Commentary Magazine


Topic: Council on Foreign Relations

Bringing Change to Foreign Policy

At his Council on Foreign Relations blog, Elliott Abrams notes that Obama’s “engagement” policy suffers from an inherent contradiction:

[H]e believes in the UN Security Council and the Human Rights Council [HRC], in treaties like the NPT and START, in the IAEA, in multilateral cooperation. But the regimes with which he wishes to engage do not, so that Asad tries to ruin the UN’s Special Tribunal for Lebanon and Iran’s nuclear program threatens to destroy the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the IAEA. The president is in this sense in the position of those who for decades sought “world peace” primarily by engaging with the Soviet Union, which did not share that goal.

So the question for the next two years is whether the president will remain wedded to policies that cannot achieve his stated goals.

In the prior Congress, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee cheered on the Obama engagement policy — at one point writing to all 435 House members that “sustained engagement” with the HRC (and UNESCO) had “reaped important dividends” for the U.S. and Israel, proving that “engagement works.” He cited the “hard-fought” victory to keep Iran off the HRC. The next month, the HRC voted 32-to-3 to condemn Israel (again) in harsh language, and then called for an “investigation” to prove what it had just condemned; the State Department spokesman responded that the U.S. had only one vote on the HRC but would continue to “engage.”

The new Congress may require the administration to start changing its policy. In “A Short United Nations To-Do List for the New Congress,” written after the November election, Heritage Foundation fellow Brett Schaefer recommended, among other steps, withholding funds from the HRC, since it has “proved to be no better — and in some ways, worse — than the commission it replaced”:

The Obama Administration engaged the HRC believing that the U.S. would be able to improve the HRC from within. Unfortunately, the performance of the HRC with the U.S. as a member has been virtually indistinguishable from its performance absent U.S. membership.

Next Tuesday, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the new head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, will chair a full-committee hearing on “The United Nations: Urgent Problems that Need Congressional Action.” The lead-off witness will be Brett Schaefer.

At his Council on Foreign Relations blog, Elliott Abrams notes that Obama’s “engagement” policy suffers from an inherent contradiction:

[H]e believes in the UN Security Council and the Human Rights Council [HRC], in treaties like the NPT and START, in the IAEA, in multilateral cooperation. But the regimes with which he wishes to engage do not, so that Asad tries to ruin the UN’s Special Tribunal for Lebanon and Iran’s nuclear program threatens to destroy the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the IAEA. The president is in this sense in the position of those who for decades sought “world peace” primarily by engaging with the Soviet Union, which did not share that goal.

So the question for the next two years is whether the president will remain wedded to policies that cannot achieve his stated goals.

In the prior Congress, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee cheered on the Obama engagement policy — at one point writing to all 435 House members that “sustained engagement” with the HRC (and UNESCO) had “reaped important dividends” for the U.S. and Israel, proving that “engagement works.” He cited the “hard-fought” victory to keep Iran off the HRC. The next month, the HRC voted 32-to-3 to condemn Israel (again) in harsh language, and then called for an “investigation” to prove what it had just condemned; the State Department spokesman responded that the U.S. had only one vote on the HRC but would continue to “engage.”

The new Congress may require the administration to start changing its policy. In “A Short United Nations To-Do List for the New Congress,” written after the November election, Heritage Foundation fellow Brett Schaefer recommended, among other steps, withholding funds from the HRC, since it has “proved to be no better — and in some ways, worse — than the commission it replaced”:

The Obama Administration engaged the HRC believing that the U.S. would be able to improve the HRC from within. Unfortunately, the performance of the HRC with the U.S. as a member has been virtually indistinguishable from its performance absent U.S. membership.

Next Tuesday, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the new head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, will chair a full-committee hearing on “The United Nations: Urgent Problems that Need Congressional Action.” The lead-off witness will be Brett Schaefer.

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Cut and Run Was No Strategy for Iraq and Isn’t One for Afghanistan

Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, has written in the Wall Street Journal that we should “un-surge” in Afghanistan. While arguing against total withdrawal, he says “the U.S. effort there should be sharply reduced.”

Mr. Haass’s recommendation on Afghanistan sounds similar to his (flawed) recommendation on Iraq during the debate about the surge.

In a November 13, 2006, interview with Der Spiegel, Haass said: “We’ve reached a point in Iraq where we’ve got to get real. … The Iraq situation is not winnable in any meaningful sense of the word ‘winnable.’ So what we need to do now is look for a way to limit the losses and costs, try to advance on other fronts in the region and try to limit the fallout of Iraq. That’s what you have to do sometimes when you’re a global power.”

A few weeks later, on November 30, Haass said, “It’s not clear to me that even if you double the level of American troops you would somehow stabilize the situation [in Iraq].”

And on December 10, 2006, on NBC’s Meet the Press, he said this:

I would perhaps do it for a short amount of time, a surge, as part, again, of this narrative, as part of saying, “We’ve gone the extra mile.” I want to take away the arguments, quite honestly, from the critics of the [Iraq Study Group] report. I want to take away the argument that if Iraq turns out as badly as I fear it might, I want to take away the argument that it was because of what we didn’t do. If Iraq doesn’t work, I think it’s incredibly important for the future of the Middle East and for the future of American foreign policy around the world that the principle lesson not be that the United States is unreliable or we lacked staying power. “If only we’d done a little bit more for a little bit longer it would’ve succeeded.” To me, it is essentially important for the future of this country that Iraq be seen, if you will, as Iraq’s failure, not as America’s failure.

So Haass supported a temporary surge in Iraq not because he thought it would work but in order to place the blame on the Iraqis when it failed. There was a notably amoral quality to Haass’s recommendation (the realpolitik Haass might accept this as a compliment). Read More

Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, has written in the Wall Street Journal that we should “un-surge” in Afghanistan. While arguing against total withdrawal, he says “the U.S. effort there should be sharply reduced.”

Mr. Haass’s recommendation on Afghanistan sounds similar to his (flawed) recommendation on Iraq during the debate about the surge.

In a November 13, 2006, interview with Der Spiegel, Haass said: “We’ve reached a point in Iraq where we’ve got to get real. … The Iraq situation is not winnable in any meaningful sense of the word ‘winnable.’ So what we need to do now is look for a way to limit the losses and costs, try to advance on other fronts in the region and try to limit the fallout of Iraq. That’s what you have to do sometimes when you’re a global power.”

A few weeks later, on November 30, Haass said, “It’s not clear to me that even if you double the level of American troops you would somehow stabilize the situation [in Iraq].”

And on December 10, 2006, on NBC’s Meet the Press, he said this:

I would perhaps do it for a short amount of time, a surge, as part, again, of this narrative, as part of saying, “We’ve gone the extra mile.” I want to take away the arguments, quite honestly, from the critics of the [Iraq Study Group] report. I want to take away the argument that if Iraq turns out as badly as I fear it might, I want to take away the argument that it was because of what we didn’t do. If Iraq doesn’t work, I think it’s incredibly important for the future of the Middle East and for the future of American foreign policy around the world that the principle lesson not be that the United States is unreliable or we lacked staying power. “If only we’d done a little bit more for a little bit longer it would’ve succeeded.” To me, it is essentially important for the future of this country that Iraq be seen, if you will, as Iraq’s failure, not as America’s failure.

So Haass supported a temporary surge in Iraq not because he thought it would work but in order to place the blame on the Iraqis when it failed. There was a notably amoral quality to Haass’s recommendation (the realpolitik Haass might accept this as a compliment).

In his Journal op-ed arguing for undoing the surge in Afghanistan, Haass lays out the “broader reasons to recast policy.” They include:

The greatest threat to U.S. national security stems from our own fiscal crisis. Afghanistan is a significant contributor to this situation and could play an important role in reducing it. A savings of $75 billion a year could help finance much-needed military modernization and reduce the deficit.

Another factor is the increased possibility of a conflict with a reckless North Korea and the continued possibility of a confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program. U.S. military forces must be freed up to contend with these issues. The perception that we are tied down in Afghanistan makes it more difficult to threaten North Korea or Iran credibly—and makes it more difficult to muster the forces to deal with either if necessary.

Haass’s somewhat novel argument, then, is that in order to preserve our capacity to wage future wars, we should lose (in the guise of de-escalation) our current ones. He doesn’t take into account that retreating in Afghanistan would be (rightly) interpreted by nations like Iran and North Korea as weakness on the part of America, thereby emboldening our adversaries. And nowhere does Haass explain how his recommended offshore counterterrorism strategy would work, since credible counterterrorism strikes depend on good intelligence, which is best gathered by ground forces that enjoy the trust of the local population. If we pull out our troops, we lose even that capacity.

One cannot help but suspect that Haass has arrived at a position based on a theory he holds to with dogmatic certitude and has gone in search of arguments to support it. This may explain why Haass is forced to mimic David Stockman on the deficit and Richard Perle on Iran. It’s not a terribly persuasive pose.

Mr. Haass concludes his op-ed this way:

Ultimately Afghanistan is a strategic distraction. U.S. interests there are limited. So, too, are the resources available for national security. It is not surprising that the commander in the field, Gen. David Petraeus, is calling for committing greater resources to the theater. But it is the commander-in-chief’s responsibility to take into account the nation’s capacity to meet all of its challenges, national and international. It is for this reason that the perspectives of Gen. Petraeus and President Obama must necessarily diverge.

The notion that Afghanistan is nothing more than a “strategic distraction” is not terribly serious. Events of the past decade have turned it into something very much more than that.

Defeat there would have profound, negative effects on, among other nations, nuclear-armed Pakistan. While it’s obviously true that events in Afghanistan don’t have unlimited effects on Pakistan, Haass’s insistence that they are almost completely unrelated will come as news to the Pakistani government and virtually everyone else in the region. The capitulation of the United States and the fall of the existing government in a neighboring state, Afghanistan, would have significant ramifications in Pakistan. It would be an enormously important psychological victory for jihadists and the Taliban. Islamists all over the world would assume that if they wait long enough, the U.S. will cut out and move on. And defeat in Afghanistan would have baleful consequences for the people, and especially the women, of Afghanistan (though that dimension of this issue doesn’t appear to enter into Haass’s calculus at all).

When it comes to both military planning and strategic thinking, General Petraeus is simply in a different league than Mr. Haass. The four-star general and Princeton Ph.D. has proved himself to be far wiser, more prescient, and more knowledgeable than the former State Department official. Which is why I’m thankful that America’s 44th president, like America’s 43rd president, is listening to David Petraeus rather than to Richard Haass.

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Coming Apart at the Seams

As much as Obama’s aura has dimmed in the United States, his international standing is potentially in worse condition, and with more dire consequences. As this report explains, he’s finding it hard — no matter how lucrative the bribe — to get any nation to make a deal:

From failing to secure a free-trade agreement in South Korea to struggling to win Senate ratification of an arms-control treaty with Russia, Obama has bumped up against the boundaries of his power at a defining moment of his presidency. …

“He assumed that because he was liked so clearly and overwhelmingly he could merely assert what he wanted to achieve and people would follow,” said Simon Serfaty, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Clearly enough, the world that he imagined proved to be different than the world as it is.” …

The Middle East peace process he inaugurated two months ago has stalled. His mercurial ally in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai, is calling for scaled-back U.S. military operations there at the height of the 30,000-troop escalation Obama approved a year ago.

His pledge to remedy one polarizing legacy of the Bush administration by closing the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, suffered this week when a jury convicted the first former detainee to face civilian trial on only one of 285 criminal counts. Read More

As much as Obama’s aura has dimmed in the United States, his international standing is potentially in worse condition, and with more dire consequences. As this report explains, he’s finding it hard — no matter how lucrative the bribe — to get any nation to make a deal:

From failing to secure a free-trade agreement in South Korea to struggling to win Senate ratification of an arms-control treaty with Russia, Obama has bumped up against the boundaries of his power at a defining moment of his presidency. …

“He assumed that because he was liked so clearly and overwhelmingly he could merely assert what he wanted to achieve and people would follow,” said Simon Serfaty, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Clearly enough, the world that he imagined proved to be different than the world as it is.” …

The Middle East peace process he inaugurated two months ago has stalled. His mercurial ally in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai, is calling for scaled-back U.S. military operations there at the height of the 30,000-troop escalation Obama approved a year ago.

