Commentary Magazine


Topic: Berlin

Hedgehogs and Foxes in the Middle East

The fox, as Isaiah Berlin wrote, knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing. Reagan was a hedgehog because his presidency was animated by a basic belief in the superiority of democracy and free markets to Communism. When it comes to the Middle East, President Obama is what could be called a reverse hedgehog: he is animated by one grand vision, and it is completely wrong.

In this vision, the conflicts, failures, and policy difficulties of the Middle East revolve around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. All roads in the Middle East, for Obama, lead back to Israel, and probably to the West Bank and the Golan Heights. As Tony Badran notes, another high-level administration official has confirmed this fixation:

This was the first time that an official openly laid out what the administration’s end game is. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, who was the official testifying before the [congressional] subcommittee, outlined the administration’s conceptual framework as follows: The US is working to mitigate Iran’s regional influence, which Syria facilitates. But Syria is not Iran, and there’s a basic policy difference between them: Unlike Iran, Syria has an interest in negotiating a peace agreement with Israel. Therefore, the peace process is, in Feltman’s words, the “big game”. The administration believes that a peace deal between Damascus and Jerusalem would cure the Syria problem. …

Witness, for example, this statement by Feltman: “Syria’s relationship with Hezbollah and the Palestinian terrorist groups is unlikely to change absent a Middle East peace agreement.” The logic of this statement is but one step removed from justifying the arming of Hezbollah. It’s the logic that holds Syrian policy to be reactive and grievance-based.

When it comes to national leaders, hedgehogs are almost always preferable to foxes. But the worst possible scenario is the reverse hedgehog — the leader who is possessed of a grand fantasy.

The fox, as Isaiah Berlin wrote, knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing. Reagan was a hedgehog because his presidency was animated by a basic belief in the superiority of democracy and free markets to Communism. When it comes to the Middle East, President Obama is what could be called a reverse hedgehog: he is animated by one grand vision, and it is completely wrong.

In this vision, the conflicts, failures, and policy difficulties of the Middle East revolve around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. All roads in the Middle East, for Obama, lead back to Israel, and probably to the West Bank and the Golan Heights. As Tony Badran notes, another high-level administration official has confirmed this fixation:

This was the first time that an official openly laid out what the administration’s end game is. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, who was the official testifying before the [congressional] subcommittee, outlined the administration’s conceptual framework as follows: The US is working to mitigate Iran’s regional influence, which Syria facilitates. But Syria is not Iran, and there’s a basic policy difference between them: Unlike Iran, Syria has an interest in negotiating a peace agreement with Israel. Therefore, the peace process is, in Feltman’s words, the “big game”. The administration believes that a peace deal between Damascus and Jerusalem would cure the Syria problem. …

Witness, for example, this statement by Feltman: “Syria’s relationship with Hezbollah and the Palestinian terrorist groups is unlikely to change absent a Middle East peace agreement.” The logic of this statement is but one step removed from justifying the arming of Hezbollah. It’s the logic that holds Syrian policy to be reactive and grievance-based.

When it comes to national leaders, hedgehogs are almost always preferable to foxes. But the worst possible scenario is the reverse hedgehog — the leader who is possessed of a grand fantasy.

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Dreams of Disarmament

Mark Steyn predicts future historians will marvel at the omission of any discussion of Iran at this week’s Nuclear Security Summit:

For once, the cheap comparisons with 1930s appeasement barely suffice: To be sure, in 1933, the great powers were meeting in Geneva and holding utopian arms-control talks even as Hitler was taking office in Berlin. But it’s difficult to imagine Neville Chamberlain in 1938 hosting a conference on the dangers of rearmament, and inviting America, France, Brazil, Liberia, and Thailand . . . but not even mentioning Germany.

For the proper historical analogy, we may have to look back even further – to the 1921 Washington Conference on naval disarmament in the Pacific, which Churchill described in the opening chapter of “The Gathering Storm:”

At the Washington Conference of 1921 far-reaching proposals for naval disarmament were made by the United States, and the British and American governments proceeded to sink their battleships and break up their military establishments with gusto. It was argued in odd logic that it would be immoral to disarm the vanquished unless the victors also stripped themselves of their weapons.

Chalk it up to the early twentieth century belief that it was ships that killed people. Churchill wrote that Japan, then just becoming a rising Pacific power, “watched with an attentive eye.” Two decades later, the U.S. ended a world war in the Pacific with bombs not yet invented when the U.S. had led the world in dreaming of disarmament.

The 2010 Washington Conference was an idea President Obama announced last year in his Prague disarmament speech, which set forth his vision of a world without nuclear weapons. The speech featured the odd logic that America had a moral responsibility to disarm, as “the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon.” The speech was marred by North Korea’s firing, on the morning of the speech, rockets designed to demonstrate a long-range missile capability, and neither Iran nor North Korea found the speech particularly persuasive: a year later, they still resist Obama’s solution to their nuclear weapons programs – talks.

Future historians may find the Prague speech a useful guide to the themes that pervaded the Obama administration. Obama began by noting that, when he was born, “few people would have predicted that someone like me would one day become the President of the United States” – an observation he would repeat in the video he sent as the world celebrated the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall without him. He noted the Czechs’ Velvet Revolution had “showed us that peaceful protest could shake the foundations of an empire, and expose the emptiness of an ideology,” proving “moral leadership is more powerful than any weapon” – but stood by in silence months later as he watched regime-threatening demonstrations in Iran.

He provided another trademark “let me be clear” moment – one the Czechs learned several months later was not quite as clear as they thought:

So let me be clear: Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile activity poses a real threat, not just to the United States, but to Iran’s neighbors and our allies. The Czech Republic and Poland have been courageous in agreeing to host a defense against these missiles.  As long as the threat from Iran persists, we will go forward with a missile defense system that is cost-effective and proven. (Applause.)

The balance of the speech set forth a lengthy series of proposals – arms reductions, treaties that would be “sufficiently bold,” strengthened international inspections, “real and immediate consequences” for rule-breakers, a global summit, etc. – ending with an applause-producing assertion that “Yes, we can.”

It was all there: the self-referential view of history, the rhetoric divorced from reality, the disingenuous let-me-be-clear assurance, the implicit denigration of his country for its supposed sins, the celebration of the moral leadership he would bring to the world, the panoply of proposals – all delivered while rockets were fired and centrifuges were spun, with no U.S. response other than a conference at which the rockets and centrifuges were not discussed.

Mark Steyn predicts future historians will marvel at the omission of any discussion of Iran at this week’s Nuclear Security Summit:

For once, the cheap comparisons with 1930s appeasement barely suffice: To be sure, in 1933, the great powers were meeting in Geneva and holding utopian arms-control talks even as Hitler was taking office in Berlin. But it’s difficult to imagine Neville Chamberlain in 1938 hosting a conference on the dangers of rearmament, and inviting America, France, Brazil, Liberia, and Thailand . . . but not even mentioning Germany.

For the proper historical analogy, we may have to look back even further – to the 1921 Washington Conference on naval disarmament in the Pacific, which Churchill described in the opening chapter of “The Gathering Storm:”

At the Washington Conference of 1921 far-reaching proposals for naval disarmament were made by the United States, and the British and American governments proceeded to sink their battleships and break up their military establishments with gusto. It was argued in odd logic that it would be immoral to disarm the vanquished unless the victors also stripped themselves of their weapons.

Chalk it up to the early twentieth century belief that it was ships that killed people. Churchill wrote that Japan, then just becoming a rising Pacific power, “watched with an attentive eye.” Two decades later, the U.S. ended a world war in the Pacific with bombs not yet invented when the U.S. had led the world in dreaming of disarmament.

The 2010 Washington Conference was an idea President Obama announced last year in his Prague disarmament speech, which set forth his vision of a world without nuclear weapons. The speech featured the odd logic that America had a moral responsibility to disarm, as “the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon.” The speech was marred by North Korea’s firing, on the morning of the speech, rockets designed to demonstrate a long-range missile capability, and neither Iran nor North Korea found the speech particularly persuasive: a year later, they still resist Obama’s solution to their nuclear weapons programs – talks.

Future historians may find the Prague speech a useful guide to the themes that pervaded the Obama administration. Obama began by noting that, when he was born, “few people would have predicted that someone like me would one day become the President of the United States” – an observation he would repeat in the video he sent as the world celebrated the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall without him. He noted the Czechs’ Velvet Revolution had “showed us that peaceful protest could shake the foundations of an empire, and expose the emptiness of an ideology,” proving “moral leadership is more powerful than any weapon” – but stood by in silence months later as he watched regime-threatening demonstrations in Iran.

He provided another trademark “let me be clear” moment – one the Czechs learned several months later was not quite as clear as they thought:

So let me be clear: Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile activity poses a real threat, not just to the United States, but to Iran’s neighbors and our allies. The Czech Republic and Poland have been courageous in agreeing to host a defense against these missiles.  As long as the threat from Iran persists, we will go forward with a missile defense system that is cost-effective and proven. (Applause.)

The balance of the speech set forth a lengthy series of proposals – arms reductions, treaties that would be “sufficiently bold,” strengthened international inspections, “real and immediate consequences” for rule-breakers, a global summit, etc. – ending with an applause-producing assertion that “Yes, we can.”

It was all there: the self-referential view of history, the rhetoric divorced from reality, the disingenuous let-me-be-clear assurance, the implicit denigration of his country for its supposed sins, the celebration of the moral leadership he would bring to the world, the panoply of proposals – all delivered while rockets were fired and centrifuges were spun, with no U.S. response other than a conference at which the rockets and centrifuges were not discussed.

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Strange Herring*

Social Security will take in less than it pays out this year, requests that more Americans die by October 31, please.

ObamaCare promises to stave off mutant plague. So we’ve got that going for us…

Oliver Stone’s celebration of left-wing fascist is a go in U.S. Will be in only 1D, as Chavez had other 2D shot. (H/T Big Hollywood)

“Most Influential Books” meme yields 24,000 votes for Everybody Poops.

Only 24% of Republicans think Obama is the Anti-Christ. Give it time.

Chinese mothers to be launched into space, initiating whole new era in family planning.

Radio’s decline may be slowing. Finally gaining traction against “that moving-picture box.”

If you can’t read this, it must be Earth Day.

Russian math genius turns down $1M prize for solving brainiac puzzler. Someone finally explains to him that the “M” does not stand for “Mallomars.”

California may legalize pot. Voters convinced only “drug-induced haze” holds hope for brighter economic future.

Prince Philip, who once asked some indigenous Australian businessmen if they still threw spears at each other, is worshiped as a godling on the island of Vanuatu. Man, some people get all the gigs …

DNA from ancient finger reveals new “hominid ancestor.” Great. One more deadbeat relative to pick up at the train this Thanksgiving. And exactly which finger was it, by the way?

British man hooks up flamethrower to his scooter. (They’ve just never been the same since Suez…)

Germans provide cover for terrorists. U.S. considers designating them “Scientologists” to gain cooperation from Berlin.

Bank robbers place order ahead of time, fear slow service will delay their arrival at Moron Convention.

Steve Jobs finally answers his e-mail. Learns the “Lisa” was a bust.

High-fructose corn syrup worse than heroin if weight loss is what you’re going for.

First Jeremy Piven, now Abraham Lincoln. Enough with the sushi.

* Derived from a 16th-century tract entitled A Most Strange and Wonderful Herring Taken Neere Drenton by Jan van Doetecum. It seems that freak members of the family Clupidae were interpreted as portents of the End of All Things.

Social Security will take in less than it pays out this year, requests that more Americans die by October 31, please.

ObamaCare promises to stave off mutant plague. So we’ve got that going for us…

Oliver Stone’s celebration of left-wing fascist is a go in U.S. Will be in only 1D, as Chavez had other 2D shot. (H/T Big Hollywood)

“Most Influential Books” meme yields 24,000 votes for Everybody Poops.

Only 24% of Republicans think Obama is the Anti-Christ. Give it time.

Chinese mothers to be launched into space, initiating whole new era in family planning.

Radio’s decline may be slowing. Finally gaining traction against “that moving-picture box.”

