Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 15, 2014

The Anti-Rand Paul GOP Primary

The 2014 midterms are months away but the 2016 Republican presidential race is already heating up–though on foreign policy, an issue that isn’t usually a significant factor. But while this debate is generating a fair amount of heat, the real competition isn’t really so much between Senator Rand Paul, the leader of the libertarian wing of the GOP, as it is between those seeking to assume the leadership of those who are determined to stop the Kentucky senator.

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The 2014 midterms are months away but the 2016 Republican presidential race is already heating up–though on foreign policy, an issue that isn’t usually a significant factor. But while this debate is generating a fair amount of heat, the real competition isn’t really so much between Senator Rand Paul, the leader of the libertarian wing of the GOP, as it is between those seeking to assume the leadership of those who are determined to stop the Kentucky senator.

That’s the upshot of a pair of dueling op-ed articles published this week in which Texas Governor Rick Perry and Paul laid out their respective positions on foreign policy. Perry pulled no punches in an article published in the Washington Post last Friday as he labeled Paul an “isolationist.” Perry rightly pointed out that the positions Paul advocates would weaken America’s defense and standing around the world even more than President Obama’s disastrous policies, especially as a terrorist threat becomes more pronounced in the Middle East.

Paul argued in a response published yesterday in Politico that he was a realist, not an isolationist. But he gave away the game by claiming the difference between them was about his unwillingness to order Americans into Iraq, a signal that he intends to stick to a stance in which the use of U.S. power, as well as its exercise of influence, would be shelved in a Paul presidency.

Paul’s advantage here is that he is the unchallenged spokesman for the growing isolationist spirit within the GOP and the nation. He has inherited his father’s extreme libertarian base and expanded with a slick appeal rooted in the post-Iraq and Afghanistan war weariness. That gives him a sizable chunk of Republican primary voters and accounts for the fact that early polls show him with a slim plurality in a large field of potential candidates.

But it doesn’t guarantee Paul the nomination. To the contrary, though Paul is a formidable contender, there’s no reason to believe that the party that has championed strong defense and foreign policies for generations is morphing into the sort of organization where an extremist like Ron Paul, or even his son, who espouse foreign-policy views that are arguably to the left of Obama, speaks for the majority.

But Paul could succeed if the candidates who espouse mainstream GOP views on foreign policy siphon support from each other and allow him to slip through to victory. That’s why the fiercest fight in the upcoming campaign will not be between Paul and those who disagree with him but in the virtual primary as Republican foreign-policy hawks seek to claim the mantle as the anti-Paul candidate.

This will be especially important because although most voters will always be more concerned about the economy and domestic issues, the differences between the candidates on most of the other issues will be minimal. As things stack up now, other than immigration reform, foreign policy may be the only point on which there are significant differences among the Republicans.

Who will be competing in the anti-Paul primary?

The first name that comes to mind is Chris Christie. The New Jersey governor’s decision to remind voters of his opposition to gay marriage made it clear that he’s still interested in running for president despite his ongoing Bridgegate troubles. And he fired a shot across Paul’s bow last year on the question of intelligence gathering that indicated a willingness to stake out ground to the libertarian’s right on defense policy. But Christie is still regarded by many in the grass roots as a moderate who will have problems drawing support from a party that has shifted to the right. More to the point, his expertise on foreign affairs appears to be minimal. While no one should underestimate Christie in a fight, this is not a man who is likely to gain any advantages by speaking about non-domestic or economic issues.

The other principal contender for the title of anti-Paul is Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Rubio has spent the last year giving speeches on foreign affairs and has the chops to make a strong case for himself as the most able spokesman of his generation for a strong American foreign policy. Based on his statements, Rubio is a clear choice to be the leading advocate for a strong America in his generation. But the jury is still out on whether Rubio can overcome a poor 2013 in which conservatives attacked him on immigration and Paul and Ted Cruz won the affection of the Tea Party (a group that once regarded him as a favorite).

There are others who would like use foreign policy to emerge from the pack of GOP candidates. Outliers like former ambassador John Bolton and Rep. Peter King want to run on foreign policy but neither seems capable anything more than a symbolic candidacy. 2012 runner-up Rick Santorum has the expertise learned during years in the Senate and would give Paul a run for his money by articulating the case for stopping Iran and not allowing Islamists or the Russians to run the U.S. out of the Middle East. But while it would be foolish to underestimate Santorum (as I and just about everyone else did in 2012), he still looks right now to be a second-tier candidate until the contrary is proven.

There is also the possibility that someone else, such as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, will emerge as a rival to Paul. But Walker must first win reelection and then must articulate some strong positions on foreign policy, something that so far he has not done.

It is into that confusing array of contenders that Perry is seeking to inject himself. Perry’s disastrous 2012 run would have seemed to eliminate him from future consideration but after his very good week showing up Barack Obama on illegal immigration, the Texas governor seems to be a much more serious contender now than he did only a few weeks ago.

Perry doesn’t know as much about foreign policy as Rubio, Santorum, Bolton, or King and anyone who remembers his debate performances the last time around must regard his 2016 hopes as a long shot at best. But in contrast to his late start last time around, Perry is going in hard this time and seems better prepared. Moreover, by seeking to establish himself as the heir to the Reagan wing of the GOP (as opposed to Paul’s seeming effort to channel the spirit of Robert A. Taft, the isolationist champion of the 1940s), Perry has correctly targeted an issue that could give him a leg up in a battle that is only just starting.

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The Republican Party and Single Women

I’ve written in the past about the demographic problems facing the Republican Party, especially during presidential years. My basic point is that Republicans do best with demographic groups that are contracting and worst with demographic groups that are expanding. Which means the GOP faces systemic, not just transitory, challenges.

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I’ve written in the past about the demographic problems facing the Republican Party, especially during presidential years. My basic point is that Republicans do best with demographic groups that are contracting and worst with demographic groups that are expanding. Which means the GOP faces systemic, not just transitory, challenges.

A recent story in the New York Times highlights just one of the demographic groups that is both growing and becoming less reliably Republican: single women. Here are some facts, as laid out in the Times story:

  • Half of all adult women over the age of 18 are unmarried—56 million, up from 45 million in 2000.
  • Single women now account for one in four people of voting age. In 2012, 58 percent of single women voted. (During this year’s mid-term, this number could slide by one-third, to roughly 39 percent, according to the Voter Participation Center. Many unmarried women do not turn out to vote during non-presidential elections.)
  • Single women have become Democrats’ most reliable supporters, behind African-Americans.
  • In 2012, two-thirds of single women who voted supported President Obama.