His pledge to remedy one polarizing legacy of the Bush administration by closing the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, suffered this week when a jury convicted the first former detainee to face civilian trial on only one of 285 criminal counts.

You get the picture. So Obama’s gambits become more and more desperate. Hence, the cockeyed attempt to spare himself the collapse of the non-direct, non-peace talks. “National security analysts say the price Obama is willing to pay for another three months of talks is high, in part because he set a one-year timeline for their successful conclusion. Many believe that the deadline, like other of Obama’s foreign policy goals, was overly optimistic.” Well, that’s a generous way of putting it. To be blunt, he’s made hash out of our relationship with Israel, diminished our credibility with every player in the Middle East, and now is panicked that it is all about to come tumbling down around his ears.

Likewise, out of desperation to get a “win,” Obama is trying to force a Senate vote on New START. Saner voices are trying to warn him:

Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations who held senior foreign-policy positions in both Bush administrations, said “it’s no big deal if gets kicked off until February, March, then passes.”

“You don’t want to bring this to a vote and lose,” Haass said. “You don’t want to have the Senate equivalent of going to Seoul and not getting a trade agreement.”

Funny how each new foreign policy fumble has a precursor. Seoul is like Copenhagen. New START is like the Syrian ambassador’s nomination. The handling of the Honduras “coup” is like pulling the rug out from under our Eastern European allies on missile defense. And on it goes — an endless series of half-baked ideas, offended allies, stalled negotiations, and poorly executed gambits. And we haven’t even gotten to the worst of it: an emboldened Iran racing toward membership in the nuclear power club.

It’s not all a disaster. Obama is showing some recognition that we must remain engaged in Iraq. He’s coming around to erasing the ill-advised Afghanistan deadline. And perhaps, after two years, he’s cluing into the need to get serious about human rights in Egypt and elsewhere. But the continuities with his predecessor (annoyingly accompanied by chest-puffing and refusal to credit President Bush) are outnumbered and overshadowed by the gaffes.

This is not a time for conservatives to cheer. It is deeply troubling that the president has imperiled our standing in the world. Congress is no substitute for a commander in chief, but responsible voices in the House and Senate should work — by resolution, oversight, private conversation, and funding — to guide the administration to more sober policymaking and less erratic execution. Unfortunately, once the credibility of the American president is diminished by hapless moves and unserious rhetoric, it’s hard to get it back.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Enough already. CNN cans Rick Sanchez.

Enough already. Yuval Levin suggests the White House scrap the fawning praise: “Rahm Emanuel, speaking to President Obama at his departure announcement today, said: ‘I want to thank you for being the toughest leader any country could ask for in the toughest times any president has ever faced.’ Really? The toughest times any president has ever faced? Tougher than the times Lincoln faced? Washington? FDR? Truman? Reagan? And the toughest leader any country could ask for? Yeah?”

Enough already. Nagging  young people doesn’t work. “President Obama is trying to do what he can to close any enthusiasm gap with the GOP. For the second time in a week, Obama told thousands of young people attending a rally to come out and vote in this fall’s mid-term elections to preserve Democratic majorities in Congress that could help the president move forward on his agenda.”

Enough already. Even Michael Bloomberg has had it with Obama’s anti-business outlook. “Obama never said he would be anything other than what he is now. He is a liberal guy, very pro-union, not particularly interested in business.” And he’s not interested in national security. And he’s not interested in entitlement reform. He’s very interested in partisan politics, however.

Enough already. Sen. Carl Levin is having none of this “flexibility” on the Afghanistan-war troop deadline. “‘The president is now under pressure from inside and outside the military to build flexibility into that July 2011 date,’ Levin said in prepared remarks he’s set to deliver to the Council on Foreign Relations. ‘I want to tell you why I believe sticking to that date is essential to success, and why President Obama should not, and I believe will not, modify the July 2011 date.’” Unfortunately, I suspect the president agrees.

Enough already. San Franciscans and their mayor want to take back their streets and sidewalks from the homeless.

Enough already. Kool-Aid non-drinkers say the White House’s gin-up-the-base election strategy is a loser. “In a new memo, the Third Way says the electorate has shifted over the past two years, becoming more conservative. They say that even candidates who are able to match Mr. Obama’s turnout among base voters will likely lose.”

Enough already. CNN cans Rick Sanchez.

Enough already. Yuval Levin suggests the White House scrap the fawning praise: “Rahm Emanuel, speaking to President Obama at his departure announcement today, said: ‘I want to thank you for being the toughest leader any country could ask for in the toughest times any president has ever faced.’ Really? The toughest times any president has ever faced? Tougher than the times Lincoln faced? Washington? FDR? Truman? Reagan? And the toughest leader any country could ask for? Yeah?”

Enough already. Nagging  young people doesn’t work. “President Obama is trying to do what he can to close any enthusiasm gap with the GOP. For the second time in a week, Obama told thousands of young people attending a rally to come out and vote in this fall’s mid-term elections to preserve Democratic majorities in Congress that could help the president move forward on his agenda.”

Enough already. Even Michael Bloomberg has had it with Obama’s anti-business outlook. “Obama never said he would be anything other than what he is now. He is a liberal guy, very pro-union, not particularly interested in business.” And he’s not interested in national security. And he’s not interested in entitlement reform. He’s very interested in partisan politics, however.

Enough already. Sen. Carl Levin is having none of this “flexibility” on the Afghanistan-war troop deadline. “‘The president is now under pressure from inside and outside the military to build flexibility into that July 2011 date,’ Levin said in prepared remarks he’s set to deliver to the Council on Foreign Relations. ‘I want to tell you why I believe sticking to that date is essential to success, and why President Obama should not, and I believe will not, modify the July 2011 date.’” Unfortunately, I suspect the president agrees.

Enough already. San Franciscans and their mayor want to take back their streets and sidewalks from the homeless.

Enough already. Kool-Aid non-drinkers say the White House’s gin-up-the-base election strategy is a loser. “In a new memo, the Third Way says the electorate has shifted over the past two years, becoming more conservative. They say that even candidates who are able to match Mr. Obama’s turnout among base voters will likely lose.”

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Lieberman: It’s About American Interests

Sen. Joe Lieberman gave a speech today at the Council on Foreign Relations. It was everything the Obama Middle East policy is not — realistic, attuned to America’s national interests, and bold.

He smartly began describing the nervousness that has greeted the administration’s “smart diplomacy”: “I have been struck as I have traveled in the region in recent months by what seems to me to be a heightened uneasiness about the future of American power there. Behind closed doors, one hears an unmistakable uncertainty about our resolve and staying power.” He enumerates several reasons, but it is clear what the primary problem is:

I believe, the major geopolitical driver for the heightened anxiety about America’s staying power in the Middle East is the Islamic Republic of Iran — more specifically, its determined push to become the dominant power in the region and tilt the balance of governance there towards Islamist extremism — and whether the United States has the will to stop that push. The Iranian regime’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability cannot be separated from its long-term campaign of unconventional warfare, stretching back decades, to destabilize the region and remake it in its own Islamist extremist image.

Or, to put it bluntly, the problem is the administration’s seeming unwillingness or inability to thwart the rise of a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state. It’s not about Israel; rather, it is about the U.S.: Read More

Sen. Joe Lieberman gave a speech today at the Council on Foreign Relations. It was everything the Obama Middle East policy is not — realistic, attuned to America’s national interests, and bold.

He smartly began describing the nervousness that has greeted the administration’s “smart diplomacy”: “I have been struck as I have traveled in the region in recent months by what seems to me to be a heightened uneasiness about the future of American power there. Behind closed doors, one hears an unmistakable uncertainty about our resolve and staying power.” He enumerates several reasons, but it is clear what the primary problem is:

I believe, the major geopolitical driver for the heightened anxiety about America’s staying power in the Middle East is the Islamic Republic of Iran — more specifically, its determined push to become the dominant power in the region and tilt the balance of governance there towards Islamist extremism — and whether the United States has the will to stop that push. The Iranian regime’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability cannot be separated from its long-term campaign of unconventional warfare, stretching back decades, to destabilize the region and remake it in its own Islamist extremist image.

Or, to put it bluntly, the problem is the administration’s seeming unwillingness or inability to thwart the rise of a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state. It’s not about Israel; rather, it is about the U.S.:

If Iran succeeds in acquiring a nuclear weapons capability, it would severely destabilize the Middle East, a region whose stability has been an important long-term American national and economic security goal.

It would also damage America’s ability to sustain the commitments we have made in the Middle East: our commitment, dating back to the Carter and Reagan administrations, to prevent the domination of the Persian Gulf by a revisionist or extremist power; our commitment to secure lasting peace and security between Israel and its neighbors; and our commitment to deter, disrupt, and defeat state-sponsored Islamist extremist groups, who would suddenly be able to wage attacks from under the protection of Iran’s nuclear umbrella. …

That is why the single most important test of American power in the Middle East today is whether we succeed or fail in stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability. How we do on that test will significantly affect our standing in the rest of the world.

It is particularly telling that as Lieberman identifies the principle concern in the region (arguably anywhere), the Obami are flitting about trying to get Mahmoud Abbas to return to the negotiating table, where nothing much has or will be accomplished.

Lieberman praises the “cascade” of sanctions, but cautions: “Iran’s nuclear efforts are continuing forward. Despite some apparent technical difficulties, Iran’s centrifuges keep spinning, and its stockpile of fissile material continues to grow.” In other words, the sanctions have failed, and we now need to consider other measures.

Sensing that the Obami are excited by the prospect of new talks with the mullahs, he warns: “The test is not whether the Iranian regime is talking, but what the regime is doing.” So what do we do?

Our sanctions effort should therefore increasingly aim not just to add pressure on the existing regime, but to target the fissures that already exist both within the Iranian regime itself and between the regime and Iranian society.

This should include much more robust engagement and support for opposition forces inside Iran, both by the United States and like-minded democratic nations around the world. The Obama administration missed an important opportunity in the wake of last year’s election in Iran. But it is certainly not too late to give strong support to the people in Iran who are courageously standing up against their repressive government.

In addition to regime change, we — not tiny Israel –  must make clear we will use force if need be:

It is time for us to take steps that make clear that if diplomatic and economic strategies continue to fail to change Iran’s nuclear policies, a military strike is not just a remote possibility in the abstract, but a real and credible alternative policy that we and our allies are ready to exercise.

It is time to retire our ambiguous mantra about all options remaining on the table. It is time for our message to our friends and enemies in the region to become clearer: namely, that we will prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability — by peaceful means if we possibly can, but with military force if we absolutely must. A military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities entails risks and costs, but I am convinced that the risks and costs of allowing Iran to obtain a nuclear weapons capability are much greater.

There should be no effort to “outsource” this task, Lieberman explains. “We can and should coordinate with our many allies who share our interest in stopping a nuclear Iran, but we cannot delegate our global responsibilities to them.”

This is a powerful, mature speech that, I would suggest, should and can be the basis of a bipartisan policy. The new Congress as well as private citizens and groups concerned about the rise of a nuclear-armed Iran should make every effort to persuade the administration of the wisdom of Lieberman’s approach. There is no substitute for a determined commander in chief, but the president should know that resigning ourselves to a nuclear-armed Iran or another round of fruitless talks are non-options and will garner no public or congressional support. Moreover, Obama should know that the blame for a nuclear-armed Iran will fall on him.

A final note: Lieberman never uttered the word “Israel.” Israel certainly has a greater stake than any nation in disarming Tehran, but what the country and Obama must understand is that America’s national security is the primary issue.

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Obama’s War

Ever since President Obama came to office, conservatives have been expressing concern about his level of commitment to the war in Afghanistan. The deadline he announced last fall to begin a troop drawdown in the summer of 2011 only added to doubts about his staying power. But at every decision point, he has consistently opted to double down in Afghanistan rather than pull out, as many of his supporters urge.

