Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 6, 2010

Asymmetry in Lebanon

Reports have been emerging that the August 2 attack by Lebanese forces on Israeli soldiers in Israel was ordered in advance by the Lebanese army chain of command. An article in today’s Sydney Morning Herald describes the admission from a Lebanese official, who met with the IDF after the incident, that the attack was planned by Lebanon’s military. The Herald’s information is sourced to the Lebanese newspaper As Safir; meanwhile, the NOW Lebanon news website cites al-Manar TV in its report, according to which “the order to open fire in Tuesday’s border skirmish [came] ‘directly from the [army] command.’” And Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, in a Washington Post editorial today, mentions that Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah “sent a television crew to film the ambush” — a preparation picked up on earlier by Italian media, Ronen Bergman at the Wall Street Journal, and several bloggers, who noted that the Lebanese reporter killed in the exchange worked for Hezbollah outlet Al Akhbar. (H/t: Israel Matzav, Emet m’Tsiyon, Pajamas)

Among the obvious points to make about this incident, there’s one that may not be quite so obvious. Monday’s dangerous and irresponsible action involved a national army attacking the territory of another nation. It could be considered an act of war. And if it was indeed planned by elements of the Lebanese army acting as agents for Hezbollah, then it appears as though the Lebanese were counting on Israeli restraint and professionalism to keep the event a photo-op and not let it spiral out of control. They counted on Israel, in other words, to treat the attack as it does Hezbollah’s terror attacks.

I’m reminded of something I heard almost 20 years ago from a Navy admiral, a submariner who had been involved in discussions with his counterparts in the Soviet submarine force in the early 1990s. After the 1992 collision of USS Baton Rouge with a Russian submarine, the admiral recounted an informal disclosure from a senior Soviet submariner about undersea safety. The Soviet officer acknowledged that the Soviets’ expertise and equipment were inferior to ours. A Soviet submarine – even a nuclear-powered submarine carrying nuclear missiles – operated more blindly than one of ours and with less of the submariner’s special brand of seamanship. “That,” said the Soviet officer, “is why we rely on you to prevent collisions.”

Clashes of arms magnify asymmetries as nothing else does. But the asymmetry in each of the cases here – the U.S. and Soviet submarine forces and the Israeli and Lebanese armies – is more profound than a mere difference in the quality of weapons and training. The essential recklessness of inviting peril that must be held in check by a reliable enemy is foreign to the consensual-democratic mind. Although Israel has faced such recklessness from terrorists for years, we must not miss the lesson that national armies can be wielded in the same manner. The analogies invited by this glimpse of Lebanese reality are, to say the least, disturbing.

Reports have been emerging that the August 2 attack by Lebanese forces on Israeli soldiers in Israel was ordered in advance by the Lebanese army chain of command. An article in today’s Sydney Morning Herald describes the admission from a Lebanese official, who met with the IDF after the incident, that the attack was planned by Lebanon’s military. The Herald’s information is sourced to the Lebanese newspaper As Safir; meanwhile, the NOW Lebanon news website cites al-Manar TV in its report, according to which “the order to open fire in Tuesday’s border skirmish [came] ‘directly from the [army] command.’” And Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, in a Washington Post editorial today, mentions that Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah “sent a television crew to film the ambush” — a preparation picked up on earlier by Italian media, Ronen Bergman at the Wall Street Journal, and several bloggers, who noted that the Lebanese reporter killed in the exchange worked for Hezbollah outlet Al Akhbar. (H/t: Israel Matzav, Emet m’Tsiyon, Pajamas)

Among the obvious points to make about this incident, there’s one that may not be quite so obvious. Monday’s dangerous and irresponsible action involved a national army attacking the territory of another nation. It could be considered an act of war. And if it was indeed planned by elements of the Lebanese army acting as agents for Hezbollah, then it appears as though the Lebanese were counting on Israeli restraint and professionalism to keep the event a photo-op and not let it spiral out of control. They counted on Israel, in other words, to treat the attack as it does Hezbollah’s terror attacks.

