Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 8, 2011

Pakistan Leaks Name of CIA Station Chief to Media

Pakistan has done it again. Several Pakistan television stations have named the CIA station chief in the country in a move certain to infuriate the United States. This is the second leak of this kind to come out of the Pakistani intelligence agency, after it allegedly released the name of the previous CIA station chief to the media last December. The Obama administration was livid over the last breach, so whoever leaked the information this time knew exactly what he was doing and what response it would elicit from the White House.

The current station chief will likely be recalled now that his identity has been compromised, which was probably exactly what Pakistani intelligence was going for. The agency is under scrutiny for potential ties to Osama bin Laden, and forcing the CIA head out of the country would be a setback for potential investigations.

This also seems to confirm U.S. suspicions. Why would the agency – or segments of the agency – want to obstruct an investigation if nothing shady was going on?

President Obama isn’t backing down on the investigation, and he’s also getting harsher in his criticism of Pakistan. He takes the most direct swipe yet at Pakistani government in an interview airing tonight on 60 Minutes.

“We don’t know whether there might have been some people inside of government, outside of government, and that’s something we have to investigate, and more importantly, the Pakistani government has to investigate,” Obama said.

The president needs to make it clear that there will be consequences for the Pakistani government if it doesn’t cooperate. And any Pakistani officials caught trying to obstruct the investigation must be severely punished.

Pakistan has done it again. Several Pakistan television stations have named the CIA station chief in the country in a move certain to infuriate the United States. This is the second leak of this kind to come out of the Pakistani intelligence agency, after it allegedly released the name of the previous CIA station chief to the media last December. The Obama administration was livid over the last breach, so whoever leaked the information this time knew exactly what he was doing and what response it would elicit from the White House.

The current station chief will likely be recalled now that his identity has been compromised, which was probably exactly what Pakistani intelligence was going for. The agency is under scrutiny for potential ties to Osama bin Laden, and forcing the CIA head out of the country would be a setback for potential investigations.

This also seems to confirm U.S. suspicions. Why would the agency – or segments of the agency – want to obstruct an investigation if nothing shady was going on?

President Obama isn’t backing down on the investigation, and he’s also getting harsher in his criticism of Pakistan. He takes the most direct swipe yet at Pakistani government in an interview airing tonight on 60 Minutes.

“We don’t know whether there might have been some people inside of government, outside of government, and that’s something we have to investigate, and more importantly, the Pakistani government has to investigate,” Obama said.

The president needs to make it clear that there will be consequences for the Pakistani government if it doesn’t cooperate. And any Pakistani officials caught trying to obstruct the investigation must be severely punished.

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Manless Drone Strikes Brainless Men

The U.S. attempt to take out radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen offers a peerless illustration of a zero-sum transaction:

In the first strike, the U.S. fired three rockets at a pickup truck in which Mr. Awlaki and a Saudi national and suspected al Qaeda member were traveling outside the village of Jahwa, located some 20 miles away from the Shebwa provincial capital, said local residents and the Yemeni security official. Those missiles didn’t hit their target.

Two Yemeni brothers, who were known by local residents for giving shelter to al Qaeda militants, rushed to the scene of the attack. Mr. Awlaki switched vehicles with them, leaving the two Yemenis in the pickup. A single drone then hit the pickup truck, killing the Yemenis inside.

Mr. Awlaki escaped in the other vehicle along with the Saudi.

Raw deal for the Yemeni brothers. But in a way it’s a microcosmic example of what support for jihad means. Some charismatic egomaniac pontificates on the evils of the Great Satan, sets some (usually failed) strike in motion against same, and then retires to his mansion while you dodge American bullets. Or in this case, leaves in your car while you fail to dodge American missiles in his. Jihad masterminding has its perks, but jihad servitude is always a bum deal. It only looks deceptively appealing to those who are otherwise consigned to live under the dictator’s boot. Which is why pursuit of an American freedom agenda is a pragmatic, not idealistic, endeavor.