If you can’t read this, it must be Earth Day.

Russian math genius turns down $1M prize for solving brainiac puzzler. Someone finally explains to him that the “M” does not stand for “Mallomars.”

California may legalize pot. Voters convinced only “drug-induced haze” holds hope for brighter economic future.

Prince Philip, who once asked some indigenous Australian businessmen if they still threw spears at each other, is worshiped as a godling on the island of Vanuatu. Man, some people get all the gigs …

DNA from ancient finger reveals new “hominid ancestor.” Great. One more deadbeat relative to pick up at the train this Thanksgiving. And exactly which finger was it, by the way?

British man hooks up flamethrower to his scooter. (They’ve just never been the same since Suez…)

Germans provide cover for terrorists. U.S. considers designating them “Scientologists” to gain cooperation from Berlin.

Bank robbers place order ahead of time, fear slow service will delay their arrival at Moron Convention.

Steve Jobs finally answers his e-mail. Learns the “Lisa” was a bust.

High-fructose corn syrup worse than heroin if weight loss is what you’re going for.

First Jeremy Piven, now Abraham Lincoln. Enough with the sushi.

* Derived from a 16th-century tract entitled A Most Strange and Wonderful Herring Taken Neere Drenton by Jan van Doetecum. It seems that freak members of the family Clupidae were interpreted as portents of the End of All Things.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

At the precise moment one of its own is collapsing in a puddle of his own ineptitude, the Left punditocracy congratulates itself that Democrats have the smartest presidents (“veritable geniuses—tops of their classes, brilliant orators, connoisseurs of facts, and champions of analysis”) who outshine the dummies the GOP produces. But let’s get real: “When you’re comparing the men who brought down the Berlin Wall and the Cold War along with it, liberated the people of Iraq from their butcher dictator and declared war against our terrorist enemies with the men who presided over the Iranian hostage crisis, gas lines, and our national malaise, and sullied the office of the president in a very big way, does it really matter who scored higher on his SATs?”

Another Nevada Senate poll, another double-digit deficit for Harry Reid. It might have something to do with the fact that Obama’s approval is only at 39 percent.

Michael Barone observes that even liberal pundits think the Republicans did quite well at the health-care summit. (Note to file: disregard Republican insiders who fear that every opportunity to talk to the American people is a “trap.”) He concludes: “Last month, we were told that Obama would switch his focus from health care to jobs. But Democrats have spent February and seem about to spend March focusing on health care. It’s hard to see how they can navigate the legislative process successfully — and even harder to see how they turn around public opinion. Summit flop indeed.”

I think most endorsements don’t matter very much. But some are downright absurd: Condi Rice backs Meg Whitman. What voter would be influenced by this?

Sometimes there is no right answer: “Republicans will win back Congress if Democrats use a majority-vote tactic on healthcare reform, according to the House GOP whip. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the second-ranking Republican in the House, tied the use of budget reconciliation rules on the healthcare bill to Democrats’ electoral fortunes this fall.” Then again, voters might punish the Democrats even if reconciliation isn’t used. You get the sense the Republicans are having fun taunting their opponents. It’s that kind of year.

Warren Buffet agrees with Republicans, suggesting that “President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats go back to the drawing board on health-care overhaul legislation and work with Republicans to come up with new legislation that deals with the ‘cost, cost, cost,’ that he calls a ‘tapeworm eating at American competitiveness.'” Not sure Obama listens to him, since Buffet went after most everything on Obama’s agenda, from card check to cap-and-trade. But really, didn’t Buffet know what Obama was all about when he backed him for president? I guess not.

Shocking, I know, but Steny Hoyer wants the deficit commission to raise taxes.

Must be George W. Bush’s fault: “Barack Obama now has a negative approval rating in every state he flipped from the Bush column to his in 2008. In each of those places his level of support is now in the 44-46% range. It’s probably a good thing he doesn’t have to run for reelection this year. He can only hope things start turning around for him once the midterms are in the rear view mirror, much as they did for Bill Clinton.”

At the precise moment one of its own is collapsing in a puddle of his own ineptitude, the Left punditocracy congratulates itself that Democrats have the smartest presidents (“veritable geniuses—tops of their classes, brilliant orators, connoisseurs of facts, and champions of analysis”) who outshine the dummies the GOP produces. But let’s get real: “When you’re comparing the men who brought down the Berlin Wall and the Cold War along with it, liberated the people of Iraq from their butcher dictator and declared war against our terrorist enemies with the men who presided over the Iranian hostage crisis, gas lines, and our national malaise, and sullied the office of the president in a very big way, does it really matter who scored higher on his SATs?”

Another Nevada Senate poll, another double-digit deficit for Harry Reid. It might have something to do with the fact that Obama’s approval is only at 39 percent.

Michael Barone observes that even liberal pundits think the Republicans did quite well at the health-care summit. (Note to file: disregard Republican insiders who fear that every opportunity to talk to the American people is a “trap.”) He concludes: “Last month, we were told that Obama would switch his focus from health care to jobs. But Democrats have spent February and seem about to spend March focusing on health care. It’s hard to see how they can navigate the legislative process successfully — and even harder to see how they turn around public opinion. Summit flop indeed.”

I think most endorsements don’t matter very much. But some are downright absurd: Condi Rice backs Meg Whitman. What voter would be influenced by this?

Sometimes there is no right answer: “Republicans will win back Congress if Democrats use a majority-vote tactic on healthcare reform, according to the House GOP whip. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the second-ranking Republican in the House, tied the use of budget reconciliation rules on the healthcare bill to Democrats’ electoral fortunes this fall.” Then again, voters might punish the Democrats even if reconciliation isn’t used. You get the sense the Republicans are having fun taunting their opponents. It’s that kind of year.

Warren Buffet agrees with Republicans, suggesting that “President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats go back to the drawing board on health-care overhaul legislation and work with Republicans to come up with new legislation that deals with the ‘cost, cost, cost,’ that he calls a ‘tapeworm eating at American competitiveness.'” Not sure Obama listens to him, since Buffet went after most everything on Obama’s agenda, from card check to cap-and-trade. But really, didn’t Buffet know what Obama was all about when he backed him for president? I guess not.

Shocking, I know, but Steny Hoyer wants the deficit commission to raise taxes.

Must be George W. Bush’s fault: “Barack Obama now has a negative approval rating in every state he flipped from the Bush column to his in 2008. In each of those places his level of support is now in the 44-46% range. It’s probably a good thing he doesn’t have to run for reelection this year. He can only hope things start turning around for him once the midterms are in the rear view mirror, much as they did for Bill Clinton.”

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Must We Waste Another Year?

The United States is re-establishing ties with Damascus and hoping to lure Syria away from Iran, but Lebanese scholar Tony Badran warns the Obama administration that Syria’s President Bashar Assad is laying a trap. The U.S., he writes in NOW Lebanon, needs to avoid making concessions until Assad “makes verifiable and substantial concessions on key Washington demands, not least surrendering Syrian support for Hamas and Hezbollah. Otherwise, Assad may dictate the avenues, conditions and aims of the engagement process.”

Syria has been cunningly outwitting Americans and Europeans for decades, and most Western leaders seem entirely incapable of learning from or even noticing the mistakes of their predecessors. Assad is so sure of himself this time around — and, frankly, he’s right to be — that he’s already announced the failure of President Obama’s outreach program. Yesterday he openly ridiculed the administration’s policy in a joint press conference with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Syria will not abandon its alliance with Iran, nor will it cease and desist its support for terrorist groups, until at least one of the two governments in question has been replaced. The alliance works for both parties. While Assad’s secular Arab Socialist Baath Party ideology differs markedly from Ali Khamenei’s Velayat-e Faqih, “resistance” is at the molten core of each one. Syria’s and Iran’s lists of enemies — Sunni Arabs, Israel, and the United States — are identical.

Understand the lay of the land. Syria is no more likely to join the de facto American-French-Egyptian-Saudi-Israeli coalition than the U.S. is likely to defect to the Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah axis. It’s as if the U.S. were trying to pry East Germany out of the Communist bloc during the Cold War before the Berlin Wall was destroyed.

No basket of carrots Barack Obama or anyone else can offer will change Assad’s calculation of his own strategic interests. His weak military and Soviet-style economy would instantly render his country as geopolitically impotent as Yemen if he scrapped his alliance with Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah. Today, though, he’s the most powerful Arab ruler in the Levant. Because he contributes so much to the Middle East’s instability and starts so many fires in neighboring countries, he’s made himself an “indispensable” part of every fantasy solution Western diplomats can come up with. He wouldn’t be where he is without Iranian help, and that help will be more valuable than ever if and when Tehran produces nuclear weapons.

Last month Obama admitted he was “too optimistic” about his ability to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that it’s “just really hard.” Prying Syria away from Iran won’t be any easier. As Tony Badran points out in his NOW Lebanon piece, the United States has been trying to drive the two countries apart now for more than 25 years.

Obama has not been paying attention if he thinks “engagement” with Syria hasn’t been tried. Badran alone has been documenting the futility of Western attempts to cut deals with Damascus ever since I started reading him, almost six years ago. The problem itself is much older than that, of course. It goes all the way back to the 1970s. Many of us who have been following Syria for some time were exhausted by the failure of “engagement” before we had ever even heard of Barack Obama.

The administration has already lost a year to the locusts with its “peace process” to nowhere and its “engagement” with Iran. A whole range of options exists between negotiating with murderers and invading their countries, and it’s long past time they were applied.

It won’t be Obama’s fault when his Syria strategy fails, but it is his fault that he’s wasting time trying. The president really ought to have learned by now that reaching out to terror-supporting tyrants in the Middle East is a mug’s game. His charm, sincerity, and inherent reasonableness count for little in a hard region where leaders almost everywhere rule at the point of a gun, and where the docile and the weak are bullied or destroyed by the ruthless.

The United States is re-establishing ties with Damascus and hoping to lure Syria away from Iran, but Lebanese scholar Tony Badran warns the Obama administration that Syria’s President Bashar Assad is laying a trap. The U.S., he writes in NOW Lebanon, needs to avoid making concessions until Assad “makes verifiable and substantial concessions on key Washington demands, not least surrendering Syrian support for Hamas and Hezbollah. Otherwise, Assad may dictate the avenues, conditions and aims of the engagement process.”

Syria has been cunningly outwitting Americans and Europeans for decades, and most Western leaders seem entirely incapable of learning from or even noticing the mistakes of their predecessors. Assad is so sure of himself this time around — and, frankly, he’s right to be — that he’s already announced the failure of President Obama’s outreach program. Yesterday he openly ridiculed the administration’s policy in a joint press conference with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Syria will not abandon its alliance with Iran, nor will it cease and desist its support for terrorist groups, until at least one of the two governments in question has been replaced. The alliance works for both parties. While Assad’s secular Arab Socialist Baath Party ideology differs markedly from Ali Khamenei’s Velayat-e Faqih, “resistance” is at the molten core of each one. Syria’s and Iran’s lists of enemies — Sunni Arabs, Israel, and the United States — are identical.

Understand the lay of the land. Syria is no more likely to join the de facto American-French-Egyptian-Saudi-Israeli coalition than the U.S. is likely to defect to the Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah axis. It’s as if the U.S. were trying to pry East Germany out of the Communist bloc during the Cold War before the Berlin Wall was destroyed.

No basket of carrots Barack Obama or anyone else can offer will change Assad’s calculation of his own strategic interests. His weak military and Soviet-style economy would instantly render his country as geopolitically impotent as Yemen if he scrapped his alliance with Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah. Today, though, he’s the most powerful Arab ruler in the Levant. Because he contributes so much to the Middle East’s instability and starts so many fires in neighboring countries, he’s made himself an “indispensable” part of every fantasy solution Western diplomats can come up with. He wouldn’t be where he is without Iranian help, and that help will be more valuable than ever if and when Tehran produces nuclear weapons.

Last month Obama admitted he was “too optimistic” about his ability to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that it’s “just really hard.” Prying Syria away from Iran won’t be any easier. As Tony Badran points out in his NOW Lebanon piece, the United States has been trying to drive the two countries apart now for more than 25 years.

