Commentary Magazine


Obama’s Parchin Nuclear Wake-Up Call

Sunday night, the residents of Tehran got a light show when an explosion at a military complex east of the city shook the Iranian capital. According to the New York Times, an orange flash lit up the city, but officials denied that the incident occurred at Parchin–though how exactly an “ordinary fire” would create such a display was left unsaid. But whatever it was that happened at the place where Iran has been conducting military nuclear research, the incident is a reminder that despite the all-out push for détente with the Islamist regime being conducted by the Obama administration, its nuclear program presents a clear and present danger to the world.

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Sunday night, the residents of Tehran got a light show when an explosion at a military complex east of the city shook the Iranian capital. According to the New York Times, an orange flash lit up the city, but officials denied that the incident occurred at Parchin–though how exactly an “ordinary fire” would create such a display was left unsaid. But whatever it was that happened at the place where Iran has been conducting military nuclear research, the incident is a reminder that despite the all-out push for détente with the Islamist regime being conducted by the Obama administration, its nuclear program presents a clear and present danger to the world.

Parchin is famous because it is not just another of Iran’s many nuclear facilities. What makes it special is the fact that the regime has consistently denied inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency access to it. Western and Israeli intelligence agencies as well as the UN monitoring group believe Parchin is where Iran has conducted high-explosive experiments related to nuclear-weapons research. In other words, Parchin is the locus of some of the world’s worst fears about Iran’s nuclear ambitions as well as of its government’s most egregious lies and deceptions of the international community.

Speculation about the cause of the incident is inevitable. Was it American or Israeli sabotage? From 2010 to 2012, there were a number of suspicious incidents at Iranian nuclear facilities, computer viruses aimed at knocking out their infrastructure, as well as assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists. But in the last year as the Obama administration shifted away from sanctions and attempts to stop Iran to a campaign of appeasement, we’ve heard very little about any action to forestall their nuclear progress. The explosion could have been a Western covert operation aimed at pressuring the Iranians to be more reasonable in the ongoing nuclear talks or it could be an Israeli effort to knock out Iranian capabilities or to refocus U.S. attention on the threat.

But it could just as easily be another “work accident,” such as many other occurrences that illustrated the dangerous nature of the work being conducted at Parchin.

The truth is we don’t yet know the truth about what happened in Parchin. But the precipitate cause of the explosion is not as important as what the facility represents and why the West should not be blindly assuming that everything Iran says about its program is the truth.

Until UN inspectors have gone over every inch of the place without allowing the Iranians to try to clean up and erase all evidence of their nuclear research, as they have repeatedly tried to do, we simply don’t know how close Tehran is to realizing their nuclear goal. But while the interim deal signed by the West with Iran last year paid lip service to the principle of transparency, the fact that the IAEA still hasn’t gotten into Parchin and is not even negotiating about Tehran’s ballistic missile program and other aspects of the threat undermines confidence in a process that is already based more on Western hopes than Iranian reality.

This is important because the current compromise proposals on the table in the Iran talks seem to be based more on trust than on verification. The idea that Iran could be allowed to keep thousands of centrifuges for producing nuclear fuel for weapons on condition that the pipes were disconnected between them is farcical on its face. But even if we thought that this made a smidgeon of sense (and the idea that such a provision was a serious obstacle to an Iranian nuclear breakout is ludicrous even by the debased standards of Obama administration foreign policy) it would have to be based on a foundation of rigorous and intrusive surprise inspections that the Iranians have never allowed at any crucial site.

Whether Parchin is being sabotaged—a prospect that would renew one’s faith in the smarts of whichever government, be it American or Israeli, that sponsored the attack—or has suffered an accident unrelated to international concerns, the IAEA must be allowed in immediately.

While there is little reason to believe that any nuclear deal would be observed by Tehran, until the inspectors get in there and other facilities, President Obama is doing nothing more than gambling the future of the world on Iranian promises. The Parchin explosion is a reminder of how dangerous such a premise would be.

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Bobby Jindal: One Wonk to Rule Them All?

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is continuing to write the preamble to his 2016 presidential candidacy. In April, Jindal released a health-care reform plan. Last month, he offered an energy plan. And yesterday, in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, he laid out his approach to defense policy. All of them have one thing in common: Jindal is not just part of the new breed of reform conservatives; he is hoping to be the first conservative wonk to win the Republican presidential nomination.

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Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is continuing to write the preamble to his 2016 presidential candidacy. In April, Jindal released a health-care reform plan. Last month, he offered an energy plan. And yesterday, in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, he laid out his approach to defense policy. All of them have one thing in common: Jindal is not just part of the new breed of reform conservatives; he is hoping to be the first conservative wonk to win the Republican presidential nomination.

Jindal is obviously smart, experienced, and fluent in policy. He’s also taken on the kind of “happy warrior” persona Republicans should embrace: outrage is not the same thing as anger. And seems to understand the importance of perceived authenticity, so he’s dropped the faux-folksiness he once wore on his sleeve and appears more comfortable in his own skin. But for the revenge of the nerds to be successful, Jindal is going to have to overcome the key challenge posed by how Republicans and Democrats see American electoral politics today.

On the Republican side, few if any doubt Jindal’s obvious intelligence and undeniable competence. But in a wide-open race for the nomination, it will be crucial for each candidate to have their own base within the conservative movement. In this respect, Jindal’s identity as a jack of all trades is less beneficial than it first appears.

Jindal’s defense plan is hawkish, but Marco Rubio long beat him to the punch in terms of establishing his political identity as a learned advocate for a robust American presence in the world. If the party’s hawks are to latch onto any prospective candidate, Rubio is likely to be the one. Most of the party’s potential nominees are hawkish and even Rand Paul has embraced the plain fact that President Obama’s unthinking retrenchment has been a disaster. (So have the president’s Cabinet secretaries; no one wants to take any credit for Obama’s colossal mishandling of world affairs.)

The same is generally true of the other major streams of American conservatism, as I’ve written in the past. But Jindal’s official identification as a hawk does not change the calculus.

The other challenge for Jindal here is how the two parties have reacted to the failure of the Obama presidency. When Obama was a candidate, he was built up by the media and his supporters (but I repeat myself) as a very smart, nuanced thinker. When that turned out not to be true, and when it became clear he also didn’t have the intellectual curiosity necessary to remedy his broad lack of knowledge, the right and the left each reacted differently.

Conservatives responded by turning forcefully against the pretensions of the academic elite. Rule by experts was always under suspicion because of the folly of treating people as science experiments and the repellant culture of eugenics so many of the policies seek to legitimize. But with Obama it became perfectly clear that the experts weren’t actually experts. Liberals just pretended to know what they were talking about, and hid behind credentialism when questioned.

Who is better positioned to take advantage of the discovery that the professor has no clothes, someone like Jindal or someone like, say, Scott Walker, the successful reformist governor without even a college degree? To conservatives, the answer seems clear. They will almost surely end up nominating someone more knowledgeable than the current president, just because the bar is so low. But they would take special pleasure in nominating precisely the kind of politician who would be looked down upon by the Democrats but who would nonetheless run circles around their Democratic opponent intellectually.

Liberals responded to Obama’s failure in a different way: by reverting to the mean of left-liberal politics. Democratic Party politics is traditionally a method of organizing a coalition of interested parties in such a way as to reward them for their support. There is not much of a coherent ideological component outside of the extremely ideological character of the party’s positions on social and cultural issues. Ben Domenech touched on this in last month’s COMMENTARY by noting that:

History may ultimately consider Obama’s 2008 nomination as a representation not of progressivism’s resurgent appeal, but as its death rattle—a speed bump along the way to the Democratic Party’s becoming a fully corporatist, Clinton-owned entity. In practice, the party now resembles a protection racket with an army of volunteers, with friends who never suffer and enemies who never relax.

Political science has begun to catch up with this reality as well. In a recent paper, Matt Grossman and his coauthor David A. Hopkins studied the way Democrats and Republicans each seek to govern, and explain that Republicans tend to govern according to ideological principles while Democrats govern by rewarding constituencies. They write:

The partisan asymmetry in the governing style of political elites has its roots in the mass public. Party identifiers in the electorate perceive political choices differently: Republicans are more likely to reason ideologically whereas Democrats are more likely to think of politics as a competition among groups over benefits. This difference is durable over time.

The authors add that “Republican politicians and interest groups thus represent both their partisan base and a wider public majority when they think, speak, and act ideologically, advocating restrictions on government activity in a broad sense. By contrast, Democratic politicians and affiliated interests prefer to stress their advocacy of particular policies that have wider public support and that offer targeted benefits to members of their electoral coalition, placing themselves on the side of social groups favoring government action to ameliorate perceived disadvantages.”

That also helps explain the proliferation of put-upon groups in the constellation of liberal identity politics. If Democrats need more votes, they stoke resentment and create a new category for taxpayer-funded benefits. Their response to the revelation that their experts can’t be trusted, in other words, was to go back to inviting enough voters to raid the treasury to win national elections.

What does that mean for Jindal and the wonks? It means an uphill battle. Republicans believe they nominated a competent managerial technocrat last time around–and lost decisively. And Democrats aren’t particularly interested in intellectual prowess–they simply want to divide and conquer the electorate. Jindal is obviously qualified to be the nation’s chief executive. But it’s lonely out there for a wonk.