“You have a group that’s growing in size, and becoming more politically concentrated in terms of the Democrats,” according to Tom W. Smith, director of the General Social Survey at the National Opinion Research Center of the University of Chicago.

Single women tend to be socially liberal–but, according to the Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, “the issues they really care about are economic.” Ruy Teixeira, a political demographer at the Center for American Progress, says unmarried women, and especially unmarried mothers, have greater economic vulnerability.

To be sure, Republicans can win presidential elections without carrying a majority of single women. (Among married women, a slim majority supported Mitt Romney, while he won the male vote by eight points.) But it will be tough to win those elections if the Republican nominee for president loses the female vote by 12 points and single women by 36 points, as was the case in 2012.

I wouldn’t advise, and because I’m a social conservative I wouldn’t want, the GOP to become a socially liberal party. But that doesn’t mean certain things can’t be done. They include giving more prominent public roles to responsible women in the party (for example, Kelly Ayotte and Cathy McMorris Rodgers). It means nominating a presidential candidate who is principled but not seen as the aggressor on social issues. Grace and a gladsome spirit beat a zealous and judgmental one. And it means putting cultural issues in the context of a decent and humane social order.

In addition, Republicans would be wise to enlarge the social issues they speak about. Liberals and the elite press will want to keep the focus on issues like contraception, abortion, and same-sex marriage. Republicans need to counter by speaking in compelling ways about the intellectual and moral education of the young, about education as the civil-rights struggle of this generation, and protecting children from harm, including drug use and standing against drug legalization. They need to speak about an agenda focused on social mobility and helping people gain the skills they’ll need to succeed in a 21st century economy. Republicans also need to make it clear they want to strengthen, rather than weaken, the social safety net, including about the purposes of government in ways that reassures rather than unnerves people, especially those who are most vulnerable.

The GOP is hardly in danger of disappearing; in fact, it looks very much like it will take control of the Senate in addition to maintain control in the House. The Republican Party still possesses considerable strengths. The public is highly skeptical of much of the agenda of the Democratic Party. It helps, of course, that the Obama presidency is breaking apart and so, in many respects, is liberalism. Which means voters, including single women, are likely to give a fresh look to Republicans. It’ll be interesting to see what they find, how welcome they feel, and how they respond.

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A Maoist in Gaza

Despite the flurry of reports from Gaza today, very few news outlets picked up on Hamas’s declaration that it had closed the Erez border crossing into Israel, citing “Israeli shelling” as the reason for doing so. The move, reported AFP, left stranded a group of Palestinians who had arrived at Erez early in the morning, “some of whom were scheduled to enter Israel for cancer treatment.”

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Despite the flurry of reports from Gaza today, very few news outlets picked up on Hamas’s declaration that it had closed the Erez border crossing into Israel, citing “Israeli shelling” as the reason for doing so. The move, reported AFP, left stranded a group of Palestinians who had arrived at Erez early in the morning, “some of whom were scheduled to enter Israel for cancer treatment.”

Sadly, these patients may have to wait a while before attempting the journey again, as Hamas subsequently announced that the border crossing will remain closed until it receives an “international guarantee that the crossing, and the route between the two sides of the crossing, will not be bombed by Israel.” In the interim, their other option is to ascertain whether Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian doctor currently in Gaza City, is willing to take time out of his busy media schedule to assist them.

Over the last couple of days, Gilbert has become an unofficial spokesman for the Hamas regime, giving interviews like this one in which he accused Israel of “deliberately” targeting civilians, “particularly women and children.” Pro-Palestinian activists on social media platforms have been eagerly reporting Gilbert’s every move, lauding him with such terms as “hero” and “great humanitarian.” Among Gilbert’s admirers is Chris Gunness, the spokesman for UNRWA, the UN agency devoted exclusively to Palestinian refugees, who repeatedly tweeted the doctor’s email address and cell phone number, describing him as a “brilliant interviewee” on the “impact of the conflict on civilians.”

One does not, however, have to dig very deep to discover that the halo effect around Gilbert masks some very disturbing affiliations. To begin with, Gilbert is an active member of Norway’s Red Party, a Maoist organization formed in 2007, which begs the question as to how someone who perpetuates the ideology of a tyrant who murdered 45 million of his own people over four years can be described as a “humanitarian.” Nor does Gilbert have a track record of helping anyone other than the Palestinians; as the journalist Benjamin Weinthal revealed on Twitter, his emails and phone calls to Gilbert asking the doctor why he wasn’t treating victims of the slaughter in Syria were met with silence.

Gilbert’s reputation is derived not from his medical work, but from his frequent verbal assaults on Israel and the United States, which stretch back to the early 1980s, when he became active in Palestinian solidarity work. As the Israeli watchdog NGO Monitor pointed out in a statement urging media organizations to treat Gilbert’s comments on Gaza with extreme caution, a few days after the al-Qaeda atrocities of September 11, 2001, Gilbert gave an interview to the Norwegian daily Dagbladet in which he stated, “The oppressed also have a moral right to attack the USA with any weapon they can come up with.” Chairman Mao himself couldn’t have put it better.

None of this has eroded Gilbert’s celebrity; arguably, it’s enhanced it. When he and his colleague Erik Fosse visited Gaza during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09, their expenses were covered by a Norwegian NGO that is funded by the Norwegian government. While the two doctors were in Gaza, spending an inordinate amount of time talking to journalists about Israeli “war crimes,” they received a phone call from no less than Jens Stoltenberg–then Norway’s prime minister, now the incoming secretary-general of NATO–who assured them that “all of Norway is behind you.” A subsequent book about their experiences in Gaza was praised by Norway’s Foreign Ministry, which said that conveying their impressions was “not their duty, but their responsibility,” given that in such dire situations, “civilians become voiceless.”