Now, courtesy of the Washington Post, comes further confirmation, if any were needed, that no bug-out is imminent. “Despite discouraging news from Afghanistan and growing doubts in Congress and among the American public,” writes reporter Karen DeYoung, “the Obama administration has concluded that its war strategy is sound and that a December review, once seen as a pivotal moment, is unlikely to yield any major changes.”

This comes after a New York Times report on the extent to which Obama, once skeptical of General David Petraeus, has come to rely on him. My former boss, Les Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, is quoted as saying: “They are joined at the hip, but the leverage lies with Petraeus. And Petraeus has made plain, publicly, that after July 2011, he doesn’t think there should be a rapid pullout.” I think that’s right, and what it means is that Petraeus will have the time necessary to try to turn around a very difficult situation.

Whether he has enough troops, notwithstanding the recent surge, remains an open question. In the new Weekly Standard, Gary Schmitt makes a strong case, based on traditional counterinsurgency metrics, for sending three more brigades. “Adding three Army combat brigades, some 10,000 troops,” he writes, “would give commanders more flexibility to act with the kind of resoluteness that marked the surge in Iraq in 2007 and that allowed it to succeed.” Petraeus himself has made no such request (as far as I know), and it is far from clear if Obama would grant such a request. But it is hardly outside the realm of possibility. Increasingly, this is being seen as “Obama’s War,” and that means that Obama had better win it — or suffer the consequences.

Ever since President Obama came to office, conservatives have been expressing concern about his level of commitment to the war in Afghanistan. The deadline he announced last fall to begin a troop drawdown in the summer of 2011 only added to doubts about his staying power. But at every decision point, he has consistently opted to double down in Afghanistan rather than pull out, as many of his supporters urge.

Now, courtesy of the Washington Post, comes further confirmation, if any were needed, that no bug-out is imminent. “Despite discouraging news from Afghanistan and growing doubts in Congress and among the American public,” writes reporter Karen DeYoung, “the Obama administration has concluded that its war strategy is sound and that a December review, once seen as a pivotal moment, is unlikely to yield any major changes.”

This comes after a New York Times report on the extent to which Obama, once skeptical of General David Petraeus, has come to rely on him. My former boss, Les Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, is quoted as saying: “They are joined at the hip, but the leverage lies with Petraeus. And Petraeus has made plain, publicly, that after July 2011, he doesn’t think there should be a rapid pullout.” I think that’s right, and what it means is that Petraeus will have the time necessary to try to turn around a very difficult situation.

Whether he has enough troops, notwithstanding the recent surge, remains an open question. In the new Weekly Standard, Gary Schmitt makes a strong case, based on traditional counterinsurgency metrics, for sending three more brigades. “Adding three Army combat brigades, some 10,000 troops,” he writes, “would give commanders more flexibility to act with the kind of resoluteness that marked the surge in Iraq in 2007 and that allowed it to succeed.” Petraeus himself has made no such request (as far as I know), and it is far from clear if Obama would grant such a request. But it is hardly outside the realm of possibility. Increasingly, this is being seen as “Obama’s War,” and that means that Obama had better win it — or suffer the consequences.

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Without Standards, It’s Hard to Tell Who Is a ‘Moderate’ Muslim

Bill McGurn observes that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf didn’t exactly live up to his billing at the Council on Foreign Relations, whose president swooned over the imam’s “bridge building” credentials. Yeah, that is downright embarrassing when one considers the imam’s refusal to condemn Hamas, his incendiary plans to build on Ground Zero, and his past comments on 9/11. I suppose if you dummy down your standards enough, he can meet the chattering class’s definition of “moderate.” (The left is big on rewarding intentions, not so big on drawing lines or objectively assessing others on the results of their actions.)

McGurn doesn’t think that’s what we should be doing. Instead, he calls out Abdul Rauf (and by implication his spin squad) for mimicking liberals’ infatuation with moral relativism:

“The real battlefront, the real battle that we must wage together today,” he said, “is not between Muslims and non-Muslims. It is between moderates of all faith traditions against the extremists of all faith traditions.”

Now, the world has its share of Christian, Jewish, Hindu and other religious extremists. Sometimes that extremism leads to violence. At least in America, however, to compare this to the sustained, organized international war crimes planned and carried out by Islamic extremists beggars belief.

No one walks the streets of Manhattan fearing a Methodist may blow up his office, hijack his flight, or kill his son fighting in Afghanistan. Unless you are Angelina Jolie or the dean of Yale Law School, this is not only true but obvious.

Or unless you occupy the White House. Or write for the New York Times or the Daily Beast.

McGurn rightly concludes: “So where the Council on Foreign Relations may see in Imam Rauf the model of moderation, Americans may wonder whether a leader who cannot see what is uniquely threatening about Islamic extremism is the most effective spokesman for Muslim moderation.” It seems the rubes have a more finely tuned moral radar than do the condescending elites who are convinced the country is rife with bigotry.

While the liberal intelligentsia may be confused about what is a legal right and what is simply right – and between what is moderate and what is thinly veiled anti-Americanism — others are not. The much ridiculed George W. Bush was far more adept than is his successor and the liberal punditocracy at figuring out how to fight a war against Islamic jihadists without starting a domestic war against loyal American Muslims (or selling out truly moderate Muslims battling radicalism in the Middle East):

How different their approach (not to mention their results) is from that of George W. Bush, who could visit a mosque while the ruins of the Twin Towers were still smoldering, remind us that Muslim-Americans are free and equal citizens, and talk about how ordinary Muslim moms and dads wanted for their children what we want for ours. Maybe it had something to do with his being clear about the fight.

Or course this moral clarity is denigrated by the left as lacking “sophistication” or “nuance.” It is nothing of the sort. Unlike Obama and the 29 percent of New Yorkers who think the Ground Zero mosque is a dandy idea, Bush and the vast majority of Americans are not guilty of intellectual sloth. In one of the Bluest major cities in America, the citizenry has found it easy to spot a provocateur bent on heightening religious tensions rather than ameliorating them. Frankly, if CFR wanted a bridge builder, they should have invited Bush — or one of the 71 percent of New Yorkers who have figured out that Abdul Rauf is an exceedingly poor champion of reconciliation.

Bill McGurn observes that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf didn’t exactly live up to his billing at the Council on Foreign Relations, whose president swooned over the imam’s “bridge building” credentials. Yeah, that is downright embarrassing when one considers the imam’s refusal to condemn Hamas, his incendiary plans to build on Ground Zero, and his past comments on 9/11. I suppose if you dummy down your standards enough, he can meet the chattering class’s definition of “moderate.” (The left is big on rewarding intentions, not so big on drawing lines or objectively assessing others on the results of their actions.)

McGurn doesn’t think that’s what we should be doing. Instead, he calls out Abdul Rauf (and by implication his spin squad) for mimicking liberals’ infatuation with moral relativism:

“The real battlefront, the real battle that we must wage together today,” he said, “is not between Muslims and non-Muslims. It is between moderates of all faith traditions against the extremists of all faith traditions.”

Now, the world has its share of Christian, Jewish, Hindu and other religious extremists. Sometimes that extremism leads to violence. At least in America, however, to compare this to the sustained, organized international war crimes planned and carried out by Islamic extremists beggars belief.

No one walks the streets of Manhattan fearing a Methodist may blow up his office, hijack his flight, or kill his son fighting in Afghanistan. Unless you are Angelina Jolie or the dean of Yale Law School, this is not only true but obvious.

Or unless you occupy the White House. Or write for the New York Times or the Daily Beast.

McGurn rightly concludes: “So where the Council on Foreign Relations may see in Imam Rauf the model of moderation, Americans may wonder whether a leader who cannot see what is uniquely threatening about Islamic extremism is the most effective spokesman for Muslim moderation.” It seems the rubes have a more finely tuned moral radar than do the condescending elites who are convinced the country is rife with bigotry.

While the liberal intelligentsia may be confused about what is a legal right and what is simply right – and between what is moderate and what is thinly veiled anti-Americanism — others are not. The much ridiculed George W. Bush was far more adept than is his successor and the liberal punditocracy at figuring out how to fight a war against Islamic jihadists without starting a domestic war against loyal American Muslims (or selling out truly moderate Muslims battling radicalism in the Middle East):

How different their approach (not to mention their results) is from that of George W. Bush, who could visit a mosque while the ruins of the Twin Towers were still smoldering, remind us that Muslim-Americans are free and equal citizens, and talk about how ordinary Muslim moms and dads wanted for their children what we want for ours. Maybe it had something to do with his being clear about the fight.

Or course this moral clarity is denigrated by the left as lacking “sophistication” or “nuance.” It is nothing of the sort. Unlike Obama and the 29 percent of New Yorkers who think the Ground Zero mosque is a dandy idea, Bush and the vast majority of Americans are not guilty of intellectual sloth. In one of the Bluest major cities in America, the citizenry has found it easy to spot a provocateur bent on heightening religious tensions rather than ameliorating them. Frankly, if CFR wanted a bridge builder, they should have invited Bush — or one of the 71 percent of New Yorkers who have figured out that Abdul Rauf is an exceedingly poor champion of reconciliation.

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We Will Just Have to, You Know, Be Smarter

In the Q&A session that followed her 8th of September speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, Hillary Clinton was asked about carrying out foreign and defense policy in an era of unprecedented national debt and budget limitations. She gave a 794-word response, concluding that smart diplomacy would just have to get smarter:

So when you — you specifically say: Well, what about, you know, diplomacy, development and defense? You know, we will have to take our share of the burden of meeting the fiscal targets that can drag us out of this deep hole we’re in, but we’ve got to be smart about it.

And I think from both my perspective and Bob Gates’s perspective — and we’ve talked about this a lot — you know, Bob has made some very important recommendations that are not politically popular but which come with a very well thought-out policy. And what I’ve tried to do is to say: Well, we’re going to try to be smarter, more effective. …

And so, you know, we have to get a more sensible, comprehensive approach, and you know, Bob and I have talked about, you know, trying to figure out how to present a national-security budget. … So let’s start thinking from a budget perspective about how to be more integrated.

Students of foreign policy may be bemused and somewhat alarmed that the secretary of state needed six “you knows” to convey that we would have to “be smart about it,” “try to be smarter,” be “more effective,” get a “more sensible, comprehensive approach,” and try to “figure out” how to present a national-security budget.

Perhaps they will be comforted, however, that she rolled out the biggest word in the Department’s arsenal of adjectives to describe what she had concluded: we have to be more “robust” in meeting our responsibilities.

In the Q&A session that followed her 8th of September speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, Hillary Clinton was asked about carrying out foreign and defense policy in an era of unprecedented national debt and budget limitations. She gave a 794-word response, concluding that smart diplomacy would just have to get smarter:

So when you — you specifically say: Well, what about, you know, diplomacy, development and defense? You know, we will have to take our share of the burden of meeting the fiscal targets that can drag us out of this deep hole we’re in, but we’ve got to be smart about it.

And I think from both my perspective and Bob Gates’s perspective — and we’ve talked about this a lot — you know, Bob has made some very important recommendations that are not politically popular but which come with a very well thought-out policy. And what I’ve tried to do is to say: Well, we’re going to try to be smarter, more effective. …

And so, you know, we have to get a more sensible, comprehensive approach, and you know, Bob and I have talked about, you know, trying to figure out how to present a national-security budget. … So let’s start thinking from a budget perspective about how to be more integrated.

Students of foreign policy may be bemused and somewhat alarmed that the secretary of state needed six “you knows” to convey that we would have to “be smart about it,” “try to be smarter,” be “more effective,” get a “more sensible, comprehensive approach,” and try to “figure out” how to present a national-security budget.

Perhaps they will be comforted, however, that she rolled out the biggest word in the Department’s arsenal of adjectives to describe what she had concluded: we have to be more “robust” in meeting our responsibilities.

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Hillary’s World

Hillary Clinton delivered a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations. The text can be read in full here. A few observations.

She, unlike the president, seems rhetorically willing to fly the banner of American exceptionalism:

The United States can, must, and will lead in this new century.

Indeed, the complexities and connections of today’s world have yielded a new American Moment. A moment when our global leadership is essential, even if we must often lead in new ways. A moment when those things that make us who we are as a nation — our openness and innovation, our determination, and devotion to core values — have never been needed more.