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George Will and the Liberal Inquisition on Campus

Few will be surprised to learn that the conservative commentator George Will has become the latest public figure to have fallen victim to the growing trend of colleges disinviting their guest speakers. There has been a dramatic upsurge in the number of these cancellations in recent years, with conservatives inevitably bearing the brunt of it. But the case of Will’s cancelation comes with an added poignancy, one that makes the affair sound like parody even by the standards of this already ridiculous phenomenon. For Will had been due to speak as part of Scripps College’s annual Elizabeth Hebert Malott Public Affairs Program. And the thing about this program is that it was specifically created to bring conservative speakers to the campus. Just not too conservative, apparently.

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Few will be surprised to learn that the conservative commentator George Will has become the latest public figure to have fallen victim to the growing trend of colleges disinviting their guest speakers. There has been a dramatic upsurge in the number of these cancellations in recent years, with conservatives inevitably bearing the brunt of it. But the case of Will’s cancelation comes with an added poignancy, one that makes the affair sound like parody even by the standards of this already ridiculous phenomenon. For Will had been due to speak as part of Scripps College’s annual Elizabeth Hebert Malott Public Affairs Program. And the thing about this program is that it was specifically created to bring conservative speakers to the campus. Just not too conservative, apparently.

The mission statement of the Elizabeth Herbert Malott Public Affairs Program asserts its belief that “a range of opinions about the world – especially opinions with which we may not agree, or think we do not agree – leads to a better educational experience.” As such, the program undertakes to bring to campus speakers with views that differ from the majority of those at the college. No doubt a worthy and much needed undertaking at this progressive all-women’s liberal arts college where a recent survey failed to find a single registered Republican among the faculty.

Even so, it still seems somewhat odd that such initiatives should be required in the first place. Has academia really become so uniformly liberal that specific programs now need to be created so that for one day a year a conservative can be shipped in and paraded around like some rare and exotic creature? Held up before the students so that, should they ever meet one in later life, they will know what a conservative looks like?

Either way, George Will is one conservative that students at Scripps won’t now be exposed to. Will himself maintains that his invitation was revoked on account of a controversial column he penned back in June, although the college hasn’t actually specified that to be the reason. The column, which was on the subject of sexual assault on campus, certainly caused some uproar. When Will questioned both the stats and the disciplinary procedures that colleges have been adopting regarding sexual assault, he provoked an almighty backlash against himself. Will subsequently claimed that he was actually seeking to take sexual assault more seriously, not less. But four Democratic Senators thought the wrongheadedness of Will’s views to be of such national urgency that they authored a letter to him on the subject, while the St. Louis Post-Dispatch felt compelled to drop Will’s twice-weekly column.

Whether it was this column or something else that offended sensibilities at Scripps, it seems ludicrous to have a program dedicated to showcasing individuals with alternative views only to then disqualify those individuals who have dared to question certain sacred cows of liberal-think. One by one, all the issues get set beyond the realm of debate or discussion and the walls of the liberal echo chamber become ever more impenetrable. It is hardly surprising then that just so many conservative figures have found themselves deemed beyond the pale of acceptability, with students and faculty alike petitioning their institutions to disinvite conservative speakers. In recent years Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, right-wing pundit Ann Coulter, and critic of Islam Ayaan Hirsi Ali have all had their invitations to speak on campus withdrawn.

A disturbing culture of perpetual indignation seems to be rendering students apparently unable to so much as countenance hearing alternative points of view, and it has only grown worse in recent years. Research by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education suggests that since 1987 there have been 145 cases of speakers being disinvited by colleges. But alarmingly close to 100 of these have occurred over the past five years.

Theoretically, Will should have been sheltered from this storm of censorship now being demanded by liberal students and academics. Yet even a program dedicated to allowing some conservative views on campus wasn’t safe from the inquisition. Perhaps Will’s tone was indeed hurtful and offensive to many people. But as the cliché goes, the only society worth living in is one in which your deepest feelings can be offended. Liberals, however, have for some time now been engaged in a project to turn academia into a society of their very own, one in which they will never have to hear an opposing view ever again.

Some have suggested redressing the political imbalance by creating “conservative studies departments” at our universities. But as with the program on which Will was due to speak, by placing all the conservatives in some kind of menagerie rather than having them as tenured academics in standard departments, the message is only reinforced that conservatives are an oddity not for mainstream academic life.

Following the disinviting of Will, Christopher DeMuth, the former head of AEI, has resigned his position on the program’s selection committee. Perhaps this is just as well; conservatives should hardly be bestowing upon such Stalinist institutions the veneer of tolerance and openness.

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Should University Scholars Face Travel Restrictions?

In 1996, when I was a Ph.D. student at Yale, I received a university travel grant to conduct my dissertation research in Iran. All was going smoothly until a university administrator stepped in. While he knew absolutely nothing about Iran, he simply couldn’t conceive that a Jewish American should travel there. He called me in and concluded that he thought the whole thing should be reconsidered by administrators and lawyers. At the advice of a faculty member friend, I hopped on a plane before they could come to any agreement and went to Iran.

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In 1996, when I was a Ph.D. student at Yale, I received a university travel grant to conduct my dissertation research in Iran. All was going smoothly until a university administrator stepped in. While he knew absolutely nothing about Iran, he simply couldn’t conceive that a Jewish American should travel there. He called me in and concluded that he thought the whole thing should be reconsidered by administrators and lawyers. At the advice of a faculty member friend, I hopped on a plane before they could come to any agreement and went to Iran.

The simple fact is that Iran is a far more dangerous place for Iranian-Americans (whom the Tehran regime insists travel on Iranian passports) than people like me who have no family connection to the country. Not everything inside the Islamic Republic went smoothly, but the Iranian archives in my experience were generally more receptive to me than the Carter Library in Atlanta was, when I was researching my recent book which touched upon Carter’s attitudes toward North Korea. In the end, my dissertation ended up sharing Yale’s top prize. Needless to say, ignoring the hand-wringing of Yale administrators was a good choice.

In the 15 years since I submitted my dissertation, the situation of those seeking to conduct research in the world’s hotspots has gotten worse, not only for Yale but almost every other university. The problem isn’t the students, but rather administrators and lawyers. At most universities, there has been administrative mitosis, with deanships, assistant deanships, assistant provostships, multiple registrars, department directors, council coordinators, and various counselors proliferating and subdividing. Each must regulate and expand domains in order to make work. Rather than advance up an academic ladder, alas, too many faculty members end up seeking the far more lucrative administrative track. Add into the noxious mix the lawyers, and dysfunction boils over. Rather than raise a generation of young adults, the university lawyers’ notion of in loco parentis represses individual accountability and responsibility.

Too often, academic research and risk-adverse lawyering are mutually exclusive. I’ve been fortunate over the past few years to participate in the Alexander Hamilton Society, which takes national security and foreign policy thinkers to college campuses and has them talk to students and debate with faculty. (This semester, for example, I’ve been to Stetson University, Washington College, and will be heading to Holy Cross tomorrow and Northwestern next week.) At many campuses, students and faculty say that university administrators and lawyers refuse to fund or, in some cases, even allow research in areas in which there are active State Department warnings.

Here’s the problem: Not only are State Department warnings notoriously broad—they seldom specify districts and cities and instead paint with a broad brush, the equivalent of confusing downtown Detroit with rural Nebraska—but, more to the point, it’s the world’s trouble spots which are the most important to research. Sure, with tongue in cheek, I’d say that if I could do my Ph.D. work all over again, maybe I’d be tempted to study the effect of Club Meds on local economies, but I’d much rather have universities churning out scholars of Iraqi, Iranian, Yemeni, Chinese, Korean, or Venezuelan studies. At some point, universities are going to have to choose which they should prioritize: real academic study or the zero-risk policies that their in-house counsels advise, and by which their in-house counsels’ careers too often were shaped. Perhaps at some point, a student or professor will be hurt or worse in a third-world country. That would be tragic. And their grieving family might even take the university to court for allowing their loved one to travel to a far-off, dangerous land. But until universities stand up and fight for their academic freedom, they are destined to become second-class coffee klatches rather than intellectual engines relevant to contemporary world international studies.

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Ashraf Ghani’s Good Week

Count me as among those who were skeptical about whether Ashraf Ghani–or for that matter any other mortal–would have what it takes to confront Afghanistan’s monumental problems. He’s been in office little more than a week so it’s too early to pass any judgment on his new administration, but in those few short days he has shown himself to be a bundle of energy who is making all the right moves to distinguish his presidency from that of his predecessor, Hamid Karzai.

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Count me as among those who were skeptical about whether Ashraf Ghani–or for that matter any other mortal–would have what it takes to confront Afghanistan’s monumental problems. He’s been in office little more than a week so it’s too early to pass any judgment on his new administration, but in those few short days he has shown himself to be a bundle of energy who is making all the right moves to distinguish his presidency from that of his predecessor, Hamid Karzai.

Ghani began by signing the Bilateral Security Agreement with the U.S. that allows American troops to remain in Afghanistan after this year. Karzai had negotiated the accord but in a typical example of his maddening inaction, he refused to sign it, thus casting into doubt the future of the U.S. military mission. Ghani removed all doubt with a decisive stroke of his pen.