Obama has not been paying attention if he thinks “engagement” with Syria hasn’t been tried. Badran alone has been documenting the futility of Western attempts to cut deals with Damascus ever since I started reading him, almost six years ago. The problem itself is much older than that, of course. It goes all the way back to the 1970s. Many of us who have been following Syria for some time were exhausted by the failure of “engagement” before we had ever even heard of Barack Obama.

The administration has already lost a year to the locusts with its “peace process” to nowhere and its “engagement” with Iran. A whole range of options exists between negotiating with murderers and invading their countries, and it’s long past time they were applied.

It won’t be Obama’s fault when his Syria strategy fails, but it is his fault that he’s wasting time trying. The president really ought to have learned by now that reaching out to terror-supporting tyrants in the Middle East is a mug’s game. His charm, sincerity, and inherent reasonableness count for little in a hard region where leaders almost everywhere rule at the point of a gun, and where the docile and the weak are bullied or destroyed by the ruthless.

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Rome and the Romanovs We Are Not

Niall Ferguson delivers a typically well-written and provocative essay in Foreign Affairs: “Complexity and Collapse: Empires on the Edge of Chaos.” But I remain unconvinced. His thesis is essentially threefold. First, that empires can collapse suddenly and unexpectedly without a long period of decline. “A very small trigger,” he writes, “can set off a ‘phase transition’ from a benign equilibrium to a crisis–a single grain of sand causes a whole pile to collapse, or a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon and brings about a hurricane in southeastern England.” Second, that “most imperial falls are associated with fiscal crises.” And third, that the United States may be ripe for a sudden collapse because of a crisis of confidence engendered by our ballooning public debt.

Start with the second claim — about the crucial role of fiscal crises in triggering imperial collapse. The list of fallen empires provided by Ferguson actually shows that military defeat (or even an overly costly victory) has far more often been the cause of disaster. Rome was overrun by Barbarian hordes in the 5th century. China was invaded by the Manchus in the 17th century. The Habsburg, Ottoman, and Romanov empires were all defeated in World War I. Britain used up all of its resources — including, most important, its stock of national will to maintain great power status — in winning two world wars. And the Soviet Union collapsed after its defeat in Afghanistan (and also the fall of the Berlin Wall). He might have mentioned, but didn’t, the collapse of the Manchu Dynasty in 1911 following China’s defeats in a long string of conflicts stretching from the Opium Wars in the mid-19th century to the Sino-Japanese War in 1895 and the Boxer Rebellion in 1900.

One can actually quarrel with his premise that all these events can even be characterized as imperial downfalls, since China, Russia, and France (he also cites the French Revolution, which he argues was triggered in part by the financial strain of subsidizing the American Revolution) all expanded after their revolutions under new regimes (Manchus, Soviets, and Napoleon). What about the role of financial insolvency? One can argue that it contributed to the fall of empires in all these cases; but with the possible exception of Britain (which experienced a severe balance-of-payments crisis after 1945), the financial problems were an example of the kind of long-term “decline” identified by Paul Kennedy and dismissed by Ferguson — they were not sudden crisises that destroyed otherwise healthy polities. Moreover, most of the empires he mentions (Britain is the sole exception) experienced debilitating political problems long before their end — most were ruled by increasingly unpopular and illegitimate regimes. The later Roman Empire was a particularly notorious case, with multiple self-proclaimed emperors competing for authority and military coups occurring with monotonous regularity. Does this really characterize America today?

Thus I am skeptical that a sudden loss of confidence in the American economy will lead us to crash and burn, á la Rome and the Romanovs. To be sure, a financial crisis can be costly, even catastrophic — conceivably worse than the events of 2008-09. Such a downturn would undoubtedly be painful, but would it lead to America’s eclipse as a great power? I doubt it, because our fundamentals are so sound: a stable political and legal system; a relatively low level of corruption; an innovative, productive economy; a growing population that is not aging as fast as our major rivals (the EU, Japan, China, Russia); an optimistic and self-confident ethos; the world’s most powerful military; and a bipartisan commitment to preserving American leadership. We are not going the way of Rome anytime soon.

Niall Ferguson delivers a typically well-written and provocative essay in Foreign Affairs: “Complexity and Collapse: Empires on the Edge of Chaos.” But I remain unconvinced. His thesis is essentially threefold. First, that empires can collapse suddenly and unexpectedly without a long period of decline. “A very small trigger,” he writes, “can set off a ‘phase transition’ from a benign equilibrium to a crisis–a single grain of sand causes a whole pile to collapse, or a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon and brings about a hurricane in southeastern England.” Second, that “most imperial falls are associated with fiscal crises.” And third, that the United States may be ripe for a sudden collapse because of a crisis of confidence engendered by our ballooning public debt.

Start with the second claim — about the crucial role of fiscal crises in triggering imperial collapse. The list of fallen empires provided by Ferguson actually shows that military defeat (or even an overly costly victory) has far more often been the cause of disaster. Rome was overrun by Barbarian hordes in the 5th century. China was invaded by the Manchus in the 17th century. The Habsburg, Ottoman, and Romanov empires were all defeated in World War I. Britain used up all of its resources — including, most important, its stock of national will to maintain great power status — in winning two world wars. And the Soviet Union collapsed after its defeat in Afghanistan (and also the fall of the Berlin Wall). He might have mentioned, but didn’t, the collapse of the Manchu Dynasty in 1911 following China’s defeats in a long string of conflicts stretching from the Opium Wars in the mid-19th century to the Sino-Japanese War in 1895 and the Boxer Rebellion in 1900.

One can actually quarrel with his premise that all these events can even be characterized as imperial downfalls, since China, Russia, and France (he also cites the French Revolution, which he argues was triggered in part by the financial strain of subsidizing the American Revolution) all expanded after their revolutions under new regimes (Manchus, Soviets, and Napoleon). What about the role of financial insolvency? One can argue that it contributed to the fall of empires in all these cases; but with the possible exception of Britain (which experienced a severe balance-of-payments crisis after 1945), the financial problems were an example of the kind of long-term “decline” identified by Paul Kennedy and dismissed by Ferguson — they were not sudden crisises that destroyed otherwise healthy polities. Moreover, most of the empires he mentions (Britain is the sole exception) experienced debilitating political problems long before their end — most were ruled by increasingly unpopular and illegitimate regimes. The later Roman Empire was a particularly notorious case, with multiple self-proclaimed emperors competing for authority and military coups occurring with monotonous regularity. Does this really characterize America today?

Thus I am skeptical that a sudden loss of confidence in the American economy will lead us to crash and burn, á la Rome and the Romanovs. To be sure, a financial crisis can be costly, even catastrophic — conceivably worse than the events of 2008-09. Such a downturn would undoubtedly be painful, but would it lead to America’s eclipse as a great power? I doubt it, because our fundamentals are so sound: a stable political and legal system; a relatively low level of corruption; an innovative, productive economy; a growing population that is not aging as fast as our major rivals (the EU, Japan, China, Russia); an optimistic and self-confident ethos; the world’s most powerful military; and a bipartisan commitment to preserving American leadership. We are not going the way of Rome anytime soon.

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Al-Qaeda Attempts to Woo Useful Idiots

Last year in Lebanon, a left-wing American journalist tried to convince me that I’ve been too hard on Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, that I might like what I heard if I’d just listen more open-mindedly. “He’s trying to raise awareness of global warming,” he said to me earnestly over lunch. “Don’t you think that’s interesting?” I told him, no, I did not find it interesting, but the truth is I think it’s fascinating that anyone in the world would believe a terrorist and a fascist is concerned about the environment.

Osama bin Laden must be paying attention because now even he hopes to broaden his appeal by passing himself off as a green activist. “Osama bin Laden enters global warming debate,” reads the straight-faced headline in London’s Daily Telegraph, as if the Copenhagen Climate Conference organizers now have some rhetorical backup for their arguments against Republicans, Chinese industrialists, and Montana residents who set their thermostats to 70 degrees during the winter. Al-Qaeda’s founder and chief executive — assuming he’s actually still alive and recorded the most recent broadcast — even cites the latest anti-American diatribe in the Guardian by campus favorite Noam Chomsky. Read More

Last year in Lebanon, a left-wing American journalist tried to convince me that I’ve been too hard on Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, that I might like what I heard if I’d just listen more open-mindedly. “He’s trying to raise awareness of global warming,” he said to me earnestly over lunch. “Don’t you think that’s interesting?” I told him, no, I did not find it interesting, but the truth is I think it’s fascinating that anyone in the world would believe a terrorist and a fascist is concerned about the environment.

Osama bin Laden must be paying attention because now even he hopes to broaden his appeal by passing himself off as a green activist. “Osama bin Laden enters global warming debate,” reads the straight-faced headline in London’s Daily Telegraph, as if the Copenhagen Climate Conference organizers now have some rhetorical backup for their arguments against Republicans, Chinese industrialists, and Montana residents who set their thermostats to 70 degrees during the winter. Al-Qaeda’s founder and chief executive — assuming he’s actually still alive and recorded the most recent broadcast — even cites the latest anti-American diatribe in the Guardian by campus favorite Noam Chomsky.

Communists used to pull stunts like this all the time to get support in the West from what Vladimir Lenin called “useful idiots.” Even 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez manage to attract Western fans like Oliver Stone, Medea Benjamin, and writers at the Nation.

I’m slightly surprised it has taken al-Qaeda so long to figure this out. Hamas and Hezbollah are way ahead. They have far more sophisticated public relations departments. A few weeks ago, Hezbollah, Hamas, and leaders from what’s left of the Iraqi “resistance” hosted a terrorist conference in Beirut, which some of the usual subjects from the fringe Left attended — former Democratic party Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, and British member of Parliament George Galloway.

Less prominent American and European leftists also attended, including a Jewish blogger from Sweden who said his first trip to Lebanon was an “overwhelming experience” and described his slide into the political abyss in two sentences. “As a Jew I felt guilt about the treatment of the Palestinians because it is carried out in the name of all Jews,” he said to a Syrian journalist who asked what he was doing there. “I converted guilt into responsibility by taking up the political cause for the dissolution of the Jewish state.”

In a way, it’s rather astonishing that terrorists can scrape up support from even marginal people who imagine themselves upholders of the liberal tradition, but look at the propaganda. This crowd isn’t just championing the environment and quoting Chomsky. A statement at the Arab International Forum for the Support of the Resistance said “the right of people to resist via all forms, particularly armed struggle, stems from a fundamental principle of self-defense and the right to liberty, dignity, sovereignty and equality among the peoples of the world, and emphasized that resistance is in fact a necessary condition for the establishment of a just international order, to prevent aggression and occupation, and to end colonialism and racism.”

Sounds great. Liberty, dignity, sovereignty, and equality? Post-racism? A just international order? Who could argue with any of that?

The problem, of course, is that Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Iraqi “resistance” aren’t fighting for liberty, any more than Communist guerrillas fought for liberty. Hamas fires rockets at schools and throws its political opponents off skyscrapers. Hezbollah fires even bigger rockets at schools, torches Lebanese television stations, shoots political opponents dead in the streets, and self-identifies as the “vanguard” of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s murdering, raping, head-cracking government in Iran. Iraqi “resistance” fighters not only kill American soldiers with improvised explosive devices, they blow up mosques, massacre civilians with car bombs, decapitate children with kitchen knives, and assassinate officials and employees of the elected representative government.

None of the useful Western idiots attending the recent terrorist conference belong to the mainstream Left, nor does the American journalist who swooned over Hezbollah’s supposed global-warming “awareness.” There isn’t a chance that the likes of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, or even Jimmy Carter will ever fall for this kind of nonsense or throw their support behind Hamas, Hezbollah, or active leaders of the Iraqi “resistance.” Still, having a gallery of rogues and naifs as your cheering section in the West beats having no one.

It’s too late for Osama bin Laden to polish his image, but I can’t really blame him for thinking he could.