No wonder, then, that Gilbert now feels licensed to elevate the political goals of his current Gaza mission above any medical considerations. Speaking to a reverential Amy Goodman on the left-wing Democracy Now! show, Gilbert went so far as to say, “As a medical doctor, my appeal is don’t send bandages, don’t send syringes, don’t send medical teams. The most important medical thing you can do now is to force Israel to stop the bombing and lift the siege of Gaza.”

As Operation Protective Edge enters its second week, we can expect Gilbert to make ever more outlandish statements the longer he remains in Gaza. But that won’t stop media organizations from trumpeting Gilbert’s medical credentials–as did Britain’s Channel 4 News, which billed him as “a Norwegian volunteer surgeon at Shifa Hospital in Gaza,” thereby encouraging its audience to take the good doctor at his word–while ignoring the fact that he is an integral element of the Hamas propaganda network.

But that, ironically, is what underlies Gilbert’s appeal. He tells Europeans what they want to hear: that Israel has made Gaza into a prison camp, and that nothing is more noble than the Palestinian determination to resist. Once you succeed in getting that message across, what does it matter whether Hamas rejects a ceasefire, or invites a firm Israeli response by sending even more missiles over the border?

As tempting as it is to dismiss Gilbert as a crazy Norwegian Maoist in Gaza, the reality is that he is using his media appearances to stoke the libel of the century: namely, that Israel, in the words of the Palestinian Authority’s foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki, is engaged in “a genocide against the Palestinian people in all territories.”

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How Not to Promote Immigration Reform

Today, America’s most prominent illegal immigrant arrived at the border between Mexico and the United States to demonstrate his solidarity with the tens of thousands of people streaming into the country without permission. But the stunt by which former journalist Jose Antonio Vargas got himself arrested did more to undermine support for immigration reform than to foster sympathy for the illegals.

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Today, America’s most prominent illegal immigrant arrived at the border between Mexico and the United States to demonstrate his solidarity with the tens of thousands of people streaming into the country without permission. But the stunt by which former journalist Jose Antonio Vargas got himself arrested did more to undermine support for immigration reform than to foster sympathy for the illegals.

Vargas became a national figure three years ago when the former Washington Post reporter outed himself in the New York Times as an illegal immigrant. Vargas came to the United States at 12 from the Philippines to live with his grandparents who were naturalized citizens. But he was brought here by a “coyote” without a legal visa and spent the rest of his life lying about his status and using fake documents. After graduating college he consulted an immigration lawyer who told him his only path to citizenship was to return to his home country, wait ten years and then apply to come back with permission. On the cusp of a successful career he refused and continued lying even as he was part of a Post team that won a Pulitzer. Eventually, he tired of the deceit as he continued to rise in mainstream journalism and decided to put himself forward as a symbol of the plight of the so-called “dreamers”—people who were brought to the country illegally as kids and who went on to make a contribution to society.

After revealing himself to be an illegal Vargas faced no consequences. To the contrary, he became a media star, founding a group backing the rights of illegals, testifying before Congress, making documentary films, and writing. So perhaps with the backing of liberals who have lionized him as an example of why illegal immigrants should be given a path to citizenship he may have felt he had impunity to come and go as he pleased even though he remains in the United States without anything but a Philippine passport.

But when he went through an airport security line at McAllen-Miller International Airport on the Texas border today, Transportation Security Administration agents detained him. His arrest has prompted calls for his release by immigration advocates who see him as having put himself on the line to draw attention to the plight of the thousands of children and adults who have surged across the border in recent months.

But if immigration reform advocates think this stunt will help their cause they are mistaken.

The problem for the Obama administration and others who believe a broken system must be changed is that their calls for legalization for undocumented aliens have prompted another wave of illegal immigration. Even those of us who believe that calls for the government to deport the 11 million illegals here now are ridiculous must understand that the president’s actions designed to help the dreamers and advocacy for “amnesty” have created exactly the mess that immigration reform critics predicted.

Even more to the point, the use of Vargas as the poster child for the campaign for legalization doesn’t work quite the way his supporters think it does. Nor does it make a good argument for letting the tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors who have arrived illegally stay.

Even if you support a pragmatic solution to the dilemma of those already here illegally, the idea that anyone in Central America or anyone else has the right to simply storm the border or sneak in and then demand legal status is neither logical nor a sustainable argument.

After all, why should those who have arrived here illegally recently be put at the head of the line of those seeking entry to the country by legal means? What gives Vargas or anyone else the right to flout the law without ever having to face the consequences?

If there is to be immigration reform it must, as the bipartisan Senate coalition that passed a reform bill last year realized, be part of a scheme that secures the border and restores order to the current chaos. But if Vargas and other illegals are determined to demand that illegals be given the right to enter with impunity, all reform will accomplish will be a repeat of the failed Reagan-era experiment in which amnesty was followed by another wave of illegals.

Yet by highlighting people like Vargas, immigration advocates are sending a signal that what they want is a situation in which the border will be erased and the laws, whether they are tough or more liberal, will be rendered meaningless. After all, at some point we will have new laws that will theoretically have to be enforced even if they are preceded by giving a pass to those who have already broken the law.

Vargas was released quickly and I doubt he will ever be deported. But if immigration reform is ever to succeed it won’t be by telling Americans that laws are irrelevant.

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Diane Ravitch’s Sexist and Tendentious Attack on an Education Reformer

In the past I’ve had my differences with Jonathan Chait, but he does a splendid job of eviscerating Diane Ravitch, an education historian who has become among the most prominent defenders of teacher unions.

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In the past I’ve had my differences with Jonathan Chait, but he does a splendid job of eviscerating Diane Ravitch, an education historian who has become among the most prominent defenders of teacher unions.

Ms. Ravitch has undergone a radical change in her views. She was once a vocal advocate for reforms; she’s now among the fiercest public critics of reform. More on that in a moment, but let me begin by setting the context.

The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi did a profile of Campbell Brown, a former CNN anchor turned education-reform activist. One of Ms. Brown’s concerns is teacher tenure, which she (rightly) believes protects terrible teachers from accountability and creates the wrong metric by which to judge teachers. Apparently this was too much for Ms. Ravitch, who said this:

“I have trouble with this issue because it’s so totally illogical,” says Diane Ravitch, an education historian. “It’s hard to understand why anyone thinks taking away teachers’ due-process rights will lead to great teachers in every classroom.”