The U.S. attempt to take out radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen offers a peerless illustration of a zero-sum transaction:

In the first strike, the U.S. fired three rockets at a pickup truck in which Mr. Awlaki and a Saudi national and suspected al Qaeda member were traveling outside the village of Jahwa, located some 20 miles away from the Shebwa provincial capital, said local residents and the Yemeni security official. Those missiles didn’t hit their target.

Two Yemeni brothers, who were known by local residents for giving shelter to al Qaeda militants, rushed to the scene of the attack. Mr. Awlaki switched vehicles with them, leaving the two Yemenis in the pickup. A single drone then hit the pickup truck, killing the Yemenis inside.

Mr. Awlaki escaped in the other vehicle along with the Saudi.

Raw deal for the Yemeni brothers. But in a way it’s a microcosmic example of what support for jihad means. Some charismatic egomaniac pontificates on the evils of the Great Satan, sets some (usually failed) strike in motion against same, and then retires to his mansion while you dodge American bullets. Or in this case, leaves in your car while you fail to dodge American missiles in his. Jihad masterminding has its perks, but jihad servitude is always a bum deal. It only looks deceptively appealing to those who are otherwise consigned to live under the dictator’s boot. Which is why pursuit of an American freedom agenda is a pragmatic, not idealistic, endeavor.

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Donilon Dodges Question on Enhanced Interrogation

The past week has been the ultimate vindication of the value of enhanced interrogation techniques. And we couldn’t have found a better person to affirm their effectiveness than President Obama, who has now achieved the greatest success of his presidential career thanks in part to techniques he once harshly condemned.

But the administration has found itself in the uncomfortable position of benefiting from the same techniques it’s outlawed. This leads to awkward exchanges like the one on Meet the Press this morning, when David Gregory pressed White House National Security Advisor Tom Donilon about the role enhanced interrogation played in tracking down Osama bin Laden:

“First of all, I’m not going to comment on specific pieces of intelligence and the source,” Donilon said, arguing that the investigation included “hundreds of pieces of intelligence over many years.”

But there’s a specific point. Did harsh interrogation help in the effort to ultimately identify where he was?” Gregory asked.

“No single piece of intelligence led to this,” Donilon replied.

Gregory tried a third time: “Can you address my question? Did harsh interrogation help in the hunt for bin laden?”

“I’m not going to comment on specific intelligence…” Donilon said.

Donilon’s dodges are revealing, and the administration’s reluctance to admit that enhanced interrogations played a role in finding bin Laden will become an increasing embarrassment for Democrats.

Killing bin Laden has been rightly seen as a political triumph for Obama, but it’s also a moral victory for conservatives. Bin Laden was ultimately brought to justice by Bush counterterrorism policies. And by benefiting from them, Obama has done more to discredit the left-wing philosophy on terrorism than Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney could ever have done.

The past week has been the ultimate vindication of the value of enhanced interrogation techniques. And we couldn’t have found a better person to affirm their effectiveness than President Obama, who has now achieved the greatest success of his presidential career thanks in part to techniques he once harshly condemned.

But the administration has found itself in the uncomfortable position of benefiting from the same techniques it’s outlawed. This leads to awkward exchanges like the one on Meet the Press this morning, when David Gregory pressed White House National Security Advisor Tom Donilon about the role enhanced interrogation played in tracking down Osama bin Laden:

“First of all, I’m not going to comment on specific pieces of intelligence and the source,” Donilon said, arguing that the investigation included “hundreds of pieces of intelligence over many years.”

But there’s a specific point. Did harsh interrogation help in the effort to ultimately identify where he was?” Gregory asked.

“No single piece of intelligence led to this,” Donilon replied.

Gregory tried a third time: “Can you address my question? Did harsh interrogation help in the hunt for bin laden?”

“I’m not going to comment on specific intelligence…” Donilon said.

Donilon’s dodges are revealing, and the administration’s reluctance to admit that enhanced interrogations played a role in finding bin Laden will become an increasing embarrassment for Democrats.