Her argument, however, that she and the Obama team have furthered American influence and power is belied by the facts. But this does not deter her from offering disingenuous platitudes. (“From Europe and North America to East Asia and the Pacific, we are renewing and deepening the alliances that are the cornerstone of global security and prosperity.” Apparently Britain, Honduras, Israel, India, Eastern Europe, and others don’t understand that their relationship with us has “deepened.”) She touts progress with China, but one is left wondering where this has manifested itself. China has grown more aggressive, not less, and its human-rights abuses have not abated.

Second, the aversion to hard power is obvious. The cornerstones of American leadership according to Clinton are domestic economic strength and “diplomacy.” She has a single line, a throw-away to mollify the easily mollified (“This administration is also committed to maintaining the greatest military in the history of the world and, if needed, to vigorously defending our friends and ourselves.”) But in paragraph after paragraph of blather (I spare you the extract) about global architecture and centers of influence, she makes it clear that her idea of foreign policy is: talk, talk, and more talk. And her sole mention of the two wars is this: “Long after our troops come home from Iraq and Afghanistan, our diplomatic and development assistance and support for the Afghan security forces will continue.” So much for projecting American power and values.

Most troubling, however, is the placement of Iran in the speech and the content. It comes at the very end, suggesting that it really is not at the top of her to-do list. She gives no indication that this is the most pressing issue we face. And she dispenses with even the formulaic “all options are on the table.” None of this suggests that the administration is serious — gone is even the term “unacceptable”:

First, we began by making the United States a full partner and active participant in international diplomatic efforts regarding Iran. Through our continued willingness to engage Iran directly, we have re-energized the conversation with our allies and are removing easy excuses for lack of progress.

Second, we have sought to frame this issue within the global non-proliferation regime in which the rules of the road are clearly defined for all parties. To lead by example, we have renewed our own disarmament efforts. Our deepened support for global institutions such as the IAEA underscores the authority of the international system of rights and responsibilities. Iran, on the other hand, continues to single itself out through its own actions. Its intransigence represents a challenge to the rules to which all countries must adhere.

Third, we continue to strengthen relationships with those countries whose help we need if diplomacy is to be successful. Through classic shoe-leather diplomacy, we have built a broad consensus that will welcome Iran back into the community of nations if it meets its obligations and likewise will hold Iran accountable to its obligations if it continues its defiance.

This spring, the UN Security Council passed the strongest and most comprehensive set of sanctions ever on Iran. The European Union has followed up with robust implementation of that resolution. Many other nations are implementing their own additional measures, including Australia, Canada, Norway and most recently Japan. We believe Iran is only just beginning to feel the full impact of sanctions. Beyond what governments are doing, the international financial and commercial sectors are also starting to recognize the risks of doing business with Iran.

Sanctions and pressure are not ends in themselves. They are the building blocks of leverage for a negotiated solution, to which we and our partners remain committed. The choice for Iran’s leaders is clear, even if they attempt to obfuscate and avoid it: Meet the responsibilities incumbent upon all nations and enjoy the benefits of integration into the international community, or continue to flout your obligations and accept increasing isolation and costs.  Iran now must decide for itself.

That is it. The whole thing. It is a shocking, even for them, signal of the nonchalance with which the Obami view the most pressing national-security concern of our time. And much of what she says is simply gibberish. For example: “Through our continued willingness to engage Iran directly, we have re-energized the conversation with our allies and are removing easy excuses for lack of progress.” What is she talking about? Iran made excuses before, they make them now, and we’ve lost 18 months in fruitless negotiations.

Israelis, I am sure, are listening carefully. While they go through the motions at the save-face-for-Obama Middle East peace talks, they must surely be coming to terms with the fact that their military is all that stands between the West and a nuclear-armed Iran. If Hillary is any indication, they will get no help from us.

Hillary Clinton delivered a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations. The text can be read in full here. A few observations.

She, unlike the president, seems rhetorically willing to fly the banner of American exceptionalism:

The United States can, must, and will lead in this new century.

Indeed, the complexities and connections of today’s world have yielded a new American Moment. A moment when our global leadership is essential, even if we must often lead in new ways. A moment when those things that make us who we are as a nation — our openness and innovation, our determination, and devotion to core values — have never been needed more.

Her argument, however, that she and the Obama team have furthered American influence and power is belied by the facts. But this does not deter her from offering disingenuous platitudes. (“From Europe and North America to East Asia and the Pacific, we are renewing and deepening the alliances that are the cornerstone of global security and prosperity.” Apparently Britain, Honduras, Israel, India, Eastern Europe, and others don’t understand that their relationship with us has “deepened.”) She touts progress with China, but one is left wondering where this has manifested itself. China has grown more aggressive, not less, and its human-rights abuses have not abated.

Second, the aversion to hard power is obvious. The cornerstones of American leadership according to Clinton are domestic economic strength and “diplomacy.” She has a single line, a throw-away to mollify the easily mollified (“This administration is also committed to maintaining the greatest military in the history of the world and, if needed, to vigorously defending our friends and ourselves.”) But in paragraph after paragraph of blather (I spare you the extract) about global architecture and centers of influence, she makes it clear that her idea of foreign policy is: talk, talk, and more talk. And her sole mention of the two wars is this: “Long after our troops come home from Iraq and Afghanistan, our diplomatic and development assistance and support for the Afghan security forces will continue.” So much for projecting American power and values.

Most troubling, however, is the placement of Iran in the speech and the content. It comes at the very end, suggesting that it really is not at the top of her to-do list. She gives no indication that this is the most pressing issue we face. And she dispenses with even the formulaic “all options are on the table.” None of this suggests that the administration is serious — gone is even the term “unacceptable”:

First, we began by making the United States a full partner and active participant in international diplomatic efforts regarding Iran. Through our continued willingness to engage Iran directly, we have re-energized the conversation with our allies and are removing easy excuses for lack of progress.

Second, we have sought to frame this issue within the global non-proliferation regime in which the rules of the road are clearly defined for all parties. To lead by example, we have renewed our own disarmament efforts. Our deepened support for global institutions such as the IAEA underscores the authority of the international system of rights and responsibilities. Iran, on the other hand, continues to single itself out through its own actions. Its intransigence represents a challenge to the rules to which all countries must adhere.

Third, we continue to strengthen relationships with those countries whose help we need if diplomacy is to be successful. Through classic shoe-leather diplomacy, we have built a broad consensus that will welcome Iran back into the community of nations if it meets its obligations and likewise will hold Iran accountable to its obligations if it continues its defiance.

This spring, the UN Security Council passed the strongest and most comprehensive set of sanctions ever on Iran. The European Union has followed up with robust implementation of that resolution. Many other nations are implementing their own additional measures, including Australia, Canada, Norway and most recently Japan. We believe Iran is only just beginning to feel the full impact of sanctions. Beyond what governments are doing, the international financial and commercial sectors are also starting to recognize the risks of doing business with Iran.

Sanctions and pressure are not ends in themselves. They are the building blocks of leverage for a negotiated solution, to which we and our partners remain committed. The choice for Iran’s leaders is clear, even if they attempt to obfuscate and avoid it: Meet the responsibilities incumbent upon all nations and enjoy the benefits of integration into the international community, or continue to flout your obligations and accept increasing isolation and costs.  Iran now must decide for itself.

That is it. The whole thing. It is a shocking, even for them, signal of the nonchalance with which the Obami view the most pressing national-security concern of our time. And much of what she says is simply gibberish. For example: “Through our continued willingness to engage Iran directly, we have re-energized the conversation with our allies and are removing easy excuses for lack of progress.” What is she talking about? Iran made excuses before, they make them now, and we’ve lost 18 months in fruitless negotiations.

Israelis, I am sure, are listening carefully. While they go through the motions at the save-face-for-Obama Middle East peace talks, they must surely be coming to terms with the fact that their military is all that stands between the West and a nuclear-armed Iran. If Hillary is any indication, they will get no help from us.

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What’s Wrong with Obama’s Muslim Outreach

Richard Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations has, of late, shown what those on the left like to say of conservative justices shifting their way – “growth.” He has come out squarely in favor of regime change in Iran. And he has criticized Obama for his ill-advised fixation on the “peace process.” But the Ground Zero mosque controversy is not his finest hour. In a symposium on the topic, he writes of his concern about opinion abroad:

What I have in mind is anti-Americanism, a possible response to increasingly strident statements by Americans that appear to be anti-Muslim. And such anti-Americanism has unfortunate potential: It can breed tolerance of or, worse yet, support for radicalism and terrorism, and it can stimulate opposition to American policies as well as to local leaders in Arab and Muslim-majority countries who associate themselves with the United States. This has the potential to take a toll on prospects for U.S. policies throughout the greater Middle East, including U.S. efforts designed to promote peace, stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan, and isolate Iran.

What statements, exactly, appear to be anti-Muslim? Has any elected official disputed that there is a constitutional right for the mosque to be built? Perhaps if he identified which mosque opponents are appearing to be anti- Muslim (Howard Dean? Abe Foxman? Harry Reid?), he might have a stronger argument. But the rest of those comments are the type of pablum one usually hears from the White House: we shouldn’t do things (e.g., leave open Guantanamo, criticize a mosque on the ashes of Americans killed in the name of Islam) that will make Muslims mad at us.

Listen, radical jihadists need no excuses. They attacked us on 9/11 and before that and will continue to do so because their radical vision of Islamic domination compels them to.  And as for allegation that we “breed intolerance” by defending our values or taking robust action in the war against Islamic radicals, well, there is no evidence it is true. And, moreover, so what? Should we cease support of Israel as well? That gets even “moderate” Muslims very upset.  The premise, which infects the entire Muslim-outreach gambit, is that we must walk on egg shells, defer to Muslim sensibilities, and show deference to those who object to our legitimate concerns. It is a formula likely to be interpreted as abject weakness and unlikely to garner many new friends. Haass ends by pleading for the entire episode to go away; it is, I think, a difficult subject for him.

However, in the same symposium, Dan Senor has no problem setting forth the anti-mosque position:

Supporters of the Ground Zero Mosque typically cite religious freedom. I do not object to the mosque because it is a mosque, nor do I have any wish to curtail Islamic freedom of worship. Where a particular facility is sited is not a matter of religious liberty. My concern is that two blocks from Ground Zero is an inappropriate and insensitive location for this center.

In the minds of those who are swayed by the most radical interpretations of Islam, the “Ground Zero Mosque” will not be seen as a center for peace and reconciliation. It will rather be celebrated as a monument erected on the site of a great “military” victory. This reality is clear enough after studying the recruitment propaganda used by terrorist groups that exists on the web and elsewhere. Progressive Muslim leaders who reject the link between Islam and the radicalism espoused by al-Qaeda must be wary of helping to further this rhetoric, even inadvertently.

In short, he doesn’t buy into the idea that capitulating to a provocative act will inure to our benefit in the “Muslim World” (and he cites evidence to support his argument). And he adds: “My deeper concern is what effect the Ground Zero Mosque would have on the families of 9/11 victims, survivors of and first responders to the attacks, and New Yorkers in general.” (Haass doesn’t mention any of them, by the way.)

This, in essence lays out the two sides in the debate as to how we should approach the “Muslim World.” Obama has tried Muslim outreach, and he’s hamstrung us on interrogation of jihadist suspects. He has figuratively and literally genuflected before Muslim leaders. It’s not working. Here’s an idea, a different sort of approach: he once told American Jewish leaders to go self-reflect about Israel (a strange admonition for a community that does little else), so how about calling in American Muslim leaders to do the same. Reflect on their reluctance to label Hamas and Hezbollah terrorist groups, reflect on their lack of empathy for fellow citizens and survivors of those killed on 9/11, and reflect on their failure to repudiate statements that America is responsible for 9/11.

No, it’s never going to happen, and we should ask why that is. It may lead us to the central fallacy that underlies Obama and much of the left’s strategy in cultivating favorable Muslim public opinion: they believe subservience breeds respect.

