Commentary Magazine


Topic: guard

The Slap Heard Round the World

It is amazing that the political revolution now sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa was started by a 26-year-old unemployed Tunisian man who self-immolated.

On December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a university graduate whose fruits-and-vegetables market stand was confiscated by police because it had no permit, tried to yank back his apples. He was slapped in the face by a female municipal inspector and eventually beaten by her colleagues. His later appeals were ignored. Humiliated, he drenched himself in paint thinner and set himself on fire. He died on January 4.

That incident was the spark that set ablaze the revolution that overthrew President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who ruled Tunisia for more than two decades — and that, in turn, spread to Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year reign of power is about to end. Anti-government protests are also happening in Jordan, Morocco, Yemen, and elsewhere. It’s hard to tell where all this will end; but how it began may rank among the more extraordinary hinge moments in history. It may come to be known as the Slap Heard Round the World.

How hopeful or fearful one feels about the unfolding events in Egypt depends in large measure on which revolutionary model one believes applies to this situation. Is it the French, Russian, or Iranian revolution, which ended with the guillotine, gulags, and an Islamic theocracy; or the American Revolution and what happened in the Philippines, South Korea, Indonesia, Chile, and Argentina, authoritarian regimes that made a relatively smooth transition to self-government? Or is it something entirely different? Here it’s worth bearing in mind the counsel of Henry Kissinger, who wrote, “History is not … a cookbook offering pretested recipes. It teaches by analogy, not by maxims. It can illuminate the consequences of actions in comparable situations, yet each generation must discover for itself what situations are in fact comparable.”

Whatever the outcome, it’s clear that the driving force of events in Egypt are tied to the universal human desire for liberty and free elections, for an end to political corruption and oppression. What the 2002 Arab Human Development Report called a “freedom deficit” in the Middle East is at the core of the unrest. Events seem to be vindicating those who said that siding with the forces of “stability” [read: dictatorships] rather than reform was unwise and ultimately unsustainable. At some point the lid would blow. Now it has. Read More

It is amazing that the political revolution now sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa was started by a 26-year-old unemployed Tunisian man who self-immolated.

On December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a university graduate whose fruits-and-vegetables market stand was confiscated by police because it had no permit, tried to yank back his apples. He was slapped in the face by a female municipal inspector and eventually beaten by her colleagues. His later appeals were ignored. Humiliated, he drenched himself in paint thinner and set himself on fire. He died on January 4.

That incident was the spark that set ablaze the revolution that overthrew President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who ruled Tunisia for more than two decades — and that, in turn, spread to Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year reign of power is about to end. Anti-government protests are also happening in Jordan, Morocco, Yemen, and elsewhere. It’s hard to tell where all this will end; but how it began may rank among the more extraordinary hinge moments in history. It may come to be known as the Slap Heard Round the World.

How hopeful or fearful one feels about the unfolding events in Egypt depends in large measure on which revolutionary model one believes applies to this situation. Is it the French, Russian, or Iranian revolution, which ended with the guillotine, gulags, and an Islamic theocracy; or the American Revolution and what happened in the Philippines, South Korea, Indonesia, Chile, and Argentina, authoritarian regimes that made a relatively smooth transition to self-government? Or is it something entirely different? Here it’s worth bearing in mind the counsel of Henry Kissinger, who wrote, “History is not … a cookbook offering pretested recipes. It teaches by analogy, not by maxims. It can illuminate the consequences of actions in comparable situations, yet each generation must discover for itself what situations are in fact comparable.”

Whatever the outcome, it’s clear that the driving force of events in Egypt are tied to the universal human desire for liberty and free elections, for an end to political corruption and oppression. What the 2002 Arab Human Development Report called a “freedom deficit” in the Middle East is at the core of the unrest. Events seem to be vindicating those who said that siding with the forces of “stability” [read: dictatorships] rather than reform was unwise and ultimately unsustainable. At some point the lid would blow. Now it has.

The danger is that groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, which is hostile to Israel and close to Hamas, hijacks the revolution. The goal of U.S policy must therefore be to influence this revolution, to the degree we can, in a way that advances U.S. interests and American ideals. This means taking an active role, both publicly and behind the scenes, in support of those who stand for liberal democracy (for more, see here).

The hour has grown quite late. As Max Boot points out, the equivocation of the Obama administration needs to end. Mohamed ElBaradei, a leading Egyptian dissident who appears to be rapidly gaining power, is right when he said the United States is “losing credibility by the day” by its support for the Egyptian dictator. Mr. Mubarak is, politically speaking, a Dead Man Walking. There is still time, but not much time, for the president to get on the right side of this revolution and the right side of history. Secretary of State Clinton’s comments yesterday, in which she called for an “orderly transition” to a representative government, were certainly an improvement from where the administration was last week, when she was assuring the world of the staying power of Mr. Mubarak and Vice President Biden was declaring, against three decades of evidence, that the Egyptian president was not a dictator.

Having worked in three administrations and in the White House during a series of crises, I have some sympathy for how difficult it is to navigate through roiling waters, when one has to act on incomplete information in the midst of chaotic and constantly changing events, the outcome of which is impossible to know. In that respect, the Obama administration deserves some empathy. It’s never as easy to guide events when you’re in government as it is to critique events when you’re outside of government.

Still, as my former colleague William Inboden has written, it seems to me that the Obama administration can be held responsible for two important errors: (a) its failure to anticipate what is happening in Egypt and prepare contingency plans. and (b) its neglect of human rights, democracy, and economic reform in Egypt for the previous two years. “These failures should be front and center in any post-mortem policy review,” Professor Inboden writes. “The Mubarak regime’s brittleness and Egypt’s stagnation have long been apparent to many observers.” But not, apparently, to the Obama administration, which seems to have been caught completely off guard. If the spark that set the region afire was impossible to anticipate, the dry tinder of the region was not.

One Arab nation that so far hasn’t been convulsed by the political revolution now sweeping the Middle East is Iraq — the one Arab nation whose government is legitimate, the produce of free elections and political compromise, and that has the consent of the people. When it came to Iraqi democracy, most of the foreign-policy establishment assured us that self-government there could never take root, that Iraq would simply be a pawn of Iran, that the ethnic divisions in Iraq were too deep to overcome, and that (as Joe Biden argued at the time) the only solution was partition. At this stage, it’s reasonable to conclude that these judgments were quite wrong. And while one can certainly debate whether the Iraq war was worth the blood, treasure, and opportunities it cost, it appears as if the Egyptian people, and not only the Egyptian people, are longing for what the people of Iraq have embraced: self-government. It isn’t perfect by any means — but for the Arab Middle East, it is a model for other nations to aspire.

(h/t: Victor Davis Hanson)

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The Guardian Spins a ‘Jewish State’ Endorsement from PaliLeaks Snark

For some misleading language, there’s no excuse. Elder of Ziyon catches the UK Guardian misrepresenting the reality behind one of the most widely repeated claims about the Palestinian Papers: that they show Palestinian negotiators accepting the principle of Israel as a “Jewish state.” (H/T: Daled Amos)

The Guardian puts it this way: “Palestinian negotiators privately accepted Israel’s demand that it define itself as a Jewish state.” But here is the relevant passage of the 2009 Palestinian Paper cited by the Guardian (Saeb Erekat is in conversation with several Palestinian officials):

Xavier Abueid (XA): Mitchell said that the US will defend the right of Israel as a Jewish state.

Saeb Erekat (SE): Not a single American said Jewish State to our faces. I can’t stand guard on their lips.

X (Redacted): He [Mitchell] said it openly.