Killing bin Laden has been rightly seen as a political triumph for Obama, but it’s also a moral victory for conservatives. Bin Laden was ultimately brought to justice by Bush counterterrorism policies. And by benefiting from them, Obama has done more to discredit the left-wing philosophy on terrorism than Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney could ever have done.

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Bloomberg Still Admires His Reflection But New Yorkers Can’t Stand Him

No one will ever go broke by overestimating the ego or the self-satisfaction of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The billionaire has spent the last ten years attempting to purchase the votes and even the affection of New Yorkers but after leading a largely charmed existence, his act has gotten extremely old. As even the usually flattering columns of the New York Times noted today, Bloomberg’s stock has definitely gone down in the past few months.

As Fred Siegel and Sol Stern noted in their brilliant skewering of Bloomberg in the March issue of COMMENTARY, the mayor’s supposed triumphs in his first two terms in office was always something of an illusion. His administration’s disastrous and arrogant failure to deal with this past winter’s snow emergency crystallized the way New Yorkers have finally come to grips with the mayor’s failures. Though some put it down to third term blahs, as Siegel and Stern point out, the notion that Bloomberg was a successful mayor had more to do with his ability to purchase the loyalty of both the political class and the myriad activist and community groups that might have brought down a non-billionaire years earlier.

But what comes across most clearly in the Times assessment of the state of Bloomberg today is that despite the jokes from comics at his expenses and the falling poll numbers, the smug belief in his own rectitude that has always been the mayor’s dominant characteristic has not been dented. As the headline of the piece aptly puts it, this is a man who “likes what he sees in the mirror.” That may well be true and the mayor’s ability to sell himself to other elites as a powerful leader still makes him a force to be reckoned with. He may actually think that he is, as one pollster quoted by the Times says, New York’s greatest mayor. But despite all the praise he buys from pliant media figures or others who fear to displease him, Michael Bloomberg’s best days as mayor are all behind him. What lies ahead is the certainty of more failure and the opprobrium for his corrupt methods that is long overdue.

No one will ever go broke by overestimating the ego or the self-satisfaction of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The billionaire has spent the last ten years attempting to purchase the votes and even the affection of New Yorkers but after leading a largely charmed existence, his act has gotten extremely old. As even the usually flattering columns of the New York Times noted today, Bloomberg’s stock has definitely gone down in the past few months.

As Fred Siegel and Sol Stern noted in their brilliant skewering of Bloomberg in the March issue of COMMENTARY, the mayor’s supposed triumphs in his first two terms in office was always something of an illusion. His administration’s disastrous and arrogant failure to deal with this past winter’s snow emergency crystallized the way New Yorkers have finally come to grips with the mayor’s failures. Though some put it down to third term blahs, as Siegel and Stern point out, the notion that Bloomberg was a successful mayor had more to do with his ability to purchase the loyalty of both the political class and the myriad activist and community groups that might have brought down a non-billionaire years earlier.

But what comes across most clearly in the Times assessment of the state of Bloomberg today is that despite the jokes from comics at his expenses and the falling poll numbers, the smug belief in his own rectitude that has always been the mayor’s dominant characteristic has not been dented. As the headline of the piece aptly puts it, this is a man who “likes what he sees in the mirror.” That may well be true and the mayor’s ability to sell himself to other elites as a powerful leader still makes him a force to be reckoned with. He may actually think that he is, as one pollster quoted by the Times says, New York’s greatest mayor. But despite all the praise he buys from pliant media figures or others who fear to displease him, Michael Bloomberg’s best days as mayor are all behind him. What lies ahead is the certainty of more failure and the opprobrium for his corrupt methods that is long overdue.

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South Carolina Gives Santorum a Little Encouragement; But Not Pawlenty

The first GOP debate is over but South Carolina, which hosted the dismal proceeding that FOX News broadcast on Thursday, is still getting a lot of attention from Republican presidential candidates as well as those thinking about getting into the race.

