Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 3, 2011

RE: Egypt Needs Liberalism

There’s not much more to say in a general sense about Michael Totten’s badly needed reality check differentiating liberal democracies — roughly, those that have robust democratic institutions that insulate themselves — from mere democratic spectacles. But it’s worth noting, as a way of beginning to evaluate how the Cairo riots will affect Near East diplomacy, just how much this fundamental point has been neglected in the specific context of Arab-Israeli peacemaking.

For Israel, the cold peace with Egypt and the intermittent peace with the Palestinian Authority have always been conducted against the backdrop of a see-no-evil approach to incitement. As long as Cairo and Ramallah cooperated with Jerusalem on security issues, Israeli and Western diplomats looked the other way as those regimes violated their Camp David and Oslo pledges to undertake normalization.

Put more bluntly: as long as Egypt and the Palestinian Authority helped stymie the terrorists of today, Israel and the West were content to let them go on creating the terrorists of tomorrow. Because at least those regimes were stable!

Those terrorists of tomorrow were made possible through geography textbooks that erased Israel, and through television programs that vilified Jews, and through official government propaganda that scapegoated the Jewish state for every imaginable social ill. As of this morning, the Mubarak regime is parading “protesters” in front of state-TV cameras to explain how they were trained by the Mossad to bring down the regime.

The result is that Egyptian and Palestinian civil society is a feverish cesspool of anti-Semitic conspiracism — recall the minor hysteria a few weeks ago over Zionist attack sharks — while Egyptians and Palestinians continue to very publicly indulge in fantasies of eradicating Israel itself. Read More

There’s not much more to say in a general sense about Michael Totten’s badly needed reality check differentiating liberal democracies — roughly, those that have robust democratic institutions that insulate themselves — from mere democratic spectacles. But it’s worth noting, as a way of beginning to evaluate how the Cairo riots will affect Near East diplomacy, just how much this fundamental point has been neglected in the specific context of Arab-Israeli peacemaking.

For Israel, the cold peace with Egypt and the intermittent peace with the Palestinian Authority have always been conducted against the backdrop of a see-no-evil approach to incitement. As long as Cairo and Ramallah cooperated with Jerusalem on security issues, Israeli and Western diplomats looked the other way as those regimes violated their Camp David and Oslo pledges to undertake normalization.

Put more bluntly: as long as Egypt and the Palestinian Authority helped stymie the terrorists of today, Israel and the West were content to let them go on creating the terrorists of tomorrow. Because at least those regimes were stable!

Those terrorists of tomorrow were made possible through geography textbooks that erased Israel, and through television programs that vilified Jews, and through official government propaganda that scapegoated the Jewish state for every imaginable social ill. As of this morning, the Mubarak regime is parading “protesters” in front of state-TV cameras to explain how they were trained by the Mossad to bring down the regime.

The result is that Egyptian and Palestinian civil society is a feverish cesspool of anti-Semitic conspiracism — recall the minor hysteria a few weeks ago over Zionist attack sharks — while Egyptians and Palestinians continue to very publicly indulge in fantasies of eradicating Israel itself.

These are the wages of making peace with governments while allowing normalization between societies to atrophy. Israel let its partners in peace purchase domestic tranquility by demonizing the Jewish state in terms that often crossed the line into outright bigotry, and so now that its partners in peace are collapsing — Cairo, Palileaks, etc. — we’re in a situation where serious people are talking about a return to cyclical nation-state war-fighting.

If a defensible land-for-peace framework returns — and that’s a real question — normalization will have to become more than a pro forma addendum to treaties. Above and beyond normalization being good in itself, an end to incitement will force regimes to undertake badly needed liberal reforms. If they don’t have the Jewish state to demonize for their problems, they might need to address those problems, and something approaching liberal democracy might begin to take shape.

But instead, our best foreign-policy minds are engaged in white-washing the Muslim Brotherhood into an organization with which we can do business. That’s not true and it’s never been true, but let’s pretend it is.

In that case, it would still be a disastrous decision, since it repeats the same stability-oriented mistakes of the old see-no-evil approach. Under autocracies, anti-Israel incitement suffocated liberal institutions indirectly, by channeling dissent into hatred of Israelis and Jews. A Muslim Brotherhood government would suffocate liberal institutions more directly, insofar as the party would make good on its promises to exclude gender and religious minorities from the highest echelons of Egyptian life.

If the instability in Egypt shows us that there’s a difference between democratic niceties and actual liberal democracy — and it does — then the question becomes one of how to create the conditions for liberal democracy. Viewed through that lens, there’s no real difference between engaging Mubarak and engaging the Muslim Brotherhood. Both are out to undermine the institutions and practices that are preconditions for genuine peace in the Middle East.

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Saying No to Pharoah

In an interview with Christiane Amanpour, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said he’s fed up and wants to resign, but he “cannot for fear of the country falling into chaos.”

Now, who do you suppose is responsible for that? Perhaps the same person who is responsible for eliminating democratic opposition in Egypt and who has insisted, for 30 years now, that the choice the United States faces is either supporting the dictator Mubarak or the ascension to power of the Muslim Brotherhood.

As chaos spreads in Egypt, we shouldn’t forget, even for a moment, that Hosni Mubarak created the conditions for it. That, more than anything else, is what the people of Egypt are rebelling against. They are saying “no” to pharaoh.

In an interview with Christiane Amanpour, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said he’s fed up and wants to resign, but he “cannot for fear of the country falling into chaos.”

Now, who do you suppose is responsible for that? Perhaps the same person who is responsible for eliminating democratic opposition in Egypt and who has insisted, for 30 years now, that the choice the United States faces is either supporting the dictator Mubarak or the ascension to power of the Muslim Brotherhood.

As chaos spreads in Egypt, we shouldn’t forget, even for a moment, that Hosni Mubarak created the conditions for it. That, more than anything else, is what the people of Egypt are rebelling against. They are saying “no” to pharaoh.

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Are Egyptians Growing Tired of the Protests?