SE: In UN Resolution 181, it is mentioned a Jewish state and an Arab state.

Mohamed Shtayyeh (MS): “A majority of Jewish people” is how Americans might say it.

SE: I don’t care. This is a non-issue. I dare the Israelis to change name to write to the UN and change their name to the “Great Eternal Historic State of Israel.” This is their issue, not mine.

Elder of Ziyon points out that Erekat used language even more sarcastic and dismissive to address this question in a forum sponsored by Haaretz in 2009. The Guardian characterizes Erekat’s performance as “signaling acquiescence” to the proposition of Israel as a Jewish state. To my ears, it just sounds like Erekat had better hang on to his day job; he’d never get hired to write for South Park. Only biased journalism would pass his snide comments off as meaningful policy statements. Minus the dance routine, Erekat comes off like a Jets gang member taunting Officer Krupke in West Side Story.

For some misleading language, there’s no excuse. Elder of Ziyon catches the UK Guardian misrepresenting the reality behind one of the most widely repeated claims about the Palestinian Papers: that they show Palestinian negotiators accepting the principle of Israel as a “Jewish state.” (H/T: Daled Amos)

The Guardian puts it this way: “Palestinian negotiators privately accepted Israel’s demand that it define itself as a Jewish state.” But here is the relevant passage of the 2009 Palestinian Paper cited by the Guardian (Saeb Erekat is in conversation with several Palestinian officials):

Xavier Abueid (XA): Mitchell said that the US will defend the right of Israel as a Jewish state.

Saeb Erekat (SE): Not a single American said Jewish State to our faces. I can’t stand guard on their lips.

X (Redacted): He [Mitchell] said it openly.

SE: In UN Resolution 181, it is mentioned a Jewish state and an Arab state.

Mohamed Shtayyeh (MS): “A majority of Jewish people” is how Americans might say it.

SE: I don’t care. This is a non-issue. I dare the Israelis to change name to write to the UN and change their name to the “Great Eternal Historic State of Israel.” This is their issue, not mine.

Elder of Ziyon points out that Erekat used language even more sarcastic and dismissive to address this question in a forum sponsored by Haaretz in 2009. The Guardian characterizes Erekat’s performance as “signaling acquiescence” to the proposition of Israel as a Jewish state. To my ears, it just sounds like Erekat had better hang on to his day job; he’d never get hired to write for South Park. Only biased journalism would pass his snide comments off as meaningful policy statements. Minus the dance routine, Erekat comes off like a Jets gang member taunting Officer Krupke in West Side Story.

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British Pol Echoes CAIR Talking Point About Islamists

Those wondering just how far gone Britain is on the question of the influence of Islamism got another shock this week when Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the co-chair of the Conservative Party and a minister without portfolio in Prime Minister David Cameron’s cabinet, asserted that Islamophobia has gone mainstream there. But rather than merely issuing a call for more tolerance, Warsi’s speech last night at the University of Leicester sought to cast aspersions not only on those who espouse religious prejudice but also on those who have differentiated between moderate peaceful Muslims and radical Islamists.

The speech, which has caused quite a stir in the United Kingdom, contains this curious formulation: “The notion that all followers of Islam can be described either as ‘moderate’ or ‘extremist’ can fuel misunderstanding and intolerance.” She goes on to complain that the designation of some Muslims as moderate is inherently invidious.

The admirable Melanie Phillips analyzes Warsi’s illogical thesis this way:

“When people fail explicitly to differentiate ‘moderate’ Muslims from ‘extremists’ they are tarred and feathered as ‘Islamophobic.’ But now Warsi says that to differentiate in this way is also ‘Islamophobic.’ Of course, that’s because what she means is that any mention of any Muslim being extreme is itself ‘Islamophobic.’ Now where have we heard that before? From just about every Muslim community spokesman every time there is an act of Islamic terrorism—two words which it is not permissible in such quarters to utter together. This tactic … is designed to intimidate people into not acknowledging reality and discussing the most pressing issue of our time — Islamic extremism and the war against the free world being waged in the name of Islam.”

It speaks volumes about the political realities of Britain that the person articulating this troubling formulation is not merely a member of the House of Lords but also a highly influential member of the country’s governing political party. While this is not the sort of thing you would expect to hear from the national co-chair of either the Republicans or the Democrats, Americans need to be on their guard against this sort of attitude seeping into own our government and political establishment. That’s because this attempt to demonize any effort to differentiate between Muslims who are loyal American citizens or British subjects and those who support the Islamists’ war on the West is the main talking point these days of groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations and the American Muslim Union. And that is why such groups, which exist to blur such important distinctions, ought not to be allowed to get away with pretending to be mainstream players rather than the extremists they actually are. Though these organizations masquerade as fighters against discrimination, they are, in fact, undermining the justified fight against religious bias just as much as they are trying to torpedo the war on terror.

Those wondering just how far gone Britain is on the question of the influence of Islamism got another shock this week when Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the co-chair of the Conservative Party and a minister without portfolio in Prime Minister David Cameron’s cabinet, asserted that Islamophobia has gone mainstream there. But rather than merely issuing a call for more tolerance, Warsi’s speech last night at the University of Leicester sought to cast aspersions not only on those who espouse religious prejudice but also on those who have differentiated between moderate peaceful Muslims and radical Islamists.

The speech, which has caused quite a stir in the United Kingdom, contains this curious formulation: “The notion that all followers of Islam can be described either as ‘moderate’ or ‘extremist’ can fuel misunderstanding and intolerance.” She goes on to complain that the designation of some Muslims as moderate is inherently invidious.

The admirable Melanie Phillips analyzes Warsi’s illogical thesis this way:

“When people fail explicitly to differentiate ‘moderate’ Muslims from ‘extremists’ they are tarred and feathered as ‘Islamophobic.’ But now Warsi says that to differentiate in this way is also ‘Islamophobic.’ Of course, that’s because what she means is that any mention of any Muslim being extreme is itself ‘Islamophobic.’ Now where have we heard that before? From just about every Muslim community spokesman every time there is an act of Islamic terrorism—two words which it is not permissible in such quarters to utter together. This tactic … is designed to intimidate people into not acknowledging reality and discussing the most pressing issue of our time — Islamic extremism and the war against the free world being waged in the name of Islam.”

It speaks volumes about the political realities of Britain that the person articulating this troubling formulation is not merely a member of the House of Lords but also a highly influential member of the country’s governing political party. While this is not the sort of thing you would expect to hear from the national co-chair of either the Republicans or the Democrats, Americans need to be on their guard against this sort of attitude seeping into own our government and political establishment. That’s because this attempt to demonize any effort to differentiate between Muslims who are loyal American citizens or British subjects and those who support the Islamists’ war on the West is the main talking point these days of groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations and the American Muslim Union. And that is why such groups, which exist to blur such important distinctions, ought not to be allowed to get away with pretending to be mainstream players rather than the extremists they actually are. Though these organizations masquerade as fighters against discrimination, they are, in fact, undermining the justified fight against religious bias just as much as they are trying to torpedo the war on terror.

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Here’s the “Civil War” the Press Has Been Looking For

The civil war between Tea Partiers and establishment Republicans never really emerged. Candidates won and lost in primaries, the old guard agreed with the new on earmarks, and all the elected and re-elected GOP senators and House members are on board with key elements of the conservative agenda (extend the Bush tax cuts, refudiate ObamaCare, cut spending, etc.). However, the Dems are another story. This report will amuse Republicans and, frankly, shock a lot of readers who imagined that Obama had retained some level of respect in his own party:

Senate Democrats — including typically mild-mannered Bill Nelson of Florida — lit into President Barack Obama during an unusually tense air-clearing caucus session on Thursday, senators and staffers told POLITICO.