Richard Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations has, of late, shown what those on the left like to say of conservative justices shifting their way – “growth.” He has come out squarely in favor of regime change in Iran. And he has criticized Obama for his ill-advised fixation on the “peace process.” But the Ground Zero mosque controversy is not his finest hour. In a symposium on the topic, he writes of his concern about opinion abroad:

What I have in mind is anti-Americanism, a possible response to increasingly strident statements by Americans that appear to be anti-Muslim. And such anti-Americanism has unfortunate potential: It can breed tolerance of or, worse yet, support for radicalism and terrorism, and it can stimulate opposition to American policies as well as to local leaders in Arab and Muslim-majority countries who associate themselves with the United States. This has the potential to take a toll on prospects for U.S. policies throughout the greater Middle East, including U.S. efforts designed to promote peace, stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan, and isolate Iran.

What statements, exactly, appear to be anti-Muslim? Has any elected official disputed that there is a constitutional right for the mosque to be built? Perhaps if he identified which mosque opponents are appearing to be anti- Muslim (Howard Dean? Abe Foxman? Harry Reid?), he might have a stronger argument. But the rest of those comments are the type of pablum one usually hears from the White House: we shouldn’t do things (e.g., leave open Guantanamo, criticize a mosque on the ashes of Americans killed in the name of Islam) that will make Muslims mad at us.

Listen, radical jihadists need no excuses. They attacked us on 9/11 and before that and will continue to do so because their radical vision of Islamic domination compels them to.  And as for allegation that we “breed intolerance” by defending our values or taking robust action in the war against Islamic radicals, well, there is no evidence it is true. And, moreover, so what? Should we cease support of Israel as well? That gets even “moderate” Muslims very upset.  The premise, which infects the entire Muslim-outreach gambit, is that we must walk on egg shells, defer to Muslim sensibilities, and show deference to those who object to our legitimate concerns. It is a formula likely to be interpreted as abject weakness and unlikely to garner many new friends. Haass ends by pleading for the entire episode to go away; it is, I think, a difficult subject for him.

However, in the same symposium, Dan Senor has no problem setting forth the anti-mosque position:

Supporters of the Ground Zero Mosque typically cite religious freedom. I do not object to the mosque because it is a mosque, nor do I have any wish to curtail Islamic freedom of worship. Where a particular facility is sited is not a matter of religious liberty. My concern is that two blocks from Ground Zero is an inappropriate and insensitive location for this center.

In the minds of those who are swayed by the most radical interpretations of Islam, the “Ground Zero Mosque” will not be seen as a center for peace and reconciliation. It will rather be celebrated as a monument erected on the site of a great “military” victory. This reality is clear enough after studying the recruitment propaganda used by terrorist groups that exists on the web and elsewhere. Progressive Muslim leaders who reject the link between Islam and the radicalism espoused by al-Qaeda must be wary of helping to further this rhetoric, even inadvertently.

In short, he doesn’t buy into the idea that capitulating to a provocative act will inure to our benefit in the “Muslim World” (and he cites evidence to support his argument). And he adds: “My deeper concern is what effect the Ground Zero Mosque would have on the families of 9/11 victims, survivors of and first responders to the attacks, and New Yorkers in general.” (Haass doesn’t mention any of them, by the way.)

This, in essence lays out the two sides in the debate as to how we should approach the “Muslim World.” Obama has tried Muslim outreach, and he’s hamstrung us on interrogation of jihadist suspects. He has figuratively and literally genuflected before Muslim leaders. It’s not working. Here’s an idea, a different sort of approach: he once told American Jewish leaders to go self-reflect about Israel (a strange admonition for a community that does little else), so how about calling in American Muslim leaders to do the same. Reflect on their reluctance to label Hamas and Hezbollah terrorist groups, reflect on their lack of empathy for fellow citizens and survivors of those killed on 9/11, and reflect on their failure to repudiate statements that America is responsible for 9/11.

No, it’s never going to happen, and we should ask why that is. It may lead us to the central fallacy that underlies Obama and much of the left’s strategy in cultivating favorable Muslim public opinion: they believe subservience breeds respect.

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RE: The Left Defends Ground Zero Mosque

I wanted to add to your post, Jen, that mentions Dan Senor’s thoughtful, measured, and quite powerful open letter to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who is the driving force behind the plan to build a mosque and Muslim community center — the Cordoba House — at Ground Zero. Senor is an adjunct fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a resident of lower Manhattan. As he puts it:

Our deeper concern is what effect Cordoba House would have on the families of 9/11 victims, survivors of and first responders to the attacks, New Yorkers in general, and all Americans. As you have seen in the public reaction to the Cordoba House, 9/11 remains a deep wound for Americans—especially those who experienced it directly in some way. They understandably see the area as sacred ground. Nearly all of them also reject the equation of Islam with terrorism and do not blame the attacks on Muslims generally or on the Muslim faith. But many believe that Ground Zero should be reserved for memorials to the event itself and to its victims. They do not understand why of all possible locations in the city, Cordoba House must be sited so near to there … the exact street address of your cultural center cannot matter to the performance of its mission—but it very much does matter to the perceptions of your fellow Americans. We urge you to reconsider.

Imam Rauf certainly should — but probably will need some convincing. That’s why it would be mighty helpful if President Obama added his voice to the arguments laid out by Mr. Senor. It’s an issue Obama shouldn’t be allowed to vote “present” on.

I wanted to add to your post, Jen, that mentions Dan Senor’s thoughtful, measured, and quite powerful open letter to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who is the driving force behind the plan to build a mosque and Muslim community center — the Cordoba House — at Ground Zero. Senor is an adjunct fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a resident of lower Manhattan. As he puts it:

Our deeper concern is what effect Cordoba House would have on the families of 9/11 victims, survivors of and first responders to the attacks, New Yorkers in general, and all Americans. As you have seen in the public reaction to the Cordoba House, 9/11 remains a deep wound for Americans—especially those who experienced it directly in some way. They understandably see the area as sacred ground. Nearly all of them also reject the equation of Islam with terrorism and do not blame the attacks on Muslims generally or on the Muslim faith. But many believe that Ground Zero should be reserved for memorials to the event itself and to its victims. They do not understand why of all possible locations in the city, Cordoba House must be sited so near to there … the exact street address of your cultural center cannot matter to the performance of its mission—but it very much does matter to the perceptions of your fellow Americans. We urge you to reconsider.

Imam Rauf certainly should — but probably will need some convincing. That’s why it would be mighty helpful if President Obama added his voice to the arguments laid out by Mr. Senor. It’s an issue Obama shouldn’t be allowed to vote “present” on.

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RE: The Farce Ends

Jen, the farce has been exposed, but it is not likely to end.

Nearly 15 months ago, weeks after forming a coalition government with parties to both his left and right, Benjamin Netanyahu came to the White House and announced he was ready for immediate negotiations without preconditions. A week later, Mahmoud Abbas arrived in Washington and announced his strategy to the Washington Post:

Mahmoud Abbas says there is nothing for him to do. … On Wednesday afternoon, as he prepared for the White House meeting in a suite at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City, Abbas insisted that his only role was to wait. He will wait … for the Obama administration to force a recalcitrant Netanyahu to freeze Israeli settlement construction and publicly accept the two-state formula.

Until Israel meets his demands, the Palestinian president says, he will refuse to begin negotiations. He won’t even agree to help Obama’s envoy, George J. Mitchell, persuade Arab states to take small confidence-building measures.

The following month, Netanyahu publicly endorsed the two-state formula; after that, he produced a 10-month moratorium on new settlement construction. Obama proved unable to persuade any Arab state to take any confidence-building measure, despite a personal visit (and bow) to the King of Saudi Arabia and what is surely the most pathetic public plea in the history of American diplomacy: Hillary Clinton’s speech to the Council on Foreign Relations begging Arab states to take some steps, “however modest,” toward normalization with Israel.

In December 2009, Abbas told the Israeli press that final-status negotiations could be completed in six months if Israel would just completely halt construction for six months. In George Mitchell’s January 2010 interview with Charlie Rose, Rose noted the moratorium was for 10 months and then had this colloquy with Mitchell:

CHARLIE ROSE:  That gives you an incentive to say to the parties, what? … if settlements are important to you or the absence of settlements are important to you, you better get something done before the moratorium ends because I don’t think we can get it again.

GEORGE MITCHELL:  Charlie, will you come with me on my next visit and make that spiel, because it might sound better coming from you.  I’ve made it several times.

Since then, Abbas has increased his pre-negotiation demands: not only a complete construction halt but also acceptance of: (1) the indefensible 1967 borders as the basis of negotiation; and (2) limitation of security arrangements to foreign peacekeepers. These conditions are designed to insure that negotiations cannot start.

But the reason the now-obvious farce will not end is that the real deadline for this exercise in smart diplomacy is September, when three events coalesce: (1) the end of the four-month period for “proximity” talks; (2) the end of the 10-month settlement moratorium; and (3) the meeting of the UN General Assembly, where the Obama administration hopes to announce the “success” of its year-and-a-half efforts to produce… drum roll… direct talks! Until then, the show must go on.

Jen, the farce has been exposed, but it is not likely to end.

Nearly 15 months ago, weeks after forming a coalition government with parties to both his left and right, Benjamin Netanyahu came to the White House and announced he was ready for immediate negotiations without preconditions. A week later, Mahmoud Abbas arrived in Washington and announced his strategy to the Washington Post:

Mahmoud Abbas says there is nothing for him to do. … On Wednesday afternoon, as he prepared for the White House meeting in a suite at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City, Abbas insisted that his only role was to wait. He will wait … for the Obama administration to force a recalcitrant Netanyahu to freeze Israeli settlement construction and publicly accept the two-state formula.

Until Israel meets his demands, the Palestinian president says, he will refuse to begin negotiations. He won’t even agree to help Obama’s envoy, George J. Mitchell, persuade Arab states to take small confidence-building measures.

The following month, Netanyahu publicly endorsed the two-state formula; after that, he produced a 10-month moratorium on new settlement construction. Obama proved unable to persuade any Arab state to take any confidence-building measure, despite a personal visit (and bow) to the King of Saudi Arabia and what is surely the most pathetic public plea in the history of American diplomacy: Hillary Clinton’s speech to the Council on Foreign Relations begging Arab states to take some steps, “however modest,” toward normalization with Israel.

In December 2009, Abbas told the Israeli press that final-status negotiations could be completed in six months if Israel would just completely halt construction for six months. In George Mitchell’s January 2010 interview with Charlie Rose, Rose noted the moratorium was for 10 months and then had this colloquy with Mitchell:

CHARLIE ROSE:  That gives you an incentive to say to the parties, what? … if settlements are important to you or the absence of settlements are important to you, you better get something done before the moratorium ends because I don’t think we can get it again.

GEORGE MITCHELL:  Charlie, will you come with me on my next visit and make that spiel, because it might sound better coming from you.  I’ve made it several times.

Since then, Abbas has increased his pre-negotiation demands: not only a complete construction halt but also acceptance of: (1) the indefensible 1967 borders as the basis of negotiation; and (2) limitation of security arrangements to foreign peacekeepers. These conditions are designed to insure that negotiations cannot start.

But the reason the now-obvious farce will not end is that the real deadline for this exercise in smart diplomacy is September, when three events coalesce: (1) the end of the four-month period for “proximity” talks; (2) the end of the 10-month settlement moratorium; and (3) the meeting of the UN General Assembly, where the Obama administration hopes to announce the “success” of its year-and-a-half efforts to produce… drum roll… direct talks! Until then, the show must go on.

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What Was Sestak Thinking When He Wrote to UN Human Rights Council?

If Joe Sestak was hoping to shore up his pro-Israel bona fides, he badly miscalculated with his “please be impartial” letter to the UN Human Rights Council. Dan Senor of the Council on Foreign Relations had this response, pointing to Israel’s own investigation:

The investigation is already taking place. If Sestak was genuinely concerned, he could have written the UNHRC and called it out for existing and operating in a blizzard of double-standards, and make it clear that he would not support any UNHRC investigation of Israel under any circumstances until the Council repudiates the Goldstone Report and stops singling out Israel time after time. That would have been praiseworthy. Instead he endorsed the investigation.