As for Brown, Ravitch is dismissive: “She is a good media figure because of her looks, but she doesn’t seem to know or understand anything about teaching and why tenure matters. . . . I know it sounds sexist to say that she is pretty, but that makes her telegenic, even if what she has to say is total nonsense.”

To which Chait responds, “Why, yes, that does sound rather sexist.” He goes on to explain why the elimination of our current system of teacher tenure would help attract better teachers, including pointing out that last-in, first-out hiring rules lead to teachers being let go regardless of quality. “The basic problem is that some proportion of American teachers is terrible at their job and immune to improvement, yet removing them is a practical impossibility,” Chait writes. (He supplies an overview of the research here.)

“In most fields,” Chait adds, “your pay is based on your perceived value rather than on the number of years you have spent on the job.” He goes on to say of various reforms, “nearly all of them work better than paying people on the basis of how long they’ve held a job and making it functionally impossible to fire them for being terrible at their job.”

Some final thoughts, the first of which is that it’s a shame that Ravitch has become such an angry and embittered critic of those arguing for many of the reforms she once favored. In a devastating COMMENTARY magazine review of Ravitch’s book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Liam Julian of the Hoover Institution wrote her book was “nothing less than an act of emotional and ideological capitulation to those who fought her tooth and nail all along the way.” Changing one’s mind is not in principle wrong, of course, but in Ms. Ravitch’s case her complete shift on education reminds me of the words of Thomas More in A Man For All Seasons: “Listen, Roper. Two years ago you were a passionate Churchman; now you’re a passionate — Lutheran. We must just pray that when your head’s finished turning, your face is to the front again.”

In the course of her volte-face, Ms. Ravitch hasn’t simply shifted her views; she’s gone from being a serious scholar to an intemperate polemicist. (See Sol Stern’s Autumn 2013 essay in City Journal, “The Closing of Diane Ravitch’s Mind,” for more.) Her sexist attack on Campbell Brown, while ludicrous, was entirely in keeping with her corrosive and dyspeptic rhetoric these days.

As for Ms. Brown, she put things rather well in the profile by Farhi:

I’m a mom, and my view of public education begins and ends with the fundamental question: Is this good for children? In a situation where it’s the child or the adult, I’m going with the child…. Tenure is permanent lifetime employment. There’s no reason why anyone’s job should become untouchable for the rest of their life.

To be an advocate for the education and wellbeing of children is a rather high calling, even if the advocate happens to be attractive as well.

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America: the Popular Hegemon

There’s a lot to chew over in the new international survey from the Pew Global Attitudes Project. The headline on Pew’s own website leads with international opposition to U.S. surveillance and the use of drones but, despite this, the U.S. remains pretty popular–viewed favorably by 65 percent of the world and unfavorably by just 25 percent.

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There’s a lot to chew over in the new international survey from the Pew Global Attitudes Project. The headline on Pew’s own website leads with international opposition to U.S. surveillance and the use of drones but, despite this, the U.S. remains pretty popular–viewed favorably by 65 percent of the world and unfavorably by just 25 percent.

Those numbers are all the more impressive when you compare the standing of America’s rivals. Russia’s negative ratings have spiked–now 43 percent of those surveyed view Putinland unfavorably while 34 percent have a positive view. As for China–whose diplomatic offensive at American expense has often been noted–it outscores the U.S. in popularity in only one region: the Middle East. Everywhere else–Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America–the U.S. is more popular.

When asked which country is their top ally, respondents in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam all answered the “U.S.” Only respondents in Malaysia and Pakistan described China as their top ally and the U.S. as their top threat. In Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam, China was described as the top threat. (Indonesians seem confused–they named the U.S. as both the top ally and the top threat.)

Even more interesting is the fact that large majorities in all of China’s neighbors–and even in China itself–are worried that “territorial disputes between China and neighboring states could lead to a military conflict.” The survey indicates that more than 90 percent of those surveyed in the Philippines are worried as are more than 80 percent of those surveyed in South Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. Even in China itself more than 60 percent of those surveyed are worried about war.

The implication is clear: the U.S. still has a lot of capital in the world while China is rapidly dissipating whatever goodwill it might once have enjoyed with its aggressive and bombastic behavior. Obviously there is a lot more to foreign policy than popularity–it would be nice to be respected, not just liked–but nevertheless the survey does show an important and often under-appreciated source of American strength: namely the fact that most people around the world do not view us as a threat, no matter how powerful we may be, even when American behavior (e.g., on surveillance and drones) comes in for so much criticism. We are the benevolent superpower, the popular hegemon–not just in our own minds but in the minds of most other people around the world.

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The ‘Unsustainable Status Quo’ and Gaza

Speaking yesterday at the White House Iftar dinner yesterday, President Obama reiterated his support for a peace agreement that would end what he called the “unsustainable status quo” between Israel and the Palestinians. But while his support for peace is appropriate, his inability to connect the dots between the fighting in Gaza and his hopes demonstrates anew the administration’s tone-deaf approach to the Middle East.

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Speaking yesterday at the White House Iftar dinner yesterday, President Obama reiterated his support for a peace agreement that would end what he called the “unsustainable status quo” between Israel and the Palestinians. But while his support for peace is appropriate, his inability to connect the dots between the fighting in Gaza and his hopes demonstrates anew the administration’s tone-deaf approach to the Middle East.

The president deserves credit for making it clear that the United States supports Israel’s right to self-defense against what he rightly termed “inexcusable attacks” by Hamas rockets from Gaza. That he did so at a dinner for American Muslims is doubly welcome. But it is discouraging to see that the administration’s mindset about Middle East diplomacy is unaffected by events on the ground.

President Obama is right in the sense that resolving the situation requires more than just a cease-fire. But the knee-jerk impulse to try to revive talks between the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority as a response to the crisis reflects a profound lack of understanding about why peace has eluded the region up until now.

Israelis rightly think that any cease-fire with Hamas must do something more than simply allow the terrorist group to remain in place ruling Gaza as an independent state in all but name with a rocket arsenal that can be employed any time the Islamists feel like starting another round of fighting. But the president appears uninterested in either diplomacy or support for action that would oust Hamas or strip it of its weapons. Instead, he is focused on another attempt to forge an agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority.