Ghani then reopened the investigation into the Bank of Kabul, a Ponzi scheme which collapsed in 2010 with an estimated $1 billion in losses. Some of its employees and owners have gone to jail but there is a widespread perception that many of the powerbrokers who benefitted from the bank’s crooked machinations have not been brought to justice. The fact that Ghani has reopened the investigation creates the potential to deliver justice and, most important of all, to undo the perception that rampant corruption will be tolerated by the government as it was in Karzai’s day. It is hard to overstate the importance of this issue: Governmental corruption has been the Taliban’s best recruiter.

When Prime Minister David Cameron visited Kabul, Ghani stood with him and delivered a moving tribute to British and other soldiers who have fought in Afghanistan–quite a contrast to the anti-American and anti-Western tirades Karzai had become known for.

Ghani also ventured out of his palace to visit Camp Commando where the Afghan National Army’s Special Operations Forces train. On his Twitter feed Ghani posted pictures of him bowing to the soldiers and hugging a wounded soldier. He wrote: “Today – I’ve visited our real heroes, the ANA. They’re paying sacrifices everyday for our protection. We salute them.” This might seem unexceptionable in an American context where we’re used to presidents paying tribute to the troops. But it was revolutionary in Afghanistan where Karzai refused to act like a wartime leader. He seldom if ever met with Afghan troops or voiced support for their sacrifice, preferring to issue calls for outreach to his “brothers” in the Taliban. The fact that Ghani is embracing the troops is a very welcome change.

Finally Ghani reversed Karzai’s order expelling New York Times reporter Matthew Rosenberg for having the temerity to report in August on a plot among some Afghan politicos affiliated with Abdullah Abdullah, Ghani’s rival for the presidency, to seize power regardless of the election outcome. The fact that Ghani has welcomed Rosenberg back is a positive sign that press freedom will be respected.

These are only small, symbolic steps, of course. Much remains to be done to tackle Afghanistan’s woes and Ghani will not have an easy time dealing either with warlords and other powerbrokers or with Abdullah who, as the price of giving up his challenge to the election results, was rewarded with the nebulous and extra-constitutional post of “chief executive.” But Ghani is off to a great start. If he continues making progress at this rate–and that of course is a big if–Afghanistan has the potential to take a decisive turn for the better.

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At Yale: Embrace Assad But Boycott Israel?

That the academy today has become a source of moral inversion is, unfortunately, becoming ever more clear. There are any number of examples, with the latest involving anthropologists who have announced their boycott of Israeli universities. A number of anthropologists from very prominent schools have signed the call to boycott. But are these anthropologists really motivated by a desire to advance human rights and social justice?

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That the academy today has become a source of moral inversion is, unfortunately, becoming ever more clear. There are any number of examples, with the latest involving anthropologists who have announced their boycott of Israeli universities. A number of anthropologists from very prominent schools have signed the call to boycott. But are these anthropologists really motivated by a desire to advance human rights and social justice?

Take Harvey Weiss, a professor of archaeology at Yale who signed the boycott statement. Weiss has worked for decades inside Syria, not only during the so-called “Damascus Spring” that occurred subsequent to Bashar al-Assad’s rise to the presidency, but also during the dark days of his father Hafez al-Assad’s murder of tens of thousands of civilians in Hama. None of this stopped Weiss from interacting with Syrian academics or working with Syrian universities which, for what it’s worth, are not independent from the government like the Israeli universities the good Yale professor seeks to boycott.

Then, of course, there’s Narges Erami, an anthropologist who focuses on Iran, a country which has repeatedly purged Baha’i students and professors from universities simply because of their religion, and a regime that takes pride in executing homosexuals. No boycott there. But interact with Israeli academics? That’s a bridge too far for that Yale professor. Zareena Grewal is a religious studies professor at Yale. She has concentrated her fieldwork in Cairo, Amman, and Damascus, none of which are known for their respect of human rights or intellectual freedom. Speak up? Better to just boycott universities where Jews teach, it appears. The irony here, of course, is she took to twitter to brag about being invited to a private meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a man who has embraced terror groups, engaged in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, and transferred Turkey into the world’s largest prison for journalists.

Make no mistake: Yale and its students and faculty should conduct research and interact with Syrian, Iranian, and Egyptian counterparts. They should interact with all academics and, for that matter, non-academics regardless of in what political category they hold them. That doesn’t mean that the results of such research should be beyond reproach: academic freedom doesn’t mean freedom from criticism.

Back to the boycott: Yale University has long prided itself on its embrace of area studies. If it sees itself as a center for free inquiry and a space that embraces free discourse, it is kidding itself. While Yale hosts many faculty committed to research and the expansion of knowledge, a growing core apparently does not. The shock is not that in a field as politicized as Middle Eastern studies some faculty would sign a petition calling for boycotts based on national origin, but rather that they would be so smug and secure in the politicized atmosphere that has become Yale University that they would embrace their personal bigotry and hypocrisy so openly. Then again, that may be the idea. For while these faculty—especially Weiss, who has held senior departmental posts—wear their hatred of Israel and its citizens as a badge of honor, at the same time Yale University has increased its efforts to raise money from those repressive Middle Eastern regimes—Qatar, for example—that have become the antithesis of tolerance, human rights, and intellectual inquiry. Coincidence? Probably not. It seems that for Yale, either money now trumps tolerance and education, or bigotry is to be celebrated. Which is it, President Salovey?

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Making D.C. a State

There was a senate hearing last month on a bill that would make the District of Columbia a state. Only two senators bothered to show up, a good indication of how far this bill is likely to go. Washington is an overwhelmingly Democratic city and Republicans are not going to vote to establish two permanently Democratic seats in the Senate.

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There was a senate hearing last month on a bill that would make the District of Columbia a state. Only two senators bothered to show up, a good indication of how far this bill is likely to go. Washington is an overwhelmingly Democratic city and Republicans are not going to vote to establish two permanently Democratic seats in the Senate.

The problem is that the 646,000 residents of D.C. have no representation in Congress. They have a delegate in the House, Eleanor Holmes Norton, but she cannot vote. That’s not fair. But making D.C. a state would not be fair either. D.C. is not a state, it’s a city, and a quintessential company town at that, existing of, by, and for the federal government. Why should Washington have two senators all its own when every other city in the country, including the 22 that are larger than Washington, has to share its senators with an entire, and often very diverse state? Over-representation is not the solution to under-representation.

One solution would be “retrocession,” returning all but the ceremonial heart of the city to the state of Maryland. The Virginia portion of the District (where Arlington and the Pentagon are located) was returned to that state in 1846.

A better solution would be a constitutional amendment that would repeal the 23rd Amendment that, in 1961, gave the District three electors in presidential elections.  Then it would say something like, “For purposes of federal elections only, the citizens of the district constituting the seat of government of the United States shall be regarded as being citizens of the state that ceded the land constituting the district.”

That would give Washingtonians the same representation in Congress that all other citizens have. It would also reduce the number of presidential electoral votes to 535 from 538, making, at least in a two-person race, a tie vote highly unlikely. A tie vote in the Electoral College sends the matter to the House, where, under Article II, Section 1, every state would have one vote. That would give, say, South Dakota, as big a voice in electing a president as California. How’s that for unfair?

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Obama Writes His Own Ballot Epitaph

The debate continued today over whether President Obama made a colossal gaffe when he said last week that while he wasn’t on the ballot, his policies were. Even though former Obama political guru David Axelrod admitted this was a mistake, White House spokesman Josh Earnest loyally claimed the statement wouldn’t hurt Democrats. But like most of Earnest’s duties rationalizing, excusing, or downright lying about the administration’s failures, the official party line was unpersuasive. But now that Republicans are starting to put the video clip to good use, the pertinent question are not about its wisdom but concern just how much damage it will do in close Senate races and whether it will serve as a fitting epitaph for a failed presidency.

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The debate continued today over whether President Obama made a colossal gaffe when he said last week that while he wasn’t on the ballot, his policies were. Even though former Obama political guru David Axelrod admitted this was a mistake, White House spokesman Josh Earnest loyally claimed the statement wouldn’t hurt Democrats. But like most of Earnest’s duties rationalizing, excusing, or downright lying about the administration’s failures, the official party line was unpersuasive. But now that Republicans are starting to put the video clip to good use, the pertinent question are not about its wisdom but concern just how much damage it will do in close Senate races and whether it will serve as a fitting epitaph for a failed presidency.

The irony about the president’s challenge is that his party’s best, if not only chance to hang onto the Senate this year rested in the ability of Democrats or even independents like Kansan Greg Orman to distance themselves from Obama. That’s a task that some members of his party are finding easier than others.

North Carolina’s Kay Hagan has spent much of the last year trying to point out her differences with the president and making her reelection fight a referendum on the record of her GOP opponent Thom Tillis, the speaker of the unpopular North Carolina legislature. To the extent that other Democrats like Colorado’s Mark Udall, Arkansas’s Mark Prior, Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu, and Alaska’s Mark Begich have given themselves a fighting chance in their uphill reelection fights it was by playing the same “I’m not Obama” card. That also applies to those Democratic challengers like Georgia’s Michelle Nunn and Kentucky’s Alison Lundergan Grimes who have a chance to knock off Republican opponents.