Nelson told colleagues Obama’s unpopularity has become a serious liability for Democrats in his state and blamed the president for creating a toxic political environment for Democrats nationwide, according to two Democrats familiar with his remarks. …

In interviews after the marathon three hour meeting, several senators and senior aides told POLITICO that Nelson was just one of several senators to express anger at White House missteps – and air deep concerns about their own political fates if Obama and the Democratic Party leadership can’t turn things around by 2012.

Added one veteran senator: “It was the most frank exchange of views I’ve ever seen.”

“Frank” is one way to put it. Another way of putting it is that Obama has lost his luster and the respect and trust of his party. Democrats are alarmed, and rightly so, that this president is in over his head.

The solution is simple for those who want to survive: make common cause with Republicans to roll back the Obama agenda, cut taxes, and restore business confidence. On foreign policy, urge resoluteness on Afghanistan, military action if needed to disarm the mullahs, and an end to smart silly diplomacy in the Middle East and elsewhere. In other words, they should fend for themselves, and in the process do what is right on the merits. They might survive the 2012 election, even if Obama does not.

The civil war between Tea Partiers and establishment Republicans never really emerged. Candidates won and lost in primaries, the old guard agreed with the new on earmarks, and all the elected and re-elected GOP senators and House members are on board with key elements of the conservative agenda (extend the Bush tax cuts, refudiate ObamaCare, cut spending, etc.). However, the Dems are another story. This report will amuse Republicans and, frankly, shock a lot of readers who imagined that Obama had retained some level of respect in his own party:

Senate Democrats — including typically mild-mannered Bill Nelson of Florida — lit into President Barack Obama during an unusually tense air-clearing caucus session on Thursday, senators and staffers told POLITICO.

Nelson told colleagues Obama’s unpopularity has become a serious liability for Democrats in his state and blamed the president for creating a toxic political environment for Democrats nationwide, according to two Democrats familiar with his remarks. …

In interviews after the marathon three hour meeting, several senators and senior aides told POLITICO that Nelson was just one of several senators to express anger at White House missteps – and air deep concerns about their own political fates if Obama and the Democratic Party leadership can’t turn things around by 2012.

Added one veteran senator: “It was the most frank exchange of views I’ve ever seen.”

“Frank” is one way to put it. Another way of putting it is that Obama has lost his luster and the respect and trust of his party. Democrats are alarmed, and rightly so, that this president is in over his head.

The solution is simple for those who want to survive: make common cause with Republicans to roll back the Obama agenda, cut taxes, and restore business confidence. On foreign policy, urge resoluteness on Afghanistan, military action if needed to disarm the mullahs, and an end to smart silly diplomacy in the Middle East and elsewhere. In other words, they should fend for themselves, and in the process do what is right on the merits. They might survive the 2012 election, even if Obama does not.

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Things We Shouldn’t Be Doing with China

Four U.S. senators have registered concern about the proposal of a start-up company, Amerilink Telecom Corp., to upgrade Sprint Nextel’s national network to 4G data-rate capacity using Chinese-provided equipment from Huawei Shenzen Ltd., a company with longstanding ties to the Chinese military. The point made by the senators – Joe Lieberman, Susan Collins, Jon Kyl, and Sue Myrick – is that China could install a surveillance or sabotage capability in a very large segment of the U.S. wireless infrastructure. The scope of the Sprint Nextel 4G upgrade reportedly encompasses about 35,000 transmission towers throughout the 50 states.

Huawei has been trying to crack the U.S. market for years but has always been blocked by the security concerns of American officials, backed by comprehensive cyber-security reports from intelligence agencies and the Pentagon. Huawei hoped to contract directly with Sprint this past summer, but when a group of senators shot that attempt down, a senior Sprint executive left the company to join Amerilink and began planning a new strategy to bring Huawei into the U.S. telecommunications infrastructure. The strategy has included developing “insider” connections by recruiting Dick Gephardt and former World Bank president James Wolfensohn to Amerilink’s board, along with former Navy secretary and Defense Department official Gordon England.

Although vigilant senators deflected the Huawei-Sprint bid as recently as August, there’s a reason for disquiet in October. In a move that received little attention outside the tech-industry press, Huawei finally managed this month to contract with a U.S. wireless provider, T-Mobile, to supply handsets to customers. On Monday, Forbes tech writer Jeffrey Carr wondered why this contract was allowed to go through, considering that T-Mobile is a government contractor and supplies handsets and wireless service to federal agencies.

That’s a good question. India, Britain, and Australia have all zeroed in on Huawei (along with Chinese tech firm ZTE) as a source of potential security risks. India’s resistance to penetration has equaled that of the U.S. – and may soon exceed it. America seems to be quietly lowering its guard with Huawei: the announcement of the T-Mobile contract last week came on the heels of an October 11 press release from Huawei Symantec on its plan to sell data-storage platforms and gateway packages to U.S. customers. For a company that has consistently been excluded from the U.S. due to security concerns, that’s a lot of market-entry announcements in one week.

The Stuxnet worm has reminded us of the stealthy and devious methods by which security vulnerabilities can be introduced into the IT systems that control major infrastructure operations. We won’t see the next “Stuxnet” coming, or the one after that; the events of 2010 clarify for us that we can’t rely solely on technical vigilance to protect our critical infrastructure. We also need a basis for trusting suppliers the old-fashioned way. China and its tech companies haven’t met that test.

Four U.S. senators have registered concern about the proposal of a start-up company, Amerilink Telecom Corp., to upgrade Sprint Nextel’s national network to 4G data-rate capacity using Chinese-provided equipment from Huawei Shenzen Ltd., a company with longstanding ties to the Chinese military. The point made by the senators – Joe Lieberman, Susan Collins, Jon Kyl, and Sue Myrick – is that China could install a surveillance or sabotage capability in a very large segment of the U.S. wireless infrastructure. The scope of the Sprint Nextel 4G upgrade reportedly encompasses about 35,000 transmission towers throughout the 50 states.

Huawei has been trying to crack the U.S. market for years but has always been blocked by the security concerns of American officials, backed by comprehensive cyber-security reports from intelligence agencies and the Pentagon. Huawei hoped to contract directly with Sprint this past summer, but when a group of senators shot that attempt down, a senior Sprint executive left the company to join Amerilink and began planning a new strategy to bring Huawei into the U.S. telecommunications infrastructure. The strategy has included developing “insider” connections by recruiting Dick Gephardt and former World Bank president James Wolfensohn to Amerilink’s board, along with former Navy secretary and Defense Department official Gordon England.

Although vigilant senators deflected the Huawei-Sprint bid as recently as August, there’s a reason for disquiet in October. In a move that received little attention outside the tech-industry press, Huawei finally managed this month to contract with a U.S. wireless provider, T-Mobile, to supply handsets to customers. On Monday, Forbes tech writer Jeffrey Carr wondered why this contract was allowed to go through, considering that T-Mobile is a government contractor and supplies handsets and wireless service to federal agencies.

That’s a good question. India, Britain, and Australia have all zeroed in on Huawei (along with Chinese tech firm ZTE) as a source of potential security risks. India’s resistance to penetration has equaled that of the U.S. – and may soon exceed it. America seems to be quietly lowering its guard with Huawei: the announcement of the T-Mobile contract last week came on the heels of an October 11 press release from Huawei Symantec on its plan to sell data-storage platforms and gateway packages to U.S. customers. For a company that has consistently been excluded from the U.S. due to security concerns, that’s a lot of market-entry announcements in one week.