The PA and its leader Mahmoud Abbas preferred to conclude a unity agreement with Hamas this spring instead of sticking to peace negotiations with Israel. But that didn’t impact Obama’s glowing view of Abbas or cause him to cut aid to the PA even though the law requires him to cease the flow of U.S. taxpayer dollars to any entity in cahoots with terrorists. Rather than Abbas influencing Hamas to embrace peace as the Americans hoped, he has become a helpless bystander as his partners dragged the region back into war via terrorism and rocket fire aimed at Israel’s cities.

That should have signaled to the U.S. that its faith in Abbas as a reliable partner for peace with Israel was misplaced. But the flare-up of Hamas terror in the form of the kidnapping of three Jewish teenagers last month and the subsequent barrage of hundreds of rockets on Israeli citizens should do more than spur U.S. efforts to broker a cease-fire or to revive peace talks. Hamas’s ability to revert to violence any time it wants is doing grave damage to support for a two-state solution inside Israel. If a cease-fire leaves them in place, it could kill it altogether.

Most Israelis, including many who support Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government, support a two-state solution in principle as the best way out of the conflict. But, unlike most Americans, they have been paying attention to recent events and what they portend for a deal that would require Israel to withdraw from the West Bank, something that it already tried in Gaza. While the assumption is that a pact with Abbas creating a Palestinian state in the West Bank, and presumably a share of Jerusalem, would include security guarantees, the Palestinians are not interested in any diminishment of their future sovereignty and Israelis have good reason not to trust that the U.S. would vigorously enforce any deal.

More to the point, as Hamas continually reminds us, the conflict is about the “occupation.” But when Palestinians use that word, they are referring to Israel within its June 1967 borders, not the West Bank or Gaza, which isn’t occupied anyway.

What the Israelis have learned is that when they withdraw from territory, it becomes a base for terror and there’s little they can do about it even if they are prepared to use massive military force. The world doesn’t permit Israel to seek to oust Hamas or to go in and take out their rocket launchers and it would treat an independent West Bank in the same way. The only problem is that a terror state in the West Bank would be far more dangerous for Israel than even Gaza is today. As Prime Minister Netanyahu said on Friday, a withdrawal, with or without U.S. security guarantees that would probably be meaningless, would create 20 Gazas on their eastern border.

Thus, the invocation of the phrase about an “unsustainable status quo” is likely to ring hollow in Israeli ears. They don’t like the status quo but they also know that the Palestinians have repeatedly rejected an end to the conflict or recognition of the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Unless he is prepared to back action that would rid the region of Hamas and its allies, the president’s anodyne hopes for peace are meaningless. Replacing an admittedly unsustainable status quo with a new reality that would be even more dangerous is not an option for Israel and would do little good for Palestinians, who would suffer from the carnage that their leaders create. So long as the Islamists are allowed to launch rockets at Israel any time they like, the two-state solution is a pipe dream.

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Will Clinton Run as Elizabeth Warren?

The Democratic strategy of outright dishonesty about the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision was nowhere more extreme than in Hillary Clinton’s ludicrous response to the ruling. As I noted at the time, Clinton sounded as though she flew around the world as secretary of state but never got off the plane. She called the ruling “a really bad, slippery slope” and comparable to “a disturbing trend that you see in a lot of societies that are unstable, anti-democratic, and prone to extremism.”

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The Democratic strategy of outright dishonesty about the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision was nowhere more extreme than in Hillary Clinton’s ludicrous response to the ruling. As I noted at the time, Clinton sounded as though she flew around the world as secretary of state but never got off the plane. She called the ruling “a really bad, slippery slope” and comparable to “a disturbing trend that you see in a lot of societies that are unstable, anti-democratic, and prone to extremism.”

In reality, aside from the ignorance this displays about both the societies Clinton visited on her Instagram tour and the country she hopes to lead as president, the ruling was precisely the opposite. It reaffirmed America as a place of religious liberty and a beacon to those fleeing religious persecution in the countries Clinton visited and pretended to pay attention to while the world burned.

But there was another element of irony to Clinton’s remarkably misinformed and mendacious comments: they were a direct challenge to her husband, who as president signed into law, with the encouragement of many Democrats, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act on which the Hobby Lobby ruling was based. What Hillary likened to unstable and anti-democratic societies, her husband called “a standard that better protects all Americans of all faiths in the exercise of their religion.” On signing RFRA, Clinton said:

The free exercise of religion has been called the first freedom, that which originally sparked the development of the full range of the Bill of Rights. Our Founders cared a lot about religion. And one of the reasons they worked so hard to get the first amendment into the Bill of Rights at the head of the class is that they well understood what could happen to this country, how both religion and Government could be perverted if there were not some space created and some protection provided. They knew that religion helps to give our people the character without which a democracy cannot survive. They knew that there needed to be a space of freedom between Government and people of faith that otherwise Government might usurp.

Why has Hillary Clinton moved so far to her husband’s left that she openly equates the religious freedom he championed with the world’s authoritarians? One answer is: anger–specifically, the anger of the Democratic base, which has shifted far to the left from where it was two decades ago. That’s the upshot of an in-depth and informative Politico piece today on Hillary’s balancing act between wanting to remind voters of the economic stability of the 1990s and decrying the pro-business policies that helped bring it about, policies that have fallen out of favor with the Occupy Wall Street base of the Democratic Party and thus with the party’s congressional leaders as well. Headlined “A Clinton approach for angrier times” (though the headline seems to have changed this afternoon) the piece notes:

On a broad range of issues from tax policy and Wall Street reform to religious rights, more than a dozen senior Democratic strategists and people who have worked with the former first family told POLITICO that Hillary Clinton will have to craft a platform that reflects the party’s shift left and populist sentiment across the political spectrum that distrusts entrenched interests and worries about growing wage inequality. Some described this balancing act as one of the most significant issues for the potential presidential candidate.

“This is the most important set of conversations going on right now. We are in a different economic era that requires a different kind of response,” said Simon Rosenberg, founder of the New Democrat Network who shaped the economic message for Bill Clinton in the 1992 campaign. “Apple isn’t making the same products they were 20 years ago, so you should not expect any Democrat to obey policies that are over 20 years old.” Rosenberg added that no one in the Hillary Clinton orbit underestimates the task she faces.