As for the nominally independent Orman, as Seth noted earlier today, his likely victory is based on the notion that the midterms will be about Senator Pat Roberts’ desultory record and not whether the GOP needs to be given the Senate in order to thwart the Democrats’ plans.

It is true that the Republicans have been trying to make the president the central issue in the campaign all along with middling success. In the second term of a presidency, the midterm inevitably revolves around the incumbent in the White House and his policies. But midterms are by their very definition statewide contests and not national elections. And if there has been any consistent theme sounded by liberal pundits it is that the GOP has clearly failed to make issues closely associated with the president such as ObamaCare central to the contest this fall. But with one stray ill-considered line, Obama may have tossed away his party’s key advantage.

Will this prove decisive? The extent of the damage may be more than Democrats will currently admit. In 2012 Mitt Romney carried all of the states where battleground contests are being fought. The last thing Kay Hagan or any other Democrat needed this year was a reminder that the president thinks the election is all about him and not a Democrat who keeps telling the voters that they are not named Barack Obama. A month is a lifetime in politics and it may seem that long to Democratic incumbents who will be forced to endure endless repetitions of the Obama clip in their opponents’ campaign ads.

But rather than attempting to estimate the carnage this foolish remark will cause for his supporters, perhaps the better question to ask is why he did it. About that there doesn’t seem much room for debate.

The defining characteristic of this presidency remains the arrogance of Barack Obama. Having come into office on the strength of a campaign that presented him as not merely a breath of fresh air but as a messiah who could turn back the oceans and renew American society, the president’s inflated opinion of his abilities and his appeal is hardly surprising. Nor after two elections won on the strength of his personal appeal is it at all astonishing that he would think injecting himself into the midterms would be to his party’s advantage.

But along with the self-assurance that comes with two presidential victories is the reality that the Obama White House remains an echo chamber where bad news or telling the truth about the president’s mistakes are not welcome. In the same bubble where it is OK for Obama to blame the intelligence community for underestimating ISIS when it was he who would make that error despite his advisors warning him of the danger, the news about the president’s staggering unpopularity in his second term has also not penetrated the commander-in-chief’s inner sanctum.

But even if some are telling our emperor–who believes he can govern without the consent of Congress on issues like immigration and is arrogant enough to warn the voters he will do just that after they are done casting their ballots—that he has no clothes, this is not a man who is likely to listen to such advice. If he has lengthened what was almost certainly going to be a longer than average lame duck period of his presidency with last week’s statement, it is in a way fitting that this should happen as a result of his outsized ego rather than anything else.

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How Do You Fight a Hundred Years’ War?

Most Americans are understandably reluctant to send troops back into Iraq let alone Syria. But, given the fact that, as Max Boot noted earlier today, bombing isn’t stopping the ISIS terrorists from making progress toward their initial goal of taking over either or both countries, more U.S. action is likely to follow. That has provoked the usual anti-war chorus on the left to proclaim that all American action is ultimately futile. But as worthless as many of those arguments may be, it is important to address the more substantive of these complaints head on and explain why it is that Americans are fated, like it or not, to be drawn into conflicts with radical Islamists now and in the years to come.

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Most Americans are understandably reluctant to send troops back into Iraq let alone Syria. But, given the fact that, as Max Boot noted earlier today, bombing isn’t stopping the ISIS terrorists from making progress toward their initial goal of taking over either or both countries, more U.S. action is likely to follow. That has provoked the usual anti-war chorus on the left to proclaim that all American action is ultimately futile. But as worthless as many of those arguments may be, it is important to address the more substantive of these complaints head on and explain why it is that Americans are fated, like it or not, to be drawn into conflicts with radical Islamists now and in the years to come.

In Saturday’s Washington Post, historian and former soldier Andrew Bacevich wrote to say that it didn’t matter whether the battle with ISIS was won or not. By his count, the U.S. had invaded, occupied, or bombed 14 Islamic countries in the last 35 years and that this latest chapter of a long-running war wasn’t likely to end any more satisfactorily than any of the others. To summarize Bacevich’s thesis, he thinks each successive U.S. intervention has only made things worse than its predecessors and that the end result is as futile as American military efforts in Vietnam, a telling analogy as it betrays his frame of reference about these conflicts.

What does Bacevich advise to do instead of attacking ISIS? On that point, he’s a bit hazy other than to imply that staying out will be less messy than going in. Moreover, he believes that since the U.S. is no longer as dependent on Middle Eastern oil, there’s no real need to fuss about the future of the region, a point that also betrays his cynical and somewhat dated echo of the original discredited arguments about the reason the U.S. went into Iraq in 2003.

Bacevich, who lost a son in Iraq, has a right to feel bitter about that conflict but though George Will praised his piece yesterday on Fox News Sunday, his plea for isolationism offers us little that is useful in untangling the current conflict or about the options the U.S. currently faces in Iraq and Syria.

Let’s start by noting that Bacevich’s list of 14 Islamic countries attacked by the U.S. is more than a bit misleading. Including Kosovo, a conflict in which NATO mercilessly bombed the Serbian Christian enemies of Kosovo Muslims, in this roster of invasions is absurd. The whole point of that effort was to defend Muslims and to ultimately aid their creation of another Muslim state at the expense of their neighbors who had themselves misbehaved. But he’s right that Americans have gotten little satisfaction out of any of our encounters in the other 13 nations.

Yet his idea that the U.S. is only making the problem worse is looking at the problem from the wrong perspective.

Radical Islamists do use American actions as a recruiting tool, but to claim that their atrocities or campaigns are primarily a reaction to the West rather than something that reflects the desperate state of their own political culture is fundamentally mistaken. Conflicts with Iran or Libya didn’t create the Taliban or al-Qaeda. Rather the growth of these radical movements is a reflection of the dire state of the Islamic world as it attempts to confront modernity and instead seeks a solution in the old formula of jihad and world domination.

It is comforting to think that the West can simply ignore the war being waged on it by a host of ever-changing Islamist groups whose names change but whose methods are consistently barbarous and whose goals are uncompromising. But every time we do, whether in the ’90s when al-Qaeda’s rise was considered insignificant or during an Obama administration that pretended it could take credit for “ending” wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or staying out Syria, we end up paying a price.

Bacevich is right to note that the conflict against ISIS won’t be easy. Nor will we be able to conclude it with victory parades the way Americans prefer to end wars. Instead, it will require a long-term commitment that recognizes that our foes view this as a hundred years’ war and not a neat little battle that can be quickly won and then forgotten.

The Islamists aren’t looking to behead Westerners, take over Arab countries, and then extend their terror to Americans and our allies because we stumbled into Iraq or bombed Libya in the distant past. Nor is it about our supposed sins in Iran in the 1950s or any other oft-repeated tale of Islamic woe. Rather, it is a function of a basic conflict between Islamist belief and the West and those Muslims who prefer peace and coexistence to Sharia law and endless war.

The call to retreat from the Middle East is advice that President Obama and the American people would do well to ignore. Sooner or later, if we stay out of the conflict with ISIS, that group or those that ultimately replace it will bring their war to America. Contrary to Bacevich and Will, our choice is not whether or not to fight Islamists but where we will fight them. It is simply common sense to do so on their home turf and at a point when Western military superiority can be brought to bear on the group and their allies before they become even more dangerous. The outcome of each battle in this new hundred years’ war won’t be satisfying, but that doesn’t make it any less necessary to fight. The enemy will make sure to remind us that giving up isn’t an option.

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The Walrus and the Liberal Were Walking Hand in Hand

The global warming crowd has been increasingly embarrassed by the fact that while their beloved computer models have been predicting ever higher temperatures, there has been no global warming for the last 18 years. Where could the heat be hiding? The favorite explanation for several years now has been that it is in the deep ocean, below 2,000 meters (1.24 miles), that the heat was being stored.

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The global warming crowd has been increasingly embarrassed by the fact that while their beloved computer models have been predicting ever higher temperatures, there has been no global warming for the last 18 years. Where could the heat be hiding? The favorite explanation for several years now has been that it is in the deep ocean, below 2,000 meters (1.24 miles), that the heat was being stored.

Well, so much for that theory. NASA announced today that a study has shown no warming in the deep ocean between the years 2005 and 2013. If the computer models can’t even predict the past, why would anyone, without a political agenda at least, pay any attention to what they predict about the future?

Meanwhile, Gail Collins in the Times is reporting a walrus crisis:

Let’s consider the walrus crisis.

They’re piling up in Alaska. About 35,000 walruses have formed what looks to be a humongous brown ball along the northern coast. A mass of critters, some weighing 4,000 pounds, are pressed shoulder to shoulder — or flipper to flipper.

Normally, they’d be sitting on chunks of ice, periodically flopping into the water to hunt for snails and clams. But the ice has melted away, and now they’re stuck on land.

For one thing, it doesn’t look even remotely like a ball, much more like a carpet. More importantly than faulty simile, however, is the fact that this is entirely normal walrus behavior. As John Hinderaker at Power Line points out these haulouts, as they’re called, are common in the post-breeding season and have been observed as far back as 1604, in the depths of the “little ice age.” He quotes Wikipedia: “In the non-reproductive season (late summer and fall) walruses tend to migrate away from the ice and form massive aggregations of tens of thousands of individuals on rocky beaches or outcrops.” He also notes that that sentence was very recently deleted from Wikipedia. One can only wonder why.