At Pajamas Media, Michael Totten pointed out this excellent post today by Egyptian blogger Sandmonkey. The pro-democracy activist — who was rumored to have been arrested by Egyptian authorities today — wrote that some of his fellow citizens appear to be tiring of the mass demonstrations, and are showing signs that they may accept Mubarak’s rule until the next scheduled elections:

We started getting calls asking people to stop protesting because “we got what we wanted” and “we need the country to start working again.” People were complaining that they miss their lives. That they miss going out at night, and ordering Home Delivery. That they need us to stop so they can resume whatever existence they had before all of this. All was forgiven, the past week never happened and it’s time for Unity under Mubarak’s rule right now.

To all of those people I say: NEVER! I am sorry that your lives and businesses are disrupted, but this wasn’t caused by the Protesters. The Protesters aren’t the ones who shut down the internet that has paralyzed your businesses and banks: The government did.

But despite his vow to keep fighting, the blogger concluded the post with little hope that the protesters will be able to bring about the democratic reforms they’ve been struggling for.

“I have no illusions about this regime or its leader, and how he will pluck us and hunt us down one by one till we are over and done with and 8 months from now will pay people to stage fake protests urging him not to leave power, and he will stay ‘because he has to acquiesce to the voice of the people,’” wrote Sandmonkey. “This is a losing battle and they have all the weapons, but we will continue fighting until we can’t.”

The post is worth reading in full, as it gives a great perspective from someone who has been involved in the protests from the beginning. It’s important to remember that, despite the recent reports of looters, Islamic extremists, and violent rioters involved in the protests, a yearning for liberal democracy still exists at the heart of the demonstrations. Unfortunately, these democratic activists are caught in the middle of a fight between two extremes that both go against their interests: Islamist groups and the secular but oppressive Mubarak regime.

At Pajamas Media, Michael Totten pointed out this excellent post today by Egyptian blogger Sandmonkey. The pro-democracy activist — who was rumored to have been arrested by Egyptian authorities today — wrote that some of his fellow citizens appear to be tiring of the mass demonstrations, and are showing signs that they may accept Mubarak’s rule until the next scheduled elections:

We started getting calls asking people to stop protesting because “we got what we wanted” and “we need the country to start working again.” People were complaining that they miss their lives. That they miss going out at night, and ordering Home Delivery. That they need us to stop so they can resume whatever existence they had before all of this. All was forgiven, the past week never happened and it’s time for Unity under Mubarak’s rule right now.

To all of those people I say: NEVER! I am sorry that your lives and businesses are disrupted, but this wasn’t caused by the Protesters. The Protesters aren’t the ones who shut down the internet that has paralyzed your businesses and banks: The government did.

But despite his vow to keep fighting, the blogger concluded the post with little hope that the protesters will be able to bring about the democratic reforms they’ve been struggling for.

“I have no illusions about this regime or its leader, and how he will pluck us and hunt us down one by one till we are over and done with and 8 months from now will pay people to stage fake protests urging him not to leave power, and he will stay ‘because he has to acquiesce to the voice of the people,’” wrote Sandmonkey. “This is a losing battle and they have all the weapons, but we will continue fighting until we can’t.”

The post is worth reading in full, as it gives a great perspective from someone who has been involved in the protests from the beginning. It’s important to remember that, despite the recent reports of looters, Islamic extremists, and violent rioters involved in the protests, a yearning for liberal democracy still exists at the heart of the demonstrations. Unfortunately, these democratic activists are caught in the middle of a fight between two extremes that both go against their interests: Islamist groups and the secular but oppressive Mubarak regime.

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Lebanon: To Encourage the Others

John Bolton has a superb opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times today reminding us that Lebanon is a nearer prospective loss to liberalism than Egypt. Today’s concern for Egypt is about the opportunity for the Muslim Brotherhood to gain power. The nature of the potential stakes remains uncertain; Mubarak and Omar Suleiman have made explicit declarations of intent, but there is no clarity or political coherence from the opposition forces.

In Lebanon, by contrast, Hezbollah has already made its move. It has run the course the Muslim Brotherhood could in Egypt, first securing a role in the coalition government — without renouncing terrorism or political thuggery — and then leveraging that role to install the government of its choice. The choices for foreign governments are clear in Lebanon: either reject Hezbollah’s control of the country or accept it.

Ambassador Bolton is categorical: “We must refuse to recognize any Hezbollah-dominated government as legitimate, at least until Hezbollah fully disarms and becomes a real political party.” The timetable for concrete action will be driven in part by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, whose next public event, on February 7, is a hearing related to the confidential indictments issued in January for the 2005 assassinations. That timetable is a good thing; an independent process with scheduled events is guaranteed to present public decision points for foreign leaders. If a new Hezbollah-backed government terminates Lebanese cooperation with the tribunal, the reaction of the U.S. and other nations, one way or another, will be impossible to spin.

There is grave danger, as Bolton suggests, in failing to counter Hezbollah’s effective coup in Lebanon. Conversely, the payoff from countering it would be particularly high. Hezbollah’s method of government infiltration is a model for the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist movements across the Arab world. It can be allowed to stand or it can be opposed and reversed; either response will encourager les autres — encourage the others.

The number of others who need “encouraging,” one way or the other, is growing with the unrest in Egypt. In their different ways, Jordan, Algeria, and Yemen have all, in the past 48 hours, joined Tunisia in opening doors formerly closed to the Muslim Brotherhood. There is a great deal at stake, but the timing could hardly be better for making an example of Hezbollah. Its takeover of Lebanon, opposed by the Arab world, adds urgency to the theme retailed by the Muslim Brotherhood that the old governments are corrupt and ineffective. If we want the Arab nations to have breathing room in which to take genuine steps toward pluralism and democracy, one of the best things we could do is decisively block Hezbollah’s assault on those elements in Lebanon.

John Bolton has a superb opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times today reminding us that Lebanon is a nearer prospective loss to liberalism than Egypt. Today’s concern for Egypt is about the opportunity for the Muslim Brotherhood to gain power. The nature of the potential stakes remains uncertain; Mubarak and Omar Suleiman have made explicit declarations of intent, but there is no clarity or political coherence from the opposition forces.