I’m reminded of something I heard almost 20 years ago from a Navy admiral, a submariner who had been involved in discussions with his counterparts in the Soviet submarine force in the early 1990s. After the 1992 collision of USS Baton Rouge with a Russian submarine, the admiral recounted an informal disclosure from a senior Soviet submariner about undersea safety. The Soviet officer acknowledged that the Soviets’ expertise and equipment were inferior to ours. A Soviet submarine – even a nuclear-powered submarine carrying nuclear missiles – operated more blindly than one of ours and with less of the submariner’s special brand of seamanship. “That,” said the Soviet officer, “is why we rely on you to prevent collisions.”

Clashes of arms magnify asymmetries as nothing else does. But the asymmetry in each of the cases here – the U.S. and Soviet submarine forces and the Israeli and Lebanese armies – is more profound than a mere difference in the quality of weapons and training. The essential recklessness of inviting peril that must be held in check by a reliable enemy is foreign to the consensual-democratic mind. Although Israel has faced such recklessness from terrorists for years, we must not miss the lesson that national armies can be wielded in the same manner. The analogies invited by this glimpse of Lebanese reality are, to say the least, disturbing.

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Pelosi on Unemployment

Here is Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s reaction to the dismal new unemployment numbers:

Today’s report shows our teachers, police officers, firefighters, and nurses are still feeling the worst of the Bush recession — while Republican leaders demean them as “special interests” and try to block legislation that will grow our economy. Democrats will return next week to save or create hundreds of thousands of jobs for our teachers, nurses, firefighters and police officers — and close loopholes that allow corporations to ship American jobs overseas. This is critical as over the last three months, state and local governments have cut more than 46,000 jobs in education.

This response is noteworthy only because it’s so pathetic and pitiful — and for Republicans, it must be quite encouraging. If this is the best Democrats have to offer in the face of our struggling economy, the GOP has very little to fear.

Here is Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s reaction to the dismal new unemployment numbers:

Today’s report shows our teachers, police officers, firefighters, and nurses are still feeling the worst of the Bush recession — while Republican leaders demean them as “special interests” and try to block legislation that will grow our economy. Democrats will return next week to save or create hundreds of thousands of jobs for our teachers, nurses, firefighters and police officers — and close loopholes that allow corporations to ship American jobs overseas. This is critical as over the last three months, state and local governments have cut more than 46,000 jobs in education.

This response is noteworthy only because it’s so pathetic and pitiful — and for Republicans, it must be quite encouraging. If this is the best Democrats have to offer in the face of our struggling economy, the GOP has very little to fear.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Hiroshima, Obama, and Truman

Today’s ceremony commemorating the 65th anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima had something new: the presence of the U.S. ambassador to Japan. Never before had America sent an official participant in the annual memorial to those killed in the world’s first atomic attack. That this should occur during the administration of Barack Obama is no surprise. No previous American president has been at such pains to apologize for what he thinks are America’s sins. So while, thankfully, Ambassador John Roos did not speak at the Hiroshima event, the import of his presence there was undeniable.

In theory, there ought to be nothing wrong with an American representative appearing in Hiroshima. Mourning the loss of so many lives in the bombing is both understandable and appropriate. But the problem lies in the way Japan remembers World War II. One of the reasons why it would have been appropriate for the United States to avoid its official presence at this ceremony is that the Japanese have never taken full responsibility for their own conduct during the war that the Hiroshima bombing helped end. Indeed, to listen to the Japanese, their involvement in the war sounds limited to the incineration of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the fire bombings of many other urban centers in the country, followed by a humiliating American occupation. The horror of the two nuclear bombs didn’t just wipe out two cities and force Japan’s government to finally bow to the inevitable and surrender. For 65 years it has served as a magic event that has erased from the collective memory of the Japanese people the vicious aggression and countless war crimes committed against not only the Allied powers but also the peoples of Asia who fell under their cruel rule in the 1930s and 1940s. The bombing of Hiroshima was horrible, but it ought not, as it has for all these years, to serve as an excuse for the Japanese people to forget the crimes their government and armed forces committed throughout their empire during the years that preceded the dropping of the first nuclear bomb.