As for the absence of ice, 2014, it turns out, it has been a pretty good year for arctic ice.

Also the walrus population has about doubled since the 1950s, hardly a sign of an animal under environmental distress.

So while liberals are declaring imminent walrus catastrophe, my only reaction on seeing the photographs was a profound gratitude I wasn’t downwind of 35,000 walruses.

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Greg Orman’s Supporters Don’t Understand How Congress Works

In politics, successfully labeling your opponent as an unprincipled flip-flopper is usually an effective campaign tactic and might even be enough to tip the election. But what if that happens to be his campaign’s entire raison d’être, as far as his supporters are concerned? How do you use against him the very supposed weakness that’s become his greatest strength? That’s the question Kansas Senator Pat Roberts is probably asking himself right about now.

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In politics, successfully labeling your opponent as an unprincipled flip-flopper is usually an effective campaign tactic and might even be enough to tip the election. But what if that happens to be his campaign’s entire raison d’être, as far as his supporters are concerned? How do you use against him the very supposed weakness that’s become his greatest strength? That’s the question Kansas Senator Pat Roberts is probably asking himself right about now.

The incumbent Republican is running for his fourth term in the Senate. He previously served eight terms in the House, so he’s been in Washington since 1981. He is also 78 years old. Although he retains a very conservative voting record, conservatives hit him with a grassroots primary challenge from Milton Wolf, who drew attention to Roberts’s increasing lack of connection with his home state, including the fact that he seemed to consider Virginia his real home.

Roberts won the primary, but the conservative groups appear to have shown better judgment than the party establishment on this one. Roberts has been a lackluster candidate at best, and is particularly vulnerable to anti-incumbent voter backlash. A popular campaign meme during the 2012 GOP primary debates was for one candidate to say of another: “he went to Washington and never came back.” That is almost literally true of Roberts.

And now he’s got a peculiar sort of general-election battle on his hands. While weak GOP incumbents in past cycles have been a boon for the Democrat in the race, in this case voters didn’t seem to like the Democrat either. So polls after the primaries were over showed third party/independent candidate Greg Orman, a wealthy Kansas businessman, with a lead. Democrats wisely understood their best chance to flip the seat was to help Orman and get their own candidate out of the race. (If anyone wants an indication of just how rough a summer it’s been for the Democrats, look no further than the court battle they waged to force their nominee off the ballot in Kansas.)

It was dubious legally for the Democrats, this late in the game, to withdraw their candidate from the ballot without replacing him, but the Kansas courts allowed it. Orman, for his part, is a former Republican turned Democrat turned former Democrat, now running as an independent. He has voted, according to Orman, both for and against Barack Obama for president. Voters, then, might be wondering what exactly he believes. In fact, they don’t seem to want to know. As David Drucker reports at the Washington Examiner, Orman’s supporters have caught the anti-incumbent fever:

Independent Senate candidate Greg Orman has been cagey about whether he’ll caucus with Democrats or Republicans if elected.

His supporters think that’s the whole point.

Some of the Kansas businessman’s core supporters, including registered Republicans and independents, argue that his lack of a political party would grant him outsized influence on Capitol Hill.

To be sure, some Kansas Democrats are excited about Orman’s candidacy because they think he has a good chance to beat incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Roberts and has not ruled out caucusing with Senate Democrats, especially now that the Democratic candidate Chad Taylor has dropped out.

But in multiple interviews this week at two Orman campaign volunteer organizing events, supporters referenced the candidate’s IQ and business success as the basis for their belief that he can singularly end partisan gridlock and develop politically palatable solutions to the country’s most intractable problems.

As understandable as it is for voters to be unhappy with partisan gridlock, the idea that someone trusted by neither party’s leadership would have “outsized influence on Capitol Hill” is wishful thinking. The upside here for Democrats is obvious: their candidate wasn’t going to win anyway, but now, if the Senate is otherwise split evenly, Orman gets to decide which party takes the majority since he’s got an invitation to caucus with either one.

That’s not the same as either party outright winning the seat, since Orman’s allegiance can only be secured by winning a Senate majority without him, unless the tally comes out even and he plays kingmaker. But that also raises the absurdity of his supporters’ belief that he could shake things up and forge solutions to policy stalemates just by being an outsider. In fact, it’s simply not true.

The only way Orman could grease the wheels of legislation on “the country’s most intractable problems” is if he enables the Republicans to reclaim the majority in the upper chamber. No one expects the Democrats to win back the House. Therefore, Congress will be divided unless the GOP picks up enough seats in the Senate to take the majority.

If that’s the case, there’s still going to be a certain amount of gridlock thanks to the presidential veto. But since Harry Reid shoved aside the filibuster, he’s opened the door to either party invoking what would likely become known as the “Reid Rule”: getting rid of the filibuster in individual cases because the policy or plan being held up is more important to the leadership than parliamentary procedure, rules, or tradition.

Perhaps Orman’s supporters simply think that what he brings to the table is an outsider’s perspective on government and a businessman’s perspective on regulation. He’s chosen strategic silence, however, instead of offering those ideas. That’s probably the smart move electorally, since Roberts will struggle with any line of attack gaining hold only a month before the election. But Orman’s supporters seem to have a magical faith in his ability to pass legislation by virtue of his being an “independent.” It may be a comforting illusion to them, but it’s an illusion all the same.

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Dems’ Texas Fantasies Don’t Add Up

Triumphalism comes naturally to liberals since they tend to conceive of history as the story of the inevitable triumph of progressive ideas over reactionary conservatism. But while those hopes have often been short-circuited since Americans realize that some of what falls under the progressive rubric is counter-productive to the cause of liberty, this mindset is influencing commentary about the future of Texas. Although the Lone Star State is deep red now, Democrats are sure this is about to change thanks to demographics. But those counting on Texas turning blue shouldn’t be holding their breath.

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Triumphalism comes naturally to liberals since they tend to conceive of history as the story of the inevitable triumph of progressive ideas over reactionary conservatism. But while those hopes have often been short-circuited since Americans realize that some of what falls under the progressive rubric is counter-productive to the cause of liberty, this mindset is influencing commentary about the future of Texas. Although the Lone Star State is deep red now, Democrats are sure this is about to change thanks to demographics. But those counting on Texas turning blue shouldn’t be holding their breath.

In today’s New York Times, we get a new version of Democratic optimism with an op-ed by liberal author Richard Parker who asserts that it’s not just the growing number of Hispanics that will transform Texas politics. According to Parker, the shift in the political balance of power has as much to do with the increasing influence of cities as it does to ethnicity. He argues that the growing dominance of urban voters will play just as decisive a role in bringing the Democrats back to power in Austin. He thinks the ability of President Obama to win all of Texas’s big urban counties and cities in 2012 should interest us just as much as the fact that a majority of Texans will likely be of Hispanic origin in 10-20 years. Since even in Texas people who live in cities tend to be more liberal on both economics and social issues, it stands to reason that the growth of these cities heralds the inevitable end of the GOP stranglehold on Texas politics. This leads him to think that not only does Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis—a national favorite of liberals but a heavy underdog in Texas—have a shot at winning this year but that she or a successor is likely to be victorious four years from now.

But like the assumptions about Hispanics paving the way for Texas turning purple, if not blue, this thesis may not be correct.

Ironically on the same day that Parker’s essay appeared, Politico published a piece by conservative author Wayne Thorburn that argues that liberal triumphalism about Texas is mostly wishful thinking.

Thorburn doesn’t dispute that the number of Hispanics is going up from the 37.6 percent of Texas residents reported by the 2010 census. But he points out that a lot of the assumptions about Texas Hispanics are not backed up by the facts.

The first big problem for Democrats is that a sizable percentage of the 10 million Texans classified as Hispanic are not eligible to vote. Parker writes that one million of them are “undocumented non-citizens”—a politically correct way of saying they are illegal immigrants. A large number of other Hispanics are either green card holders who may eventually become citizens or those who hold student visas. Of those who are entitled to vote, only 38.8 percent are registered as opposed to more than 61 percent of the white population.

If that doesn’t sober up Democrats, they should also take into account the fact that Texas Hispanics are less likely to vote for Democrats than those living in deep-blue states like California or New York. Mitt Romney may have only gotten 27 percent of the national Hispanic vote in 2012 but he got approximately ten percent more in Texas. Urban voters may be more likely to be more liberal on social issues but Hispanics, especially those in Texas, appear to be socially conservative and that has helped the GOP hold onto a bigger share of their vote than elsewhere.

All these factors should enable Republicans to go on winning in Texas even if their margins may be diminished.

But the main point here isn’t just about Hispanic voters. It’s that all formulas that assume that voters will behave in exactly the way they have previously are inherently suspect.

Liberals like Parker assume that being urban means being liberal just as others assume Hispanic identity means a vote for the Democrats. Those assumptions are based on past experience and are therefore sound. But what he and anyone else who makes blanket assumptions about Texas or any other state must take into account is the fact that candidates, parties, and ideas still matter more than ethnicity or where you live.