The Stuxnet worm has reminded us of the stealthy and devious methods by which security vulnerabilities can be introduced into the IT systems that control major infrastructure operations. We won’t see the next “Stuxnet” coming, or the one after that; the events of 2010 clarify for us that we can’t rely solely on technical vigilance to protect our critical infrastructure. We also need a basis for trusting suppliers the old-fashioned way. China and its tech companies haven’t met that test.

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Why We Don’t Have Peace

Here’s how it works in the Middle East. An Israeli security guard travels through a section of the nation’s capital (no, dear liberals, East Jerusalem is not a “settlement”). Palestinians set upon him, throwing stones and Molotov cocktails. Afraid for his life, the guard shoots in self defense, killing one assailant. (“The guard, fearing for his life, allegedly opened fire with his personal firearm at a group of rock throwers and killed a resident. Police found two knives and screwdriver on the body of the victim, who had a previous criminal history and was known to police.”) The Palestinians commence a riot, injuring innocent Israelis. The world blames Israel.

Here’s the Palestinian mindset, displaying all its splendid victimology. The residents complain that the assailants should have been “warned” (before of after the Molotov cocktails rained down?) .Everyone gets into the act:

There’s going to be a huge mess in Silwan, something big will happen. They killed a man, what should I do, be quiet? What about his family, his little kids?” asked another neighbor of the victim, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of police reprisal.

“This was a calculated, violent act with political goals,” Dimitri Diliani, the head of Fatah’s Social Development Committee, told the Jerusalem Post as he was standing with mourners outside the family’s house. “We view it as a right-wing Israeli effort to undermine the peace process and to draw Palestinians into violent action so that the right-wing government will be provided with a window of opportunity to escape into national pressure regarding illegal settlement activities.”

Not sure if the “calculated” maneuver he refers to is meant to suggest that Israelis deployed the rock throwers, but then the facts are utterly irrelevant here.

Meanwhile the rioters — calculated and violent, one would say — injured ten (including “a 35-year-old Israeli in moderate condition who was stabbed in the back near the Mount of Olives”) and destroyed vehicles.

This certainly highlights the delusional nature of the peace process. The Israelis can only make peace with those who want it and are prepared to put down the guns, the stones, the knives, the rocks, and the Molotov cocktails to build a civil (in both senses of the word) society. Peace won’t come from any conference room. We’ll have peace, as a commentator elegantly described it, when and if Palestinians “can renounce once and for all the creeping Islamism that would sooner see them suffering the miseries and oppression of twelfth-century religious and cultural practice than thriving in a modern society; if they can cast off at last the self-strangling mythology of their own victimhood;  and if they can shed their century-old yearning to set the blood of their Jewish neighbors flowing in the streets.” No sign of that so far.

Here’s how it works in the Middle East. An Israeli security guard travels through a section of the nation’s capital (no, dear liberals, East Jerusalem is not a “settlement”). Palestinians set upon him, throwing stones and Molotov cocktails. Afraid for his life, the guard shoots in self defense, killing one assailant. (“The guard, fearing for his life, allegedly opened fire with his personal firearm at a group of rock throwers and killed a resident. Police found two knives and screwdriver on the body of the victim, who had a previous criminal history and was known to police.”) The Palestinians commence a riot, injuring innocent Israelis. The world blames Israel.

Here’s the Palestinian mindset, displaying all its splendid victimology. The residents complain that the assailants should have been “warned” (before of after the Molotov cocktails rained down?) .Everyone gets into the act:

There’s going to be a huge mess in Silwan, something big will happen. They killed a man, what should I do, be quiet? What about his family, his little kids?” asked another neighbor of the victim, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of police reprisal.

“This was a calculated, violent act with political goals,” Dimitri Diliani, the head of Fatah’s Social Development Committee, told the Jerusalem Post as he was standing with mourners outside the family’s house. “We view it as a right-wing Israeli effort to undermine the peace process and to draw Palestinians into violent action so that the right-wing government will be provided with a window of opportunity to escape into national pressure regarding illegal settlement activities.”

Not sure if the “calculated” maneuver he refers to is meant to suggest that Israelis deployed the rock throwers, but then the facts are utterly irrelevant here.

Meanwhile the rioters — calculated and violent, one would say — injured ten (including “a 35-year-old Israeli in moderate condition who was stabbed in the back near the Mount of Olives”) and destroyed vehicles.

This certainly highlights the delusional nature of the peace process. The Israelis can only make peace with those who want it and are prepared to put down the guns, the stones, the knives, the rocks, and the Molotov cocktails to build a civil (in both senses of the word) society. Peace won’t come from any conference room. We’ll have peace, as a commentator elegantly described it, when and if Palestinians “can renounce once and for all the creeping Islamism that would sooner see them suffering the miseries and oppression of twelfth-century religious and cultural practice than thriving in a modern society; if they can cast off at last the self-strangling mythology of their own victimhood;  and if they can shed their century-old yearning to set the blood of their Jewish neighbors flowing in the streets.” No sign of that so far.

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Obama’s Grave 9/11 Offense

If Barack Obama were running in the November election, the sentence revealed today from the president’s interview with Woodward — “We can absorb a terrorist attack. We’ll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever . . . we absorbed it and we are stronger” — would guarantee his defeat and his removal from Washington in a condition of ignominy. It would go down in the annals of history as the most damaging election-eve gaffe of all time. It won’t be that, because it’s 2010, not 2012. But what does it say about the president who said it?

On the one hand, Obama is right in the narrowest sense. We will not collapse into a heap. But is it conceivable he has forgotten that Flight 93 was clearly aiming for Washington, target unknowable but conceivably intended for the Capitol or the White House? The decapitation or partial decapitation of our government we could “absorb,” if by absorb you mean suffer a national catastrophe the recovery from which would have taken decades. That actually nearly happened. Another plane hit the Pentagon, don’t forget, and had it landed 75 feet further west and smashed directly into the building’s core, it’s likely another few thousand Americans would have perished, including military personnel critical to whatever effort would have had to be made to answer the attack.

And this is to say nothing of the cavalier claim that we came out of 9/11 “stronger.” Why? Because we all sang and held hands and cried together? That was nice, and moving, and powerful. Stronger, though, it did not make us. It made us aware of our commonality as Americans, which is a good thing, but good things aren’t necessarily strengthening things, and that unity was astonishingly short-lived.

No, ask the families of the 3,000 who perished whether they are stronger, whether their “absorption” of our national wound is something they have recovered from, or will ever recover from. No nation that has suffered terrorism’s assaults is the stronger for having done so. That is why terrorism is such a nefarious weapon — because it is designed to create wounds that can never heal in the body politic in the form of a sense of defenselessness, or insecurity, or loss, or impotent rage. Israel is not stronger for the second intifada; it is stronger, perhaps, because it defeated the second intifada, but the cost of even having to fight it was nightmarishly high.

The words Obama speaks are profoundly worrying because the issue after 9/11 is not that there might be a terrorist attack like 9/11, but whether it might be followed by something much, much worse — the proverbial “nuke in a suitcase” scenario. It is to prevent such an occurrence that we have spent untold billions in public and private dollars to secure the homeland, that we strip ourselves of shoes and belt and jacket and stand in hour-long lines at airports for the privilege of boarding a plane, that we can no longer comfortably go in and out of public buildings, public facilities, ballparks, you name it. None of this makes us stronger. It makes us less free. That loss of freedom is necessary, but it is a tragedy and a crime.