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From Disgusting to Odd

A question about Barack Obama is starting to take shape in the American mind: where does this stop? The “this” is the collective hodgepodge of delinquent policy, administrative incompetence, a bottomless capacity for self-delusion, hubris, and the vetoing of American opinion. The “this” is comprised of attempts to harness populist disaffection in order to create a diversion, the presidential campaign that never ends, the 24/7 up-and-down-the-dial interview blitz, the hyper-partisan “post-partisanship,” and, foremost, the compulsion to lay all blame at the feet of the previous president.

Back in October, Charles Krauthammer called Obama’s incessant denunciation of George W. Bush “disgusting.” Three months later, and still going strong, the habit is bordering on eccentric. Not merely in its preponderance, but in kind. Consider that Obama explained away Republican Scott Brown’s Massachusetts victory as resulting from Americans’ anger over the “past eight years.” A Republican won because of the voters’ rage toward Bush?

Also bordering on the eccentric is the president’s endless infatuation with his own story. On the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Obama noted how the Soviet Union’s collapse paved the way for his path to the White House. He thought the Olympics would be in the bag if he flew to Copenhagen and recited a tale from the Book of Barack. When he went to Massachusetts to stump for Martha Coakley, he told the audience, “So it’s good to be back in Boston. . . I came back here a few years ago and gave a little speech that turned out pretty well.” This was a reference to the electrifying DNC Convention speech that made him a star. “Something about Boston folks have just always been good to me,” he said, as if the people of Massachusetts were obligated to uphold this benevolent tradition. This time he was heckled and the state took a fatal chunk out of his agenda.

And it is courting eccentricity to remain unable to take a definitive position: to amplify and wind down the same war in the same speech, to simultaneously rescue and punish big banks, to overrule the voters who put him in office and to “never stop fighting” for them.

Early in his presidency, Obama spoke of his belief in persistence. But his dogged effort to force his left-wing square-peg agenda into the moderate round hole of American politics feels more like an unhealthy obsession. He tried to “jam it down Americans’ throats.” Fine. But to keep jamming even after the public has regurgitated in such dramatic fashion?

For all this, Obama makes a tremendous show of his cool nerves. “I don’t rattle,” he said. In a way, that’s true. Blaming Republican failings for the Massachusetts Republican victory, for example, is not a sign of being rattled. It’s a sign of disconnected logic, a much more exotic subconscious defense. It requires a lot of psychological reapportioning not to get rattled while flailing on the world stage. Instead of losing your cool, you indulge in excessive denial or projection or sublimation. Something, after all, has got to give. It’s becoming clear that something is giving. As the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Sherman Frederick put it, “this kind of weird delusion is consistent with the unbounded hubris of Team Obama.”

During the campaign, we heard endlessly about Barack Obama’s “presidential temperament.” But a few observers thought of it more as a strange placidity. What, in fact, is presidential about terminal aloofness? He’s the chief executive of a country that’s fighting two wars, struggling to get out from under an unprecedented financial breakdown, staring a near-nuclear Iran in the face, and on the constant receiving end of terrorist threats. Yet the most fired up we’ve ever seen Obama was when he decided a Cambridge Massachusetts police officer was “stupid” for inconveniencing his friend with a request to show ID. His second most animated moment came when some nobodies crashed his dinner party. What’s worrisome in this pattern is the president’s attachment to the personal. If we acknowledge that Obama weighs everything first by the degree to which it redounds on him personally, his failings are not so mysterious. If Obama has not conveyed to Americans that he hears their concerns, it may be because he doesn’t hear them. He merely hears pointers for his perpetual image upkeep.

Which makes you wonder where it ends. An object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by external force. But for Obama, it’s all internal, personal.

What speaker of truth has the president’s ear? Is there a White House break man to slow this runaway train? Or are there only yes-men, mutes, and passive-aggressive leakers? How welcome some of the old Bush-style administration in-fighting would be right about now.

Of course, the President invites the harshest judgments. By continuing to campaign instead of lead he asks to be assessed as someone who has not yet proven himself. He forces comparisons with those he campaigned against. And so it is no surprise that the public is once again split between the general election tickets. If Obama is in campaign mode, why shouldn’t the electorate follow suit? The difference between today and 2008 is that today Obama can’t have his clean slate back.

A question about Barack Obama is starting to take shape in the American mind: where does this stop? The “this” is the collective hodgepodge of delinquent policy, administrative incompetence, a bottomless capacity for self-delusion, hubris, and the vetoing of American opinion. The “this” is comprised of attempts to harness populist disaffection in order to create a diversion, the presidential campaign that never ends, the 24/7 up-and-down-the-dial interview blitz, the hyper-partisan “post-partisanship,” and, foremost, the compulsion to lay all blame at the feet of the previous president.

Back in October, Charles Krauthammer called Obama’s incessant denunciation of George W. Bush “disgusting.” Three months later, and still going strong, the habit is bordering on eccentric. Not merely in its preponderance, but in kind. Consider that Obama explained away Republican Scott Brown’s Massachusetts victory as resulting from Americans’ anger over the “past eight years.” A Republican won because of the voters’ rage toward Bush?

Also bordering on the eccentric is the president’s endless infatuation with his own story. On the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Obama noted how the Soviet Union’s collapse paved the way for his path to the White House. He thought the Olympics would be in the bag if he flew to Copenhagen and recited a tale from the Book of Barack. When he went to Massachusetts to stump for Martha Coakley, he told the audience, “So it’s good to be back in Boston. . . I came back here a few years ago and gave a little speech that turned out pretty well.” This was a reference to the electrifying DNC Convention speech that made him a star. “Something about Boston folks have just always been good to me,” he said, as if the people of Massachusetts were obligated to uphold this benevolent tradition. This time he was heckled and the state took a fatal chunk out of his agenda.

And it is courting eccentricity to remain unable to take a definitive position: to amplify and wind down the same war in the same speech, to simultaneously rescue and punish big banks, to overrule the voters who put him in office and to “never stop fighting” for them.

Early in his presidency, Obama spoke of his belief in persistence. But his dogged effort to force his left-wing square-peg agenda into the moderate round hole of American politics feels more like an unhealthy obsession. He tried to “jam it down Americans’ throats.” Fine. But to keep jamming even after the public has regurgitated in such dramatic fashion?

For all this, Obama makes a tremendous show of his cool nerves. “I don’t rattle,” he said. In a way, that’s true. Blaming Republican failings for the Massachusetts Republican victory, for example, is not a sign of being rattled. It’s a sign of disconnected logic, a much more exotic subconscious defense. It requires a lot of psychological reapportioning not to get rattled while flailing on the world stage. Instead of losing your cool, you indulge in excessive denial or projection or sublimation. Something, after all, has got to give. It’s becoming clear that something is giving. As the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Sherman Frederick put it, “this kind of weird delusion is consistent with the unbounded hubris of Team Obama.”

During the campaign, we heard endlessly about Barack Obama’s “presidential temperament.” But a few observers thought of it more as a strange placidity. What, in fact, is presidential about terminal aloofness? He’s the chief executive of a country that’s fighting two wars, struggling to get out from under an unprecedented financial breakdown, staring a near-nuclear Iran in the face, and on the constant receiving end of terrorist threats. Yet the most fired up we’ve ever seen Obama was when he decided a Cambridge Massachusetts police officer was “stupid” for inconveniencing his friend with a request to show ID. His second most animated moment came when some nobodies crashed his dinner party. What’s worrisome in this pattern is the president’s attachment to the personal. If we acknowledge that Obama weighs everything first by the degree to which it redounds on him personally, his failings are not so mysterious. If Obama has not conveyed to Americans that he hears their concerns, it may be because he doesn’t hear them. He merely hears pointers for his perpetual image upkeep.

Which makes you wonder where it ends. An object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by external force. But for Obama, it’s all internal, personal.

What speaker of truth has the president’s ear? Is there a White House break man to slow this runaway train? Or are there only yes-men, mutes, and passive-aggressive leakers? How welcome some of the old Bush-style administration in-fighting would be right about now.

Of course, the President invites the harshest judgments. By continuing to campaign instead of lead he asks to be assessed as someone who has not yet proven himself. He forces comparisons with those he campaigned against. And so it is no surprise that the public is once again split between the general election tickets. If Obama is in campaign mode, why shouldn’t the electorate follow suit? The difference between today and 2008 is that today Obama can’t have his clean slate back.

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The Middle East Has Always Been Hard

As Jennifer pointed out yesterday, President Barack Obama admitted in an interview with Joe Klein at Time magazine that he had been “too optimistic” about his ability to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that it’s “just really hard.” Those of us with experience in the region are thinking, “Well, duh,” right about now, but at the same time, I sympathize. In the first half of the last decade, I felt naively optimistic about the region myself.

Things were looking up after the demolition of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party regime in Iraq, the termination of the second Palestinian intifada, and the Beirut Spring that ousted the Syrian military occupation from Lebanon. I was hardly alone in getting carried away. Middle Easterners felt it too — or at least some did. “It’s strange for me to say it,” Lebanon’s Druze leader Walid Jumblatt said shortly after the uprising against Bashar Assad’s overlordship in his country began, “but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq. I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world. The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it.”

The Middle East’s “Berlin Wall,” so to speak, may have cracked, but it didn’t fall.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

As Jennifer pointed out yesterday, President Barack Obama admitted in an interview with Joe Klein at Time magazine that he had been “too optimistic” about his ability to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that it’s “just really hard.” Those of us with experience in the region are thinking, “Well, duh,” right about now, but at the same time, I sympathize. In the first half of the last decade, I felt naively optimistic about the region myself.

Things were looking up after the demolition of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party regime in Iraq, the termination of the second Palestinian intifada, and the Beirut Spring that ousted the Syrian military occupation from Lebanon. I was hardly alone in getting carried away. Middle Easterners felt it too — or at least some did. “It’s strange for me to say it,” Lebanon’s Druze leader Walid Jumblatt said shortly after the uprising against Bashar Assad’s overlordship in his country began, “but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq. I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world. The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it.”

The Middle East’s “Berlin Wall,” so to speak, may have cracked, but it didn’t fall.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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Enough with the Campaign

Politico reports:

Barack Obama came to town a year ago to change the way politics worked, and Organizing for America was to be his instrument. The successor to his campaign organization, with the largest e-mail list in America, was poised — many observers thought at the time — to bring the campaign’s movement fervor and Web-centric tactics to pushing Obama’s legislative agenda through Congress.

But Organizing for America hasn’t organized much of anything (certainly not as much as those amateur tea party protesters have). Popular support for Obama’s agenda is at an all-time low. ObamaCare is unpopular. And Democrats lost gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia. Just as Obama is confessing that he really failed to change the way Washington works, the group’s leader insists that, no, they really have:

Executive Director Mitch Stewart also said the organization’s broader effects have been understated. Obama “talked about changing the way that Washington works. We believe that we’ve done that,” Stewart said in the interview with POLITICO. “Is it ‘snap your fingers and you’re living in utopia’? No. But do we feel like we’ve made significant progress toward changing the way that Washington works? Yes.”

Well, that’s only one indication that Organizing for America is a bit out to lunch — and out of the loop. So what’s wrong with the greatest campaign organization ever (or so we were told)? A few things, I think.

First, campaigning — to sell an unknown candidate running in a “historic” race against an unpopular incumbent party — isn’t that hard. (And it helps when Steve Schmidt is running the opposition team.) That’s fundamentally different from sustaining political support over a prolonged period of time for an agenda that the candidate carefully concealed from view as he was convincing voters he was something altogether different. Second, many of the people whom Obama claimed credit for enticing into voting were only interested long enough to put a sticker on their Prius and go to the polls once. They didn’t flock to the polls in the 2009 gubernatorial races and it’s doubtful that they’ll man the barricades for the likes of Harry Reid, Blanche Lincoln, or any of the other vulnerable Democrats. And finally, Obama is the “establishment” now. Spinning for the administration and running interference for the Obami just isn’t as much fun and doesn’t have the same appeal as chanting in Iowa, partying in Denver, and swooning over The One in Berlin. Besides, the “selling” of Obama’s agenda is really the White House’s job. It’s hard to outsource that to a campaign remnant.