In Lebanon, by contrast, Hezbollah has already made its move. It has run the course the Muslim Brotherhood could in Egypt, first securing a role in the coalition government — without renouncing terrorism or political thuggery — and then leveraging that role to install the government of its choice. The choices for foreign governments are clear in Lebanon: either reject Hezbollah’s control of the country or accept it.

Ambassador Bolton is categorical: “We must refuse to recognize any Hezbollah-dominated government as legitimate, at least until Hezbollah fully disarms and becomes a real political party.” The timetable for concrete action will be driven in part by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, whose next public event, on February 7, is a hearing related to the confidential indictments issued in January for the 2005 assassinations. That timetable is a good thing; an independent process with scheduled events is guaranteed to present public decision points for foreign leaders. If a new Hezbollah-backed government terminates Lebanese cooperation with the tribunal, the reaction of the U.S. and other nations, one way or another, will be impossible to spin.

There is grave danger, as Bolton suggests, in failing to counter Hezbollah’s effective coup in Lebanon. Conversely, the payoff from countering it would be particularly high. Hezbollah’s method of government infiltration is a model for the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist movements across the Arab world. It can be allowed to stand or it can be opposed and reversed; either response will encourager les autres — encourage the others.

The number of others who need “encouraging,” one way or the other, is growing with the unrest in Egypt. In their different ways, Jordan, Algeria, and Yemen have all, in the past 48 hours, joined Tunisia in opening doors formerly closed to the Muslim Brotherhood. There is a great deal at stake, but the timing could hardly be better for making an example of Hezbollah. Its takeover of Lebanon, opposed by the Arab world, adds urgency to the theme retailed by the Muslim Brotherhood that the old governments are corrupt and ineffective. If we want the Arab nations to have breathing room in which to take genuine steps toward pluralism and democracy, one of the best things we could do is decisively block Hezbollah’s assault on those elements in Lebanon.

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Ronald Reagan on Democracy

The unfolding revolution in Egypt has provoked a wider debate about what has been called the “freedom agenda.” At the heart of this debate is whether the United States should champion democratic ideals. Some people, including many conservatives, are deeply skeptical of the wisdom of promoting democracy, arguing that some nations (most especially in the Islamic and Arab world) are unprepared for freedom. Making democracy and human rights a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy is therefore unwise and, in many cases, injurious to America’s national interests.

With that in mind, it’s worth revisiting the words of the most important conservative figure of the 20th century, Ronald Reagan. President Reagan said plenty about democracy — including during his June 8, 1982, Westminster Address. That speech is worth quoting extensively, since Reagan laid out his argument with intelligence and care.

“Democracy is not a fragile flower,” Reagan said. “Still it needs cultivating. If the rest of this century is to witness the gradual growth of freedom and democratic ideals, we must take actions to assist the campaign for democracy.”

America’s 40th president went on to say this:

While we must be cautious about forcing the pace of change, we must not hesitate to declare our ultimate objectives and to take concrete actions to move toward them. We must be staunch in our conviction that freedom is not the sole prerogative of a lucky few, but the inalienable and universal right of all human beings. So states the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which, among other things, guarantees free elections. The objective I propose is quite simple to state: to foster the infrastructure of democracy, the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities, which allows a people to choose their own way to develop their own culture, to reconcile their own differences through peaceful means. This is not cultural imperialism, it is providing the means for genuine self-determination and protection for diversity. Democracy already flourishes in countries with very different cultures and historical experiences. It would be cultural condescension, or worse, to say that any people prefer dictatorship to democracy.

In practice, Reagan did not place talisman-like powers in democracy, and he wasn’t stupid in his application of the principles he enunciated. He didn’t favor destabilizing pro-American authoritarian regimes if they were going to be replaced by anti-American totalitarian ones. Statesmanship involves the prudential application of principles to particular situations and moments in time, something at which Reagan excelled. Read More

The unfolding revolution in Egypt has provoked a wider debate about what has been called the “freedom agenda.” At the heart of this debate is whether the United States should champion democratic ideals. Some people, including many conservatives, are deeply skeptical of the wisdom of promoting democracy, arguing that some nations (most especially in the Islamic and Arab world) are unprepared for freedom. Making democracy and human rights a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy is therefore unwise and, in many cases, injurious to America’s national interests.

With that in mind, it’s worth revisiting the words of the most important conservative figure of the 20th century, Ronald Reagan. President Reagan said plenty about democracy — including during his June 8, 1982, Westminster Address. That speech is worth quoting extensively, since Reagan laid out his argument with intelligence and care.

“Democracy is not a fragile flower,” Reagan said. “Still it needs cultivating. If the rest of this century is to witness the gradual growth of freedom and democratic ideals, we must take actions to assist the campaign for democracy.”

America’s 40th president went on to say this:

While we must be cautious about forcing the pace of change, we must not hesitate to declare our ultimate objectives and to take concrete actions to move toward them. We must be staunch in our conviction that freedom is not the sole prerogative of a lucky few, but the inalienable and universal right of all human beings. So states the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which, among other things, guarantees free elections. The objective I propose is quite simple to state: to foster the infrastructure of democracy, the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities, which allows a people to choose their own way to develop their own culture, to reconcile their own differences through peaceful means. This is not cultural imperialism, it is providing the means for genuine self-determination and protection for diversity. Democracy already flourishes in countries with very different cultures and historical experiences. It would be cultural condescension, or worse, to say that any people prefer dictatorship to democracy.

In practice, Reagan did not place talisman-like powers in democracy, and he wasn’t stupid in his application of the principles he enunciated. He didn’t favor destabilizing pro-American authoritarian regimes if they were going to be replaced by anti-American totalitarian ones. Statesmanship involves the prudential application of principles to particular situations and moments in time, something at which Reagan excelled.

Still, there is no denying the centrality that freedom and human rights played in American foreign policy during the Reagan years. And those who are consistently skeptical about proclaiming the inalienable and universal rights of all human beings — who when they speak about democracy promotion these days almost always do so in critical terms — are standing shoulder-to-shoulder not with Reagan but with Henry Kissinger.

Secretary Kissinger, after all, downplayed the role of morality in foreign policy. He believed that the United States should largely ignore the human-rights violations of other nations. Democracy promotion for him was a peripheral concern, and sometimes not even that.