One doesn’t know the specific context in which the president spoke, so it would hard to analogize his words to statements of urgency he has made about other matters he seems certain we cannot absorb — like, say, a continuation of the current health-care system, or a failure to extend unemployment benefits, or the dire necessity for his stimulus package. Once again, we are left with the impression of a leader who finds national security something from which he can stand apart and think as an analyst rather than as the man on the watch, the man whose chief job it is to ensure not that we absorb an attack but that an attack never occur while he stands guard.

If Barack Obama were running in the November election, the sentence revealed today from the president’s interview with Woodward — “We can absorb a terrorist attack. We’ll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever . . . we absorbed it and we are stronger” — would guarantee his defeat and his removal from Washington in a condition of ignominy. It would go down in the annals of history as the most damaging election-eve gaffe of all time. It won’t be that, because it’s 2010, not 2012. But what does it say about the president who said it?

On the one hand, Obama is right in the narrowest sense. We will not collapse into a heap. But is it conceivable he has forgotten that Flight 93 was clearly aiming for Washington, target unknowable but conceivably intended for the Capitol or the White House? The decapitation or partial decapitation of our government we could “absorb,” if by absorb you mean suffer a national catastrophe the recovery from which would have taken decades. That actually nearly happened. Another plane hit the Pentagon, don’t forget, and had it landed 75 feet further west and smashed directly into the building’s core, it’s likely another few thousand Americans would have perished, including military personnel critical to whatever effort would have had to be made to answer the attack.

And this is to say nothing of the cavalier claim that we came out of 9/11 “stronger.” Why? Because we all sang and held hands and cried together? That was nice, and moving, and powerful. Stronger, though, it did not make us. It made us aware of our commonality as Americans, which is a good thing, but good things aren’t necessarily strengthening things, and that unity was astonishingly short-lived.

No, ask the families of the 3,000 who perished whether they are stronger, whether their “absorption” of our national wound is something they have recovered from, or will ever recover from. No nation that has suffered terrorism’s assaults is the stronger for having done so. That is why terrorism is such a nefarious weapon — because it is designed to create wounds that can never heal in the body politic in the form of a sense of defenselessness, or insecurity, or loss, or impotent rage. Israel is not stronger for the second intifada; it is stronger, perhaps, because it defeated the second intifada, but the cost of even having to fight it was nightmarishly high.

The words Obama speaks are profoundly worrying because the issue after 9/11 is not that there might be a terrorist attack like 9/11, but whether it might be followed by something much, much worse — the proverbial “nuke in a suitcase” scenario. It is to prevent such an occurrence that we have spent untold billions in public and private dollars to secure the homeland, that we strip ourselves of shoes and belt and jacket and stand in hour-long lines at airports for the privilege of boarding a plane, that we can no longer comfortably go in and out of public buildings, public facilities, ballparks, you name it. None of this makes us stronger. It makes us less free. That loss of freedom is necessary, but it is a tragedy and a crime.

One doesn’t know the specific context in which the president spoke, so it would hard to analogize his words to statements of urgency he has made about other matters he seems certain we cannot absorb — like, say, a continuation of the current health-care system, or a failure to extend unemployment benefits, or the dire necessity for his stimulus package. Once again, we are left with the impression of a leader who finds national security something from which he can stand apart and think as an analyst rather than as the man on the watch, the man whose chief job it is to ensure not that we absorb an attack but that an attack never occur while he stands guard.

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Reviving More than Faith

Glenn Beck’s rally, perhaps wisely in anticipation of liberal criticism, kept policy and partisanship out of it. The focus was on patriotism and a call for a spiritual revival. As the country pivots toward the homestretch of the midterm-election season and the warm-up to the 2012 campaign (Already? Unfortunately, yes), conservatives running for office or advising those who are may be wise to focus on a different sort of revival.

The Tea Party has come to be seen as merely a brake on liberal economic policy — don’t raise taxes, control spending, end bailouts. But it was, at its start, also a cry of opposition to what all of that foretold for America: the decline of self-reliance, risk-taking, entrepreneurship, and the creative destructiveness of capitalism that requires that we punish failure and reward success.

Conservative reformers are right to focus on limited government, entitlement reform, and spending control. There has never been a more receptive audience for that, thanks to Obama. But modern conservatism’s success, both in policy and electorally, did not come from being the green-eye-shade party. It stemmed from an enthusiasm and celebration of free markets and from policies that sought to unleash the potential of individuals, investors, and employers. And it was Reagan whose embrace of supply-side economics, free trade, and modest regulation unleashed an economic boom — and launched a conservative political vision that was inclusive and successful.

In a speech delivered at Hillsdale College in 1977, Reagan explained:

In spite of all the evidence that points to the free market as the most efficient system, we continue down a road that is bearing out the prophecy of Tocqueville, a Frenchman who came here 130 years ago. He was attracted by the miracle that was America. Think of it: Our country was only 70 years old and already we had achieved such a miraculous living standard, such productivity and prosperity, that the rest of the world was amazed. So he came here and he looked at everything he could see in our country, trying to find the secret of our success, and then went back and wrote a book about it. Even then, 130 years ago, he saw signs prompting him to warn us that if we weren’t constantly on the guard, we would find ourselves covered by a network of regulations controlling every activity. He said if that came to pass we would one day find ourselves a nation of timid animals with government the shepherd.

It all comes down to this basic premise: If you lose your economic freedom, you lose your political freedom and, in fact, all freedom. Freedom is something that cannot be passed on genetically. It is never more than one generation away from extinction. Every generation has to learn how to protect and defend it. Once freedom is gone, it is gone for a long, long time. Already, too many of us, particularly those in business and industry, have chosen to switch rather than fight.

This is both smart policy and the political formula for melding multiple strands that have been swirling around the conservative movement — American exceptionalism, defense of capitalism, and personal accountability. It is, at bottom, a platform for restoration — not necessarily a spiritual one, as Beck suggested, nor one based on defense of country in war, as Sarah Palin suggested. It is nevertheless a call to restore the economic vitality and the creative spirit of capitalism that made America a superpower and the envy of the world. The Republican presidential candidate who can put all that together, I would  suggest, will be a formidable contender and a well-prepared combatant to face off against Obama.

Glenn Beck’s rally, perhaps wisely in anticipation of liberal criticism, kept policy and partisanship out of it. The focus was on patriotism and a call for a spiritual revival. As the country pivots toward the homestretch of the midterm-election season and the warm-up to the 2012 campaign (Already? Unfortunately, yes), conservatives running for office or advising those who are may be wise to focus on a different sort of revival.

The Tea Party has come to be seen as merely a brake on liberal economic policy — don’t raise taxes, control spending, end bailouts. But it was, at its start, also a cry of opposition to what all of that foretold for America: the decline of self-reliance, risk-taking, entrepreneurship, and the creative destructiveness of capitalism that requires that we punish failure and reward success.

Conservative reformers are right to focus on limited government, entitlement reform, and spending control. There has never been a more receptive audience for that, thanks to Obama. But modern conservatism’s success, both in policy and electorally, did not come from being the green-eye-shade party. It stemmed from an enthusiasm and celebration of free markets and from policies that sought to unleash the potential of individuals, investors, and employers. And it was Reagan whose embrace of supply-side economics, free trade, and modest regulation unleashed an economic boom — and launched a conservative political vision that was inclusive and successful.