Clinton is an insider who is close to Wall Street and who can’t seem to get people to stop shoveling money at her and her family. This might not be an issue in a general election, because Republicans and independents don’t demonize the very idea of wealth and success the way Democrats do. What Clinton seems to fear is someone like Elizabeth Warren–but not necessarily as a candidate. The risk Warren poses to Clinton is surfacing in the populist fury Warren is kicking up around the country as she campaigns for Democratic candidates who need star power but who still want to pretend they don’t know who Barack Obama is.

The Washington Post reports on “a string of recent Warren appearances in red and blue states alike, where Democratic base voters have embraced her fiery message as an envoy to working-class voters frustrated with both Wall Street and the Obama administration.” Warren has ditched the policy-wonk pretense of her pre-Senate days and embraced intellectually shallow, populist messages and policies. What’s troubling for Clinton is that Warren’s shoddy demagoguery is connecting with an extreme-minded, angry liberal base. Whether she directly challenges Clinton for the nomination or not, Clinton is clearly already letting Warren set the agenda.

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A Close Call, and a Warning, in Afghanistan

New details are emerging on the election crisis in Afghanistan and they are pretty harrowing. The New York Times, for example, is reporting that followers of Abdullah Abdullah, the presidential candidate who apparently finished second in the second rounding of voting, were so upset about supposed voter fraud that they “were preparing to take over the centers of government in at least three provinces, and on his word to march on and occupy the presidential palace.” The Times goes on to note that “local mujahedeen commanders were urging action against the palace, expressing confidence that the Afghan security forces, including those guarding President Hamid Karzai, would not fire on them.”

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New details are emerging on the election crisis in Afghanistan and they are pretty harrowing. The New York Times, for example, is reporting that followers of Abdullah Abdullah, the presidential candidate who apparently finished second in the second rounding of voting, were so upset about supposed voter fraud that they “were preparing to take over the centers of government in at least three provinces, and on his word to march on and occupy the presidential palace.” The Times goes on to note that “local mujahedeen commanders were urging action against the palace, expressing confidence that the Afghan security forces, including those guarding President Hamid Karzai, would not fire on them.”

If this had happened, it would have been a catastrophe of the first order. If Abdullah’s followers had resorted to force, it would have reignited the civil war that wrecked the country in the 1990s and provided an opening for the Taliban to seize power. Western aid would have been cut off and Afghanistan would have been on its own.

This dire outcome was only narrowly avoided by a timely phone call from President Obama to Abdullah and by Secretary of State John Kerry’s apparent success in defusing the crisis by negotiating a compromise that calls for all of the ballots to be recounted and for whoever loses the election to assume a new post as “chief executive” (i.e., prime minister) of the government led by the winning presidential candidate. The UN’s top representative in Kabul called it “not just a top-notch diplomatic achievement [but] close to a miracle.”

But the only reason that miracle occurred is that, with 30,000 troops still in Afghanistan and a commitment to keep 10,000 more after this year, the U.S. retains significant leverage to influence Afghan politics.

Imagine if this crisis had happened not in this presidential election but in the next one–in 2019. This is not much of a stretch since both this presidential election and the previous one, in 2009, were marred by accusations of fraud that threatened the foundation of Afghanistan’s fragile democracy. We can hope that no such crisis will occur next time around, but the reality is that the odds of such an imbroglio are high. Stable institutions in a country like Afghanistan, which has been wracked by nonstop conflict since 1979, take decades, not years, to develop.

It is, therefore, deeply unfortunate, and highly irresponsible, that President Obama has unilaterally pledged to give up America’s leverage in Afghanistan by removing our remaining troops by 2017. If he carries out this plan, and if it is not reversed by his successor (which will be hard to do: it’s always easier to maintain a troop commitment than to start a new one), the U.S. will have essentially no leverage on the conduct and aftermath of the 2019 election. In fact the U.S. would be consigning itself to the kind of spectator role it has assumed in Iraq since the pullout of U.S. troops at the end of 2011–and we know how that’s turned out.

It is imperative that Obama correct his blunder in pledging to remove troops by 2017. He should immediately announce that, should Afghanistan’s feuding politicos work out their difference and set up a government with widespread legitimacy that desired U.S. troops to continue serving in their country after 2017, he would accede to their request–or at least allow his successor to make the call. If the president doesn’t do that, he will be casting Afghanistan’s future into serious doubt.

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Hamas’s No to Peace, Not Just Cease-Fire

For the last week, supporters of the Palestinians have been railing at Israel for its response to rocket attacks from Gaza. The plight of ordinary Palestinians in this latest round of fighting has stirred the sympathy of the world. But when given a chance to put an end to the shooting, Hamas wanted no part of a cease-fire.

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For the last week, supporters of the Palestinians have been railing at Israel for its response to rocket attacks from Gaza. The plight of ordinary Palestinians in this latest round of fighting has stirred the sympathy of the world. But when given a chance to put an end to the shooting, Hamas wanted no part of a cease-fire.

Israel’s acceptance of the Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire was controversial. Many Israelis and some members of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Cabinet thought it was foolish to stop the counter-strikes on Gaza while Hamas was still in possession of a stockpile of what is believed to be several thousand missiles. But in the hope of ending this confrontation and preventing more loss of life, the Israelis agreed to stop attacking Hamas positions and armaments in Gaza.

But Hamas wanted no part of a cease-fire that would have left them with plenty of rockets left to shoot at Israel and would have ended the ordeal that Gaza Palestinians are enduring as the Islamist group uses the strip’s population as human shields. Moreover, a cease-fire now would have eliminated any chance that Israel would have invaded the strip to do what many in Israel believe is their government’s obligation to finish with Hamas once and for all and remove the possibility that this tragic standoff will be repeated in a couple of years.

Why did they say no?

The first thing that must be acknowledged is that saving the lives of the people of Gaza is the last thing on the minds of Hamas’s leaders.

As I wrote over the weekend, many observers complain that Israelis have bomb shelters (as well as the Iron Dome missile defense system) to run to when attacked, but Palestinians have nowhere to go. But in fact, Hamas’s leaders, fighters, and their arsenal are kept safe in the warren of bunkers and tunnels that honeycomb the strip. The bomb shelters there are for the bombs, not civilians. So while many Palestinians were hoping for a respite, Hamas thinks it can hold out indefinitely, shooting at Israel. Indeed, it scored its first “success” in the battle today by killing an Israeli with a mortar shell near the Erez Crossing into Gaza.