Click here to read the rest of this COMMENTARY web exclusive.

Today’s ceremony commemorating the 65th anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima had something new: the presence of the U.S. ambassador to Japan. Never before had America sent an official participant in the annual memorial to those killed in the world’s first atomic attack. That this should occur during the administration of Barack Obama is no surprise. No previous American president has been at such pains to apologize for what he thinks are America’s sins. So while, thankfully, Ambassador John Roos did not speak at the Hiroshima event, the import of his presence there was undeniable.

In theory, there ought to be nothing wrong with an American representative appearing in Hiroshima. Mourning the loss of so many lives in the bombing is both understandable and appropriate. But the problem lies in the way Japan remembers World War II. One of the reasons why it would have been appropriate for the United States to avoid its official presence at this ceremony is that the Japanese have never taken full responsibility for their own conduct during the war that the Hiroshima bombing helped end. Indeed, to listen to the Japanese, their involvement in the war sounds limited to the incineration of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the fire bombings of many other urban centers in the country, followed by a humiliating American occupation. The horror of the two nuclear bombs didn’t just wipe out two cities and force Japan’s government to finally bow to the inevitable and surrender. For 65 years it has served as a magic event that has erased from the collective memory of the Japanese people the vicious aggression and countless war crimes committed against not only the Allied powers but also the peoples of Asia who fell under their cruel rule in the 1930s and 1940s. The bombing of Hiroshima was horrible, but it ought not, as it has for all these years, to serve as an excuse for the Japanese people to forget the crimes their government and armed forces committed throughout their empire during the years that preceded the dropping of the first nuclear bomb.

Click here to read the rest of this COMMENTARY web exclusive.

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Not the Summer of Recovery

This was supposed to be the Summer of Recovery, according to President Obama. It sure doesn’t look that way, though. We lost 131,000 jobs last month. The only reason the jobless rate remained at 9.5 percent is because thousands more people dropped out of the labor force entirely.

The report is depressing in almost every respect, and it is very bad news for America. People are suffering a great deal.

This cannot be good news for Democrats; they were, after all, counting on a strong economy to blunt their midterm losses. Instead, the opposite is happening. The economy is alarmingly anemic. Obama’s policies are doing nothing to help — and a good deal to hurt — our efforts at recovery. All of the hope, all of the change, all of the promises have, at least for now, been washed away. They are a distant dream. And the public is rightly holding the president and Congressional Democrats responsible for what has come to pass.

The public is discouraged, frustrated, angry, and energized. They get a chance to express their views on all this on November 2.

It will be quite an outpouring.

This was supposed to be the Summer of Recovery, according to President Obama. It sure doesn’t look that way, though. We lost 131,000 jobs last month. The only reason the jobless rate remained at 9.5 percent is because thousands more people dropped out of the labor force entirely.

The report is depressing in almost every respect, and it is very bad news for America. People are suffering a great deal.

This cannot be good news for Democrats; they were, after all, counting on a strong economy to blunt their midterm losses. Instead, the opposite is happening. The economy is alarmingly anemic. Obama’s policies are doing nothing to help — and a good deal to hurt — our efforts at recovery. All of the hope, all of the change, all of the promises have, at least for now, been washed away. They are a distant dream. And the public is rightly holding the president and Congressional Democrats responsible for what has come to pass.

The public is discouraged, frustrated, angry, and energized. They get a chance to express their views on all this on November 2.

It will be quite an outpouring.

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Dismantling Joe Klein

Correcting the errors in logic and fact by Joe Klein is more than a full-time job, and I usually have better things to do. But once in a while, he writes a piece that deserves to be examined and dismantled. The posting Klein did on Time magazine’s blog Swampland earlier this week, “Obama on Iraq,” qualifies as one of those instances. Let’s have a look.

1. On Monday Klein wrote this:

It is the way of the world that Barack Obama ‘ s announcement today of the end of the combat phase in Iraq … will not be remembered as vividly as George Bush’s juvenile march across the deck of an aircraft carrier, costumed as a combat aviator in a golden sunset, to announce — six years and tens of thousands of lives prematurely — the “end of combat operations.”