In a speech delivered at Hillsdale College in 1977, Reagan explained:

In spite of all the evidence that points to the free market as the most efficient system, we continue down a road that is bearing out the prophecy of Tocqueville, a Frenchman who came here 130 years ago. He was attracted by the miracle that was America. Think of it: Our country was only 70 years old and already we had achieved such a miraculous living standard, such productivity and prosperity, that the rest of the world was amazed. So he came here and he looked at everything he could see in our country, trying to find the secret of our success, and then went back and wrote a book about it. Even then, 130 years ago, he saw signs prompting him to warn us that if we weren’t constantly on the guard, we would find ourselves covered by a network of regulations controlling every activity. He said if that came to pass we would one day find ourselves a nation of timid animals with government the shepherd.

It all comes down to this basic premise: If you lose your economic freedom, you lose your political freedom and, in fact, all freedom. Freedom is something that cannot be passed on genetically. It is never more than one generation away from extinction. Every generation has to learn how to protect and defend it. Once freedom is gone, it is gone for a long, long time. Already, too many of us, particularly those in business and industry, have chosen to switch rather than fight.

This is both smart policy and the political formula for melding multiple strands that have been swirling around the conservative movement — American exceptionalism, defense of capitalism, and personal accountability. It is, at bottom, a platform for restoration — not necessarily a spiritual one, as Beck suggested, nor one based on defense of country in war, as Sarah Palin suggested. It is nevertheless a call to restore the economic vitality and the creative spirit of capitalism that made America a superpower and the envy of the world. The Republican presidential candidate who can put all that together, I would  suggest, will be a formidable contender and a well-prepared combatant to face off against Obama.

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The New Political Division

Peter writes,

This Social Security gambit, which will fail politically (as has so much of what Obama and his aides have tried), is simply more evidence that the core premise of the Obama campaign — that he would transcend the usual divisions in American politics, that he would elevate our discourse and reach across the aisle in an unprecedented way, and that he would act reasonably and responsibly in facing America’s challenges — was a mirage. It was an effective optical illusion, but it was, in fact, an optical illusion. And every week, it seems, it is being revealed as such.

I certainly agree that the gambit will fail. And one of the main reasons Obama has and will fail “to transcend the usual divisions in American politics,” is, I think, that the usual divisions aren’t there this election cycle. They may never be there again.

John Fund had a fascinating article in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal about the pollster Scott Rasmussen. The White House was stunned by Scott Brown’s Senate victory in Massachusetts last winter. Rasmussen, he writes, thinks a principal reason,

lies in a significant division among the American public that he has tracked for the past few years — a division between what he calls the Mainstream Public and the Political Class. …

Before the financial crisis of late 2008, about a tenth of Americans fell into the political class, while some 53% were classified as in the mainstream public. The rest fell somewhere in the middle. Now the percentage of people identifying with the political class has clearly declined into single digits, while those in the mainstream public have grown slightly. A majority of Democrats, Republicans and independents all agree with the mainstream view . … “The major division in this country is no longer between parties but between political elites and the people,” Mr. Rasmussen says.

Timothy Carney in the Washington Examiner writes that,

The current GOP fault line is not exactly conservatives vs. moderates or new guard vs. old guard. For 2010, the rivalry is the Tea Party wing against the K Street wing. To tell which kind of Republican a candidate is, see how the Democrats attack him: If  he’s branded a shill for Wall Street, he’s from the K Street wing. If he’s labeled an extremist outside the mainstream, he’s a Tea Partier.

More tellingly, study their campaign contributions. K Street Republicans’ coffers are filled by the political action committees of defense contractors, drug companies, lobbying firms, and Wall Street banks. A Tea Party Republican is funded by the Club for Growth or the Senate Conservatives Fund, which is run by the Republican leadership’s least-favorite colleague, Jim DeMint.

The K Street wing is business as usual, whereas the tea parties represent the new politics that has, for thirty years and more, been slouching towards Washington to be born. The election of Chris Christie, Scott Brown, and Bob McDonnell is a sign of the growing power of tea-party politics. The SEC suit against New Jersey is a sign that the old rules are changing, as is the spate of news stories about the power of public-employee unions and their excessive compensation that is bankrupting states.

Politicians, like generals, prefer to fight the last war. The politicians who have figured out that the election of 2010 is being fought along new lines will still have jobs after November 2nd. But the Democrats under Obama have a big problem. They are the party of the political elite and big government. They can’t remake themselves in two months. That’s why they are in such terrible trouble.

Peter writes,

This Social Security gambit, which will fail politically (as has so much of what Obama and his aides have tried), is simply more evidence that the core premise of the Obama campaign — that he would transcend the usual divisions in American politics, that he would elevate our discourse and reach across the aisle in an unprecedented way, and that he would act reasonably and responsibly in facing America’s challenges — was a mirage. It was an effective optical illusion, but it was, in fact, an optical illusion. And every week, it seems, it is being revealed as such.

I certainly agree that the gambit will fail. And one of the main reasons Obama has and will fail “to transcend the usual divisions in American politics,” is, I think, that the usual divisions aren’t there this election cycle. They may never be there again.

John Fund had a fascinating article in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal about the pollster Scott Rasmussen. The White House was stunned by Scott Brown’s Senate victory in Massachusetts last winter. Rasmussen, he writes, thinks a principal reason,

lies in a significant division among the American public that he has tracked for the past few years — a division between what he calls the Mainstream Public and the Political Class. …

Before the financial crisis of late 2008, about a tenth of Americans fell into the political class, while some 53% were classified as in the mainstream public. The rest fell somewhere in the middle. Now the percentage of people identifying with the political class has clearly declined into single digits, while those in the mainstream public have grown slightly. A majority of Democrats, Republicans and independents all agree with the mainstream view . … “The major division in this country is no longer between parties but between political elites and the people,” Mr. Rasmussen says.

Timothy Carney in the Washington Examiner writes that,

The current GOP fault line is not exactly conservatives vs. moderates or new guard vs. old guard. For 2010, the rivalry is the Tea Party wing against the K Street wing. To tell which kind of Republican a candidate is, see how the Democrats attack him: If  he’s branded a shill for Wall Street, he’s from the K Street wing. If he’s labeled an extremist outside the mainstream, he’s a Tea Partier.

More tellingly, study their campaign contributions. K Street Republicans’ coffers are filled by the political action committees of defense contractors, drug companies, lobbying firms, and Wall Street banks. A Tea Party Republican is funded by the Club for Growth or the Senate Conservatives Fund, which is run by the Republican leadership’s least-favorite colleague, Jim DeMint.

The K Street wing is business as usual, whereas the tea parties represent the new politics that has, for thirty years and more, been slouching towards Washington to be born. The election of Chris Christie, Scott Brown, and Bob McDonnell is a sign of the growing power of tea-party politics. The SEC suit against New Jersey is a sign that the old rules are changing, as is the spate of news stories about the power of public-employee unions and their excessive compensation that is bankrupting states.

Politicians, like generals, prefer to fight the last war. The politicians who have figured out that the election of 2010 is being fought along new lines will still have jobs after November 2nd. But the Democrats under Obama have a big problem. They are the party of the political elite and big government. They can’t remake themselves in two months. That’s why they are in such terrible trouble.

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Stopping Iran’s Nuclear Program: The Think Tanks Speak Out

Two high-profile think-tanks, the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C., and the Oxford Research Group of London, have put out updates this summer to their earlier assessments (from 2008 and 2006, respectively) of the options for preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Both of them conclude that, given the limitations of Israel’s military capabilities, the backlash from Iran in the event of an Israeli attack would outweigh the significance of the damage done to Iran’s nuclear program. Both assessments effectively assume there is no possibility of a U.S. attack. They ultimately draw different conclusions about what policies are suggested by their analyses. But it’s of equal importance, in July 2010, that their treatments of the factors in an Israeli strike are almost certainly outdated.

