” to a “will.”

In the Australian, Greg Sheridan says what John McCain could not say during Friday’s debate: Iran is “a threat bigger than Wall Street.” Sheridan previews a soon-to-be released bipartisan report on Iran written mostly by Middle East expert Michael Rubin. The term “sobering” is really no longer up to the task of describing the predicament we’re in with the mullahs. From the report:

A nuclear ready or nuclear-armed Islamic Republic ruled by the clerical regime could threaten the Persian Gulf region and its vast energy resources, spark nuclear proliferation throughout the Middle East, inject additional volatility into global energy markets, embolden extremists in the region and destabilise states such as Saudi Arabia and others in the region, provide nuclear technology to other radical regimes and terrorists (although Iran might hesitate to share traceable nuclear technology), and seek to make good on its threats to eradicate Israel.

The threat posed by the Islamic Republic is not only direct Iranian action but also aggression committed by proxy. Iran remains the world’s most active state sponsor of terrorism, proving its reach from Buenos Aires to Baghdad.

Good luck finding “common ground” for discussions with that lot. As Sheridan points out, we’ve been fooling ourselves about the effectiveness of diplomacy and sanctions. The upcoming report

states quite plainly that no approach can work on Iran that is not much, much tougher on the economic sanctions front, so that the cost to Iran of continuing to pursue nuclear weapons becomes too great, while the incentives of normalisation would become correspondingly more attractive to Tehran. But the report makes it clear that tougher sanctions cannot possibly work without the full co-operation and enthusiastic implementation by not only the US but the European Union, Russia, China and the other Persian Gulf states.

This is simply not happening. As is, Europe finds itself unable to stick to the sanctions they’ve signed on for. Germany can’t resist doing oil business with Tehran and exports from all over the EU to Iran have gone up since sanctions were “imposed.” Russia is thrilled about the prospect of a U.S. attack on Iran. As Sheridan notes, the condemnation of the global community will prevent the U.S. from lecturing Moscow about human rights violations and regional hegemony, and energy prices will sky-rocket making Russia’s energy oligarchy that much richer. Of course, as Sheridan writes, “And even if that international unity is achieved and the strategy implemented, Iran’s rulers may decide to go ahead with their nuclear weapons ambitions anyway.” Given the regime’s history and its messianic mission, the smart money is on changing that “may” to a “will.”

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Re: Is the U.S. Helping Israel Prepare for War?

Blogging on the announced US permanent deployment of a radar station in the Negev, Abe Greenwald correctly notes that it is not necessarily just a case of the U.S. helping Israel prepare for war but also, possibly, a case of the US telling Israel to show restraint while sending the Iranians the clear message that Israel may be unleashed, sooner or later. I agree with Abe that this may be the case. But knowing that the U.S. wants to reassure Israel and at the same time restrain it does not address another concern: the U.S., once it has deployed radar to monitor incoming threats, can also use it to monitor outgoing activities. It may be an additional layer of defensive tools for Israel – but it could also be a warning to the Jewish state no less than to the Iranians: we are now watching all that you are doing – please don’t surprise us with some unexpected and rash action. We’ll know about it before you’d like us to. And that is not exactly the kindest message from ally to ally.

Blogging on the announced US permanent deployment of a radar station in the Negev, Abe Greenwald correctly notes that it is not necessarily just a case of the U.S. helping Israel prepare for war but also, possibly, a case of the US telling Israel to show restraint while sending the Iranians the clear message that Israel may be unleashed, sooner or later. I agree with Abe that this may be the case. But knowing that the U.S. wants to reassure Israel and at the same time restrain it does not address another concern: the U.S., once it has deployed radar to monitor incoming threats, can also use it to monitor outgoing activities. It may be an additional layer of defensive tools for Israel – but it could also be a warning to the Jewish state no less than to the Iranians: we are now watching all that you are doing – please don’t surprise us with some unexpected and rash action. We’ll know about it before you’d like us to. And that is not exactly the kindest message from ally to ally.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Brace yourself : CNN does an investigative piece on Joe Biden’s two votes for the Bridge for Nowhere and 116 earmarks this year. Can’t wait for the New York Times to do its front page piece. I know — it’ll run right after the above-the-fold story “Why Was Obama Put On The Annenberg Board By A Former Terrorist?” (The latter is more likely to be in a 527 group’s ad which will promptly be denounced as scurrilous by all the outlets that never investigated the story.)