In addition to co-sponsoring the debate between five of the hopefuls, the South Carolina Republican Party held the first straw poll vote of the season. In what must be considered a bit of a surprise, the winner of the ballot was Rick Santorum. The former senator from Pennsylvania seems to have gotten some sort of boost from the debate. Some of the pundits who analyzed the debate gave Santorum good reviews and a plurality of those attending the state’s GOP dinner seem to agree. According to Politico, Santorum got 150 votes out of the 408 cast with the absent Mitt Romney a distant second with 61 and businessman Herman Cain, the darling of pollster Frank Luntz’s FOX News focus group, third at 44. The top five was rounded out with the fading Donald Trump getting 29 votes and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (who is praying for assistance to form a campaign staff) and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (who swears he won’t run) tied at 22. Read More

The first GOP debate is over but South Carolina, which hosted the dismal proceeding that FOX News broadcast on Thursday, is still getting a lot of attention from Republican presidential candidates as well as those thinking about getting into the race.

In addition to co-sponsoring the debate between five of the hopefuls, the South Carolina Republican Party held the first straw poll vote of the season. In what must be considered a bit of a surprise, the winner of the ballot was Rick Santorum. The former senator from Pennsylvania seems to have gotten some sort of boost from the debate. Some of the pundits who analyzed the debate gave Santorum good reviews and a plurality of those attending the state’s GOP dinner seem to agree. According to Politico, Santorum got 150 votes out of the 408 cast with the absent Mitt Romney a distant second with 61 and businessman Herman Cain, the darling of pollster Frank Luntz’s FOX News focus group, third at 44. The top five was rounded out with the fading Donald Trump getting 29 votes and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (who is praying for assistance to form a campaign staff) and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (who swears he won’t run) tied at 22.

Straw polls aren’t just unscientific; any well-organized campaign can stage-manage such an event to get a boost if they think it is worth the effort. But while winning one says nothing about a candidate’s actual popularity with the voters, it does say something about their ability to organize and bus in supporters. Thus Santorum’s win in the poll means that either his hard right social issues pitch is genuinely popular with the party faithful in South Carolina or that his campaign is better organized than many of us may have thought. Given the slender resources that are at his disposal, the answer is probably the former. All this doesn’t mean that Santorum is about to become a serious contender for the nomination but the fallout from the debate is likely to encourage the former senator and his supporters and perhaps even help them raise enough money to continue the long slog toward the actual voting which is still many months away.

The other noteworthy aspect of the South Carolina straw poll is the poor showing of Tim Pawlenty. The former Minnesota governor was the only major candidate to show in South Carolina, but those who voted in the straw poll showed no gratitude for this gesture and seem to have given him even less respect than the the pundits who gave him middling reviews about his performance. Pawlenty got only seven votes in the straw poll. That means that either Carolinians really didn’t care for his debating style or that his campaign thought the straw poll wasn’t worth the bother. Or both.

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Doesn’t Anyone Want to be an Ambassador?

With a wide-open field and some of the most likely contenders still weighing whether to run, Republican fundraisers appear to be holding off on investing in possible presidential candidates. According to a front-page story in Sunday’s New York Times, major bundlers (fundraisers who can put together large numbers of donors who will give the legal maximum of $2,500 to candidates allowed by campaign law) have adopted a wait and see attitude toward the 2012 GOP hopefuls.

The reasons for this are not exactly a secret. Some are waiting to see whether heavy hitters like Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels will decide to run. Others are simply unimpressed with the current crop of candidates. And then there is the competition for conservative dollars that is coming from groups like Karl Rove’s American Crossroads group whose aim is to advocate on issues rather than help specific candidates.

The result is that the gold rush of donations that might otherwise be heading to the campaigns has yet to begin. Investing early in a candidate, as opposed to hopping on the bandwagon once it becomes clear that victory is possible, is the best way to earn points with a future president. At this point in the election cycle 12 years ago, Republican donors were putting down payments on possible ambassadorial or other presidential appointments with the George W. Bush campaign. Four years ago, there was no certain front-runner but the leading candidates were still raking in more money to squander on the long run up to the first primaries and caucuses.