The fate of Organizing for America is not unlike that of its candidate. Both, like the dog that caught the bus it was chasing, don’t quite know what to do with their new possession. And the heady days of the campaign when everyone swooned in the presence of the candidate they knew so little about aren’t to be repeated. Perhaps it’s time that Organizing for America closed up shop. There is a time to put the campaign behind and get on with life.

Politico reports:

Barack Obama came to town a year ago to change the way politics worked, and Organizing for America was to be his instrument. The successor to his campaign organization, with the largest e-mail list in America, was poised — many observers thought at the time — to bring the campaign’s movement fervor and Web-centric tactics to pushing Obama’s legislative agenda through Congress.

But Organizing for America hasn’t organized much of anything (certainly not as much as those amateur tea party protesters have). Popular support for Obama’s agenda is at an all-time low. ObamaCare is unpopular. And Democrats lost gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia. Just as Obama is confessing that he really failed to change the way Washington works, the group’s leader insists that, no, they really have:

Executive Director Mitch Stewart also said the organization’s broader effects have been understated. Obama “talked about changing the way that Washington works. We believe that we’ve done that,” Stewart said in the interview with POLITICO. “Is it ‘snap your fingers and you’re living in utopia’? No. But do we feel like we’ve made significant progress toward changing the way that Washington works? Yes.”

Well, that’s only one indication that Organizing for America is a bit out to lunch — and out of the loop. So what’s wrong with the greatest campaign organization ever (or so we were told)? A few things, I think.

First, campaigning — to sell an unknown candidate running in a “historic” race against an unpopular incumbent party — isn’t that hard. (And it helps when Steve Schmidt is running the opposition team.) That’s fundamentally different from sustaining political support over a prolonged period of time for an agenda that the candidate carefully concealed from view as he was convincing voters he was something altogether different. Second, many of the people whom Obama claimed credit for enticing into voting were only interested long enough to put a sticker on their Prius and go to the polls once. They didn’t flock to the polls in the 2009 gubernatorial races and it’s doubtful that they’ll man the barricades for the likes of Harry Reid, Blanche Lincoln, or any of the other vulnerable Democrats. And finally, Obama is the “establishment” now. Spinning for the administration and running interference for the Obami just isn’t as much fun and doesn’t have the same appeal as chanting in Iowa, partying in Denver, and swooning over The One in Berlin. Besides, the “selling” of Obama’s agenda is really the White House’s job. It’s hard to outsource that to a campaign remnant.

The fate of Organizing for America is not unlike that of its candidate. Both, like the dog that caught the bus it was chasing, don’t quite know what to do with their new possession. And the heady days of the campaign when everyone swooned in the presence of the candidate they knew so little about aren’t to be repeated. Perhaps it’s time that Organizing for America closed up shop. There is a time to put the campaign behind and get on with life.

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Our Place In the World

Barack Obama rode into office promising to “restore our place in the world.” Many thought this meant that Obama intended to elevate America’s profile, make us more popular and more effective, and soothe the feelings of hurt allies. But “our place in the world,” it has turned out, means a smaller place from which a less confident and assertive America simply “bears witness” as events swirl around us.

In a must-read piece, Fouad Ajami argues persuasively that Obama would rather we do less in the world and turn our attention to his quite radical plans for refashioning America. He writes of the Obama mindset:

We’re weary, the disillusioned liberalism maintains, and we’re broke, and there are those millions of Americans aching for health care and an economic lifeline. We can’t care for both Ohio and the Anbar, Peoria and Peshawar. It is either those embattled people in Iran or a rescue package for Chrysler.

The joke is on the enthralled crowds in Cairo, Ankara, Berlin and Oslo. The new American president they had fallen for had no genuine calling or attachments abroad. In their enthusiasm for Mr. Obama, and their eagerness to proclaim themselves at one with the postracial meaning of his election, they had missed his aloofness from the genuine struggles in the foreign world.

The catch in all this is that America’s retreat and equivocation neither keeps our enemies at bay nor frees the president to focus on the home front. To the contrary, our foes become emboldened and the dangers rage. As Ajami observes: “History and its furies have their logic, and they have not bent to Mr. Obama’s will. He had declared a unilateral end to the ‘war on terror,’ but the jihadists and their mentors are yet to call their war to a halt. From Yemen to Fort Hood and Detroit, the terror continues.” And while Obama is obsessed with half-a-loaf policies (e.g., surge in Afghanistan but with a deadline, sanctions in Iran but just little bitty ones) our adversaries in Afghanistan, Iran, Yemen, North Korea, Syria, and elsewhere remain unimpressed, if not emboldened, by what appears to be irresolution, not “nuance,” and hesitancy, not “smart diplomacy.”

So after nearly a year, what has Obama accomplished? The world is no less dangerous, our allies (Britain, Israel, Honduras, Poland, and the Czech Republic, among others) are not cheered, and America has made it clear to human-rights activists and their oppressors that there is little this administration is willing to say (and even less it is willing to do) to advance democracy and freedom. The result? Ajami sums up: “We’re smaller for accepting that false choice between burdens at home and burdens abroad, and the world beyond our shores is more hazardous and cynical for our retrenchment and our self-flagellation.”

Anxious conservatives keep waiting for the “Ah ha!” moment when Obama will recognize the folly of his effort to turn away from the demands of a dangerous world, will instead embrace American exceptionalism, and unabashedly assert American values and interests. Yet he continues to nibble around the edges of an effective foreign policy. He drops the more ludicrous gambits (e.g., backing Hugo Chavez’s flunky in Honduras and demanding a unilateral settlement freeze by Israel) but has yet to match action with revised rhetoric. He continues to do the least possible when the most is required. His idea of America’s place in the world seems not so majestic as some had imagined. And the world, as a result, is more dangerous, and America is less enamored and respected. Alas, it is not at all what was promised.

Barack Obama rode into office promising to “restore our place in the world.” Many thought this meant that Obama intended to elevate America’s profile, make us more popular and more effective, and soothe the feelings of hurt allies. But “our place in the world,” it has turned out, means a smaller place from which a less confident and assertive America simply “bears witness” as events swirl around us.

In a must-read piece, Fouad Ajami argues persuasively that Obama would rather we do less in the world and turn our attention to his quite radical plans for refashioning America. He writes of the Obama mindset:

We’re weary, the disillusioned liberalism maintains, and we’re broke, and there are those millions of Americans aching for health care and an economic lifeline. We can’t care for both Ohio and the Anbar, Peoria and Peshawar. It is either those embattled people in Iran or a rescue package for Chrysler.

The joke is on the enthralled crowds in Cairo, Ankara, Berlin and Oslo. The new American president they had fallen for had no genuine calling or attachments abroad. In their enthusiasm for Mr. Obama, and their eagerness to proclaim themselves at one with the postracial meaning of his election, they had missed his aloofness from the genuine struggles in the foreign world.

The catch in all this is that America’s retreat and equivocation neither keeps our enemies at bay nor frees the president to focus on the home front. To the contrary, our foes become emboldened and the dangers rage. As Ajami observes: “History and its furies have their logic, and they have not bent to Mr. Obama’s will. He had declared a unilateral end to the ‘war on terror,’ but the jihadists and their mentors are yet to call their war to a halt. From Yemen to Fort Hood and Detroit, the terror continues.” And while Obama is obsessed with half-a-loaf policies (e.g., surge in Afghanistan but with a deadline, sanctions in Iran but just little bitty ones) our adversaries in Afghanistan, Iran, Yemen, North Korea, Syria, and elsewhere remain unimpressed, if not emboldened, by what appears to be irresolution, not “nuance,” and hesitancy, not “smart diplomacy.”

So after nearly a year, what has Obama accomplished? The world is no less dangerous, our allies (Britain, Israel, Honduras, Poland, and the Czech Republic, among others) are not cheered, and America has made it clear to human-rights activists and their oppressors that there is little this administration is willing to say (and even less it is willing to do) to advance democracy and freedom. The result? Ajami sums up: “We’re smaller for accepting that false choice between burdens at home and burdens abroad, and the world beyond our shores is more hazardous and cynical for our retrenchment and our self-flagellation.”

Anxious conservatives keep waiting for the “Ah ha!” moment when Obama will recognize the folly of his effort to turn away from the demands of a dangerous world, will instead embrace American exceptionalism, and unabashedly assert American values and interests. Yet he continues to nibble around the edges of an effective foreign policy. He drops the more ludicrous gambits (e.g., backing Hugo Chavez’s flunky in Honduras and demanding a unilateral settlement freeze by Israel) but has yet to match action with revised rhetoric. He continues to do the least possible when the most is required. His idea of America’s place in the world seems not so majestic as some had imagined. And the world, as a result, is more dangerous, and America is less enamored and respected. Alas, it is not at all what was promised.

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The Best Available Defense of Obama’s Foreign Policy

I got a call the other day from a reporter from the New York Times Magazine doing a retrospective article on the first year of Obama’s foreign policy. He wanted to know what fruit the president’s attempts at “outreach” had borne. My instinctive reaction was: Obama’s stress on diplomacy has not produced any payoff yet. If anything, it has reduced American standing in the world by alarming our friends (notably Eastern Europe and Israel) and earning the scorn of our enemies (North Korea, Iran, and others). There seems to be bipartisan agreement that some of the president’s policies — e.g., on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process — have been disastrous. To the extent that he has done things right, it is largely a matter of continuing and expanding on the previous president’s policies in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This was greeted with a slightly incredulous noise by my interlocutor. Clearly he was skeptical, as you would expect a writer for the Times to be. So I asked him whether anyone has a contrary viewpoint. Are there serious analysts who can point to a substantive payoff from the president’s policies? He referred me to this essay by Jessica Matthews of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Having read it, I am wondering if this is the best that the president’s supporters can muster on his behalf.

Matthews writes: “From his campaign address in Berlin to the path-breaking nuclear policy speech in Prague to the high risk venture in Cairo and the Nowruz message to Iran, the President succeeded in a remarkably short time in turning from dark to light how the world sees the United States.” There is some support for this impression from the Pew poll, which did find Obama’s ascent in improving opinions of the United States in Western Europe and some other places (there was a big bump in Indonesia where Obama spent part of this childhood). But it also found a small slippage in support for the U.S. in Israel, Poland, Pakistan, and Russia, while the gains in the Palestinian territory (up to 15% percent approval from 13 percent in 2007), Turkey (14 percent, up from 12 percent in 2008), Egypt (27 percent, up from 22 percent), and Jordan (25 percent, up from 19 percent) are small and still leave the U.S. mired in deep unpopularity.

The larger question is how Obama can translate greater popularity into greater achievements in safeguarding American security. Matthews thinks he has already done it, but she has to really stretch to make her case. She claims, for instance, that Obama deserves credit for the “establishment of the G-20 as a badly needed new instrument for such cooperation, bringing to the table economic powerhouses excluded from the G-8.” And what exactly will those “economic powerhouses” accomplish, other than holding fabulous meetings? That is unclear.

She also claims that Obama has established a “working relationship” with Russia but has to admit “it remains to be seen how the U.S.-Russia relationship will evolve—especially whether Moscow will do what it must do vis-à-vis Iran to retain credibility as a responsible international actor.” In fact, so far, Russia hasn’t given much reason to think it will be willing to crack down on the Iranian nuclear program. It may agree to a new START treaty, but so what? Reducing nuclear arms is more in the Russian interest than in ours because they can’t afford to maintain their arsenal.

Matthews claims that Obama “has also gone a long way toward reversing the world’s view of whether Washington or Tehran has the better argument in its favor on the crucial nuclear issue,” but there was never much question that most other nations — especially in Europe and the Middle East — sided with Washington’s concerns. The question has always been what they are prepared to do about it. Are they prepared to sacrifice economic self-interest to impose really tough sanctions on Iran? So far there has been no real movement in this direction, while the Iranian nuclear program has been going full-speed ahead.

I am by no means suggesting that the Obama foreign policy is already a failure. It is too early to tell. But certainly it has been hard to point to any substantive achievements of his first year in office. His efforts to reach out to Iran and North Korea, while ignoring their egregious human-rights violations, have been met with humiliating rejection. His Oslo speech suggested that he may be getting a little more tough-minded, as did his decision to send reinforcements to Afghanistan. Perhaps the second year will be better than his first — but that’s a low hurdle to get over.