The Oxford Research Group (ORG) assessment builds up to the well-worn punch line that the world’s leaders need to redouble their efforts to secure an Israeli-Palestinian settlement, which could inaugurate “the beginning of a prospect of a regional nuclear-free zone.” This is the paper’s principal policy recommendation; its alternative is accepting Iran’s development of nuclear weapons and using that “as the start of a process of balanced regional denuclearization.” No serious justification is presented for either idea.

The Bipartisan Policy Center’s (BPC’s) approach is more realistic, recognizing the exceptional threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran. BPC urges on national leaders a three-track policy of unified diplomacy, sanctions, and a military build-up to show force and determination. The discussion of Iran’s imperviousness to nuclear deterrence (pp. 30-33) is particularly good; in general, I recommend the more analytically detailed BPC paper as a thinking aid over the terser ORG product. (The latter does have a useful section on the possibility of unexpected incidents provoked by Hezbollah, which could incite an exchange between Israel and Iran.)

I urge skepticism, however, in evaluating the main conclusion of each paper about Israel’s likely effectiveness in a military attack. Both assessments are pessimistic, but they appear to be based on outdated assumptions – two, in particular, that involve very basic perspectives. One is the idea that in attacking Iran, Israel’s sole objective would be to destroy as much of the nuclear program as possible. Although the ORG paper cautions against seeing a prospective attack on Iran in the same narrow light as the previous strikes on single sites in Iraq and Syria, the author tacitly adopts a view of the objective that is precisely that narrow. He assumes, for example, that Israel would prioritize attacking the offices and living quarters of scientists and technicians, on the theory that reconstituting that expertise would be especially time-consuming for Iran.

I disagree with that assumption. The BPC analysis seems to share it in the abstract, but I suspect that Israeli planners, knowing their force limitations, have moved beyond such linear thinking at this point. It would be a much higher-payoff approach to concentrate on taking out the senior ranks of the Revolutionary Guard, including the Pasdaran leadership and the paramilitary Qods Force. The most important nuclear sites – Natanz, Esfahan, Arak, key facilities in Tehran – would have to be struck, but given the IDF’s limits, it would pay off better to use scarce assets against the regime’s power base (and its ability to organize and command its military) than against its scientific experts.

The other assumption that may well be outdated is that, given the operational constraints on an Israeli air strike, the IDF could achieve only an unsatisfactory level of damage to the Iranian nuclear program. Israel now wields the same airborne-attack weapons the U.S. brought to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and would be far more effective with each attacking aircraft than the Coalition was against Iraq in 1991 (or the U.S. against Serbia in 1999). Meanwhile, Israel’s other options – extremely capable Special Forces, an advanced armed-drone program, and the ability to attack with ballistic missiles and submarine-launched cruise missiles – are treated too dismissively in both the U.S. and European analyses. The truth is that we don’t have any state-of-the-art examples to go by in judging the probable effectiveness of this weapons combination. We are more likely to learn from a coordinated Israeli attack featuring these weapons than to see all our worst-case predictions borne out.

Writing off an Israeli attack as quixotic and operationally valueless is a political posture more than an expert conclusion. There is a cost-benefit boundary for the IDF, but it’s not the hardening of Iranian targets or the proliferation of uranium-enrichment sites: it’s whether Iran can implement a modern air-defense system, like the (for now) cancelled S-300. An effective air defense for Iran would inevitably increase the cost of an Israeli attack and reduce its success.

But for Israel’s security situation, every delay imposed on Iran’s nuclear-weapons program has value. The U.S. should act on its own initiative rather than waiting to be driven to action by a fait accompli from Jerusalem; the BPC document’s perspective is realistic and helpful in that regard. No one, however, should entertain the theme that it’s too late now for an Israeli attack to achieve useful effects. For Israel – and for the U.S., with our much greater military capabilities – there are still options other than acceptance of a nuclear-armed Iran.

Two high-profile think-tanks, the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C., and the Oxford Research Group of London, have put out updates this summer to their earlier assessments (from 2008 and 2006, respectively) of the options for preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Both of them conclude that, given the limitations of Israel’s military capabilities, the backlash from Iran in the event of an Israeli attack would outweigh the significance of the damage done to Iran’s nuclear program. Both assessments effectively assume there is no possibility of a U.S. attack. They ultimately draw different conclusions about what policies are suggested by their analyses. But it’s of equal importance, in July 2010, that their treatments of the factors in an Israeli strike are almost certainly outdated.

The Oxford Research Group (ORG) assessment builds up to the well-worn punch line that the world’s leaders need to redouble their efforts to secure an Israeli-Palestinian settlement, which could inaugurate “the beginning of a prospect of a regional nuclear-free zone.” This is the paper’s principal policy recommendation; its alternative is accepting Iran’s development of nuclear weapons and using that “as the start of a process of balanced regional denuclearization.” No serious justification is presented for either idea.

The Bipartisan Policy Center’s (BPC’s) approach is more realistic, recognizing the exceptional threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran. BPC urges on national leaders a three-track policy of unified diplomacy, sanctions, and a military build-up to show force and determination. The discussion of Iran’s imperviousness to nuclear deterrence (pp. 30-33) is particularly good; in general, I recommend the more analytically detailed BPC paper as a thinking aid over the terser ORG product. (The latter does have a useful section on the possibility of unexpected incidents provoked by Hezbollah, which could incite an exchange between Israel and Iran.)

I urge skepticism, however, in evaluating the main conclusion of each paper about Israel’s likely effectiveness in a military attack. Both assessments are pessimistic, but they appear to be based on outdated assumptions – two, in particular, that involve very basic perspectives. One is the idea that in attacking Iran, Israel’s sole objective would be to destroy as much of the nuclear program as possible. Although the ORG paper cautions against seeing a prospective attack on Iran in the same narrow light as the previous strikes on single sites in Iraq and Syria, the author tacitly adopts a view of the objective that is precisely that narrow. He assumes, for example, that Israel would prioritize attacking the offices and living quarters of scientists and technicians, on the theory that reconstituting that expertise would be especially time-consuming for Iran.

I disagree with that assumption. The BPC analysis seems to share it in the abstract, but I suspect that Israeli planners, knowing their force limitations, have moved beyond such linear thinking at this point. It would be a much higher-payoff approach to concentrate on taking out the senior ranks of the Revolutionary Guard, including the Pasdaran leadership and the paramilitary Qods Force. The most important nuclear sites – Natanz, Esfahan, Arak, key facilities in Tehran – would have to be struck, but given the IDF’s limits, it would pay off better to use scarce assets against the regime’s power base (and its ability to organize and command its military) than against its scientific experts.

The other assumption that may well be outdated is that, given the operational constraints on an Israeli air strike, the IDF could achieve only an unsatisfactory level of damage to the Iranian nuclear program. Israel now wields the same airborne-attack weapons the U.S. brought to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and would be far more effective with each attacking aircraft than the Coalition was against Iraq in 1991 (or the U.S. against Serbia in 1999). Meanwhile, Israel’s other options – extremely capable Special Forces, an advanced armed-drone program, and the ability to attack with ballistic missiles and submarine-launched cruise missiles – are treated too dismissively in both the U.S. and European analyses. The truth is that we don’t have any state-of-the-art examples to go by in judging the probable effectiveness of this weapons combination. We are more likely to learn from a coordinated Israeli attack featuring these weapons than to see all our worst-case predictions borne out.

Writing off an Israeli attack as quixotic and operationally valueless is a political posture more than an expert conclusion. There is a cost-benefit boundary for the IDF, but it’s not the hardening of Iranian targets or the proliferation of uranium-enrichment sites: it’s whether Iran can implement a modern air-defense system, like the (for now) cancelled S-300. An effective air defense for Iran would inevitably increase the cost of an Israeli attack and reduce its success.