It is way too early to consider the current level of fundraising to be as significant as the Times seems to think it is. The GOP race has yet to define itself and once it does, you can bet that big money donors will be lining up to back the candidates. Once Daniels, Bachmann, Huckabee and Huntsman make their decisions, it’s likely that we’ll see the usual rush to get in on the ground floor of future presidential administrations.

With a wide-open field and some of the most likely contenders still weighing whether to run, Republican fundraisers appear to be holding off on investing in possible presidential candidates. According to a front-page story in Sunday’s New York Times, major bundlers (fundraisers who can put together large numbers of donors who will give the legal maximum of $2,500 to candidates allowed by campaign law) have adopted a wait and see attitude toward the 2012 GOP hopefuls.

The reasons for this are not exactly a secret. Some are waiting to see whether heavy hitters like Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels will decide to run. Others are simply unimpressed with the current crop of candidates. And then there is the competition for conservative dollars that is coming from groups like Karl Rove’s American Crossroads group whose aim is to advocate on issues rather than help specific candidates.

The result is that the gold rush of donations that might otherwise be heading to the campaigns has yet to begin. Investing early in a candidate, as opposed to hopping on the bandwagon once it becomes clear that victory is possible, is the best way to earn points with a future president. At this point in the election cycle 12 years ago, Republican donors were putting down payments on possible ambassadorial or other presidential appointments with the George W. Bush campaign. Four years ago, there was no certain front-runner but the leading candidates were still raking in more money to squander on the long run up to the first primaries and caucuses.

It is way too early to consider the current level of fundraising to be as significant as the Times seems to think it is. The GOP race has yet to define itself and once it does, you can bet that big money donors will be lining up to back the candidates. Once Daniels, Bachmann, Huckabee and Huntsman make their decisions, it’s likely that we’ll see the usual rush to get in on the ground floor of future presidential administrations.

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The King of Republican Cool?

Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman is supposedly still considering whether he’ll run for president. Like a number of other possible contenders, he stayed away from Thursday’s first Republican presidential debate. But Huntsman landed in the state the next day and proceeded to give every indication that he wants its support for the GOP nomination.

Huntsman met with South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley on Friday and then gave a commencement address at the University of South Carolina on Saturday. He didn’t talk politics to the graduating Gamecocks, but the significance of his appearance in an early primary state was lost on no one. Next week he is said to be heading to New Hampshire.

It’s far from clear that South Carolina is the best venue for a Huntsman candidacy, since he is thought to be among the most moderate of GOP contenders on the issues and must also labor under the handicap of having worked for two years for the Obama administration as ambassador to China. His upbeat message at the commencement, which centered on his belief that America would not be eclipsed by China in the coming decades, is not the fire and brimstone that many primary voters like, but it fits with his reputation as a candidate that would fare better in November than in a primary.

But whether it plays well or not, political observers may need to get used to hearing the autobiographical pitch that Huntsman used in his commencement speech. He likes to recall that he dropped out of high school to play in a band. The Washington Post noted that with this story, Huntsman might “add a measure of cool to a field that has yet to find traction or a solid front-runner.” Of course, what passes for “cool” among Republican Mormons from Utah might not exactly measure up to any objective standard of cool in the general population. But if, as the expression goes, a one-eyed man is king in the land of the blind, perhaps candidate Huntsman has a chance to become the king of Republican cool.

Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman is supposedly still considering whether he’ll run for president. Like a number of other possible contenders, he stayed away from Thursday’s first Republican presidential debate. But Huntsman landed in the state the next day and proceeded to give every indication that he wants its support for the GOP nomination.

Huntsman met with South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley on Friday and then gave a commencement address at the University of South Carolina on Saturday. He didn’t talk politics to the graduating Gamecocks, but the significance of his appearance in an early primary state was lost on no one. Next week he is said to be heading to New Hampshire.

It’s far from clear that South Carolina is the best venue for a Huntsman candidacy, since he is thought to be among the most moderate of GOP contenders on the issues and must also labor under the handicap of having worked for two years for the Obama administration as ambassador to China. His upbeat message at the commencement, which centered on his belief that America would not be eclipsed by China in the coming decades, is not the fire and brimstone that many primary voters like, but it fits with his reputation as a candidate that would fare better in November than in a primary.