Now let’s see what Klein said about Bush’s landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln on CBS’s Face the Nation, on May 4, 2003:

Well, that was probably the coolest presidential image since Bill Pullman played the jet fighter pilot in the movie Independence Day. That was the first thing that came to mind for me. And it just shows you how high a mountain these Democrats are going to have to climb. You compare that image, which everybody across the world saw, with this debate last night where you have nine people on a stage and it doesn’t air until 11:30 at night, up against Saturday Night Live, and you see what a major, major struggle the Democrats are going to have to try and beat a popular incumbent president.

Bush’s moment went from being Hollywood cool then to a puerile act now. Such bipolar shifts of opinion in a high-ranking public official would be alarming and dangerous; in a columnist and blogger, they are comical and discrediting.

2. Klein asserts this:

Certainly, even if something resembling democracy prevails, the U.S. invasion and occupation — the carnage and tragedy it wrought — will not be remembered fondly by Iraqis anytime soon. We will own the destruction in perpetuity; if the Iraqis manage to cobble themselves a decent society, they will see it, correctly, as an achievement of their own. [emphasis added]

Here, Klein moves from the merely ludicrous to the offensive. What Klein is arguing is that even if things turn out well in Iraq, America deserves none of the credit. We were responsible only for carnage and tragedy, not liberation. The heroic sacrifices of America’s military men and women are dismissed as inconsequential. Those who have died have done so in vain, according to Klein’s line of reasoning; if the Iraqis manage to cobble for themselves a decent society, he insists, it will be an achievement of their own making alone.

This claim is flatly untrue. Without the intervention of the United States, Saddam Hussein would not have been deposed. And without the sacrifice of treasure and blood made by America, Iraq would have been convulsed by civil war and possibly genocide. It is certainly true that if Iraq continues on its path to self-government, its people will deserve a large share of the credit. But so will America — and so will those who wore America’s uniform into combat. For Klein to dismiss what our country and its warriors have done to advance liberty and humane ends is disturbing and revelatory.

3. Klein writes this: Read More

Correcting the errors in logic and fact by Joe Klein is more than a full-time job, and I usually have better things to do. But once in a while, he writes a piece that deserves to be examined and dismantled. The posting Klein did on Time magazine’s blog Swampland earlier this week, “Obama on Iraq,” qualifies as one of those instances. Let’s have a look.

1. On Monday Klein wrote this:

It is the way of the world that Barack Obama ‘ s announcement today of the end of the combat phase in Iraq … will not be remembered as vividly as George Bush’s juvenile march across the deck of an aircraft carrier, costumed as a combat aviator in a golden sunset, to announce — six years and tens of thousands of lives prematurely — the “end of combat operations.”

Now let’s see what Klein said about Bush’s landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln on CBS’s Face the Nation, on May 4, 2003:

Well, that was probably the coolest presidential image since Bill Pullman played the jet fighter pilot in the movie Independence Day. That was the first thing that came to mind for me. And it just shows you how high a mountain these Democrats are going to have to climb. You compare that image, which everybody across the world saw, with this debate last night where you have nine people on a stage and it doesn’t air until 11:30 at night, up against Saturday Night Live, and you see what a major, major struggle the Democrats are going to have to try and beat a popular incumbent president.

Bush’s moment went from being Hollywood cool then to a puerile act now. Such bipolar shifts of opinion in a high-ranking public official would be alarming and dangerous; in a columnist and blogger, they are comical and discrediting.

2. Klein asserts this:

Certainly, even if something resembling democracy prevails, the U.S. invasion and occupation — the carnage and tragedy it wrought — will not be remembered fondly by Iraqis anytime soon. We will own the destruction in perpetuity; if the Iraqis manage to cobble themselves a decent society, they will see it, correctly, as an achievement of their own. [emphasis added]

Here, Klein moves from the merely ludicrous to the offensive. What Klein is arguing is that even if things turn out well in Iraq, America deserves none of the credit. We were responsible only for carnage and tragedy, not liberation. The heroic sacrifices of America’s military men and women are dismissed as inconsequential. Those who have died have done so in vain, according to Klein’s line of reasoning; if the Iraqis manage to cobble for themselves a decent society, he insists, it will be an achievement of their own making alone.