I agree that Biden should ignore Sarah Palin at the debate — but how long can he possibly control himself?

Jonathan Martin is on the money: McCain’s best argument on the bailout negotiations is that he’s a doer and got in the mix while Obama “phoned it in.” Aren’t the MSM and Americans always complaining about a disengaged President?

Fred Barnes spots the same dichotomy.

There is good reason why the Obama camp wants Stanley Kurtz to shut up. Why the Clintons didn’t do this legwork remains a mystery to me –did they figure Democratic primary voters really would be charmed by Barack Obama’s relationship with an anti-American radical? Not a bad bet, come to think of it.

Is the MSM finally getting interested in the anti-speech Obama thuggery? Really, it should be something that interests them.

And despite their best efforts this story is getting out.

You really can’t tell the difference between Bill Clinton in real life (making clear that McCain is a great man while Obama merely has “personal accomplishments”) and Darrell Hammond in this week’s Saturday Night Live skit. It is funny that Clinton for once can’t bring himself to lie.

Fire Paulson! No vote for the bill! The luxury of being a pundit. (That budget stand-off with Bill Clinton never worked out, did it?)

A helpful summary of what the House GOP accomplished. My own take: their biggest “prize” which was an insurance plan is the least significant of their accomplishments (it is in the bill, but in a watered-down form). But sometimes in negotiations you have to insist on something really big , important and totally unacceptable to get smaller, more meaningful things as a consolation. That’s why they call it a negotiation.

The Wall Street Journal gives them some credit for just these “smaller” items: “Thanks to the House GOP’s intervention, the Paulson plan is also better than it would have been. Republicans helped to eliminate the Barney Frank-Chris Dodd slush fund for liberal housing lobbies; a plank to let judges shield deadbeat homeowners from bankruptcy laws; and a ploy to stack bank boards with union members.”

NBC can’t catch a break — when they bend over to be fair to McCain they get bashed for displaying a guilty conscience. Perhaps NBC should just run a banner at the bottom : “We’re not the same as the nuts on the cable side.” Really, there is a difference.

Any Democrat in a competitive race will need to do what Rep. Mark Udall (running for Senate) did — call for Charlie Rangel to step down. He won’t and he remains a useful target for the GOP.

Given these poll number, why is McCain spending time in Iowa?

Brace yourself : CNN does an investigative piece on Joe Biden’s two votes for the Bridge for Nowhere and 116 earmarks this year. Can’t wait for the New York Times to do its front page piece. I know — it’ll run right after the above-the-fold story “Why Was Obama Put On The Annenberg Board By A Former Terrorist?” (The latter is more likely to be in a 527 group’s ad which will promptly be denounced as scurrilous by all the outlets that never investigated the story.)

I agree that Biden should ignore Sarah Palin at the debate — but how long can he possibly control himself?

Jonathan Martin is on the money: McCain’s best argument on the bailout negotiations is that he’s a doer and got in the mix while Obama “phoned it in.” Aren’t the MSM and Americans always complaining about a disengaged President?

Fred Barnes spots the same dichotomy.

There is good reason why the Obama camp wants Stanley Kurtz to shut up. Why the Clintons didn’t do this legwork remains a mystery to me –did they figure Democratic primary voters really would be charmed by Barack Obama’s relationship with an anti-American radical? Not a bad bet, come to think of it.

Is the MSM finally getting interested in the anti-speech Obama thuggery? Really, it should be something that interests them.

And despite their best efforts this story is getting out.

You really can’t tell the difference between Bill Clinton in real life (making clear that McCain is a great man while Obama merely has “personal accomplishments”) and Darrell Hammond in this week’s Saturday Night Live skit. It is funny that Clinton for once can’t bring himself to lie.

Fire Paulson! No vote for the bill! The luxury of being a pundit. (That budget stand-off with Bill Clinton never worked out, did it?)