But whether it plays well or not, political observers may need to get used to hearing the autobiographical pitch that Huntsman used in his commencement speech. He likes to recall that he dropped out of high school to play in a band. The Washington Post noted that with this story, Huntsman might “add a measure of cool to a field that has yet to find traction or a solid front-runner.” Of course, what passes for “cool” among Republican Mormons from Utah might not exactly measure up to any objective standard of cool in the general population. But if, as the expression goes, a one-eyed man is king in the land of the blind, perhaps candidate Huntsman has a chance to become the king of Republican cool.

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The Beginning and End of the Peace Process

Elliott Abrams’s reflections on “The End of the ‘Peace Process’” are worth reading in their entirety. Abrams has been urging Israel to consider far-reaching steps toward the Palestinians, but says this is no longer politically possible after the Palestinian Authority friended Hamas. He recommends a new American policy: “let the Palestinians vote next year, and then see where we stand.”

In George W. Bush’s landmark 2002 speech (and the 2003 Roadmap), support for a Palestinian state was conditional. It depended on Palestinians’ establishing a “practicing democracy” and dismantling terrorist groups. Nine years later, a terrorist group rules half the putative state, and the PA has signed a “reconciliation” agreement with it. The agreement promises elections “within a year,” but the only practical effect is to defer (once again) the local elections the PA had promised for July.

J. E. Dyer analyzes the “modest proposal” to defer consideration of a Palestinian state until the Palestinians hold the election they have purportedly agreed to hold:  

Hamas and Fatah mounted their theatrics this week with fingers crossed behind their backs, the very picture of gangland thugs simulating the observances of civilization.  There is utility in pointing this out – but there is none in putting all of Israel’s or America’s effort into a series of rhetorical skirmishes with gang leaders between now and September. . . .

This proposal puts the onus on Fatah and Hamas, which is where it belongs. It also sets a condition for the European Union … to choose between supporting an election – the obviously correct path by the EU’s own lights – and the irresponsible precedent of conferring peremptory statehood on an unelected “government” that includes an active terrorist organization.

There is no American interest in supporting a Palestinian state that cannot hold an election, or holds an election that produces a government with terrorists sworn to destroy Israel. It is time to apply the conditions the U.S. set when the “peace process” began—or end the process altogether.

Elliott Abrams’s reflections on “The End of the ‘Peace Process’” are worth reading in their entirety. Abrams has been urging Israel to consider far-reaching steps toward the Palestinians, but says this is no longer politically possible after the Palestinian Authority friended Hamas. He recommends a new American policy: “let the Palestinians vote next year, and then see where we stand.”

In George W. Bush’s landmark 2002 speech (and the 2003 Roadmap), support for a Palestinian state was conditional. It depended on Palestinians’ establishing a “practicing democracy” and dismantling terrorist groups. Nine years later, a terrorist group rules half the putative state, and the PA has signed a “reconciliation” agreement with it. The agreement promises elections “within a year,” but the only practical effect is to defer (once again) the local elections the PA had promised for July.

J. E. Dyer analyzes the “modest proposal” to defer consideration of a Palestinian state until the Palestinians hold the election they have purportedly agreed to hold:  

Hamas and Fatah mounted their theatrics this week with fingers crossed behind their backs, the very picture of gangland thugs simulating the observances of civilization.  There is utility in pointing this out – but there is none in putting all of Israel’s or America’s effort into a series of rhetorical skirmishes with gang leaders between now and September. . . .

This proposal puts the onus on Fatah and Hamas, which is where it belongs. It also sets a condition for the European Union … to choose between supporting an election – the obviously correct path by the EU’s own lights – and the irresponsible precedent of conferring peremptory statehood on an unelected “government” that includes an active terrorist organization.

There is no American interest in supporting a Palestinian state that cannot hold an election, or holds an election that produces a government with terrorists sworn to destroy Israel. It is time to apply the conditions the U.S. set when the “peace process” began—or end the process altogether.

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