After all, Texas was once part of the solid Democratic south. It changed not because of any demographic shift but because the Democrats’ shift to the left in the 1960s and ’70s rendered them vulnerable to a GOP that had become more identified with support of a strong national defense and hostility to big government than their rivals. That’s why Ronald Reagan swept Texas and it’s the same reason why a Republican Hispanic by the name of Ted Cruz won election to the U.S. Senate there in a landslide (including 40 percent of the Hispanic vote) in 2012.

It is possible that Democrats could pull some future upsets if they nominate candidates who are more conservative than their national party. But the rise of Wendy Davis to national prominence on the back of her abortion filibuster in the state legislature illustrates the conundrum at the heart of Parker’s assumptions. Davis is exactly the kind of candidate who is likely to engender enthusiasm in liberal urban centers like Austin. But amid a multitude of problems that have plagued her gubernatorial run is the fact that she has little appeal to a Hispanic population that doesn’t view abortion as favorably as other Democrats. Nor is there any reason to assume that Hispanic Democrats like the Castro brothers are going to have the traction to flip moderate swing voters.

Demographic determinism may be heady stuff for political scientists but in real life politics isn’t science. Until Democrats learn that lesson and start trying to appeal to conservatives, their Texas scenarios will remain fantasies.

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Getting Into Bed with Iran in Iraq Will Have Consequences

At first glance, the idea that Iran’s elite shock troops operating in Iraq have been ordered to avoid targeting Americans seems like good news. But as much as we should hope that U.S. personnel (reportedly some 1,600 Americans are currently there advising Iraqi and Kurdish troops) will be able to operate without interference or attack from the Iranians, Eli Lake’s story in the Daily Beast about the latest intelligence assessment about Iraq is quite troubling especially in light of the U.S. making desperate offers to get Tehran to agree to another weak nuclear deal. If, contrary to public assurances from the administration, there is any quid pro quo between the U.S. and Iran over events in Iraq and Syria, then these dealings are indicative of the long-range problems brewing for American security.

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At first glance, the idea that Iran’s elite shock troops operating in Iraq have been ordered to avoid targeting Americans seems like good news. But as much as we should hope that U.S. personnel (reportedly some 1,600 Americans are currently there advising Iraqi and Kurdish troops) will be able to operate without interference or attack from the Iranians, Eli Lake’s story in the Daily Beast about the latest intelligence assessment about Iraq is quite troubling especially in light of the U.S. making desperate offers to get Tehran to agree to another weak nuclear deal. If, contrary to public assurances from the administration, there is any quid pro quo between the U.S. and Iran over events in Iraq and Syria, then these dealings are indicative of the long-range problems brewing for American security.

According to Lake, intelligence officials believes the Islamist regime has ordered its Quds Force to lay off Americans in order to make it easier for President Obama to persuade the international community to buy into another nuclear deal with Iran. This is significant because the Quds Force has a history of being among the most dangerous terrorists forces on the planet. It helped orchestrate terror campaigns against U.S. forces in Iraq and waged war on behalf of the Assad regime in Syria and against the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan. It also has a record of involvement in international heroin trafficking.

But for the moment the fact that ISIS is at war with both the U.S. and Iran is motivating Tehran to call off its terrorist dogs with respect to the presence of Americans in Iraq. Though the U.S. has explicitly pledged to avoid making common cause with Iran about ISIS, the idea that the two countries were going to conduct operations against the group without any cooperation, whether overt or tacit, in this conflict was always far-fetched. The administration is all too happy to make nice with the Iranians in the field against ISIS but also thrilled at any sign that the Iranians are actually interested in a new nuclear deal. But the informal cease-fire between Quds operatives and Americans after years of the Iranians targeting Americans is just another indication of the problems awaiting President Obama if his attempt to broker détente with Tehran succeeds.

From the beginning of his administration, the president has been eager to put an end to decades of confrontation between the U.S. and Iran. But in order to do that he must maneuver around his pledge not to allow the Islamists to obtain a nuclear weapon. After years of failed attempts at engagement, Congress dragged him into enforcing tough sanctions on the regime and the international coalition on the issue had backed the Iranians into a corner. But his zeal for a deal caused him to squander the immense economic and military leverage over Iran and the result was last November’s interim agreement that weakened sanctions while doing little to forestall the nuclear threat. After another year of talks, the Americans appear to be cracking again and making offers that build on last year’s concessions. The Iranians have now been told that not only will they continue to be able to enrich uranium but that they can keep their infrastructure including the centrifuges that create nuclear fuel for weapons. Instead of pushing for dismantling the centrifuges, which are not needed if Iran’s goal is truly to use its program for civilian purposes, American negotiators have offered to let Tehran keep its machines but asked that they be disconnected, a “compromise” that is little more than a fig leaf on a Western surrender to Iranian demands.

The fight against ISIS has only strengthened the president’s desire to make a deal with Iran. But while both nations have an interest in seeing the terror group destroyed, the unintended consequence of the administration’s belated recognition that its retreat from American commitments in the region has created havoc is that in doing so, it will strengthen the very forces—Iranian-backed Shiite terrorists in Iraq and the Assad government and the Iranian auxiliaries such as Quds force and Hezbollah in Syria—that are seeking to extinguish American influence in the region and extend Iranian hegemony across the region at the expense of U.S. allies such as the moderate Arab nations and Israel. Enlisting the aid of the arsonist in putting out the fire rarely works well for the burning building or the firemen.

If the Iranian strategy succeeds, they will not only have suckered the U.S. into going along with a pact that will make it more likely than not that Tehran will achieve is nuclear dream without having to worry about a Western coalition strangling its economy or threatening the use of force. By the same token, the tacit recognition of the right of Iran to operate with impunity in Iraq and Syria will, in the long run, make these nations more dangerous to the West, rather than less so. If we worry about ISIS, and we should, we should be even more worried about a new balance of power in which the terrorists and drug dealers of the Quds Force will be the ones in charge.

Deals with terrorists are never good bargains except for the terrorists. Getting into bed with Iran in Iraq for the sake of a nuclear deal the West should avoid is an unforced error on Obama’s part. He needs to back away from Iran both in Iraq and at the nuclear negotiating table quickly and ditch his foolish desire for a rapprochement with a regime that is as determined to undo the West as ISIS may be. If he doesn’t, the consequences may be Iranian rule in Iraq and Syria protected by a nuclear umbrella that the president has promised will never happen.

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What’s Wrong with the American Economy?

Growth in the American economy since the year 2000 has averaged 1.7 percent per annum. That’s about half of what it averaged in the Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton years. Unemployment, especially in the broader measures, remains stubbornly high five years after the recession of 2007-2009 ended. What’s going on?

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Growth in the American economy since the year 2000 has averaged 1.7 percent per annum. That’s about half of what it averaged in the Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton years. Unemployment, especially in the broader measures, remains stubbornly high five years after the recession of 2007-2009 ended. What’s going on?

According to Peter Morici, an economics professor at the University of Maryland (and the bow-tied star of TV commercials for Kyocera office equipment) the problems lie in five key areas. 1) Poorly enforced trade agreements that allow China to manipulate its currency and export more goods to the United States, costing U.S. jobs. 2) Counterproductive energy policies that reduce domestic production, and therefore jobs, and cause more oil to be imported. 3) Burdensome regulations and taxation, such as restrictive licensing requirements and the highest corporate tax in the developed world. 4) Crony capitalism that reduces competition in the private sector in exchange for political contributions. 5) Disincentives to work, such as ever-expanding entitlements.

The good news is that, unlike the economic problems faced by many countries, all of these problems are amenable to reform. The bad news is that reforming the status quo, which always has determined defenders, requires strong presidential leadership and a Congress capable of acting in the national interest, not just in its members’ interests.

Right now, of course, we have neither. Even Democrats are beginning to notice that the Obama presidency is notably lacking in leadership. And Congress is more dysfunctional than it has been in a very long time. The latter problem can be at least partially ameliorated in a month. The former will have to wait until 2017.

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ISIS Withstanding U.S. Counteroffensive

The limited bombing that President Obama has unleashed against ISIS is, predictably, having little impact. As one would expect, ISIS has adjusted its tactics to make itself a hard target to hit from the air–there will be fewer columns of vehicles flying the black flag and fewer chances to see ISIS leaders in the open. The Wall Street Journal notes, “Islamic State appears to have largely withstood the airstrikes so far and with scant pressure on the ground in Iraq and Syria, the militants have given up little of the territory they captured before the campaign began.”

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The limited bombing that President Obama has unleashed against ISIS is, predictably, having little impact. As one would expect, ISIS has adjusted its tactics to make itself a hard target to hit from the air–there will be fewer columns of vehicles flying the black flag and fewer chances to see ISIS leaders in the open. The Wall Street Journal notes, “Islamic State appears to have largely withstood the airstrikes so far and with scant pressure on the ground in Iraq and Syria, the militants have given up little of the territory they captured before the campaign began.”

Actually it’s worse than that–far from giving up ground, ISIS continues to take fresh territory. There are recent reports that “the black flag of ISIS was raised on the outskirts of the Kurdish Syrian town of Kobani on Monday afternoon”; that ISIS fighters “have become a major presence in Abu Ghraib,” a town only 15 miles from Baghdad International Airport; and that ISIS fighters have also “seized weapons and besieged hundreds of Iraqi soldiers after overrunning … the Albu Aytha military camp, 50 miles outside of Baghdad.”