A helpful summary of what the House GOP accomplished. My own take: their biggest “prize” which was an insurance plan is the least significant of their accomplishments (it is in the bill, but in a watered-down form). But sometimes in negotiations you have to insist on something really big , important and totally unacceptable to get smaller, more meaningful things as a consolation. That’s why they call it a negotiation.

The Wall Street Journal gives them some credit for just these “smaller” items: “Thanks to the House GOP’s intervention, the Paulson plan is also better than it would have been. Republicans helped to eliminate the Barney Frank-Chris Dodd slush fund for liberal housing lobbies; a plank to let judges shield deadbeat homeowners from bankruptcy laws; and a ploy to stack bank boards with union members.”

NBC can’t catch a break — when they bend over to be fair to McCain they get bashed for displaying a guilty conscience. Perhaps NBC should just run a banner at the bottom : “We’re not the same as the nuts on the cable side.” Really, there is a difference.

Any Democrat in a competitive race will need to do what Rep. Mark Udall (running for Senate) did — call for Charlie Rangel to step down. He won’t and he remains a useful target for the GOP.

Given these poll number, why is McCain spending time in Iowa?

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Now Olmert’s Dividing Jerusalem

In 1996, Benjamin Netanyahu defeated Shimon Peres in the run for Prime Minister of Israel using a particularly alarmist slogan: “Peres will divide Jerusalem!” Peres denied it, of course, and the Left asserted that this was just another example of Bibi’s incitement of the kind that led to Rabin’s assassination. Thus Peres continued the tradition of Israeli politicians of the left who have consistently hidden the extent of their willingness to compromise on territory for the sake of peace.

But now Ehud Olmert has come out of the closet as a divider of Jerusalem. For eight years he served as mayor of the holy city, using all the right words to defend the unity of Jerusalem, which after 2000 years had, since 1967, finally come under Jewish rule in both its eastern and western halves — halves that were only halved 19 years earlier, during the 1948 War of Independence. Today, however, he has declared that Israelis need to reconcile themselves with giving up both Eastern Jerusalem and the Golan Heights if they really want peace.

What has changed since Olmert was mayor that might lead a reasonable person to change his mind? Have the Palestinians appeared more willing to make peace since Arafat said No at Camp David II eight years ago and launched the Second Intifada? Has the Gaza withdrawal been such a success as to encourage us to try somethi ng similar in Israel’s own capital city? Has the Palestinian regime strengthened such that it is capable of implementing any piece of paper it signs, assuming it wanted to?

Both the phrasing and timing of Olmert’s latest tactic are crucial. By lumping the Golan together with Jerusalem, Olmert is making implicit reference to what these two pieces of land have in common: That as opposed to the West Bank, Gaza, and the Sinai Peninsula, Israel did not merely capture these territories in 1967, it extended civilian rule to them in 1981 under Prime Minister Menachem Begin, which for practical purposes was the same as annexing them. These places were at the time considered a part of the overwhelming Israeli consensus, and today are governed by the same institutions — elected municipal councils, ordinary police — and fall under the same laws as the rest of Israel, whereas the West Bank is to this day seen by Israeli law as occupied.

What Olmert is really saying, in other words, is this: I repudiate not only the Right’s historical approach to the traditional Jewish homeland of Judea and Samaria; I also repudiate what two decades ago was the national consensus. I am no longer a “moderate.” I am now of the Left, what was not too long ago the far Left, on the only issue that has consistently divided Left from Right: The question of how much territory, if any, to give up.

Why now? Because now Olmert is looking at the political abyss, and playing the only card left that can possibly save him: To become the newest of the former hawks who have seen the light, after Rabin, Sharon, and Tzipi Livni; to become the darling of the Left, and by implication of the media as well.

All this posturing, however, does little to address the question of whether dividing the city makes any sense.

On the ground, Jerusalem is not a city you can divide. The Arab neighborhoods of “East” Jerusalem are spotted all over the northern, northwestern, and southern parts of the city. And all across the “East” there are big and bustling Jewish neighborhoods as well. The new rapid-transit system being built will further integrate the city, passing through both Jewish and Arab neighborhoods. New roads and commercial centers have obliterated the old green line, which, unlike in the one separating the West Bank from Israel, no longer appea rs on maps and is scarcely a memory now. My own neighborhood, Ramot, straddles the line. The only way I could tell which side I was on was by looking in the map of Jerusalem in the World Book Encyclopedia.