The American Jewish Committee, a rather liberal outfit, had this to say in early June:

“The UN Human Rights Council remains a kangaroo court, in which repressive and authoritarian states like Cuba, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan can indulge their obsession with Israel, while ignoring serial violators such as Iran and North Korea,” said AJC Executive Director David Harris. “Fresh from convicting Israel through the notoriously biased Goldstone Report into the war in Gaza, which presumed Israel’s ‘guilt’ before launching a fact-finding mission, the Council is now embarking on a new attempt to vilify Israel.”

(Well, before Harris got to the National Jewish Democratic Council, he was a bit more candid.)

Early last month, AIPAC also went after the UNHRC, urging that the Obama administration “maintain its longstanding position not to allow the Security Council and other U.N. organs such as the U.N. Human Rights Council to exploit unfortunate incidents by passing biased, anti-Israel resolutions that obscure the truth and accomplish nothing.”

What activist, lawmaker, or pro-Israel advocacy group (J Street, not you) genuinely concerned about the bile-drenched UNHRC and its serial attacks on the Jewish state would have sent a letter like Sestak’s? I’m going out on a limb: none.

Rep. Peter King gets it. He e-mails: “We should have no contact whatsoever with the UN Human Rights Council. It is impossible for that Council to even begin a fair investigation.”

CORRECTION: David Harris of the AJC and David Harris of the NDJC are not one and the same. David Harris of the AJC remains as candid as ever. I regret the error.

If Joe Sestak was hoping to shore up his pro-Israel bona fides, he badly miscalculated with his “please be impartial” letter to the UN Human Rights Council. Dan Senor of the Council on Foreign Relations had this response, pointing to Israel’s own investigation:

The investigation is already taking place. If Sestak was genuinely concerned, he could have written the UNHRC and called it out for existing and operating in a blizzard of double-standards, and make it clear that he would not support any UNHRC investigation of Israel under any circumstances until the Council repudiates the Goldstone Report and stops singling out Israel time after time. That would have been praiseworthy. Instead he endorsed the investigation.

The American Jewish Committee, a rather liberal outfit, had this to say in early June:

“The UN Human Rights Council remains a kangaroo court, in which repressive and authoritarian states like Cuba, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan can indulge their obsession with Israel, while ignoring serial violators such as Iran and North Korea,” said AJC Executive Director David Harris. “Fresh from convicting Israel through the notoriously biased Goldstone Report into the war in Gaza, which presumed Israel’s ‘guilt’ before launching a fact-finding mission, the Council is now embarking on a new attempt to vilify Israel.”

(Well, before Harris got to the National Jewish Democratic Council, he was a bit more candid.)

Early last month, AIPAC also went after the UNHRC, urging that the Obama administration “maintain its longstanding position not to allow the Security Council and other U.N. organs such as the U.N. Human Rights Council to exploit unfortunate incidents by passing biased, anti-Israel resolutions that obscure the truth and accomplish nothing.”

What activist, lawmaker, or pro-Israel advocacy group (J Street, not you) genuinely concerned about the bile-drenched UNHRC and its serial attacks on the Jewish state would have sent a letter like Sestak’s? I’m going out on a limb: none.

Rep. Peter King gets it. He e-mails: “We should have no contact whatsoever with the UN Human Rights Council. It is impossible for that Council to even begin a fair investigation.”

CORRECTION: David Harris of the AJC and David Harris of the NDJC are not one and the same. David Harris of the AJC remains as candid as ever. I regret the error.

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Jim Mattis: New Head of Central Command

The New York Times has a nice article on the general chosen to head Central Command — Jim Mattis. I’ve known Mattis since the summer of 2003, when I spent some time in Iraq while he was commander of the 1st Marine Division. I was struck by how quickly and seamlessly he made the transition from conventional operations to what the military calls “stability operations” in the Shiite heartland of central Iraq. His methods were similar to those being employed in northern Iraq by another divisional commander — David Petraeus, of the 101st Airborne Division. (For my report on their efforts see this article.)

I’ve often wondered since then: whatever happened to those guys? Just kidding.

Petraeus’s stratospheric and well deserved rise to become the most celebrated American general since Eisenhower has already become legend. Mattis has not gotten the same degree of attention, but he completed another tour of duty in Iraq, helped co-author the Army/Marine Field Manual on Counterinsurgency with Petraeus, and went on to head the U.S. Joint Forces Command.

His many admirers, of whom I am one, were puzzled by his failure to be appointed to one of the truly plum jobs, such as that of Marine Commandant or Central Command chief. This was generally attributed to his salty tongue; he got into hot water in 2005 for saying at a public forum: “You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap around women for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway, so it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.” This was seen as a cardinal violation of the rules of political correctness, which hold that soldiers are only supposed to talk about the anguish, trauma, and post-traumatic stress disorder they experience; they are never supposed to comment on the thrill of the kill.

Defense Secretary Bob Gates and President Obama deserve considerable credit for not letting this minor fracas stop them from appointing Mattis as Petraeus’s successor at Centcom. What they undoubtedly know, and what the rest of the world will discover, is that Mattis is not only a “warrior’s warrior” (as he is described in the Times) but also a “diplomat’s diplomat.” In his JFCOM role, he was for a while responsible for NATO force transformation, which required him to press NATO officials to do more to upgrade their armed forces. He was not always successful (who would be?), but he was by all accounts a compelling and persuasive diplomat. He has become known for sending everyone he meets a personal “thank you” note — not a standard-issue form but rather a letter that reflects on the substance of the conversation.

I got one myself after hosting Mattis for an off-the-record roundtable at the Council on Foreign Relations. Given the ground rules, I can’t discuss what he said, but I can mention the impression he made on some jaded Council members in New York. He wowed them by combining the erudition of a Harvard professor with a combat grunt’s gift for aphorism. He showed why he is revered not only as a combat leader but also as an intellectual whose personal library of military works runs to thousands of volumes. It is hard to imagine a better choice to head Central Command. I trust he will enjoy smooth sailing in the Senate confirmation process.

The New York Times has a nice article on the general chosen to head Central Command — Jim Mattis. I’ve known Mattis since the summer of 2003, when I spent some time in Iraq while he was commander of the 1st Marine Division. I was struck by how quickly and seamlessly he made the transition from conventional operations to what the military calls “stability operations” in the Shiite heartland of central Iraq. His methods were similar to those being employed in northern Iraq by another divisional commander — David Petraeus, of the 101st Airborne Division. (For my report on their efforts see this article.)

I’ve often wondered since then: whatever happened to those guys? Just kidding.

Petraeus’s stratospheric and well deserved rise to become the most celebrated American general since Eisenhower has already become legend. Mattis has not gotten the same degree of attention, but he completed another tour of duty in Iraq, helped co-author the Army/Marine Field Manual on Counterinsurgency with Petraeus, and went on to head the U.S. Joint Forces Command.

His many admirers, of whom I am one, were puzzled by his failure to be appointed to one of the truly plum jobs, such as that of Marine Commandant or Central Command chief. This was generally attributed to his salty tongue; he got into hot water in 2005 for saying at a public forum: “You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap around women for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway, so it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.” This was seen as a cardinal violation of the rules of political correctness, which hold that soldiers are only supposed to talk about the anguish, trauma, and post-traumatic stress disorder they experience; they are never supposed to comment on the thrill of the kill.

Defense Secretary Bob Gates and President Obama deserve considerable credit for not letting this minor fracas stop them from appointing Mattis as Petraeus’s successor at Centcom. What they undoubtedly know, and what the rest of the world will discover, is that Mattis is not only a “warrior’s warrior” (as he is described in the Times) but also a “diplomat’s diplomat.” In his JFCOM role, he was for a while responsible for NATO force transformation, which required him to press NATO officials to do more to upgrade their armed forces. He was not always successful (who would be?), but he was by all accounts a compelling and persuasive diplomat. He has become known for sending everyone he meets a personal “thank you” note — not a standard-issue form but rather a letter that reflects on the substance of the conversation.

I got one myself after hosting Mattis for an off-the-record roundtable at the Council on Foreign Relations. Given the ground rules, I can’t discuss what he said, but I can mention the impression he made on some jaded Council members in New York. He wowed them by combining the erudition of a Harvard professor with a combat grunt’s gift for aphorism. He showed why he is revered not only as a combat leader but also as an intellectual whose personal library of military works runs to thousands of volumes. It is hard to imagine a better choice to head Central Command. I trust he will enjoy smooth sailing in the Senate confirmation process.

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Where Is Mahmoud Abbas’s Bir Zeit Speech?

As Jen notes, Elliott Abrams identified the critical issue in the “peace process” — the character of the Palestinian state, not simply its borders.

Israel — having withdrawn completely from Lebanon and Gaza only to face rockets from new forward positions and two new wars — is not about to agree to a Palestinian state that is not demilitarized, with borders and other arrangements that enable Israel to defend itself, or that does not formally recognize a Jewish state and an end of claims. Anything less would simply reposition the parties for a third war. But even these two conditions are more than the peace-partner Palestinians are willing to accept.

At the Council on Foreign Relations last week, Richard Haass questioned Netanyahu about his insistence on Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state: “Why can’t they secretly harbor a goal that Israel will disappear so long as they don’t pursue those goals with violent means?” Here was a portion of Netanyahu’s response:

What is the true, underlying source of this conflict? It is not Israel’s possession of the territories, even though it is widely held to be that issue. It’s certainly an issue that has to be resolved, and I’m prepared to resolve it, but if you really understand the source of this conflict, it actually goes back to 1920. The first attack against the Jewish presence took place in 1920, and it continued in the 1930s, continued in the great upheavals; obviously, in 1948 in the combined Arab attack against the embryonic Jewish state; continued in the Fedayeen attacks in the 1950s, continued with the creation of the Fatah and the PLO before 1967.

So it actually ranged from 1920 till 1967. That’s nearly 50 years before there was a single Israeli soldier in the territories in Judea, Samaria or the West Bank, before there was a single Israeli settlement. Why did it go on for half a century? Because there was an opposition to a Jewish sovereignty in any border, in any shape, in any form. …

Now, the more moderate Palestinian Arab elements, they don’t talk about liquidating Israel, they don’t talk about firing rockets, and they’re different from Hamas. But they don’t say, we’ll end the conflict. They don’t say, Israel will be here to stay. They don’t say, we recognize the Jewish state of Israel and it’s over. …

They have to openly say it, not for our sake but for the sake of actually persuading their people to make the great psychological change for peace. I’ve said it. I’ve stood before my people and before my constituency and I said what my vision of peace includes, and I did that not without some consequence, I can tell you that. But this is what leaders have to do. They have to educate their people. …

I’d like President Abbas to make, if not his Bar-Ilan speech, I’d like to hear the Bir Zeit speech in which he says these things very clearly.

The peace process is conducted by the Palestinians in English for the benefit of ever-credulous peace processors, and things are said that are not repeated to the Palestinian public or reported in the PA-controlled media. But even in English, the Palestinians will not accept the minimal conditions of a bona fide process.

As Jen’s e-mail correspondent notes, only a bottom-up approach can ever succeed, and no such approach is possible until Palestinian leaders make the minimal public concessions necessary to start it. Abbas needs to make his Bir Zeit speech, and make it in Arabic.

As Jen notes, Elliott Abrams identified the critical issue in the “peace process” — the character of the Palestinian state, not simply its borders.

Israel — having withdrawn completely from Lebanon and Gaza only to face rockets from new forward positions and two new wars — is not about to agree to a Palestinian state that is not demilitarized, with borders and other arrangements that enable Israel to defend itself, or that does not formally recognize a Jewish state and an end of claims. Anything less would simply reposition the parties for a third war. But even these two conditions are more than the peace-partner Palestinians are willing to accept.

At the Council on Foreign Relations last week, Richard Haass questioned Netanyahu about his insistence on Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state: “Why can’t they secretly harbor a goal that Israel will disappear so long as they don’t pursue those goals with violent means?” Here was a portion of Netanyahu’s response:

What is the true, underlying source of this conflict? It is not Israel’s possession of the territories, even though it is widely held to be that issue. It’s certainly an issue that has to be resolved, and I’m prepared to resolve it, but if you really understand the source of this conflict, it actually goes back to 1920. The first attack against the Jewish presence took place in 1920, and it continued in the 1930s, continued in the great upheavals; obviously, in 1948 in the combined Arab attack against the embryonic Jewish state; continued in the Fedayeen attacks in the 1950s, continued with the creation of the Fatah and the PLO before 1967.