I got a call the other day from a reporter from the New York Times Magazine doing a retrospective article on the first year of Obama’s foreign policy. He wanted to know what fruit the president’s attempts at “outreach” had borne. My instinctive reaction was: Obama’s stress on diplomacy has not produced any payoff yet. If anything, it has reduced American standing in the world by alarming our friends (notably Eastern Europe and Israel) and earning the scorn of our enemies (North Korea, Iran, and others). There seems to be bipartisan agreement that some of the president’s policies — e.g., on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process — have been disastrous. To the extent that he has done things right, it is largely a matter of continuing and expanding on the previous president’s policies in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This was greeted with a slightly incredulous noise by my interlocutor. Clearly he was skeptical, as you would expect a writer for the Times to be. So I asked him whether anyone has a contrary viewpoint. Are there serious analysts who can point to a substantive payoff from the president’s policies? He referred me to this essay by Jessica Matthews of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Having read it, I am wondering if this is the best that the president’s supporters can muster on his behalf.

Matthews writes: “From his campaign address in Berlin to the path-breaking nuclear policy speech in Prague to the high risk venture in Cairo and the Nowruz message to Iran, the President succeeded in a remarkably short time in turning from dark to light how the world sees the United States.” There is some support for this impression from the Pew poll, which did find Obama’s ascent in improving opinions of the United States in Western Europe and some other places (there was a big bump in Indonesia where Obama spent part of this childhood). But it also found a small slippage in support for the U.S. in Israel, Poland, Pakistan, and Russia, while the gains in the Palestinian territory (up to 15% percent approval from 13 percent in 2007), Turkey (14 percent, up from 12 percent in 2008), Egypt (27 percent, up from 22 percent), and Jordan (25 percent, up from 19 percent) are small and still leave the U.S. mired in deep unpopularity.

The larger question is how Obama can translate greater popularity into greater achievements in safeguarding American security. Matthews thinks he has already done it, but she has to really stretch to make her case. She claims, for instance, that Obama deserves credit for the “establishment of the G-20 as a badly needed new instrument for such cooperation, bringing to the table economic powerhouses excluded from the G-8.” And what exactly will those “economic powerhouses” accomplish, other than holding fabulous meetings? That is unclear.

She also claims that Obama has established a “working relationship” with Russia but has to admit “it remains to be seen how the U.S.-Russia relationship will evolve—especially whether Moscow will do what it must do vis-à-vis Iran to retain credibility as a responsible international actor.” In fact, so far, Russia hasn’t given much reason to think it will be willing to crack down on the Iranian nuclear program. It may agree to a new START treaty, but so what? Reducing nuclear arms is more in the Russian interest than in ours because they can’t afford to maintain their arsenal.

Matthews claims that Obama “has also gone a long way toward reversing the world’s view of whether Washington or Tehran has the better argument in its favor on the crucial nuclear issue,” but there was never much question that most other nations — especially in Europe and the Middle East — sided with Washington’s concerns. The question has always been what they are prepared to do about it. Are they prepared to sacrifice economic self-interest to impose really tough sanctions on Iran? So far there has been no real movement in this direction, while the Iranian nuclear program has been going full-speed ahead.

I am by no means suggesting that the Obama foreign policy is already a failure. It is too early to tell. But certainly it has been hard to point to any substantive achievements of his first year in office. His efforts to reach out to Iran and North Korea, while ignoring their egregious human-rights violations, have been met with humiliating rejection. His Oslo speech suggested that he may be getting a little more tough-minded, as did his decision to send reinforcements to Afghanistan. Perhaps the second year will be better than his first — but that’s a low hurdle to get over.

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Bromide Obama’s Greatest Speech

David Brooks asserted yesterday in “Obama’s Christian Realism” that Barack Obama’s Oslo speech was “the most profound of his presidency, and maybe his life.”

Since Obama’s presidency is only 11 months old, and the Obama oeuvre is not large, this is actually faint praise. We all remember the great “Let Me Be Clear” speech at AIPAC, the emphatic “I Can No More Disown” Reverend Wright speech, the humble “Citizens of the World” address in Berlin, the stately “Greek Column” oration in Denver, the compelling “Unclench Your Fist” Inaugural, and the “Just Till July 2011” clarion call at West Point. There are really only about 10 lifetime speeches to be evaluated in terms of comparative profundity.

Brooks concludes that Obama’s Oslo speech is making his “doctrine” clear: a theological commitment to combat evil while avoiding righteousness. He quotes Obama’s 2007 remark on theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s impact: “I take away the compelling idea that there’s serious evil in the world and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction.”

Brooks originally reported that remark in a 2007 column entitled “Obama, Gospel and Verse,” in which he questioned whether Obama had “thought through a practical foreign policy doctrine of his own – a way to apply his Niebuhrian instincts.” Back then, Brooks was not certain he had:

When you ask about ways to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, he talks grandly about marshaling a global alliance. But when you ask specifically if an Iranian bomb would be deterrable, he’s says yes: ”I think Iran is like North Korea. They see nuclear arms in defensive terms, as a way to prevent regime change.”

In other words, he has a tendency to go big and offer himself up as Bromide Obama, filled with grand but usually evasive eloquence about bringing people together and showing respect. Then, in a blink, he can go small and concrete, and sound more like a community organizer than George F. Kennan.

It’s nice that in his Oslo speech, Obama confirmed that evil “does exist in the world” and that he “cannot be guided by [Martin Luther King Jr.’s and Gandhi’s] examples alone.” It is good that he insists that Iran and North Korea not “game the system” and that sanctions must “exact a real price.”

But the real question about Obama’s “doctrine” is whether — after Iran declines to unclench its fist and sanctions fail (they have yet to succeed with Cuba or North Korea, and Saddam Hussein turned a profit from the “crippling” ones on him) — his Niebuhrian instincts call for any other option. Iran is likely to react to diplomacy in one fashion if it thinks the answer is yes, and another if it thinks the answer is no.

So far, Iran is acting as if it has read Brooks’s 2007 column and knows the answer. It appears untroubled by the most profound speech of Obama’s life.

David Brooks asserted yesterday in “Obama’s Christian Realism” that Barack Obama’s Oslo speech was “the most profound of his presidency, and maybe his life.”

Since Obama’s presidency is only 11 months old, and the Obama oeuvre is not large, this is actually faint praise. We all remember the great “Let Me Be Clear” speech at AIPAC, the emphatic “I Can No More Disown” Reverend Wright speech, the humble “Citizens of the World” address in Berlin, the stately “Greek Column” oration in Denver, the compelling “Unclench Your Fist” Inaugural, and the “Just Till July 2011” clarion call at West Point. There are really only about 10 lifetime speeches to be evaluated in terms of comparative profundity.

Brooks concludes that Obama’s Oslo speech is making his “doctrine” clear: a theological commitment to combat evil while avoiding righteousness. He quotes Obama’s 2007 remark on theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s impact: “I take away the compelling idea that there’s serious evil in the world and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction.”

Brooks originally reported that remark in a 2007 column entitled “Obama, Gospel and Verse,” in which he questioned whether Obama had “thought through a practical foreign policy doctrine of his own – a way to apply his Niebuhrian instincts.” Back then, Brooks was not certain he had:

When you ask about ways to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, he talks grandly about marshaling a global alliance. But when you ask specifically if an Iranian bomb would be deterrable, he’s says yes: ”I think Iran is like North Korea. They see nuclear arms in defensive terms, as a way to prevent regime change.”

In other words, he has a tendency to go big and offer himself up as Bromide Obama, filled with grand but usually evasive eloquence about bringing people together and showing respect. Then, in a blink, he can go small and concrete, and sound more like a community organizer than George F. Kennan.

It’s nice that in his Oslo speech, Obama confirmed that evil “does exist in the world” and that he “cannot be guided by [Martin Luther King Jr.’s and Gandhi’s] examples alone.” It is good that he insists that Iran and North Korea not “game the system” and that sanctions must “exact a real price.”

But the real question about Obama’s “doctrine” is whether — after Iran declines to unclench its fist and sanctions fail (they have yet to succeed with Cuba or North Korea, and Saddam Hussein turned a profit from the “crippling” ones on him) — his Niebuhrian instincts call for any other option. Iran is likely to react to diplomacy in one fashion if it thinks the answer is yes, and another if it thinks the answer is no.

So far, Iran is acting as if it has read Brooks’s 2007 column and knows the answer. It appears untroubled by the most profound speech of Obama’s life.

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Big Six Meeting on Iran Produces Less than Nothing

Representatives of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany met today to discuss the fact that Iran is making fools out of them. But the results of this meeting will give no comfort to a world worried about Tehran’s march toward nuclear capability. According to the Associated Press, the West is “disappointed” about Iran’s decision to renege on a UN-brokered deal that could have defused the crisis. But despite the clear signals from the rogue Islamist regime that it has absolutely no interest in re-negotiating the pact even under more terms still more favorable to them, “no new sanctions were discussed during the meeting, according to an EU source.”

The anonymous EU official said that “there was no mention of imposing further sanctions against Iran at the meeting. These things are a matter of timing, and this was not the right time for it.”

When will be the right time? “The Western officials said they would hold a follow-up meeting around Christmas.”

And for those wondering whether the UN’s chief nuclear watchdog was doing his bit to raise the alarm about this imminent threat, how about this:

“In Berlin, Mohamed El-Baradei, the UN nuclear watchdog agency chief, pressed Iran to work with the international community. ‘I would hate to see that we are moving back to sanctions,’ El-Baradei said. ‘Because sanctions, at the end of the day … really don’t resolve issues.’”

No, they don’t. Especially when they aren’t actually being agreed upon or implemented.

Right now, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad must be laughing themselves silly at this toothless response from the West. While President Obama circles the globe in a fruitless effort to find support for the sort of sanctions that might force the Iranians to reconsider their position, the Islamist regime continues to delay even the hope of negotiations to buy more time for their program. Obama’s feckless campaign of “engagement” has rightly earned their scorn. After this performance, who could blame the Iranians for believing that the West isn’t serious about stopping them?

Representatives of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany met today to discuss the fact that Iran is making fools out of them. But the results of this meeting will give no comfort to a world worried about Tehran’s march toward nuclear capability. According to the Associated Press, the West is “disappointed” about Iran’s decision to renege on a UN-brokered deal that could have defused the crisis. But despite the clear signals from the rogue Islamist regime that it has absolutely no interest in re-negotiating the pact even under more terms still more favorable to them, “no new sanctions were discussed during the meeting, according to an EU source.”

The anonymous EU official said that “there was no mention of imposing further sanctions against Iran at the meeting. These things are a matter of timing, and this was not the right time for it.”

When will be the right time? “The Western officials said they would hold a follow-up meeting around Christmas.”

And for those wondering whether the UN’s chief nuclear watchdog was doing his bit to raise the alarm about this imminent threat, how about this:

“In Berlin, Mohamed El-Baradei, the UN nuclear watchdog agency chief, pressed Iran to work with the international community. ‘I would hate to see that we are moving back to sanctions,’ El-Baradei said. ‘Because sanctions, at the end of the day … really don’t resolve issues.’”

No, they don’t. Especially when they aren’t actually being agreed upon or implemented.

Right now, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad must be laughing themselves silly at this toothless response from the West. While President Obama circles the globe in a fruitless effort to find support for the sort of sanctions that might force the Iranians to reconsider their position, the Islamist regime continues to delay even the hope of negotiations to buy more time for their program. Obama’s feckless campaign of “engagement” has rightly earned their scorn. After this performance, who could blame the Iranians for believing that the West isn’t serious about stopping them?

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The Speech He Chose Not to Give

November 9 — the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall — was a slow day at the White House. (How slow? Look at the Picture of the Day posted on the White House website for that day.) The main events were a brief afternoon reception and an evening meeting with a foreign leader, neither of which had been on the calendar 48 hours before.