This claim is flatly untrue. Without the intervention of the United States, Saddam Hussein would not have been deposed. And without the sacrifice of treasure and blood made by America, Iraq would have been convulsed by civil war and possibly genocide. It is certainly true that if Iraq continues on its path to self-government, its people will deserve a large share of the credit. But so will America — and so will those who wore America’s uniform into combat. For Klein to dismiss what our country and its warriors have done to advance liberty and humane ends is disturbing and revelatory.

3. Klein writes this:

As for myself, I deeply regret that once, on television in the days before the war, I reluctantly but foolishly said that going ahead with the invasion might be the right thing to do. I was far more skeptical, and equivocal, in print–I never wrote in favor of the war and repeatedly raised the problems that would accompany it–but skepticism and equivocation were an insufficient reaction, too.

Well, this admission marks progress of a sort, I suppose.

For the longest time, Klein denied ever having supported the war. He even complained about being criticized by liberals for his support of the Iraq war. “The fact that I’ve been opposed to the Iraq war ever since this 2002 article in Slate just makes it all the more aggravating,” Klein said.

But what proved to be even more aggravating to Joe is when people like Arianna Huffington and me pointed out that Klein supported the war immediately before it began, thus contradicting his revisionist claim.

For the record: On Feb. 22, 2003, Klein told the late Tim Russert that the war was a “really tough decision” but that he, Klein, thought it was probably “the right decision at this point.” Klein then offered several reasons for his judgment: Saddam’s defiance of 17 UN resolutions over a dozen years; Klein’s firm conviction that Saddam was hiding WMD; and the need to send the message that if we didn’t enforce the latest UN resolution, it “empowers every would-be Saddam out there and every would-be terrorist out there.”

It’s worth pointing out that to make a false claim and revise it in light of emerging evidence is something of a pattern with Joe. After all, he repeatedly and forcefully denied being the author of the novel Primary Colors until he was forced to admit that he, in fact, had written it. It takes him a while to grudgingly bow before incontrovertible evidence. But he does get there. Eventually. When he has no other choice.

4.  According to Klein:

In retrospect, the issue then was as clear cut as it is now. It demanded a clarity that I failed to summon. The essential principle is immutable: We should never go to war unless we have been attacked or are under direct, immediate threat of attack. Never. And never again.

Presumably, then, Klein believes that Great Britain declaring war on Germany two days after Hitler’s invasion of Poland (Great Britain and Poland were allies and shared a security pact) was a violation of an “essential” and “immutable” principle. So was the first Gulf War, when the United States repelled Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. So was Tony Blair’s intervention in Kosovo and Sierra Leone (the latter widely viewed as successful in helping save that West African country from barbarism and dictatorship). So, arguably, was the American Civil War; after all, Lincoln could have avoided war, had he given in on the matters of secession and slavery.

According to Klein, no war is justified unless a nation has been attacked or is under the direct, immediate threat of attack — which means interventions for the sake of aiding allies, meeting treaty obligations, averting massive humanitarian disasters, or advancing national interests and national security are always and forever off the table.

Klein’s arguments are those of a simpleton. He has drawn up a doctrine that isn’t based on careful reasoning, subtle analysis, or a sophisticated understanding of history; it is, in fact, a childish overreaction to the events of the moment. What Klein states with emphatic certainty one day is something he will probably jettison the next.

Iraq is a subject on which Joe Klein has been — let’s be gentle here — highly erratic. He both opposed and supported the war before it began. After the war started, he spoke hopefully about the movement toward democracy there. (“This is not a moment for caveats,” he wrote in 2005, after the Iraqi elections. “It is a moment for solemn appreciation of the Iraqi achievement — however it may turn out — and for hope.”) Now he refers to it as a “neo-colonialist obscenity.” President Bush’s “Freedom Agenda” went from being something that “seem[s] to be paying off” and that might even secure Bush the Nobel Peace Prize to a “delusional farce.” Klein ridiculed the idea of the surge, referring to it as “Bush’s futile pipe dream,” before conceding that the surge was wise, necessary, and successful.