Just as important is the fact that Hamas’s goal in the fighting is not, as they falsely claimed, to protect Palestinians or to merely retaliate for Israeli “aggression” against the strip they withdrew from in 2005. Rather, it is to force concessions from both Israel and Egypt that would strengthen their grip on power in Gaza as well as give them an advantage vis-à-vis their Fatah rivals/partners in the Palestinian Authority.

Hamas wants Israel to release terrorists that were rounded up in the West Bank during their efforts to find the three kidnapped teenagers who were eventually found murdered by some of the group’s operatives. Forcing Israel to allow these people to walk free—some of whom were originally released from prison as part of the ransom to free kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit despite the fact that they had committed murder—would be a major propaganda coup for the terrorist movement.

The Islamists also want to parlay sympathy for the suffering Palestinians of Gaza into leverage that would force the government of Egypt to open up the smuggling tunnels as well as to give it more leeway to operate in the border area. That would strengthen its struggling economy as well as give Hamas a massive cash infusion. It would also open up the supply lines to Iran that have been closed by the Egyptian military after the coup that toppled Hamas’s Muslim Brotherhood allies last summer and ease the way for Iran to replenish their arsenal of rockets and other weapons.

Outside observers who see the struggle as part of a “cycle of violence” or who buy into the narrative in which it is seen as a blood feud in which both sides are culpable forget that a cessation of hostilities doesn’t suit Hamas’s strategic vision. It must be re-emphasized that Hamas’s goal remains Israel’s destruction and the forced exile and/or slaughter of its people. To achieve that end there is no limit to the privations and suffering to which they are prepared to subject their own people.

All this means that in seeking a solution to the immediate problem in Gaza, the last thing the U.S. should be doing now is trying to reward Hamas for its cynical decision to exploit recent tensions and to start another round of rocket warfare against Israel. At worst, Hamas should not be appeased with anything more than a cease-fire that leaves them in place but with no easy way to get more rockets to shoot at Israel. But if Secretary of State John Kerry really wants to do something to advance the cause of Middle East peace he cares so much about, he should be demanding that Hamas disarm. Nothing short of demilitarizing Gaza will ensure the safety of its people or give a chance for renewed peace negotiations. If the U.S. supports any concessions to Hamas, it will be bear some of the blame for the next round of bloody violence that will inevitably follow a new cease-fire.

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French Jewry’s Moment of Truth

On July 13, Bernard Abouaf, a French Jewish journalist, posted on his Facebook wall: “I just passed through one of the truest moments in my life.” A bit earlier, he had been an eyewitness to a pogrom attempt.

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On July 13, Bernard Abouaf, a French Jewish journalist, posted on his Facebook wall: “I just passed through one of the truest moments in my life.” A bit earlier, he had been an eyewitness to a pogrom attempt.

About one hundred Muslim thugs had gathered in front of the Don Isaac Abravanel synagogue in Central Paris, a few blocks away from Place de la Bastille (Bastille Circle), and threatened to storm it. Two to three hundred worshipers, who had gathered for a pro-Israel religious service, were locked inside. There were five police officers to protect them–and two dozen Jewish youths trained in martial arts who were members of the Jewish community sponsored Security Organization or of the more militant Jewish Defense League.

For Abouaf, whose family is of Tunisian Jewish descent, the whole scene looked like a reenactment of the storming and torching of the Great Synagogue in Tunis during the Six-Day War in 1967: a traumatic event that accelerated the flight of Tunisian Jews to France or to Israel.

“What I have seen today,” he remarked, “is Arab hatred against Jews. Pure hatred. Right in the middle of Paris. Don’t try to ‘explain’ or ‘understand’, it was hatred, period.” Irving Kristol famously said that a neoconservative was a liberal mugged by reality. Something similar was befalling Abouaf. This was the “truth” he was so eager to share.

The Don Isaac Abravanel synagogue was not stormed. Its bunker-like shape (it was built in 1962) and its strong, straight, iron gates were probably helpful. Even more effective were the young Jewish defenders, who did not shy away from confronting the Muslim rioters. Older Jewish men and women, some in their late forties or early fifties, fought back as well. “The whole thing looked like street guerilla,” one witness said. At least two of the synagogue’s defenders–including a young Chabad chassid–were severely wounded and rushed to a nearby hospital.

The prime minister (and former interior minister) of France Manuel Valls called Serge Benhaim, the synagogue chairman, on his cell phone to assure him that more police forces, including CRS (anti-riot units) would soon be dispatched. It took some time before his orders were implemented; once deployed, even the heavily equipped CRS had to engage into hard fighting and some of them were wounded. Eventually, the worshipers were not just evacuated from the synagogue but escorted away to safer streets or a Metro station: “I will not forget the fear in their eyes as they went out,” wrote Abouaf. This time, it was not just the Tunis pogrom he had in mind, but “scenes of the Holocaust itself.”

Similar incidents occurred all over Greater Paris and France at about the same time. The morning before–that is to say, on the Sabbath–a Molotov cocktail was thrown into a synagogue at Aulnay-sous-Bois, a Parisian suburb. At Asnieres, another suburb, the police said a Muslim mob of 300 gathered in front of the synagogue and shouted anti-Israel slogans for about half an hour. Smaller group of Muslim mobsters attempted to get into the Belleville synagogue, in northeastern Paris, and into the Tournelles synagogue, in the Marais district.

No less horrid were the many pro-Palestinian rallies, in Paris, Marseilles, Lille, Bordeaux, and other cities, complete with Palestinian and ISIS flags and proudly displayed fake Fajr rockets. The demonstrators–almost all of them of North African or Subsaharan African origin–shouted explicitly anti-Semitic slogans, notably “Itbah al-Yahud!” (Slaughter the Jews, in Arabic.) Any time they would spot Jewish-owned shops or professional offices they would cover the doors or windows with stickers urging, “to boycott the racist State of Israel.” On Sunday, several thousands pro-Palestinian and pro-jihadist demonstrators marched for miles across the city, from the heavily Muslim Barbes neighborhood to places with large Jewish populations and many synagogues like the Bastille area. The mobsters that attacked the Don Isaac Abravanel synagogue were some of them.