And the situation could get more dire still: “With U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq failing to halt the advance of the Islamic State, opposition forces in neighboring Syria warn that the Obama administration risks losing the Iraqi capital of Baghdad unless Washington helps the rebels open up new fronts against the militants in both countries.” Actually it’s unlikely that Baghdad will fall anytime soon to ISIS simply because there are so many Shiite residents of the capital, but it is quite plausible to expect a battle in the streets that will increase the already high death toll.

What is to be done about all this? Robert Ford, who resigned in disgust as Obama’s ambassador to Syria, offers useful suggestions. These include: “The United States and its partners must supply more ammunition and equipment to moderate groups in northern and southern Syria…. We must support a unified Syrian command structure by channeling our assistance through it, and we need to insist that our Arab allies do the same… We should be doing more to coordinate our attacks with opposition commanders.”

All good ideas. Beyond that, Obama needs to relax his prohibition on “boots on the ground.” While there are undoubtedly some Special Operations and CIA forces already running around Iraq and possibly Syria, a much larger commitment of Special Operators and advisers is needed to work as combat advisers alongside Kurdish pesh merga, Sunni tribes, and select units of the Iraqi army and Free Syrian Army. This will make it possible to push back ISIS from the town of Kobani, whereas if the U.S. doesn’t have eyes on the ground it will be hard to bomb accurately.

The U.S. must also recommit to toppling Assad–a move that could finally entice President Erdogan of Turkey to commit Turkish troops to carve out safe zones in northern Syria where the more moderate Syrian opposition can begin to govern and thus offer an alternative to the terror of both Assad and ISIS.

In short, Obama needs to overcome his illusions and understand the limits of air power. Bombing is a good first step, but by itself it is not going to roll back the fanatical empire that ISIS is constructing.

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Obama, Media Call for Segregation in Israel

The most concerning aspect to the periodic arguments between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is not that they fight, but what they fight about. No one expects a disagreement about how to approach the Iranian nuclear program not to raise the temperature a bit; it’s something many Israelis consider an existential threat and it would shift the balance of power in global politics further away from the West while isolating Israel even more. If the two are going to argue, in other words, argue over something important.

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The most concerning aspect to the periodic arguments between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is not that they fight, but what they fight about. No one expects a disagreement about how to approach the Iranian nuclear program not to raise the temperature a bit; it’s something many Israelis consider an existential threat and it would shift the balance of power in global politics further away from the West while isolating Israel even more. If the two are going to argue, in other words, argue over something important.

But you can tell the relationship is really on the rocks by the fights the Obama administration chooses to pick, most recently on two issues: Jewish construction in Givat Hamatos, a Jerusalem community just over the green line, and the private sale of existing homes in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan from Arabs to Jews. The case of Givat Hamatos is standard fare for fights over settlements: although the Obama administration is wrong here (as usual), it’s a petty but classic fight to pick for American officials looking to take potshots at Israel. (Though the optics of telling black Ethiopian immigrants they must live in substandard housing is not the Obama administration’s proudest moment, to be sure.)

The Givat Hamatos tiff, therefore, doesn’t speak well of Obama, but doesn’t really break any new ground. That’s not true of Silwan. Obama’s objection to a Jew legally buying a home from an Arab in Jerusalem is nothing less than ethnic segregationism, and press secretary Josh Earnest’s classification of such a home as an “occupation” is the kind of pro-Palestinian propaganda the parroting of which is, quite frankly, evidence of a level of surpassing ignorance shocking even for the Obama administration. (Discrimination which the New York Times endorsed as well.) On that note, this nugget from an earlier Times of Israel story about the controversy jumps out:

When asked about Netanyahu’s allegations that the US was telling Jews that they could not buy houses in the Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, which several Jewish families moved into earlier the week, Psaki did not clarify Washington’s position regarding the Ir David group’s independent purchase of Arab-owned houses there.

Instead, Psaki said that there were questions involving building permits and construction — an answer that seemed to address the municipality’s involvement in Givat Hamatos rather than the private initiative in Silwan.

It wasn’t clear that Jen Psaki even knew what she was being asked about. The degree to which this administration’s advisors and spokesmen are uninformed about issues on which they pronounce judgment is simply incredible.

It’s indefensible, so it’s strange for the Obama administration and its allies in the press to continue pushing the segregationist line. Netanyahu can’t quite believe it either, saying over the weekend that ethnic segregationism is “against the American values.” This is obviously true. But it caused a bit of a stir in part because of how news organizations chose to play the story. And here we have a great example of the split in Israel over journalistic ethics, between honest publications and publications like Haaretz. Both Haaretz and the Times of Israel ran the AP story on Netanyahu’s comments. Here’s the Times of Israel’s headline:

PM: US East Jerusalem critique is ‘against American values’

Accurate and precise. And here’s Haaretz’s headline:

Netanyahu: It’s un-American to rebuke Israel over Jewish homes in Jerusalem

Clearly false and intentionally provocative. Now, to be fair to Haaretz, they weren’t the only ones to run with a false headline. They appear to have run a modified version of the original headline but keeping the formulation. The Times of Israel chose to say something true instead. The Associated Press did not exactly cover itself in glory this weekend.

But Netanyahu’s comments were less an attempt to escalate a bizarre diplomatic incident and more a way of throwing up his hands, as if to say, “Mr. President, what do you honestly expect me to do about this?” Can the Israeli prime minister possibly–assuming he even wants to comply with the American president’s order–intervene to overturn a legal sale because it was made from an Arab to a Jew? What on earth could Obama be expecting here? That Israel be the one Western country to legally restrict Jewish property rights? In the year 2014? In Jerusalem? Does the president even understand what he’s asking here?

The safe bet is generally to answer such questions in the negative: no, Obama does not understand what he’s saying. That is usually the case, especially with regard to the Middle East, where his knowledge of history and politics has always been alarmingly limited. But at some point, ignorance ceases to be an excuse. These are important issues, and they have immediate ramifications not just for geopolitics but also for the safety of those involved, the Middle East being the tinderbox it is. It’s time for the president to swallow his pride, crack open a book and a map, and start making sense.

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The Judaism of Self-Congratulation

On Rosh Hashanah this year, about thirty students, faculty, and other members of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign community gathered near a creek to “perform a special version of the ritual of tashlich.” I have not participated in this ritual since I was a child, but unless a great deal has changed in the past thirty years, I take it still to be about casting away one’s sins. What was special about this version of tashlich is that it was entirely about denouncing other people.

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On Rosh Hashanah this year, about thirty students, faculty, and other members of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign community gathered near a creek to “perform a special version of the ritual of tashlich.” I have not participated in this ritual since I was a child, but unless a great deal has changed in the past thirty years, I take it still to be about casting away one’s sins. What was special about this version of tashlich is that it was entirely about denouncing other people.

The Facebook page devoted to the holy episode says it all: “Rosh Hashanah Tashlich Service for Palestine and Professor Salaita.” For this group, purporting to represent progressive Judaism, one of the holiest days on the Jewish calendar was a convenient backdrop for a bit of political theater, to draw attention to the plight of Steven Salaita, whose job offer at the University of Illinois was rescinded, apparently on account, at least in part, of a series of virulently anti-Israeli statements he made on Twitter. “Most” of the students “wore stickers of the sideways letter ‘I’ over their mouths, as in previous protests of the Salaita firing, to symbolize censorship at the university. The stickers used at the tashlich service, however, contained an image of the Israeli flag inside the sideways ‘I’, symbolizing the particularly harsh censorship of dissenting views on Israel in particular.” In short, the high holidays are now about repenting for the sin of being oppressed by the Israel lobby.

To be fair, the group pretended to be repenting for other individual sins, as well as the collective sins of the Jewish community, including, “allowing violence against Palestinians to be committed in our name as Jews and as Americans and “not speaking out against anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia.” But since the protesters are already engaged in drawing attention to and condemning what they see as the sins of Israel and America against Arabs and Muslims, they are at most repenting for taking the occasional day off from their smug and self-righteous attacks on unenlightened Israeli and American Jews. Their decision to devote a day set aside for self-examination and repentance to yet another pompous display signals that there will be no more days off. To be sure, all this is now part of the playbook of Jewish Voice for Peace, a group for whom the sum and substance of Judaism is criticism of Israel and the United States insofar as it refuses to cast Israel off. But the loathsomeness of this particular activity, because it turns even the high holy days into an opportunity for activists to hit Israel with one hand and pat themselves on the back with the other, remains fresh.

Meanwhile “If Not Now When,” a group formed “by former J Street staffers and Occupy organizers” decided to make a whole week of it, holding protests “outside of prominent Jewish institutions in New York” that spread to Philadelphia and Washington D.C. Participants “wore black, instead of the ceremonial white, to symbolize the impurity of the Jewish soul.” Very nice, but I can find no reference to a protest on Yom Kippur itself. Perhaps this crew is not yet completely shameless. But there’s always next year.