President Obama might have used the relatively slow day to give the speech he had planned to give on November 10 to the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America (considered one of the most important meetings of the year for the organized Jewish community, with several thousand in attendance, meeting less than three miles from the White House), since he’d had to cancel his November 10 appearance to travel to Fort Hood.

But proceeding with that speech would undoubtedly have invited comparison to his 2008 “Let Me Be Clear” speech to AIPAC — the one in which he had said he would use “all elements of American power” to pressure Iran:

I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. That starts with aggressive, principled diplomacy without self-defeating preconditions, but with a clear-eyed understanding of our interests. We have no time to waste. …

We will open up lines of communication, build an agenda, coordinate closely with our allies, and evaluate the potential for progress. Contrary to the claims of some, I have no interest in sitting down with our adversaries just for the sake of talking. But as President of the United States, I would be willing to lead tough and principled diplomacy with the appropriate Iranian leader at a time and place of my choosing. …

Finally, let there be no doubt: I will always keep the threat of military action on the table to defend our security and our ally Israel. …

I will make known to allies and adversaries alike [a pledge] that America maintains an unwavering friendship with Israel, and an unshakeable commitment to its security.

Does anyone think that Obama’s diplomacy with Iran has been “aggressive,” “tough,” and “principled”? Or that he was the one who chose the time and place it started? Or that an agenda was built before it commenced? Or that the threat of military action remains on the table? Or that America’s friendship with Israel under his administration is unwavering?

Or that the reason he chose not to give his speech to the General Assembly a day early was that he could not fit it into his schedule?

November 9 — the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall — was a slow day at the White House. (How slow? Look at the Picture of the Day posted on the White House website for that day.) The main events were a brief afternoon reception and an evening meeting with a foreign leader, neither of which had been on the calendar 48 hours before.

President Obama might have used the relatively slow day to give the speech he had planned to give on November 10 to the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America (considered one of the most important meetings of the year for the organized Jewish community, with several thousand in attendance, meeting less than three miles from the White House), since he’d had to cancel his November 10 appearance to travel to Fort Hood.

But proceeding with that speech would undoubtedly have invited comparison to his 2008 “Let Me Be Clear” speech to AIPAC — the one in which he had said he would use “all elements of American power” to pressure Iran:

I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. That starts with aggressive, principled diplomacy without self-defeating preconditions, but with a clear-eyed understanding of our interests. We have no time to waste. …

We will open up lines of communication, build an agenda, coordinate closely with our allies, and evaluate the potential for progress. Contrary to the claims of some, I have no interest in sitting down with our adversaries just for the sake of talking. But as President of the United States, I would be willing to lead tough and principled diplomacy with the appropriate Iranian leader at a time and place of my choosing. …

Finally, let there be no doubt: I will always keep the threat of military action on the table to defend our security and our ally Israel. …

I will make known to allies and adversaries alike [a pledge] that America maintains an unwavering friendship with Israel, and an unshakeable commitment to its security.

Does anyone think that Obama’s diplomacy with Iran has been “aggressive,” “tough,” and “principled”? Or that he was the one who chose the time and place it started? Or that an agenda was built before it commenced? Or that the threat of military action remains on the table? Or that America’s friendship with Israel under his administration is unwavering?

Or that the reason he chose not to give his speech to the General Assembly a day early was that he could not fit it into his schedule?

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The Right to Be Like Obama

The New York Times is giving Barack Obama high marks for “push[ing] rights with Chinese students.” In Shanghai, Obama was asked via Internet, “Should we be able to use Twitter freely?” Here was the audacious answer:

“Well, first of all, let me say that I have never used Twitter,” he said. “My thumbs are too clumsy to type in things on the phone.”

OK, that wasn’t the audacious answer. That was the “self-effacing” appetizer that whets the appetite for the audacious answer:

“I should be honest, as president of the United States, there are times where I wish information didn’t flow so freely, because then I wouldn’t have to listen to people criticizing me all the time,” he said. But, he added, “because in the United States, information is free, and I have a lot of critics in the United States who can say all kinds of things about me, I actually think that that makes our democracy stronger and it makes me a better leader because it forces me to hear opinions that I don’t want to hear.”

Get it? Twitter should be used freely because Barack Obama manages to bravely endure the free flow of information in the U.S., and that makes him a better leader. Clumsy thumbs and all.

There is an Obama teaching-moment methodology. He has employed it to teach us mortals about America’s founding documents, to teach the International Olympic Committee why it should choose Chicago, and to teach Europeans why the fall of the Berlin Wall was so great: Look at what has worked so well to make me who I am. Follow that road and you shall be set free.

The sad truth is that Obama’s answer (without, of course, a simple “yes” in it) really is an administration high point for human rights. When Hillary Clinton visited China a few months back, she raised the topic only to announce her indifference to it. In other news, China detained dozens of dissidents in advance of Obama’s visit. That Beijing actually believed human-rights activists could move Barack Obama serves to demonstrate the extreme paranoia of the Communist party.

The New York Times is giving Barack Obama high marks for “push[ing] rights with Chinese students.” In Shanghai, Obama was asked via Internet, “Should we be able to use Twitter freely?” Here was the audacious answer:

“Well, first of all, let me say that I have never used Twitter,” he said. “My thumbs are too clumsy to type in things on the phone.”

OK, that wasn’t the audacious answer. That was the “self-effacing” appetizer that whets the appetite for the audacious answer:

“I should be honest, as president of the United States, there are times where I wish information didn’t flow so freely, because then I wouldn’t have to listen to people criticizing me all the time,” he said. But, he added, “because in the United States, information is free, and I have a lot of critics in the United States who can say all kinds of things about me, I actually think that that makes our democracy stronger and it makes me a better leader because it forces me to hear opinions that I don’t want to hear.”

Get it? Twitter should be used freely because Barack Obama manages to bravely endure the free flow of information in the U.S., and that makes him a better leader. Clumsy thumbs and all.

There is an Obama teaching-moment methodology. He has employed it to teach us mortals about America’s founding documents, to teach the International Olympic Committee why it should choose Chicago, and to teach Europeans why the fall of the Berlin Wall was so great: Look at what has worked so well to make me who I am. Follow that road and you shall be set free.

The sad truth is that Obama’s answer (without, of course, a simple “yes” in it) really is an administration high point for human rights. When Hillary Clinton visited China a few months back, she raised the topic only to announce her indifference to it. In other news, China detained dozens of dissidents in advance of Obama’s visit. That Beijing actually believed human-rights activists could move Barack Obama serves to demonstrate the extreme paranoia of the Communist party.

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What Few Would Have Foreseen

President Obama’s decision to send a video of himself to Berlin on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, in which he said that “few would have foreseen [on that day in 1989] that . . . their American ally would be led by a man of African descent,” is not the first time he assigned that world-historical event a bit part in his own saga. The Wall also played a walk-on role in his election-night victory speech, included in a long litany of “Yes We Can” paragraphs (“A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination”). He mentioned it in his Berlin citizens-of-the-world speech, attributing the fall to the world standing as one.

Benjamin Kerstein has written an eloquent reminder that the fall of Communism was not the result of the world standing as one, but of the long and often despairing efforts of certain people to fight a future to which much of the world was resigned:

This anniversary, this triumph, this vindication, does not belong to all of us. It belongs to the anti-communists of all countries and all parties who fought for it, sometimes at great cost to reputation, family, friendship, sanity, and often life and limb. …

Some, like Solzhenitsyn, Natan Sharansky, and many, many others, had to face prison, expulsion, harassment, and the constant threat of death in order to make their plight known to the world. …

[The Hungarian and Czech uprisings were] ignored as the march of history supposedly passed them by … until the wall came down, and even the most dedicated apologists had to admit that the Czechs, the Hungarians, and their supporters had been the wave of the future all along.

In America, presidents of both parties pressed policies on their fellow citizens designed to keep the world standing as two. Richard Nixon brought forth “détente.” Jimmy Carter lectured us about our “inordinate fear of communism.” When Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” elite opinion considered it unforgivably rude.

“Tear down this wall” has entered the lexicon of great presidential utterances, but the president who uttered it went unmentioned this week by President Obama. Undoubtedly, as huge numbers of people rushed to freedom 20 years ago, few of them would have foreseen that Obama would become president of the United States. Even fewer would have foreseen that one day an American president would decline to join his fellow heads of state in Berlin to celebrate what happened that day.

President Obama’s decision to send a video of himself to Berlin on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, in which he said that “few would have foreseen [on that day in 1989] that . . . their American ally would be led by a man of African descent,” is not the first time he assigned that world-historical event a bit part in his own saga. The Wall also played a walk-on role in his election-night victory speech, included in a long litany of “Yes We Can” paragraphs (“A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination”). He mentioned it in his Berlin citizens-of-the-world speech, attributing the fall to the world standing as one.

Benjamin Kerstein has written an eloquent reminder that the fall of Communism was not the result of the world standing as one, but of the long and often despairing efforts of certain people to fight a future to which much of the world was resigned:

This anniversary, this triumph, this vindication, does not belong to all of us. It belongs to the anti-communists of all countries and all parties who fought for it, sometimes at great cost to reputation, family, friendship, sanity, and often life and limb. …

Some, like Solzhenitsyn, Natan Sharansky, and many, many others, had to face prison, expulsion, harassment, and the constant threat of death in order to make their plight known to the world. …

[The Hungarian and Czech uprisings were] ignored as the march of history supposedly passed them by … until the wall came down, and even the most dedicated apologists had to admit that the Czechs, the Hungarians, and their supporters had been the wave of the future all along.

In America, presidents of both parties pressed policies on their fellow citizens designed to keep the world standing as two. Richard Nixon brought forth “détente.” Jimmy Carter lectured us about our “inordinate fear of communism.” When Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” elite opinion considered it unforgivably rude.

“Tear down this wall” has entered the lexicon of great presidential utterances, but the president who uttered it went unmentioned this week by President Obama. Undoubtedly, as huge numbers of people rushed to freedom 20 years ago, few of them would have foreseen that Obama would become president of the United States. Even fewer would have foreseen that one day an American president would decline to join his fellow heads of state in Berlin to celebrate what happened that day.

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What’s The Difference Between Obama and McCain?

John McCain’s interview with Jeffrey Goldberg is an interesting counterpoint to Barack Obama’s. In McCain’s interview, you will find not a trace of moral equivalence, no infatuation with Philip Roth (whom Obama apparently imagines as the paragon of American Judaism–perhaps needing a more up to date understanding of Roth’s legacy among many American Jews), and no hesitancy to denounce Islamic jihadism.

Reading the two interviews side-by-side provides a telling contrast between two world views and two approaches to foreign affairs. McCain goes out of his way to stress the role of diplomacy at the right level and the right time, but the main differences between the two candidates are stark. These three questions and answers sum it up:

JG: What do you think motivates Iran?

JM: Hatred. I don’t try to divine people’s motives. I look at their actions and what they say. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the state of their emotions. I do know what their nation’s stated purpose is, I do know they continue in the development of nuclear weapons, and I know that they continue to support terrorists who are bent on the destruction of the state of Israel. You’ll have to ask someone who engages in this psycho stuff to talk about their emotions.

. . .

JG: Senator Obama has calibrated his views on unconditional negotiations. Do you see any circumstance in which you could negotiate with Iran, or do you believe that it’s leadership is impervious to rational dialogue?

JM: I’m amused by Senator Obama’s dramatic change since he’s gone from a candidate in the primary to a candidate in the general election. I’ve seen him do that on a number of issues that show his naivete and inexperience on national security issues. I believe that the history of the successful conduct of national security policy is that, one, you don’t sit down face-to-face with people who are behave the way they do, who are state sponsors of terrorism.

Senator Obama likes to refer to President Kennedy going to Vienna. Most historians see that as a serious mistake, which encouraged Khrushchev to build the Berlin Wall and to send missiles to Cuba. Another example is Richard Nixon going to China. I’ve forgotten how many visits Henry Kissinger made to China, and how every single word was dictated beforehand. More importantly, he went to China because China was then a counterweight to a greater threat, the Soviet Union. What is a greater threat in the Middle East than Iran today?