“We reached a new and very ominous stage in the deterioration of Jewish life in France,” remarked Joel Mergui, the chairman of Consistoire, the National Union of French Synagogues. Sammy Ghozlan, a former police commissioner and the head of BNVCA, an anti-Semitism monitoring organization, observed even more bluntly: “This is going to be a turning point for most French Jews. More people will move to Israel or other places. People who never considered such options are changing their mind. There is a widespread sense of betrayal or of an impending catastrophe.”

One level of betrayal is what Claude Barouch, one of the leaders of the French Union of Jewish Professionals (UPJF), called “a global media failure.” Indeed, according to Jean Szlamowicz, professor of English literature at the Paris Sorbonne University, many media, from Agence France-Presse (AFP)–the basic news source for French-language media all over the world–to national newspapers or radio or TV channels, either ignored or downplayed the current anti-Jewish violence or even more perversely allowed pro-Palestinian demonstrators to make their point in a seemingly reasonable way.

But then, AFP and many radio or TV media are state-owned; and even private radio and a government appointed body, the Audiovisual Media Higher Authority, supervises TV media. So much so that the main issue may be in fact the political class and the government. François Hollande, the French president, observed on July 14–Bastille Day–that “Middle Eastern conflicts should not be imported to France.” François d’Orcival, a noted columnist, rightly retorted that they have already been imported. And one may actually wonder whether the French government, either for cynical electoral reasons (the Muslim vote is growing) or just out of weakness and fear, is willing to do something about it.

There is a deadly logic in such matters. Governments that do not set the rules and do not enforce them whatever the cost are likely to disintegrate as governments. In Lille, the local préfet (government commissioner) authorized a mass pro-Palestinian and pro-jihadist demonstration on July 13. Muslim activists then planned for a second demonstration on July 14–which the préfet forbade. It took place anyhow.

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Blaming Zionism: The Lydda Misdirection

Imagine the following headlines: “Zionism Enables Paraplegics to Walk Again”; “Zionism Leads Lifesaving Medical Efforts in Disaster-Struck Haiti”; “Zionism Helps Prevent AIDS in Africa”; “Zionism Saves Syrian Lives As Arab States Abandon Them”; etc. There is something awkward, clumsy about them. But most of all you have to imagine those headlines because you wouldn’t otherwise see them.

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Imagine the following headlines: “Zionism Enables Paraplegics to Walk Again”; “Zionism Leads Lifesaving Medical Efforts in Disaster-Struck Haiti”; “Zionism Helps Prevent AIDS in Africa”; “Zionism Saves Syrian Lives As Arab States Abandon Them”; etc. There is something awkward, clumsy about them. But most of all you have to imagine those headlines because you wouldn’t otherwise see them.

Yet we hear the opposite refrain: when Israel earns the world’s opprobrium, Zionism gets a black mark as well. This is what jumped out right away at me from Ari Shavit’s much-discussed chapter on Lydda in his new and widely praised book.

There has been a fascinating debate taking place at Mosaic Magazine on the chapter. It began with Martin Kramer’s essay challenging Shavit’s selective interpretation of events in the famous 1948 battle, which Shavit used to accuse Israeli forces of committing a massacre. Efraim Karsh followed that with his take on Lydda and revisionism, and now Benny Morris has responded with a pox on both the houses of Shavit and Kramer who, he says, offer partial truths in the service of agenda-driven history.

But aside from the historical question of what exactly took place in Lydda in 1948, there is the classification by Shavit of Lydda as Zionism’s “black box.” Here is Shavit:

Lydda is our black box. In it lies the dark secret of Zionism. The truth is that Zionism could not bear Lydda. From the very beginning there was a substantial contradiction between Zionism and Lydda. If Zionism was to be, Lydda could not be. If Lydda was to be, Zionism could not be. In retrospect it’s all too clear.

This idea of Lydda explaining Zionism–and remember, in Shavit’s telling this means exposing the vengeful violence at the center of it–helps the reader understand, if not approve of, Shavit’s statements about Zionism and Lydda throughout the chapter. With the battle looming, Shavit says that “as Zionism closes in on the valley of Lydda from the south, east, and north, it now prepares to conquer the city of Lydda itself.” Later: “By evening, Zionism has taken the city of Lydda.” And then: “Zionism carries out a massacre in the city of Lydda.”

It is this portrayal of Zionism that is so risible. The documented history of Lydda is murky, and though it’s clear Shavit cherry-picked his facts, his conclusion is not impossible. But he slanders Zionism by declaring it is, at its heart, inseparable from this violence.

Morris touches on this glancingly but effectively in his response piece. Morris leans toward Shavit’s opinion of what actually happened at Lydda, but he writes:

Lydda wasn’t, however, representative of Zionist behavior. Before 1948, the Zionist enterprise expanded by buying, not conquering, Arab land, and it was the Arabs who periodically massacred Jews—as, for example, in Hebron and Safed in 1929. In the 1948 war, the first major atrocity was committed by Arabs: the slaughter of 39 Jewish co-workers in the Haifa Oil Refinery on December 30, 1947.

That is a basic fact. In an earlier parenthetical pair of sentences, Morris offers his own “black box” of Zionism:

As an aside, I would suggest here a much more telling “black box” or key to understanding both Zionism and the conflict. It is Kibbutz Yad Mordekhai, where for four to five days in May 1948 a handful of Holocaust survivors held off the invading mass of the Egyptian army, giving the Haganah/IDF time to organize against the pan-Arab assault on the newborn state of Israel.

Shavit’s treatment of Zionism is one of inevitability: the agency of those involved is removed in favor of ideological predetermination. But it’s also, in a perverse way, a form of blame shifting. And if anti-Arab massacres are the inevitable result and defining characteristic of Zionism, then anti-Zionism would be the proper atonement. This is curious, because Shavit is most certainly not an anti-Zionist. Though he is a man of the left, he doesn’t throw his lot in with those who want to see Israel erased.

It’s cognitive dissonance, then, for Shavit. But not for those who will use his book and his declarations of Zionism’s “black box” to continue faulting the very movement for Jewish self-determination for everything that goes wrong in the Holy Land. And though Israel remains a force for good in the world, we won’t see a flurry of the reverse: declarations crediting Zionism for the fact that the world would be a darker place without it.

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