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Obama Should Apologize, Not Biden

For most casual observers, it will be filed under the category of “Biden being Biden.” But the story of the apology to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan tells us more about the Obama administration’s dysfunctional foreign policy than it does about the vice president’s predilection for saying embarrassing things. But rather than apologizing to Erdoğan for telling the truth about the Turks facilitating the rise of ISIS by letting Islamists enter Syria, it is Biden’s boss, President Obama, who should admit that it was his foolish decisions that did more to create the disaster in Iraq and Syria that allowed the rise of Islamist terrorists.

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For most casual observers, it will be filed under the category of “Biden being Biden.” But the story of the apology to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan tells us more about the Obama administration’s dysfunctional foreign policy than it does about the vice president’s predilection for saying embarrassing things. But rather than apologizing to Erdoğan for telling the truth about the Turks facilitating the rise of ISIS by letting Islamists enter Syria, it is Biden’s boss, President Obama, who should admit that it was his foolish decisions that did more to create the disaster in Iraq and Syria that allowed the rise of Islamist terrorists.

Biden’s statement at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government was the textbook definition of a gaffe: telling an embarrassing truth. He was quoted as saying that Erdoğan admitted to him that Turkey had erred by letting Islamists flood over the border when it was aiding Syrian rebels against the Assad regime and that they are now trying to be more selective about the people that are allowed to cross into the war zone. Since Turkey was willing to aid anyone who said they were willing to fight Assad, they deserve some blame for allowing ISIS to be armed and giving them the time and the space needed to begin their offensive that ultimately brought much of Syria and Iraq under the control.

That hit a little too close to the truth for Erdoğan, who demanded an apology and the always biddable Biden complied even though he also wrongly praised the Turks for their belated decision to join the anti-ISIS alliance, something that our Michael Rubin pointed out didn’t mean exactly what Biden thought it did.

Turkey’s status as a NATO ally and their geo-strategic position means that Washington will always need to tread carefully around Ankara’s interests even though it is clear that the goals of Erdoğan’s Islamist government are antithetical to those of the United States.

But if high-ranking Obama administration officials are so eager to apportion blame for ISIS’s ongoing strength they should look at a mirror rather than at Turkey.

Erdoğan’s desire to overthrow the Assad regime was no secret and led Turkey to make common cause with many undesirable elements. Indeed, as Michael Rubin noted, the authorization of the use of force in Syria by Turkey is about their desire to suppress Kurds, not to battle ISIS.

But Turkey’s unchecked mischief making in Syria was only made possible by Erdoğan’s erstwhile best buddy Barack Obama, who stood by and did nothing about Syria when U.S. intervention early on would have toppled Assad more easily while also making it far less likely that ISIS would have arisen in this fashion.

More to the point, while the president blamed U.S. intelligence for failing to anticipate ISIS gaining strength—something that is a blatant lie since it warned Obama of the dangers of the course he was following—it is more than obvious that the administration chose to let the Turks run amok because of its reluctance to face up to the need for America to lead in the region. By ignoring the advice of his more sober senior advisers like Leon Panetta and Robert Gates, and pulling out of Iraq and dithering on Syria while he was cozying up to Erdoğan, it was Obama who created the power vacuum that gave ISIS its opportunity.

But as we survey the unfolding tragicomedy of the administration’s relations with Turkey, we’d also do well to ponder what the loose-lipped vice president will be saying about our current problems a year or two from now. If President Obama sticks to his current policy of desultory bombing of ISIS with no effective ground forces opposing the Islamists, the threat from these terrorists will grow rather than recede. Since the president is still more interested in withdrawing from the region and striking deals with its more dangerous actors such as Iran rather than in backing our endangered moderate Arab allies or Israel, before too long it will be necessary to construct another cover story to account for the disasters that will follow.

When Biden is asked in late 2015 or in 2016 who or what created the disaster in Iraq and Syria or the next domino to fall, there’s no telling who the scapegoat will be. But no matter which country receives the veep’s inevitable apology, the real answer will always be Barack Obama.

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Appeasement of Iran Should Be Unthinkable

The secret nuclear negotiations that have been going on recently between Iran and the States have, to date, yielded no results. But given the recent statements from both President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry indicating their continuing zeal for a deal with Tehran, one shouldn’t discount the possibility that sometime in the coming month or those that follows, they will yield enough to the ayatollahs to secure some kind of agreement. If so, the question Americans will have to answer is whether they want to live in a world in which the administration’s drive for détente with Iran yields a new nuclear power.

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The secret nuclear negotiations that have been going on recently between Iran and the States have, to date, yielded no results. But given the recent statements from both President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry indicating their continuing zeal for a deal with Tehran, one shouldn’t discount the possibility that sometime in the coming month or those that follows, they will yield enough to the ayatollahs to secure some kind of agreement. If so, the question Americans will have to answer is whether they want to live in a world in which the administration’s drive for détente with Iran yields a new nuclear power.

The president’s rhetoric on Iran has always been good. He pledged to stop Iran when he first ran for president in 2008 and went even further in 2012 as he vowed not to terminate its nuclear program. But last year’s interim nuclear revealed that his desire to “engage” Iran is clearly greater than any fears about giving the Islamist regime the ability to achieve their nuclear ambition if they are determined to do so. Last year’s deal was achieved only by the U.S. abandoning the considerable economic and military leverage it had over Iran. If Obama is to get another, he will have to go further and gut sanctions altogether while allowing Tehran to retain its nuclear infrastructure in exchange for precautions that cannot be enforced and can easily be reversed by the Iranians. The farcical nature of some of the proposals intended to ensure that Iran will not get a bomb indicates just how desperate the U.S. is to get any sort of deal that could allow the president to pretend that he had kept his promises.

But for the moment, let’s ignore the details and just think about what it will mean for the U.S. to end Iran’s isolation. Advocates for Iran, such as New York Times columnist Roger Cohen consider a “thinkable ally.” Cohen has long been besotted with the Islamist regime, going so far in 2009 to write a series of embarrassing columns in which he sought to argue that Jews were actually treated well by one of the planet’s most anti-Semitic regimes. Now he has returned to his dream and normalizing relations with the Islamist tyranny and believes the president can make it a reality if only he will stop worrying about Iran lying about its nuclear dreams and the fact that it is the world’s leading state sponsor of Islamist terrorism.

A world in which such a result is thinkable is one in which the United States will, despite the president’s stated goal of fighting ISIS, be complicit in the transformation of the Middle East into one dominated by Iran and its allies which include Bashar Assad’s murderous Syrian regime, Hezbollah and Hamas. It is one in which both moderate Arab regimes and Israel will rightly fear for their safety and which a newly empowered Iran will be able to threaten the West with the ballistic missiles, the U.S. isn’t interested in negotiating about and a nuclear program that will be easily converted to a weapon.

Americans are rightly afraid of ISIS and applaud the president’s desire to eliminate it. But if the U.S. surrenders to Iran in the nuclear negotiations, what will follow will be far more perilous than anything that ISIS could possibly achieve. This is not something sane persons should consider “thinkable.”

In the next 24 hours, Jews around the world will observe Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, during which they will contemplate their shortcomings and ask forgiveness for their sins. But we hope the president and those implementing his policies toward Iran will do the same about their plans. We don’t know what the world will look like a year from now. But if the U.S. does not step back from its course of appeasement of Iran, we know it will be even more dangerous than it is now.

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Hitting ISIS Everywhere But Where it Matters

The Pentagon today announced another set of airstrikes against the Islamic State in both Syria and Iraq:

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The Pentagon today announced another set of airstrikes against the Islamic State in both Syria and Iraq:

In Syria, one strike south of Al Hasakah destroyed an ISIL garrison, while one strike southeast of Dayr Az Zawr destroyed two ISIL tanks. Two strikes north of Ar Raqqah struck two modular oil refineries and an ISIL training camp, while another strike northeast of Aleppo struck an ISIL occupied building. One strike against an ISIL artillery piece west of Ar Raqqah was not successful.

What’s curious is what was not targeted. Over the past couple weeks; the Islamic State has been on the offensive against the Kurdish-held town of Kobane (‘Ain al-Arab). The Islamic State has been as brutal as it was in Sinjar, and recently even beheaded a group of captured Kurds, including women. Kurds may govern Kobane but the Kurdish administration has given shelter and protection to tens of thousands of Sunni Arabs and Christians. As the Islamic State advances, more than 100,000 refugees have flooded into Turkey. In the Pentagon, one strategic briefer tactlessly called the massacres and mass flight of population as “a tactical withdrawal.”

And yet, despite the heat of the battle around Kobane the United States and its Gulf allies did nothing to strike at Islamic State forces besieging the Kurds. It would be as if Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared that the United States would enter the war against Japan, and then proceeded to bomb Argentina. Given that President Obama has insisted that he approve every strike inside Syria, the only logical conclusion is that Obama does not want to protect Kobane, perhaps out of deference to Turkey, which is suspicious of any Kurdish entity.

This is shortsighted: Syrian Kurds may not be perfect, but they are largely secular, moderate, and tolerant. And despite their links to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which once waged an insurgency inside Turkey, those days are over: The Turks and PKK have been in peace talks and have abided by a ceasefire for over 18 months.

As the Islamic State advanced on the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Erbil, Obama scrambled to utilize airpower to stop the terrorist advance. That he will not do so in an analogous case inside Syria shows the complete lack of strategic coherence to U.S. actions. If military action is going to be effective, it should occur where the fighting is: not dozens of miles away.

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