Oh, and Dr. Kissinger was (in the 1976 primary challenge against Gerald Ford) Reagan’s bete noire, and the Reagan presidency in important respects a repudiation of Kissinger’s realpolitik.

I admire much about Henry Kissinger. But on this, as on so much else, Ronald Reagan was right.

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Holocaust Scholar Quoted in Anti-Glenn Beck Letter Criticizes the Campaign

A Holocaust scholar quoted in the Jewish Funds for Justice’s anti–Glenn Beck letter has criticized the group’s campaign as one-sided and political.

Deborah Lipstadt, the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University, is the fourth person or organization cited in the letter who has questioned the political motives of the anti-Beck campaign. The Jewish Funds for Justice letter, published as a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal and the Jewish Daily Forward last week, called on Fox News to sanction Beck because of his use of “Holocaust imagery.”

“I don’t disagree with the thrust of JFSJ’s ad,” wrote Lipstadt in a column in the Forward yesterday. “That said, I do worry that it is a distortion to focus solely on the conservative end of the political spectrum.”

While still maintaining that Beck’s comments about the Holocaust crossed the line, Lipstadt noted that, in recent years, some of the most offensive Holocaust rhetoric has come from the political left:

During his term in office, President George W. Bush was frequently compared to Hitler. A 2006 New York Times ad from a group called the World Can’t Wait, signed by a number of prominent leftists (as well as five Democratic members of Congress), cited a litany of complaints about the Bush administration’s policies and concluded: “People look at all this and think of Hitler — and rightly so.” British playwright and Nobel Prize winner Harold Pinter, who signed onto the ad, went to so far as to call the Bush administration “more dangerous than Nazi Germany.” (emphasis added)

Similarly, references to Israelis as “Nazis” and claims that Israel is committing genocide abound in left-wing discourse. Because of their ubiquity, we have almost become inured to the horror of such comparisons.

“Is this about principle, or is it about politics?” asked Lipstadt. “Is this about anti-Semitism, or about Rupert Murdoch?”

The Anti-Defamation League, the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors, and COMMENTARY were also quoted in the Jewish Funds for Justice letter and have all since clarified that they are not associated with the campaign. However, as noted yesterday, Jewish Funds for Justice is continuing to collect signatures for the letter on its website.

A Holocaust scholar quoted in the Jewish Funds for Justice’s anti–Glenn Beck letter has criticized the group’s campaign as one-sided and political.

Deborah Lipstadt, the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University, is the fourth person or organization cited in the letter who has questioned the political motives of the anti-Beck campaign. The Jewish Funds for Justice letter, published as a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal and the Jewish Daily Forward last week, called on Fox News to sanction Beck because of his use of “Holocaust imagery.”

“I don’t disagree with the thrust of JFSJ’s ad,” wrote Lipstadt in a column in the Forward yesterday. “That said, I do worry that it is a distortion to focus solely on the conservative end of the political spectrum.”

While still maintaining that Beck’s comments about the Holocaust crossed the line, Lipstadt noted that, in recent years, some of the most offensive Holocaust rhetoric has come from the political left:

During his term in office, President George W. Bush was frequently compared to Hitler. A 2006 New York Times ad from a group called the World Can’t Wait, signed by a number of prominent leftists (as well as five Democratic members of Congress), cited a litany of complaints about the Bush administration’s policies and concluded: “People look at all this and think of Hitler — and rightly so.” British playwright and Nobel Prize winner Harold Pinter, who signed onto the ad, went to so far as to call the Bush administration “more dangerous than Nazi Germany.” (emphasis added)

Similarly, references to Israelis as “Nazis” and claims that Israel is committing genocide abound in left-wing discourse. Because of their ubiquity, we have almost become inured to the horror of such comparisons.

“Is this about principle, or is it about politics?” asked Lipstadt. “Is this about anti-Semitism, or about Rupert Murdoch?”

The Anti-Defamation League, the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors, and COMMENTARY were also quoted in the Jewish Funds for Justice letter and have all since clarified that they are not associated with the campaign. However, as noted yesterday, Jewish Funds for Justice is continuing to collect signatures for the letter on its website.

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Cold War Revisionism Run Wild

As J.E. Dyer pointed out a few days ago, the standard treatment of the Cold War in the academy of the 1970s and 1980s was that it was a bad idea. That argument had many facets, but among the most consistently presented of them was the theme that the artificial Cold War scare had been used to justify close American relations with anti-Communist dictators.

This anti–Cold War bias has, to my mind, waned slightly, in part because of the work of historians like John Lewis Gaddis, and in part because it’s now history, and as such is safe for everyone to be in favor of. Indeed, it’s so safe that President Obama is free to call for Sputnik moments.

Still, the argument about American foreign policy endures. Since both Democratic and Republican presidents fought the Cold War, our policy, whatever you care to say about it, was bipartisan. Yet by and large, the charge of friendship with autocrats is used to tar Republicans. As Mark Mazower, a historian at Columbia, put it last year, “the kind of values talk that Reagan . . . injected into the Republican Party” is “tolerance for nasty dictators so long as they were not Reds.”

As John made clear in his earlier post, in regard to the binary choice between authoritarians and totalitarians, the argument about whom the U.S. should work with in pursuit of its national interests in this imperfect world is an old, long, and complicated one, and the only immediately nonsensical position is that we should simply ally ourselves with the absolutely pure. But what is really wonderful is to watch media liberals suddenly — now that we have a Democrat as president — discovering the virtues of American collaborations with the autocrats. Here, for instance, is Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s Hardball on Tuesday:

[Americans] do not like seeing people treat their friends badly. We treated Diem terribly, we let him get butchered then killed in Vietnam even though he was our ally for all those years. We watched the Shah become, as Henry Kissinger called him, a “flying Dutchman” before he died. Americans do sense when we’re being right with people.

Well, we did – or rather, President Kennedy did — treat Diem terribly. But this sudden surge of sympathy for the Shah, coming from the left, is remarkable, for — in his day — the Shah was close to the top of the left’s list of villains. By itself, this is Cold War revisionism run wild.