This is all of a piece with Klein. And there is a kind of poignancy that surrounds his descent. Once upon a time, Joe was a fairly decent political reporter — but somewhere along the line, he went badly off track. He has become startlingly embittered, consumed by his hatreds, regarding as malevolent enemies all people who hold views different from his. In the past, his writings could be insightful, somewhat balanced, and at times elegant. These days, he’s not good for much more than a rant — and even his rants have become predictable, pedestrian, banal. Witless, even.

This cannot be what Henry Luce envisioned for his magazine.

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Going Far Beyond Goldstone

Is there anything left to be said about the notorious Goldstone Report, which has now been decisively discredited by Alan Dershowitz, Moshe Halbertal, Joshua Muravchik, and Richard Landes, among others, extensively contradicted by three lengthy reports prepared by Israel itself — before, during, and after the issuance of the report — and dramatically refuted by Dore Gold in direct debate with Goldstone himself?

The answer is yes — in the form of Peter Berkowitz’s superb article in the August issue of the Hoover Institution’s Policy Review, entitled “The Goldstone Report and International Law,” a study of the politicizing of international law. It concisely summarizes the “stunning defects” in the Goldstone Report and then discusses a “deeper issue” — a larger and more fundamental problem that “cannot be resolved [simply] by showing that the Goldstone’s findings of fact about the Gaza operation are severely biased, or by demonstrating that the report misapplied or misunderstood the test for determining whether Israel exercised force in a proportional manner.”

All three of Israel’s reports, totaling 554 pages, received almost no attention in the press, from international human rights organizations, from the Human Rights Council, or from the General Assembly, nor from Goldstone or his supporters, who have not only largely ignored them but also failed to respond to the other critical studies listed above. In Berkowitz’s analysis, the reason goes far beyond the defects of a single report; it reflects a cynical attempt by a transnational elite and international bodies dominated by authoritarian states to revise traditional standards of international law to punish their enemies — who are not limited to Israel — with potential consequences for the common struggle against transnational Islamic terrorism.

It is a convincing study, one that not only demonstrates the travesty of the HRC but that of Barack Obama’s decision to join it (and remain a member long after it has become obvious that U.S. participation has legitimized rather than moderated it). Worth reading in its entirety.

Is there anything left to be said about the notorious Goldstone Report, which has now been decisively discredited by Alan Dershowitz, Moshe Halbertal, Joshua Muravchik, and Richard Landes, among others, extensively contradicted by three lengthy reports prepared by Israel itself — before, during, and after the issuance of the report — and dramatically refuted by Dore Gold in direct debate with Goldstone himself?

The answer is yes — in the form of Peter Berkowitz’s superb article in the August issue of the Hoover Institution’s Policy Review, entitled “The Goldstone Report and International Law,” a study of the politicizing of international law. It concisely summarizes the “stunning defects” in the Goldstone Report and then discusses a “deeper issue” — a larger and more fundamental problem that “cannot be resolved [simply] by showing that the Goldstone’s findings of fact about the Gaza operation are severely biased, or by demonstrating that the report misapplied or misunderstood the test for determining whether Israel exercised force in a proportional manner.”

All three of Israel’s reports, totaling 554 pages, received almost no attention in the press, from international human rights organizations, from the Human Rights Council, or from the General Assembly, nor from Goldstone or his supporters, who have not only largely ignored them but also failed to respond to the other critical studies listed above. In Berkowitz’s analysis, the reason goes far beyond the defects of a single report; it reflects a cynical attempt by a transnational elite and international bodies dominated by authoritarian states to revise traditional standards of international law to punish their enemies — who are not limited to Israel — with potential consequences for the common struggle against transnational Islamic terrorism.

It is a convincing study, one that not only demonstrates the travesty of the HRC but that of Barack Obama’s decision to join it (and remain a member long after it has become obvious that U.S. participation has legitimized rather than moderated it). Worth reading in its entirety.

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