Senator Obama is totally lacking in experience, so therefore he makes judgments such as saying he would sit down with someone like Ahmadinejad without comprehending the impact of such a meeting. I know that his naivete and lack of experience is on display when he talks about sitting down opposite Hugo Chavez or Raul Castro or Ahmadinejad.

. . .

JG: Let’s go back to Iran. Some critics say that America conflates its problem with Iran with Israel’s problem with Iran. Iran is not threatening the extinction of America, it’s threatening the extinction of Israel. Why should America have a military option for dealing with Iran when the threat is mainly directed against Israel?

JM: The United States of America has committed itself to never allowing another Holocaust. That’s a commitment that the United States has made ever since we discovered the horrendous aspects of the Holocaust. In addition to that, I would respond by saying that I think these terrorist organizations that they sponsor, Hamas and the others, are also bent, at least long-term, on the destruction of the United States of America. That’s why I agree with General Petraeus that Iraq is a central battleground. Because these Shiite militias are sending in these special groups, as they call them, sending weapons in, to remove United States influence and to drive us out of Iraq and thereby achieve their ultimate goals. We’ve heard the rhetoric — the Great Satan, etc. It’s a nuance, their being committed to the destruction of the State of Israel, and their long-term intentions toward us.

A better explanation of the differences between the candidates will be hard to come by.

John McCain’s interview with Jeffrey Goldberg is an interesting counterpoint to Barack Obama’s. In McCain’s interview, you will find not a trace of moral equivalence, no infatuation with Philip Roth (whom Obama apparently imagines as the paragon of American Judaism–perhaps needing a more up to date understanding of Roth’s legacy among many American Jews), and no hesitancy to denounce Islamic jihadism.

Reading the two interviews side-by-side provides a telling contrast between two world views and two approaches to foreign affairs. McCain goes out of his way to stress the role of diplomacy at the right level and the right time, but the main differences between the two candidates are stark. These three questions and answers sum it up:

JG: What do you think motivates Iran?

JM: Hatred. I don’t try to divine people’s motives. I look at their actions and what they say. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the state of their emotions. I do know what their nation’s stated purpose is, I do know they continue in the development of nuclear weapons, and I know that they continue to support terrorists who are bent on the destruction of the state of Israel. You’ll have to ask someone who engages in this psycho stuff to talk about their emotions.

. . .

JG: Senator Obama has calibrated his views on unconditional negotiations. Do you see any circumstance in which you could negotiate with Iran, or do you believe that it’s leadership is impervious to rational dialogue?

JM: I’m amused by Senator Obama’s dramatic change since he’s gone from a candidate in the primary to a candidate in the general election. I’ve seen him do that on a number of issues that show his naivete and inexperience on national security issues. I believe that the history of the successful conduct of national security policy is that, one, you don’t sit down face-to-face with people who are behave the way they do, who are state sponsors of terrorism.

Senator Obama likes to refer to President Kennedy going to Vienna. Most historians see that as a serious mistake, which encouraged Khrushchev to build the Berlin Wall and to send missiles to Cuba. Another example is Richard Nixon going to China. I’ve forgotten how many visits Henry Kissinger made to China, and how every single word was dictated beforehand. More importantly, he went to China because China was then a counterweight to a greater threat, the Soviet Union. What is a greater threat in the Middle East than Iran today?

Senator Obama is totally lacking in experience, so therefore he makes judgments such as saying he would sit down with someone like Ahmadinejad without comprehending the impact of such a meeting. I know that his naivete and lack of experience is on display when he talks about sitting down opposite Hugo Chavez or Raul Castro or Ahmadinejad.

. . .

JG: Let’s go back to Iran. Some critics say that America conflates its problem with Iran with Israel’s problem with Iran. Iran is not threatening the extinction of America, it’s threatening the extinction of Israel. Why should America have a military option for dealing with Iran when the threat is mainly directed against Israel?

JM: The United States of America has committed itself to never allowing another Holocaust. That’s a commitment that the United States has made ever since we discovered the horrendous aspects of the Holocaust. In addition to that, I would respond by saying that I think these terrorist organizations that they sponsor, Hamas and the others, are also bent, at least long-term, on the destruction of the United States of America. That’s why I agree with General Petraeus that Iraq is a central battleground. Because these Shiite militias are sending in these special groups, as they call them, sending weapons in, to remove United States influence and to drive us out of Iraq and thereby achieve their ultimate goals. We’ve heard the rhetoric — the Great Satan, etc. It’s a nuance, their being committed to the destruction of the State of Israel, and their long-term intentions toward us.

A better explanation of the differences between the candidates will be hard to come by.

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The Paper Of Record

It may be the McCain camp’s least favorite publication, but they would be hard pressed to come up with pieces that better serve their current message than two which appear in today’s New York Times.

First, this op-ed, which corrects Barack Obama’s take on the Kennedy-Khrushchev summit:

Senior American statesmen like George Kennan advised Kennedy not to rush into a high-level meeting, arguing that Khrushchev had engaged in anti-American propaganda and that the issues at hand could as well be addressed by lower-level diplomats. Kennedy’s own secretary of state, Dean Rusk, had argued much the same in a Foreign Affairs article the previous year: “Is it wise to gamble so heavily? Are not these two men who should be kept apart until others have found a sure meeting ground of accommodation between them?”

But Kennedy went ahead, and for two days he was pummeled by the Soviet leader. . .Kennedy’s aides convinced the press at the time that behind closed doors the president was performing well, but American diplomats in attendance, including the ambassador to the Soviet Union, later said they were shocked that Kennedy had taken so much abuse. Paul Nitze, the assistant secretary of defense, said the meeting was “just a disaster.” Khrushchev’s aide, after the first day, said the American president seemed “very inexperienced, even immature.” Khrushchev agreed, noting that the youthful Kennedy was “too intelligent and too weak.” The Soviet leader left Vienna elated — and with a very low opinion of the leader of the free world. . . .

A little more than two months later, Khrushchev gave the go-ahead to begin erecting what would become the Berlin Wall. Kennedy had resigned himself to it, telling his aides in private that “a wall is a hell of a lot better than a war.” The following spring, Khrushchev made plans to “throw a hedgehog at Uncle Sam’s pants”: nuclear missiles in Cuba. And while there were many factors that led to the missile crisis, it is no exaggeration to say that the impression Khrushchev formed at Vienna — of Kennedy as ineffective — was among them.

The second is a front-page story letting on that Jews in Florida actually have real concerns about Obama. And who’d have thought it is not just irrational fear? (The Times dutifully reports “the resistance toward Mr. Obama appears to be rooted in something more than factual misperception; even those with an accurate understanding of Mr. Obama share the hesitations.”) Lots of Florida Jews actually seem troubled by his close association with Palestinian activists, his willingness to hold direct, unconditional negotiations with Iran, and an overall sense he’s likely to “venture too close to questionable characters.” (But there is something for Obama apologists, too–the Times found some other Jews who confess that they think it’s all racism or irrational fear of Obama’s middle name.)

So from the McCain perspective it appears there is a little good news even the Times thinks is fit to print.

It may be the McCain camp’s least favorite publication, but they would be hard pressed to come up with pieces that better serve their current message than two which appear in today’s New York Times.

First, this op-ed, which corrects Barack Obama’s take on the Kennedy-Khrushchev summit:

Senior American statesmen like George Kennan advised Kennedy not to rush into a high-level meeting, arguing that Khrushchev had engaged in anti-American propaganda and that the issues at hand could as well be addressed by lower-level diplomats. Kennedy’s own secretary of state, Dean Rusk, had argued much the same in a Foreign Affairs article the previous year: “Is it wise to gamble so heavily? Are not these two men who should be kept apart until others have found a sure meeting ground of accommodation between them?”

But Kennedy went ahead, and for two days he was pummeled by the Soviet leader. . .Kennedy’s aides convinced the press at the time that behind closed doors the president was performing well, but American diplomats in attendance, including the ambassador to the Soviet Union, later said they were shocked that Kennedy had taken so much abuse. Paul Nitze, the assistant secretary of defense, said the meeting was “just a disaster.” Khrushchev’s aide, after the first day, said the American president seemed “very inexperienced, even immature.” Khrushchev agreed, noting that the youthful Kennedy was “too intelligent and too weak.” The Soviet leader left Vienna elated — and with a very low opinion of the leader of the free world. . . .

A little more than two months later, Khrushchev gave the go-ahead to begin erecting what would become the Berlin Wall. Kennedy had resigned himself to it, telling his aides in private that “a wall is a hell of a lot better than a war.” The following spring, Khrushchev made plans to “throw a hedgehog at Uncle Sam’s pants”: nuclear missiles in Cuba. And while there were many factors that led to the missile crisis, it is no exaggeration to say that the impression Khrushchev formed at Vienna — of Kennedy as ineffective — was among them.

The second is a front-page story letting on that Jews in Florida actually have real concerns about Obama. And who’d have thought it is not just irrational fear? (The Times dutifully reports “the resistance toward Mr. Obama appears to be rooted in something more than factual misperception; even those with an accurate understanding of Mr. Obama share the hesitations.”) Lots of Florida Jews actually seem troubled by his close association with Palestinian activists, his willingness to hold direct, unconditional negotiations with Iran, and an overall sense he’s likely to “venture too close to questionable characters.” (But there is something for Obama apologists, too–the Times found some other Jews who confess that they think it’s all racism or irrational fear of Obama’s middle name.)

So from the McCain perspective it appears there is a little good news even the Times thinks is fit to print.

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Not A Serious Threat

This remarkable bit of footage from Barack Obama’s appearance in Oregon last night is now floating around on YouTube. It might be useful as an undergraduate course exam: how many errors can you spot? Obama apparently believes that Iran and other rogues states (he lists Iran, Cuba and Venezuela) “don’t pose a serious threat to the U.S.” Iran, specifically, he tells us spends so little on defense relative to us that if Iran “tried to pose a serious threat to us they wouldn’t . . . they wouldn’t stand a chance.”

So, taken literally, he seems not much concerned about Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, its sponsorship of terrorist organizations, its commitment to eradicate Israel, its current actions in supplying weapons that have killed hundreds of Americans in Iraq, and its role in eroding Lebanon’s sovereignty through its client Hezbollah.

And then there is is unbridled faith in diplomacy, unaffected by the lessons of history. Was it presidential visits with the Soviet Union that brought down the Berlin Wall? Or was it the 40 year history of bipartisan military deterrence, the willingness of Ronald Reagan to walk away from Reykjavik summit, the resulting bankruptcy of the Soviet Empire, the support of dissidents and freedom fighters in the war against tyranny, and the willingness to identify Communism as a center of evil in the late 20th century?

You can understand why every attempt by John McCain to discuss global threats is labeled “fear-mongering” by Obama. In his world this is all a fantasy and we are not at risk. All perfectly logical . . . if you divorce yourself from reality.

This remarkable bit of footage from Barack Obama’s appearance in Oregon last night is now floating around on YouTube. It might be useful as an undergraduate course exam: how many errors can you spot? Obama apparently believes that Iran and other rogues states (he lists Iran, Cuba and Venezuela) “don’t pose a serious threat to the U.S.” Iran, specifically, he tells us spends so little on defense relative to us that if Iran “tried to pose a serious threat to us they wouldn’t . . . they wouldn’t stand a chance.”

So, taken literally, he seems not much concerned about Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, its sponsorship of terrorist organizations, its commitment to eradicate Israel, its current actions in supplying weapons that have killed hundreds of Americans in Iraq, and its role in eroding Lebanon’s sovereignty through its client Hezbollah.

And then there is is unbridled faith in diplomacy, unaffected by the lessons of history. Was it presidential visits with the Soviet Union that brought down the Berlin Wall? Or was it the 40 year history of bipartisan military deterrence, the willingness of Ronald Reagan to walk away from Reykjavik summit, the resulting bankruptcy of the Soviet Empire, the support of dissidents and freedom fighters in the war against tyranny, and the willingness to identify Communism as a center of evil in the late 20th century?

You can understand why every attempt by John McCain to discuss global threats is labeled “fear-mongering” by Obama. In his world this is all a fantasy and we are not at risk. All perfectly logical . . . if you divorce yourself from reality.

Read Less




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