Even worse, though, is the way Matthews personalizes it. It wasn’t just Diem we treated badly: it was millions of our friends in Vietnam. Sure, one man matters, especially when he’s president. But we’re not going to “be right with people” if all we do is worry about the fate of their unelected leaders.

As J.E. Dyer pointed out a few days ago, the standard treatment of the Cold War in the academy of the 1970s and 1980s was that it was a bad idea. That argument had many facets, but among the most consistently presented of them was the theme that the artificial Cold War scare had been used to justify close American relations with anti-Communist dictators.

This anti–Cold War bias has, to my mind, waned slightly, in part because of the work of historians like John Lewis Gaddis, and in part because it’s now history, and as such is safe for everyone to be in favor of. Indeed, it’s so safe that President Obama is free to call for Sputnik moments.

Still, the argument about American foreign policy endures. Since both Democratic and Republican presidents fought the Cold War, our policy, whatever you care to say about it, was bipartisan. Yet by and large, the charge of friendship with autocrats is used to tar Republicans. As Mark Mazower, a historian at Columbia, put it last year, “the kind of values talk that Reagan . . . injected into the Republican Party” is “tolerance for nasty dictators so long as they were not Reds.”

As John made clear in his earlier post, in regard to the binary choice between authoritarians and totalitarians, the argument about whom the U.S. should work with in pursuit of its national interests in this imperfect world is an old, long, and complicated one, and the only immediately nonsensical position is that we should simply ally ourselves with the absolutely pure. But what is really wonderful is to watch media liberals suddenly — now that we have a Democrat as president — discovering the virtues of American collaborations with the autocrats. Here, for instance, is Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s Hardball on Tuesday:

[Americans] do not like seeing people treat their friends badly. We treated Diem terribly, we let him get butchered then killed in Vietnam even though he was our ally for all those years. We watched the Shah become, as Henry Kissinger called him, a “flying Dutchman” before he died. Americans do sense when we’re being right with people.

Well, we did – or rather, President Kennedy did — treat Diem terribly. But this sudden surge of sympathy for the Shah, coming from the left, is remarkable, for — in his day — the Shah was close to the top of the left’s list of villains. By itself, this is Cold War revisionism run wild.

Even worse, though, is the way Matthews personalizes it. It wasn’t just Diem we treated badly: it was millions of our friends in Vietnam. Sure, one man matters, especially when he’s president. But we’re not going to “be right with people” if all we do is worry about the fate of their unelected leaders.

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Egypt Needs Liberalism

All this talk about whether democracy in Egypt will be a good thing or a bad thing just goes to show how misunderstood the word democracy is. Democracy refers not so much to elections but to liberalism in the general sense of the word.

If Egyptians elect the Muslim Brotherhood in a free and fair election, and the Muslim Brotherhood then rigs or even cancels every election that follows, Egypt will not be in any way shape or form a democracy. It will be a dictatorship that happened to have an election.

Mature liberal democracies have checks and balances, the separation of powers, equal rights for minorities, restrictions on the power and reach of the victors, and guarantees that those who lose will not be persecuted.

The Arab world doesn’t need a one-time plebiscite on whom the next tyrant is going to be. It needs liberalism. Egypt won’t get it from the Muslim Brotherhood, nor was Egypt ever going to get it from Hosni Mubarak.

I have no idea if Egypt will get it any time soon. Unfortunately, the profoundly illiberal Muslim Brotherhood is a powerful force to be reckoned with. Something like the Iranian Revolution in 1979 may well be replicated, but it isn’t the only possible outcome. Indonesia managed to overthrow Suharto without bringing a Southeast Asian Khomeini to power, and Albanians face no threat of an Islamist takeover even decades after removing Enver Hoxha.

All this talk about whether democracy in Egypt will be a good thing or a bad thing just goes to show how misunderstood the word democracy is. Democracy refers not so much to elections but to liberalism in the general sense of the word.

If Egyptians elect the Muslim Brotherhood in a free and fair election, and the Muslim Brotherhood then rigs or even cancels every election that follows, Egypt will not be in any way shape or form a democracy. It will be a dictatorship that happened to have an election.

Mature liberal democracies have checks and balances, the separation of powers, equal rights for minorities, restrictions on the power and reach of the victors, and guarantees that those who lose will not be persecuted.

The Arab world doesn’t need a one-time plebiscite on whom the next tyrant is going to be. It needs liberalism. Egypt won’t get it from the Muslim Brotherhood, nor was Egypt ever going to get it from Hosni Mubarak.

I have no idea if Egypt will get it any time soon. Unfortunately, the profoundly illiberal Muslim Brotherhood is a powerful force to be reckoned with. Something like the Iranian Revolution in 1979 may well be replicated, but it isn’t the only possible outcome. Indonesia managed to overthrow Suharto without bringing a Southeast Asian Khomeini to power, and Albanians face no threat of an Islamist takeover even decades after removing Enver Hoxha.

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Palin Skips Out on CPAC Again

Sarah Palin is the latest in a string of prominent conservatives who have decided not to attend this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, which takes place in Washington D.C. next week. While this will be the third year in a row that Palin has skipped the event, this year she turned down the coveted keynote-speaker slot, which was filled by Glenn Beck last year and by Rush Limbaugh in 2009:

CPAC leaders invited Palin to deliver the closing-night keynote speech on Saturday Feb. 12, immediately following the announcement of the results of CPAC’s annual presidential straw poll, but after several days of negotiations, she declined.

“We’re disappointed that she wasn’t able to make it this year,” American Conservative Union Chairman David Keene said through a spokesman on Thursday. He noted that Palin “expressed interest in wanting to come this year,” but said that it came down to “a scheduling issue.”

As ABC News noted, Palin “has a rocky history” with CPAC and skipped the event last year owing to some of the reportedly shady business dealings of the conference’s organizer, David Keene. But the fact that she hasn’t attended the event for three years in a row makes it seem like it could honestly be about scheduling issues, as opposed to any involvement in the social conservatives’ CPAC boycott.