So it actually ranged from 1920 till 1967. That’s nearly 50 years before there was a single Israeli soldier in the territories in Judea, Samaria or the West Bank, before there was a single Israeli settlement. Why did it go on for half a century? Because there was an opposition to a Jewish sovereignty in any border, in any shape, in any form. …

Now, the more moderate Palestinian Arab elements, they don’t talk about liquidating Israel, they don’t talk about firing rockets, and they’re different from Hamas. But they don’t say, we’ll end the conflict. They don’t say, Israel will be here to stay. They don’t say, we recognize the Jewish state of Israel and it’s over. …

They have to openly say it, not for our sake but for the sake of actually persuading their people to make the great psychological change for peace. I’ve said it. I’ve stood before my people and before my constituency and I said what my vision of peace includes, and I did that not without some consequence, I can tell you that. But this is what leaders have to do. They have to educate their people. …

I’d like President Abbas to make, if not his Bar-Ilan speech, I’d like to hear the Bir Zeit speech in which he says these things very clearly.

The peace process is conducted by the Palestinians in English for the benefit of ever-credulous peace processors, and things are said that are not repeated to the Palestinian public or reported in the PA-controlled media. But even in English, the Palestinians will not accept the minimal conditions of a bona fide process.

As Jen’s e-mail correspondent notes, only a bottom-up approach can ever succeed, and no such approach is possible until Palestinian leaders make the minimal public concessions necessary to start it. Abbas needs to make his Bir Zeit speech, and make it in Arabic.

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You Can’t Fire the Star of a One-Man Show

Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, thinks that whoever has been responsible for the Obama administration’s Middle East policy should be fired. He runs through the possibilities — Emanuel, Axelrod, Mitchell, Clinton, Jones — but realizes the problem may go higher:

The more we find out about who makes decisions in the White House on every subject from nuclear weapons to coloring of Easter eggs, it turns out to be the man in the Oval Office himself. He’s the expert. He’s the decider. He invites everyone to state his or her piece or peace, then he tells them what to do — and seemingly without question, they do his bidding.

Gelb writes that Obama entered office with a “near-zero base of foreign-policy knowledge and no experience in the Middle East,” demanded a pre-negotiation halt to West Bank construction, to which “no Israeli leader, even a dovish one” would ever agree, adopted the “brilliant tactic” of publicly humiliating Israel’s prime minister (not even shaking his hand at the end of the prior meeting), and “only made matters worse” this week by appearing as if he were cowed by domestic politics into treating Netanyahu well. Gelb concludes that Obama needs new advisers.

That is a little like blaming the bit players for the failures of a one-man show.

The problem has been more than a staffing issue. Over the past year, Netanyahu (1) formed a coalition government with parties to both his right and left, (2) proposed immediate negotiations with no preconditions, (3) formally endorsed a two-state solution (as long as one of them is Jewish and the other is demilitarized), (4) removed scores of West Bank roadblocks and checkpoints, (5) implemented an unprecedented settlement moratorium, and (6) plans even more gestures to the perpetually confidence-impaired Palestinians to encourage them to join negotiations to give them a state.

During the same period, the Palestinians have been unwilling to commence direct negotiations unless Israel first conceded the principal issues to be negotiated, and Obama has acted as if he were the Palestinians’ attorney – not bound by U.S. commitments to Israel (the 2004 Bush letter), ignoring longstanding understandings on the meaning of a settlement freeze, manufacturing a crisis about future Jewish housing in the Jewish area of the capital of the Jewish state, voting for a UN resolution singling out Israel on its most sensitive defense issue, etc.

It is good that there was a tectonic shift in atmospherics this week. But it is remarkable that it is considered an achievement that, unlike last time, Israel’s prime minister was allowed to (1) enter the White House during business hours, (2) have a photo opportunity, (3) speak briefly at a press availability, (4) receive a meal, and (5) be treated courteously on his departure. It is an indication of how bad the script of this one-man show has been.

Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, thinks that whoever has been responsible for the Obama administration’s Middle East policy should be fired. He runs through the possibilities — Emanuel, Axelrod, Mitchell, Clinton, Jones — but realizes the problem may go higher:

The more we find out about who makes decisions in the White House on every subject from nuclear weapons to coloring of Easter eggs, it turns out to be the man in the Oval Office himself. He’s the expert. He’s the decider. He invites everyone to state his or her piece or peace, then he tells them what to do — and seemingly without question, they do his bidding.

Gelb writes that Obama entered office with a “near-zero base of foreign-policy knowledge and no experience in the Middle East,” demanded a pre-negotiation halt to West Bank construction, to which “no Israeli leader, even a dovish one” would ever agree, adopted the “brilliant tactic” of publicly humiliating Israel’s prime minister (not even shaking his hand at the end of the prior meeting), and “only made matters worse” this week by appearing as if he were cowed by domestic politics into treating Netanyahu well. Gelb concludes that Obama needs new advisers.

That is a little like blaming the bit players for the failures of a one-man show.

The problem has been more than a staffing issue. Over the past year, Netanyahu (1) formed a coalition government with parties to both his right and left, (2) proposed immediate negotiations with no preconditions, (3) formally endorsed a two-state solution (as long as one of them is Jewish and the other is demilitarized), (4) removed scores of West Bank roadblocks and checkpoints, (5) implemented an unprecedented settlement moratorium, and (6) plans even more gestures to the perpetually confidence-impaired Palestinians to encourage them to join negotiations to give them a state.

During the same period, the Palestinians have been unwilling to commence direct negotiations unless Israel first conceded the principal issues to be negotiated, and Obama has acted as if he were the Palestinians’ attorney – not bound by U.S. commitments to Israel (the 2004 Bush letter), ignoring longstanding understandings on the meaning of a settlement freeze, manufacturing a crisis about future Jewish housing in the Jewish area of the capital of the Jewish state, voting for a UN resolution singling out Israel on its most sensitive defense issue, etc.

It is good that there was a tectonic shift in atmospherics this week. But it is remarkable that it is considered an achievement that, unlike last time, Israel’s prime minister was allowed to (1) enter the White House during business hours, (2) have a photo opportunity, (3) speak briefly at a press availability, (4) receive a meal, and (5) be treated courteously on his departure. It is an indication of how bad the script of this one-man show has been.

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Obama Can Set a Course Correction with Israel Today

Dan Senor, an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, has a noteworthy piece in the Daily Beast on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit to the White House today.

Senor dilates on the convergence of four issues — relations with the Palestinians, Iran’s progress in gaining nuclear weapons, the UN, and Israeli politics — to underscore what a crucial moment this is for Israel as well as for Israeli-U.S. relations. In Senor’s (wise) words:

If Obama wants to head off what could be a September train wreck for Middle East diplomacy, he must first cement his partnership with Netanyahu today, and explain it in no uncertain terms to Israel’s friends and adversaries around the world.

This should be both unnecessary and self-evident — but given how badly the Obama administration has handled our relationship with Israel, to the point of causing a near-rupture, nothing should be assumed. The Obama administration has set back relationships with many allies around the world, but he has handled none worse that our relationship with Israel. It has been, on every level, a debacle. Let’s hope Obama begins to correct things soon. Today he can start.

Dan Senor, an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, has a noteworthy piece in the Daily Beast on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit to the White House today.

Senor dilates on the convergence of four issues — relations with the Palestinians, Iran’s progress in gaining nuclear weapons, the UN, and Israeli politics — to underscore what a crucial moment this is for Israel as well as for Israeli-U.S. relations. In Senor’s (wise) words:

If Obama wants to head off what could be a September train wreck for Middle East diplomacy, he must first cement his partnership with Netanyahu today, and explain it in no uncertain terms to Israel’s friends and adversaries around the world.

This should be both unnecessary and self-evident — but given how badly the Obama administration has handled our relationship with Israel, to the point of causing a near-rupture, nothing should be assumed. The Obama administration has set back relationships with many allies around the world, but he has handled none worse that our relationship with Israel. It has been, on every level, a debacle. Let’s hope Obama begins to correct things soon. Today he can start.

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The Breaking Point for Steele

As we headed into the Fourth of July weekend, Michael Steele was back in the news with outrageous comments at an RNC gathering, asserting: “Keep in mind again, federal candidates, this was a war of Obama’s choosing. This was not something that the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in.” He added that Obama has “not understood that, you know, that’s the one thing you don’t do, is engage in a land war in Afghanistan.” A firestorm erupted. Bill Kristol published a letter calling for him to resign, which read in part:

Needless to say, the war in Afghanistan was not “a war of Obama’s choosing.” It has been prosecuted by the United States under Presidents Bush and Obama. Republicans have consistently supported the effort. Indeed, as the DNC Communications Director (of all people) has said, your statement “puts [you] at odds with about 100 percent of the Republican Party.”

And not on a trivial matter. At a time when Gen. Petraeus has just taken over command, when Republicans in Congress are pushing for a clean war funding resolution, when Republicans around the country are doing their best to rally their fellow citizens behind the mission, your comment is more than an embarrassment. It’s an affront, both to the honor of the Republican party and to the commitment of the soldiers fighting to accomplish the mission they’ve been asked to take on by our elected leaders.

There are, of course, those who think we should pull out of Afghanistan, and they’re certainly entitled to make their case. But one of them shouldn’t be the chairman of the Republican party.

Liz Cheney echoed the call for Steele to step down.

Over the weekend, prominent conservatives followed suit. On This Week:

“It’s one thing for him personally to have that point of view, but for the chairman of the party…to advance that point of view, is indefensible,” Dan Senor, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the former spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, said. “What’s striking about Steele is how fundamentally unserious” he is.

For reasons that escape me, elected officials refrained from demanding Steele’s resignation. Also on This Week, John McCain condemned the remarks but didn’t ask for Steele to leave:

“I think those statements are wildly inaccurate, and there’s no excuse for them. Chairman Steele sent me an e-mail saying that he was — his remarks were misconstrued,” McCain said. “Look, I’m a Ronald Reagan Republican. I believe we have to win here. I believe in freedom. But the fact is that I think that Mr. Steele is going to have to assess as to whether he can still lead the Republican Party as chairman of the Republican National Committee and make an appropriate decision.”

On Face the Nation, Lindsey Graham also stopped short of a call for him to resign, but only barely: “Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called the statements about the Afghanistan war made by Republican National Committee Chairman ‘uninformed,’ ‘unnecessary’ and ‘unwise.’”

As politicians return to the campaign trail and Congress reconvenes, I suspect there will be greater pressure applied to Steele. His previous gaffes and mismanagement of the RNC have left him with few supporters, and the latest remarks are indefensible and his backtracking entirely insufficient. There is no reason why Republicans would rally to his side, and I predict few will. (No, Rep. Ron Paul’s cheers don’t really count and if anything are a sign that Steele is in deep trouble with a party that rejects Paul’s radical isolationism.) In a sense, this may be a blessing for the RNC, which was struggling to decide whether to dump a chairman who is possibly the worst since Watergate. Now a clean break for reasons all can agree on can be made.

As we headed into the Fourth of July weekend, Michael Steele was back in the news with outrageous comments at an RNC gathering, asserting: “Keep in mind again, federal candidates, this was a war of Obama’s choosing. This was not something that the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in.” He added that Obama has “not understood that, you know, that’s the one thing you don’t do, is engage in a land war in Afghanistan.” A firestorm erupted. Bill Kristol published a letter calling for him to resign, which read in part:

Needless to say, the war in Afghanistan was not “a war of Obama’s choosing.” It has been prosecuted by the United States under Presidents Bush and Obama. Republicans have consistently supported the effort. Indeed, as the DNC Communications Director (of all people) has said, your statement “puts [you] at odds with about 100 percent of the Republican Party.”