But there is another reason why Jerusalem is not going to be divided. The Arabs of Eastern Jerusalem are mostly non-citizens, but unlike in the rest of the West Bank, the vast majority carry blue ID cards — just like Jews — which enable them to travel freely, and therefore find work, throughout Jerusalem and Israel. When Israel unilaterally closed the doors to the Gaza Strip, it was called a “siege.” What Palestinian government will have the strength to set up a border cutting East Jerusalem off from West? None, of course: This will be a weak regime, and getting weaker, and any Palestinian government will insist that Israel let the Palestinians keep crossing the border freely, which is something Israel will never do, any more than it allows Jordanians or Egyptians to travel unrestricted in Israel.

In 1996, Benjamin Netanyahu defeated Shimon Peres in the run for Prime Minister of Israel using a particularly alarmist slogan: “Peres will divide Jerusalem!” Peres denied it, of course, and the Left asserted that this was just another example of Bibi’s incitement of the kind that led to Rabin’s assassination. Thus Peres continued the tradition of Israeli politicians of the left who have consistently hidden the extent of their willingness to compromise on territory for the sake of peace.

But now Ehud Olmert has come out of the closet as a divider of Jerusalem. For eight years he served as mayor of the holy city, using all the right words to defend the unity of Jerusalem, which after 2000 years had, since 1967, finally come under Jewish rule in both its eastern and western halves — halves that were only halved 19 years earlier, during the 1948 War of Independence. Today, however, he has declared that Israelis need to reconcile themselves with giving up both Eastern Jerusalem and the Golan Heights if they really want peace.

What has changed since Olmert was mayor that might lead a reasonable person to change his mind? Have the Palestinians appeared more willing to make peace since Arafat said No at Camp David II eight years ago and launched the Second Intifada? Has the Gaza withdrawal been such a success as to encourage us to try somethi ng similar in Israel’s own capital city? Has the Palestinian regime strengthened such that it is capable of implementing any piece of paper it signs, assuming it wanted to?

Both the phrasing and timing of Olmert’s latest tactic are crucial. By lumping the Golan together with Jerusalem, Olmert is making implicit reference to what these two pieces of land have in common: That as opposed to the West Bank, Gaza, and the Sinai Peninsula, Israel did not merely capture these territories in 1967, it extended civilian rule to them in 1981 under Prime Minister Menachem Begin, which for practical purposes was the same as annexing them. These places were at the time considered a part of the overwhelming Israeli consensus, and today are governed by the same institutions — elected municipal councils, ordinary police — and fall under the same laws as the rest of Israel, whereas the West Bank is to this day seen by Israeli law as occupied.

What Olmert is really saying, in other words, is this: I repudiate not only the Right’s historical approach to the traditional Jewish homeland of Judea and Samaria; I also repudiate what two decades ago was the national consensus. I am no longer a “moderate.” I am now of the Left, what was not too long ago the far Left, on the only issue that has consistently divided Left from Right: The question of how much territory, if any, to give up.

Why now? Because now Olmert is looking at the political abyss, and playing the only card left that can possibly save him: To become the newest of the former hawks who have seen the light, after Rabin, Sharon, and Tzipi Livni; to become the darling of the Left, and by implication of the media as well.

All this posturing, however, does little to address the question of whether dividing the city makes any sense.

On the ground, Jerusalem is not a city you can divide. The Arab neighborhoods of “East” Jerusalem are spotted all over the northern, northwestern, and southern parts of the city. And all across the “East” there are big and bustling Jewish neighborhoods as well. The new rapid-transit system being built will further integrate the city, passing through both Jewish and Arab neighborhoods. New roads and commercial centers have obliterated the old green line, which, unlike in the one separating the West Bank from Israel, no longer appea rs on maps and is scarcely a memory now. My own neighborhood, Ramot, straddles the line. The only way I could tell which side I was on was by looking in the map of Jerusalem in the World Book Encyclopedia.