Marco Rubio will also be absent, and it will be interesting to see if any other prominent politicians skip out. The Senate will be out of session next week — since Democrats will be away on a retreat — and it’s possible that some GOP senators slated to speak at CPAC will decide to head to their home states at the last minute. But at the moment, the conference apparently hasn’t been seriously impacted by the boycott, and organizers told ABC News that they expect around 10,000 attendees at the event.

Sarah Palin is the latest in a string of prominent conservatives who have decided not to attend this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, which takes place in Washington D.C. next week. While this will be the third year in a row that Palin has skipped the event, this year she turned down the coveted keynote-speaker slot, which was filled by Glenn Beck last year and by Rush Limbaugh in 2009:

CPAC leaders invited Palin to deliver the closing-night keynote speech on Saturday Feb. 12, immediately following the announcement of the results of CPAC’s annual presidential straw poll, but after several days of negotiations, she declined.

“We’re disappointed that she wasn’t able to make it this year,” American Conservative Union Chairman David Keene said through a spokesman on Thursday. He noted that Palin “expressed interest in wanting to come this year,” but said that it came down to “a scheduling issue.”

As ABC News noted, Palin “has a rocky history” with CPAC and skipped the event last year owing to some of the reportedly shady business dealings of the conference’s organizer, David Keene. But the fact that she hasn’t attended the event for three years in a row makes it seem like it could honestly be about scheduling issues, as opposed to any involvement in the social conservatives’ CPAC boycott.

Marco Rubio will also be absent, and it will be interesting to see if any other prominent politicians skip out. The Senate will be out of session next week — since Democrats will be away on a retreat — and it’s possible that some GOP senators slated to speak at CPAC will decide to head to their home states at the last minute. But at the moment, the conference apparently hasn’t been seriously impacted by the boycott, and organizers told ABC News that they expect around 10,000 attendees at the event.

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Neoconservatives and Democracy: A 30-Year Story

So it comes as a shock to many people, evidently, that “neoconservative” American intellectuals are consistent in holding the opinion that the national interest is best served by offering moral, logistical, and rhetorical support to those who seek “regime change” in dictatorial societies.

The plain fact of the matter is that this has been the “neoconservative” view for nearly three decades now — since the decision was made during the effort to save El Salvador from Soviet- and Cuban-aligned guerrilla forces to simultaneously push for elections there. That was a controversial choice then; people on the liberal left considered the El Salvador democratization policy mere window dressing for alignment with right-wing thugs, and realist conservatives considered it a display of ludicrous sentimentality.

The 1982 election in El Salvador was a turning point, however, a moment when the people of that country made it clear that they wanted a way out of the binary choice of a junta or a Castro-ite state. It had been Jeane Kirkpatrick’s argument in her great 1979 COMMENTARY article that, when there is a binary choice between authoritarians and totalitarians, it is not only prudent but moral to choose the former, in part because authoritarian societies can change and evolve.

But what if there are choices that go beyond the binary? That was, in effect, what the democratization strategy was all about. It complemented Kirkpatrick’s argument in one sense because it was predicated on the notion that authoritarian regimes could be pushed toward change. But it also superseded it, since it suggested that the citizens of these nations could and would play a vital role not only in creating the change but also in implementing it.

This was not a developed philosophy at the time; indeed, the El Salvador policy was conceived in response to events on the ground and the need to build domestic support for anti-Communist efforts in Latin America. But over the course of the 1980s and 1990s, with lessons learned along the way, the democratization strategy became something more coherent. Read More

So it comes as a shock to many people, evidently, that “neoconservative” American intellectuals are consistent in holding the opinion that the national interest is best served by offering moral, logistical, and rhetorical support to those who seek “regime change” in dictatorial societies.

The plain fact of the matter is that this has been the “neoconservative” view for nearly three decades now — since the decision was made during the effort to save El Salvador from Soviet- and Cuban-aligned guerrilla forces to simultaneously push for elections there. That was a controversial choice then; people on the liberal left considered the El Salvador democratization policy mere window dressing for alignment with right-wing thugs, and realist conservatives considered it a display of ludicrous sentimentality.

The 1982 election in El Salvador was a turning point, however, a moment when the people of that country made it clear that they wanted a way out of the binary choice of a junta or a Castro-ite state. It had been Jeane Kirkpatrick’s argument in her great 1979 COMMENTARY article that, when there is a binary choice between authoritarians and totalitarians, it is not only prudent but moral to choose the former, in part because authoritarian societies can change and evolve.

But what if there are choices that go beyond the binary? That was, in effect, what the democratization strategy was all about. It complemented Kirkpatrick’s argument in one sense because it was predicated on the notion that authoritarian regimes could be pushed toward change. But it also superseded it, since it suggested that the citizens of these nations could and would play a vital role not only in creating the change but also in implementing it.

This was not a developed philosophy at the time; indeed, the El Salvador policy was conceived in response to events on the ground and the need to build domestic support for anti-Communist efforts in Latin America. But over the course of the 1980s and 1990s, with lessons learned along the way, the democratization strategy became something more coherent.

For example, in the case of the anti-Communist efforts in Nicaragua, the CIA preferred working with the Contras, for whom its agents had essentially bought and paid, no matter their political coloration; officials at the State Department, however, thought that it was a mistake to align the United States with elements of the previous thug regime and that the U.S. should be promoting liberal forces within the Contra movement.

But probably the key year for the maturation of these ideas was 1986. It was a general axiom on the right, including among neoconservatives, that efforts to impose an economic embargo on South Africa were dangerous and naive because, though the apartheid regime might be unjust, it could be pushed to reform, and the sanctions might lead to a Soviet-aligned takeover of a strategically important country. When Congress voted for such sanctions, Ronald Reagan vetoed them. His veto was overridden.

And those of us who thought the sanctions would be disastrous were proved utterly mistaken. They turned out to be an effective strategy for crippling the regime without toppling it and forcing its end in a manner more pacific than anyone expected. (Not that South Africa post-apartheid is a wonderful model, but it was a gravely wounded civil society, and its healing will take a long time.) Part of the reason that sanctions have been a part of the American diplomatic toolbox ever since, and always with neoconservative support, is that they proved successful in South Africa.