And not on a trivial matter. At a time when Gen. Petraeus has just taken over command, when Republicans in Congress are pushing for a clean war funding resolution, when Republicans around the country are doing their best to rally their fellow citizens behind the mission, your comment is more than an embarrassment. It’s an affront, both to the honor of the Republican party and to the commitment of the soldiers fighting to accomplish the mission they’ve been asked to take on by our elected leaders.

There are, of course, those who think we should pull out of Afghanistan, and they’re certainly entitled to make their case. But one of them shouldn’t be the chairman of the Republican party.

Liz Cheney echoed the call for Steele to step down.

Over the weekend, prominent conservatives followed suit. On This Week:

“It’s one thing for him personally to have that point of view, but for the chairman of the party…to advance that point of view, is indefensible,” Dan Senor, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the former spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, said. “What’s striking about Steele is how fundamentally unserious” he is.

For reasons that escape me, elected officials refrained from demanding Steele’s resignation. Also on This Week, John McCain condemned the remarks but didn’t ask for Steele to leave:

“I think those statements are wildly inaccurate, and there’s no excuse for them. Chairman Steele sent me an e-mail saying that he was — his remarks were misconstrued,” McCain said. “Look, I’m a Ronald Reagan Republican. I believe we have to win here. I believe in freedom. But the fact is that I think that Mr. Steele is going to have to assess as to whether he can still lead the Republican Party as chairman of the Republican National Committee and make an appropriate decision.”

On Face the Nation, Lindsey Graham also stopped short of a call for him to resign, but only barely: “Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called the statements about the Afghanistan war made by Republican National Committee Chairman ‘uninformed,’ ‘unnecessary’ and ‘unwise.’”

As politicians return to the campaign trail and Congress reconvenes, I suspect there will be greater pressure applied to Steele. His previous gaffes and mismanagement of the RNC have left him with few supporters, and the latest remarks are indefensible and his backtracking entirely insufficient. There is no reason why Republicans would rally to his side, and I predict few will. (No, Rep. Ron Paul’s cheers don’t really count and if anything are a sign that Steele is in deep trouble with a party that rejects Paul’s radical isolationism.) In a sense, this may be a blessing for the RNC, which was struggling to decide whether to dump a chairman who is possibly the worst since Watergate. Now a clean break for reasons all can agree on can be made.

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Zuckerman vs. Cohen: What Does Obama Intend?

Even when critiquing, indeed indicting, Obama’s serial foreign-policy debacles, many critics feel compelled to attribute fine motives to the president. Mort Zuckerman recently wrote:

Obama clearly wishes to do good and means well. But he is one of those people who believe that the world was born with the word and exists by means of persuasion, such that there is no person or country that you cannot, by means of logical and moral argument, bring around to your side. He speaks as a teacher, as someone imparting values and generalities appropriate for a Sunday morning sermon, not as a tough-minded leader. He urges that things “must be done” and “should be done” and that “it is time” to do them. As the former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Les Gelb, put it, there is “the impression that Obama might confuse speeches with policy.” Another journalist put it differently when he described Obama as an “NPR [National Public Radio] president who gives wonderful speeches.” In other words, he talks the talk but doesn’t know how to walk the walk. The Obama presidency has so far been characterized by a well-intentioned but excessive belief in the power of rhetoric with too little appreciation of reality and loyalty.

Perhaps he’s just being polite or trying to draw into the debate those who are disposed to like Obama. Perhaps it is wishful thinking – we’d certainly like to believe our president is pursuing good. But we’ve now reached a point where not only conservatives are suggesting that it may be unwarranted to grant him the benefit of the doubt. Richard Cohen, not exactly a fiery conservative, writes:

[I]t’s not clear that Obama is appalled by China’s appalling human rights record. He seems hardly stirred about continued repression in Russia. He treats the Israelis and their various enemies as pests of equal moral standing. The president seems to stand foursquare for nothing much. …

Foreign policy is the realm where a president comes closest to ruling by diktat. By command decision, the war in Afghanistan has been escalated, yet it seems to lack an urgent moral component. It has an apparent end date even though girls may not yet be able to attend school and the Taliban may rule again. In some respects, I agree — the earlier out of Afghanistan, the better — but if we are to stay even for a while, it has to be for reasons that have to do with principle. Somewhat the same thing applies to China. It’s okay to trade with China. It’s okay to hate it, too.

Pragmatism is fine — as long as it is complicated by regret. But that indispensable wince is precisely what Obama doesn’t show. It is not essential that he get angry or cry. It is essential, though, that he show us who he is. As of now, we haven’t a clue.

So for Cohen, at best the jury is out on Obama’s motives, and at worst the president seems to be hostile to human rights and democracy. Cohen has a lot of support for the latter assumption on the right, certainly.

As for Obama’s intentions, judging from his actions and public speeches, it certainly is more believable that he would prefer dealing with despots than messy popular uprisings, that he is not simpatico or even patient with Israel, and that he is more than willing to throw human rights and democracy under the bus for the sake of conflict avoidance. He intends, the evidence indicates, not to draw lines with Iran or Russia or the UN. He intends, from his public pronouncements we gather, not to risk war over a nuclear-armed Iran.

Is he then “well-intentioned”? It depends what ends you favor. At some point, one must conclude that it is not simply that Obama lacks the ability to express his passion for democracy, his fondness for the special relationship with the Brits, his devotion to human rights, and his commitment to a warm U.S.-Israel relationship; it is that these are not ends he intends to pursue. He intends to do other things — accommodate the UN, ingratiate himself with despotic Muslim rulers,  and appease Russia, to name a few. To many of us, that certainly doesn’t qualify as wishing to “do good” or “meaning well.”

Even when critiquing, indeed indicting, Obama’s serial foreign-policy debacles, many critics feel compelled to attribute fine motives to the president. Mort Zuckerman recently wrote:

Obama clearly wishes to do good and means well. But he is one of those people who believe that the world was born with the word and exists by means of persuasion, such that there is no person or country that you cannot, by means of logical and moral argument, bring around to your side. He speaks as a teacher, as someone imparting values and generalities appropriate for a Sunday morning sermon, not as a tough-minded leader. He urges that things “must be done” and “should be done” and that “it is time” to do them. As the former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Les Gelb, put it, there is “the impression that Obama might confuse speeches with policy.” Another journalist put it differently when he described Obama as an “NPR [National Public Radio] president who gives wonderful speeches.” In other words, he talks the talk but doesn’t know how to walk the walk. The Obama presidency has so far been characterized by a well-intentioned but excessive belief in the power of rhetoric with too little appreciation of reality and loyalty.

Perhaps he’s just being polite or trying to draw into the debate those who are disposed to like Obama. Perhaps it is wishful thinking – we’d certainly like to believe our president is pursuing good. But we’ve now reached a point where not only conservatives are suggesting that it may be unwarranted to grant him the benefit of the doubt. Richard Cohen, not exactly a fiery conservative, writes:

[I]t’s not clear that Obama is appalled by China’s appalling human rights record. He seems hardly stirred about continued repression in Russia. He treats the Israelis and their various enemies as pests of equal moral standing. The president seems to stand foursquare for nothing much. …

Foreign policy is the realm where a president comes closest to ruling by diktat. By command decision, the war in Afghanistan has been escalated, yet it seems to lack an urgent moral component. It has an apparent end date even though girls may not yet be able to attend school and the Taliban may rule again. In some respects, I agree — the earlier out of Afghanistan, the better — but if we are to stay even for a while, it has to be for reasons that have to do with principle. Somewhat the same thing applies to China. It’s okay to trade with China. It’s okay to hate it, too.

Pragmatism is fine — as long as it is complicated by regret. But that indispensable wince is precisely what Obama doesn’t show. It is not essential that he get angry or cry. It is essential, though, that he show us who he is. As of now, we haven’t a clue.

So for Cohen, at best the jury is out on Obama’s motives, and at worst the president seems to be hostile to human rights and democracy. Cohen has a lot of support for the latter assumption on the right, certainly.

As for Obama’s intentions, judging from his actions and public speeches, it certainly is more believable that he would prefer dealing with despots than messy popular uprisings, that he is not simpatico or even patient with Israel, and that he is more than willing to throw human rights and democracy under the bus for the sake of conflict avoidance. He intends, the evidence indicates, not to draw lines with Iran or Russia or the UN. He intends, from his public pronouncements we gather, not to risk war over a nuclear-armed Iran.

Is he then “well-intentioned”? It depends what ends you favor. At some point, one must conclude that it is not simply that Obama lacks the ability to express his passion for democracy, his fondness for the special relationship with the Brits, his devotion to human rights, and his commitment to a warm U.S.-Israel relationship; it is that these are not ends he intends to pursue. He intends to do other things — accommodate the UN, ingratiate himself with despotic Muslim rulers,  and appease Russia, to name a few. To many of us, that certainly doesn’t qualify as wishing to “do good” or “meaning well.”

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Calling ‘Em Like You See ‘Em on the Middle East

James Lindsay of the Council on Foreign Relations writes of the UN sanctions against Iran:

These are not the crippling sanctions that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had promised about a year ago. To the contrary. As the price of their support, veto-holding members China and Russia insisted that the resolution contain nothing that would impose broad costs on the Iranian economy — or damage Chinese and Russian commercial interests in the country.

The Obama administration calculates that even a watered-down resolution will put pressure on Tehran to return to the negotiating table. The resolution shows that the Security Council’s permanent members remain united in their demand that Iran come clean on its nuclear program, makes it harder for Iran to acquire nuclear technology, and opens the door to additional sanctions by the European Union and others.

Tehran will likely read the resolution’s passage differently. The weaker-than-threatened sanctions came only after months of haggling, making the prospect of tougher sanctions down the road look remote. Moreover, Brazil and Turkey voted against new sanctions (and Lebanon abstained). No country had voted against any of the three previous resolutions.

So if a mainstream foreign-policy guru can readily reach this conclusion, why aren’t Jewish groups sounding the alarm? It’s because they have bought into a strategy — or rather refuse to give up on a strategy — which amounts to “don’t annoy those in power.” That works fine when those in power have pro-Israel instincts and a basic understanding of the history and motivations of the players in the Middle East. However, with this administration, it is counterproductive — if not disastrous — both for the course of American foreign policy and for the reputation and integrity of pro-Israel groups. The inevitable result is to ignore bad news, cheer the unacceptable, and provide cover for an administration badly in need of scrutiny.

In sum, if the CFR refuses to make excuses for the administration, why should American Jewish groups? The former is rightly concerned with maintaining its intellectual credibility; the latter should start being so.

James Lindsay of the Council on Foreign Relations writes of the UN sanctions against Iran:

These are not the crippling sanctions that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had promised about a year ago. To the contrary. As the price of their support, veto-holding members China and Russia insisted that the resolution contain nothing that would impose broad costs on the Iranian economy — or damage Chinese and Russian commercial interests in the country.

The Obama administration calculates that even a watered-down resolution will put pressure on Tehran to return to the negotiating table. The resolution shows that the Security Council’s permanent members remain united in their demand that Iran come clean on its nuclear program, makes it harder for Iran to acquire nuclear technology, and opens the door to additional sanctions by the European Union and others.

Tehran will likely read the resolution’s passage differently. The weaker-than-threatened sanctions came only after months of haggling, making the prospect of tougher sanctions down the road look remote. Moreover, Brazil and Turkey voted against new sanctions (and Lebanon abstained). No country had voted against any of the three previous resolutions.

So if a mainstream foreign-policy guru can readily reach this conclusion, why aren’t Jewish groups sounding the alarm? It’s because they have bought into a strategy — or rather refuse to give up on a strategy — which amounts to “don’t annoy those in power.” That works fine when those in power have pro-Israel instincts and a basic understanding of the history and motivations of the players in the Middle East. However, with this administration, it is counterproductive — if not disastrous — both for the course of American foreign policy and for the reputation and integrity of pro-Israel groups. The inevitable result is to ignore bad news, cheer the unacceptable, and provide cover for an administration badly in need of scrutiny.

In sum, if the CFR refuses to make excuses for the administration, why should American Jewish groups? The former is rightly concerned with maintaining its intellectual credibility; the latter should start being so.

Read Less




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