But there is another reason why Jerusalem is not going to be divided. The Arabs of Eastern Jerusalem are mostly non-citizens, but unlike in the rest of the West Bank, the vast majority carry blue ID cards — just like Jews — which enable them to travel freely, and therefore find work, throughout Jerusalem and Israel. When Israel unilaterally closed the doors to the Gaza Strip, it was called a “siege.” What Palestinian government will have the strength to set up a border cutting East Jerusalem off from West? None, of course: This will be a weak regime, and getting weaker, and any Palestinian government will insist that Israel let the Palestinians keep crossing the border freely, which is something Israel will never do, any more than it allows Jordanians or Egyptians to travel unrestricted in Israel.

Read Less

What We Learned

Lindsey Graham does an admirable job of explaining what John McCain did in Washington in this sequence on Fox News Sunday:

GRAHAM: I think it was decisive in regards to the House being involved. John was challenged about four days ago by Harry Reid to say, “If you don’t support this proposal,” the original Paulson proposal that was being tweaked, “there’ll be no Democratic votes for it.” If John McCain doesn’t vote for it, the Democrats won’t.
Two days of hearings go by where it’s just pretty much chaos. John understands this thing is going nowhere. He comes back, and agreement is announced right when he gets back that didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of passing because 20 percent of the profits were going to be given to an organization like ACORN, and there was no insurance component, which…
WALLACE: We should point out ACORN is a left-wing organization that has been involved in housing…
GRAHAM: Right.
WALLACE: … and also in political organizing.
GRAHAM: It was a — it was a direction of money away from debt retirement into organizations that are not part of the solution. And there was no option, in reality, about insurance being used so that taxpayer dollars would not be used. He went to the House, and here’s what he said, John, “Guys, I’ve listened to you. You’re making some really legitimate points that this deal is not good yet for the taxpayer. Let’s make it better for the taxpayer, but don’t go too far. You cannot sit this one out. Make it better. Don’t go too far. Get in the room and negotiate.” And that’s what he did, and that’s what they did.

And Barack Obama? He talked to Hank Paulson, according to John Kerry, and attended the brief meeting at the White House.

Why should we care and what does this demonstrate? If the model of the presidency that we want is someone who reads the dynamic of Congress, who makes sure the parties that are needed for a deal are there and who doesn’t much mind using political capital, then McCain seems to be the guy. If the model is an inspirational, albeit distant figure who leaves virtually all the nitty gritty to others than Barack Obama is the man.

Lindsey Graham does an admirable job of explaining what John McCain did in Washington in this sequence on Fox News Sunday:

GRAHAM: I think it was decisive in regards to the House being involved. John was challenged about four days ago by Harry Reid to say, “If you don’t support this proposal,” the original Paulson proposal that was being tweaked, “there’ll be no Democratic votes for it.” If John McCain doesn’t vote for it, the Democrats won’t.
Two days of hearings go by where it’s just pretty much chaos. John understands this thing is going nowhere. He comes back, and agreement is announced right when he gets back that didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of passing because 20 percent of the profits were going to be given to an organization like ACORN, and there was no insurance component, which…
WALLACE: We should point out ACORN is a left-wing organization that has been involved in housing…
GRAHAM: Right.
WALLACE: … and also in political organizing.
GRAHAM: It was a — it was a direction of money away from debt retirement into organizations that are not part of the solution. And there was no option, in reality, about insurance being used so that taxpayer dollars would not be used. He went to the House, and here’s what he said, John, “Guys, I’ve listened to you. You’re making some really legitimate points that this deal is not good yet for the taxpayer. Let’s make it better for the taxpayer, but don’t go too far. You cannot sit this one out. Make it better. Don’t go too far. Get in the room and negotiate.” And that’s what he did, and that’s what they did.

And Barack Obama? He talked to Hank Paulson, according to John Kerry, and attended the brief meeting at the White House.

Why should we care and what does this demonstrate? If the model of the presidency that we want is someone who reads the dynamic of Congress, who makes sure the parties that are needed for a deal are there and who doesn’t much mind using political capital, then McCain seems to be the guy. If the model is an inspirational, albeit distant figure who leaves virtually all the nitty gritty to others than Barack Obama is the man.

Read Less




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