The other thing that happened was an election in the Philippines, whose authoritarian junta regime was closely allied with the United States. The clear theft of the election by Ferdinand Marcos’s forces created a massive groundswell in the streets. At first, the White House did what Barack Obama did with the revolt in Egypt — it tried to stay out of it. Then-Secretary of State George Shultz, together with the later-notorious Paul Wolfowitz, who ran the State Department’s East Asia bureau, convinced Ronald Reagan to change policy, support those who said the election had been stolen, and eventually, with great efficiency, convince Marcos it was time for him to go.

And on it went, with South Korea and Taiwan and Chile and many other nations whose authoritarian regimes peacefully gave way to more liberal ones in part because of the encouragement of the United States.

It’s not a perfect strategy, by any means. No strategy is, and no strategy is applicable in every circumstance. The danger that Egypt might not follow in the path of the Philippines but rather in the path of revolutionary Iran is very real. But as the year of Carter-administration fecklessness on Iran that preceded Khomeini’s takeover in 1979 proved, a policy of passivity is not a way out for a president who does not know what to do.

America can’t not choose sides in such a struggle. Not choosing sides is, in effect, to choose sides. So it’s better to have a policy that offers a direction congruent with our values, and with a proven track record, than one that offers nothing but confusion.

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Amnesty International Campaigns for Convicted Hezbollah Spy

Amnesty International has come under heavy criticism for supporting Ameer Makhoul, a former anti-Israel activist convicted by Israel of spying for Hezbollah. Makhoul received a nine-year prison sentence for transferring messages to and otherwise aiding Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War.

But Amnesty’s Philip Luther alleges that Makhoul was imprisoned for “his human rights activism on behalf of Palestinians in Israel,” as opposed to his involvement in a terrorist organization. Luther further argues that Makhoul’s admission of the crime was invalid, allegedly obtained by Israel through torture.

According to NGO Monitor, Amnesty is intentionally ignoring the overwhelming evidence against Makhoul, in order to further its demonization campaign against Israel.

“Amnesty has completely lost its moral compass regarding human rights in the Middle East, as well as on other issues,” NGO Monitor’s Gerald Steinberg told the Jewish Chronicle. “Even after Makhoul’s admission of spying for Hezbollah, and the evidence presented in court, [it] refuses to denounce Makhoul’s connections to terror, his poisonous Nazi rhetoric, his calls for boycott, divestment, and sanctions, and his demonisation of Israel.”

Amnesty’s work has become so skewed against Israel that it’s impossible to take it seriously anymore. Recently, the organization disputed the Turkel Commission report’s claim that the activists aboard the Gaza flotilla had used firearms against Israeli soldiers, despite photographic evidence. When you can’t even admit what your own eyes are telling you, then it’s time to hang up the claim that you’re an objective observer of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Amnesty International has come under heavy criticism for supporting Ameer Makhoul, a former anti-Israel activist convicted by Israel of spying for Hezbollah. Makhoul received a nine-year prison sentence for transferring messages to and otherwise aiding Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War.

But Amnesty’s Philip Luther alleges that Makhoul was imprisoned for “his human rights activism on behalf of Palestinians in Israel,” as opposed to his involvement in a terrorist organization. Luther further argues that Makhoul’s admission of the crime was invalid, allegedly obtained by Israel through torture.

According to NGO Monitor, Amnesty is intentionally ignoring the overwhelming evidence against Makhoul, in order to further its demonization campaign against Israel.

“Amnesty has completely lost its moral compass regarding human rights in the Middle East, as well as on other issues,” NGO Monitor’s Gerald Steinberg told the Jewish Chronicle. “Even after Makhoul’s admission of spying for Hezbollah, and the evidence presented in court, [it] refuses to denounce Makhoul’s connections to terror, his poisonous Nazi rhetoric, his calls for boycott, divestment, and sanctions, and his demonisation of Israel.”

Amnesty’s work has become so skewed against Israel that it’s impossible to take it seriously anymore. Recently, the organization disputed the Turkel Commission report’s claim that the activists aboard the Gaza flotilla had used firearms against Israeli soldiers, despite photographic evidence. When you can’t even admit what your own eyes are telling you, then it’s time to hang up the claim that you’re an objective observer of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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Soros Cites Israel as Main Obstacle to Democracy in Egypt

In a Washington Post column today, George Soros seems quite optimistic about democracy taking root in Egypt — that is, as long as the Egyptians are able to overcome the Israel obstacle:

The main stumbling block is Israel. In reality, Israel has as much to gain from the spread of democracy in the Middle East as the United States has. But Israel is unlikely to recognize its own best interests because the change is too sudden and carries too many risks.

Really? Of all the problems facing Egypt in terms of building a democracy — Islamist groups, cultural intolerance, the violent pro-Mubarak rioters, etc. — Soros sees Israel as the main stumbling block?

The left-wing financier also doesn’t miss a chance to take a shot at Israel supporters in the U.S. (including AIPAC) and ends up sounding like a J Street press release, circa 2008, in the process:

And some U.S. supporters of Israel are more rigid and ideological than Israelis themselves. Fortunately, Obama is not beholden to the religious right, which has carried on a veritable vendetta against him. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is no longer monolithic or the sole representative of the Jewish community. The main danger is that the Obama administration will not adjust its policies quickly enough to the suddenly changed reality.

The talk about AIPAC no longer being “monolithic” was no doubt meant to be a shout-out to J Street. Of course, Soros can’t even bring himself to say the organization’s name straight out. After J Street’s humiliating public implosion over the past year (in which Soros played a major role), he probably realized how ridiculous it would sound.

In a Washington Post column today, George Soros seems quite optimistic about democracy taking root in Egypt — that is, as long as the Egyptians are able to overcome the Israel obstacle:

The main stumbling block is Israel. In reality, Israel has as much to gain from the spread of democracy in the Middle East as the United States has. But Israel is unlikely to recognize its own best interests because the change is too sudden and carries too many risks.

Really? Of all the problems facing Egypt in terms of building a democracy — Islamist groups, cultural intolerance, the violent pro-Mubarak rioters, etc. — Soros sees Israel as the main stumbling block?

The left-wing financier also doesn’t miss a chance to take a shot at Israel supporters in the U.S. (including AIPAC) and ends up sounding like a J Street press release, circa 2008, in the process:

And some U.S. supporters of Israel are more rigid and ideological than Israelis themselves. Fortunately, Obama is not beholden to the religious right, which has carried on a veritable vendetta against him. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is no longer monolithic or the sole representative of the Jewish community. The main danger is that the Obama administration will not adjust its policies quickly enough to the suddenly changed reality.

The talk about AIPAC no longer being “monolithic” was no doubt meant to be a shout-out to J Street. Of course, Soros can’t even bring himself to say the organization’s name straight out. After J Street’s humiliating public implosion over the past year (in which Soros played a major role), he probably realized how ridiculous it would sound.

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‘Spontaneous Eruption of Pro-Mubarak Sentiment’

Here’s America’s best satirist, Jon Stewart, on the “spontaneous eruption of pro-Mubarak sentiment from everyday Egyptians trained in the art of whip-based crowd control.”

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Mess O’Slightly-to-the-Left O’Potamia – Pro-Mubarak Demonstrators
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog</a> The Daily Show on Facebook

Here’s America’s best satirist, Jon Stewart, on the “spontaneous eruption of pro-Mubarak sentiment from everyday Egyptians trained in the art of whip-based crowd control.”

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Mess O’Slightly-to-the-Left O’Potamia – Pro-Mubarak Demonstrators
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog</a> The Daily Show on Facebook

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Jimmy Carter Sued for ‘Inaccurate’ Anti-Israel Book

Five readers have filed a $5 million lawsuit against former president Jimmy Carter, alleging that his 2006 anti-Israel book, “Peace Not Apartheid,” was so riddled with inaccuracies and misleading statements that it violated consumer-protection laws:

The suit accuses Carter and his publisher of violating New York consumer protection laws because they engaged in “deceptive acts in the course of conducting business” and alleges that they sought enrichment by promoting the book “as a work of non-fiction.”

In a press release, one of the attorneys, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner stated: “The lawsuit will expose all the falsehoods and misrepresentations in Carter’s book and prove that his hatred of Israel has led him to commit this fraud on the public. He is entitled to his opinions but deceptions and lies have no place in works of history.”

The plaintiffs don’t seem to have much of a legal case here. The spokesperson for Simon & Schuster told the Washington Post that the lawsuit would have “a chilling attack on free speech,” and he’s probably right. Carter’s anti-Israel tome may be a disgraceful distortion of reality, but if that was illegal, then there would be a lot of bankrupt authors.

The main point of the case seems to be to publicize how Carter’s anti-Semitic and anti-Israel views have shaped much of his misleading “advocacy” work in recent years. And that certainly will be fun to watch.

Five readers have filed a $5 million lawsuit against former president Jimmy Carter, alleging that his 2006 anti-Israel book, “Peace Not Apartheid,” was so riddled with inaccuracies and misleading statements that it violated consumer-protection laws:

The suit accuses Carter and his publisher of violating New York consumer protection laws because they engaged in “deceptive acts in the course of conducting business” and alleges that they sought enrichment by promoting the book “as a work of non-fiction.”

In a press release, one of the attorneys, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner stated: “The lawsuit will expose all the falsehoods and misrepresentations in Carter’s book and prove that his hatred of Israel has led him to commit this fraud on the public. He is entitled to his opinions but deceptions and lies have no place in works of history.”

The plaintiffs don’t seem to have much of a legal case here. The spokesperson for Simon & Schuster told the Washington Post that the lawsuit would have “a chilling attack on free speech,” and he’s probably right. Carter’s anti-Israel tome may be a disgraceful distortion of reality, but if that was illegal, then there would be a lot of bankrupt authors.

The main point of the case seems to be to publicize how Carter’s anti-Semitic and anti-Israel views have shaped much of his misleading “advocacy” work in recent years. And that certainly will be fun to watch.

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Curious Quote of the Day

From a Bloomberg News article on turmoil in the Middle East:

In Egypt, where Mubarak, 82, has been a dependable U.S. ally for 30 years, the White House will need “a delicate touch” to “ensure that a successor government is neither virulently anti-American nor openly hostile to Israel,” said Stephen M. Walt, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Egypt is the fourth-largest recipient of U.S. aid, after Afghanistan, Pakistan and Israel, according to the State Department’s 2011 budget, receiving more than $1.5 billion a year.

“We should be quietly advising other leaders in the region to take steps to alleviate discontent” and “avoid the same fate that Mubarak is now experiencing,” Walt said.

There’s no further description of Professor Walt in the Bloomberg article, but those familiar with his record on matters relating to Jews or Israel may find the spectacle of his cautioning against an Egyptian government “openly hostile to Israel” to be somewhat stunning, akin to Karl Marx being quoted hoping that the new Egyptian government won’t be openly hostile to capitalism. Though I suppose it leaves open the possibility that Professor Walt is hoping for an Egyptian government that’s privately hostile to Israel while publicly professing to wish it no harm.

From a Bloomberg News article on turmoil in the Middle East:

In Egypt, where Mubarak, 82, has been a dependable U.S. ally for 30 years, the White House will need “a delicate touch” to “ensure that a successor government is neither virulently anti-American nor openly hostile to Israel,” said Stephen M. Walt, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Egypt is the fourth-largest recipient of U.S. aid, after Afghanistan, Pakistan and Israel, according to the State Department’s 2011 budget, receiving more than $1.5 billion a year.

“We should be quietly advising other leaders in the region to take steps to alleviate discontent” and “avoid the same fate that Mubarak is now experiencing,” Walt said.

There’s no further description of Professor Walt in the Bloomberg article, but those familiar with his record on matters relating to Jews or Israel may find the spectacle of his cautioning against an Egyptian government “openly hostile to Israel” to be somewhat stunning, akin to Karl Marx being quoted hoping that the new Egyptian government won’t be openly hostile to capitalism. Though I suppose it leaves open the possibility that Professor Walt is hoping for an Egyptian government that’s privately hostile to Israel while publicly professing to wish it no harm.

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