But for Israel’s security situation, every delay imposed on Iran’s nuclear-weapons program has value. The U.S. should act on its own initiative rather than waiting to be driven to action by a fait accompli from Jerusalem; the BPC document’s perspective is realistic and helpful in that regard. No one, however, should entertain the theme that it’s too late now for an Israeli attack to achieve useful effects. For Israel – and for the U.S., with our much greater military capabilities – there are still options other than acceptance of a nuclear-armed Iran.

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NY Times: Tax-Exempt Status Only for Groups That Agree with the Administration

In an astonishing (and absurdly long) front-page story today, three New York Times reporters breathlessly offer an account of the fact that West Bank settlements and settlers are supported by nonprofit American organizations despite the fact that the Obama administration, and administrations before it, oppose them (or most of them):

As the American government seeks to end the four-decade Jewish settlement enterprise and foster a Palestinian state in the West Bank, the American Treasury helps sustain the settlements through tax breaks on donations to support them.

A New York Times examination of public records in the United States and Israel identified at least 40 American groups that have collected more than $200 million in tax-deductible gifts for Jewish settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem over the last decade. The money goes mostly to schools, synagogues, recreation centers and the like, legitimate expenditures under the tax law. But it has also paid for more legally questionable commodities: housing as well as guard dogs, bulletproof vests, rifle scopes and vehicles to secure outposts deep in occupied areas.

There are three astounding aspects to these paragraphs, and to the story as a whole.

First is the open and explicit suggestion that tax-deductible dollars should only support policies with which the sitting administration agrees or wishes to foster. Taken to its logical conclusion, that would mean pro-choice organizations should not have a tax exemption during an explicitly pro-life administration, like George W. Bush’s, for example — or that an organization opposing the Iraq war or the government’s approach in terrorist interrogation should be stripped of its tax exemption.

Second is the notion that Americans who offer donations to settlers who are using them for self-defense — “guard dogs, bulletproof vests, rifle scopes and vehicles to secure outposts deep in occupied areas” — are doing something that is a) wrong and b) in contravention of U.S. policy. Is it U.S. policy that settlers should take no measures to protect themselves? No, it isn’t, and it is demented of the Times to suggest otherwise.

Third is the notion that tax-exempt dollars belong to the U.S. Treasury and are, in effect, given as a gift by the government to whomever receives them. The general proposition behind it is that any private-sector dollar not confiscated by the government is in essence a gift from the government. This is an idea gaining currency on the left in the United States, especially in regard to philanthropy (see David Billet’s piece on the subject in the magazine from last year), but aside from being wrong and offensive, it is certainly arguable. The Times piece simply asserts it as though it were fact.

The article quotes anonymous Israelis complaining about the U.S. aid, as well as former ambassador Daniel Kurtzer, who didn’t like the fact that Americans with a passionate interest in Israel took steps with their own dollars to upset his attempts to convince Israel and Israelis that the populace of the United States felt as he feels about these matters:

“It drove us crazy,” he said. But “it was a thing you didn’t talk about in polite company.”

Us? Polite company? Which polite company would that have been?

Don’t read the whole thing. Life is too short.

In an astonishing (and absurdly long) front-page story today, three New York Times reporters breathlessly offer an account of the fact that West Bank settlements and settlers are supported by nonprofit American organizations despite the fact that the Obama administration, and administrations before it, oppose them (or most of them):

As the American government seeks to end the four-decade Jewish settlement enterprise and foster a Palestinian state in the West Bank, the American Treasury helps sustain the settlements through tax breaks on donations to support them.

A New York Times examination of public records in the United States and Israel identified at least 40 American groups that have collected more than $200 million in tax-deductible gifts for Jewish settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem over the last decade. The money goes mostly to schools, synagogues, recreation centers and the like, legitimate expenditures under the tax law. But it has also paid for more legally questionable commodities: housing as well as guard dogs, bulletproof vests, rifle scopes and vehicles to secure outposts deep in occupied areas.

There are three astounding aspects to these paragraphs, and to the story as a whole.

First is the open and explicit suggestion that tax-deductible dollars should only support policies with which the sitting administration agrees or wishes to foster. Taken to its logical conclusion, that would mean pro-choice organizations should not have a tax exemption during an explicitly pro-life administration, like George W. Bush’s, for example — or that an organization opposing the Iraq war or the government’s approach in terrorist interrogation should be stripped of its tax exemption.

Second is the notion that Americans who offer donations to settlers who are using them for self-defense — “guard dogs, bulletproof vests, rifle scopes and vehicles to secure outposts deep in occupied areas” — are doing something that is a) wrong and b) in contravention of U.S. policy. Is it U.S. policy that settlers should take no measures to protect themselves? No, it isn’t, and it is demented of the Times to suggest otherwise.

Third is the notion that tax-exempt dollars belong to the U.S. Treasury and are, in effect, given as a gift by the government to whomever receives them. The general proposition behind it is that any private-sector dollar not confiscated by the government is in essence a gift from the government. This is an idea gaining currency on the left in the United States, especially in regard to philanthropy (see David Billet’s piece on the subject in the magazine from last year), but aside from being wrong and offensive, it is certainly arguable. The Times piece simply asserts it as though it were fact.

The article quotes anonymous Israelis complaining about the U.S. aid, as well as former ambassador Daniel Kurtzer, who didn’t like the fact that Americans with a passionate interest in Israel took steps with their own dollars to upset his attempts to convince Israel and Israelis that the populace of the United States felt as he feels about these matters:

“It drove us crazy,” he said. But “it was a thing you didn’t talk about in polite company.”

Us? Polite company? Which polite company would that have been?

Don’t read the whole thing. Life is too short.

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Did SCOTUS Ruling on Guns Help the Dems?

Yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling in McDonald v. City of Chicago was another major victory for supporters of the individual right to bear arms guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the Constitution. Building on the court’s 2008 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller, which held that the individual right to own guns could not be abrogated by the federal government, this new decision applies to state and local gun laws that similarly attempt to ignore the Second Amendment.

The 5-4 decision in McDonald has cheered conservatives and further depressed liberals, whose attempts to re-interpret the Constitution to allow for complete bans on gun possession have now been stopped in their tracks. But according to Politico, there’s a silver lining in all this for the Democratic Party, which has long been the driving force behind pieces of anti-gun legislation that treated the Second Amendment as an 18th-century typo. Kasie Hunt writes that the McDonald decision has effectively ended all discussion about gun rights in the country, and that means “Democratic candidates across the map figure they have one less issue to worry about on the campaign trail. And they won’t have to defend against Republican attacks over gun rights and an, angry energized base of gun owners.”

If she’s right, that would be a big break for conservative Democrats in districts outside of liberal urban strongholds, who are burdened with defending their party’s stand on guns even if they claim to be pro-gun rights themselves. Indeed, Hunt goes so far as to claim that the “neutralization” of the gun issue and the influence of the National Rifle Association may make the difference in enabling the Democrats to hold onto their majorities in Congress.

But Democrats who think the court has silenced debate on the issue forever are kidding themselves. After all, the two decisive rulings reaffirming the meaning of the Second Amendment were 5-4 votes. That means the swing of even one vote on the court from the conservative majority to the liberal minority could change everything. That makes control of the Senate and the White House no less crucial in the future than it has been in the past for those who care about this issue. It’s true that conservative Democrats in the House can claim that this has nothing to do with them. But being a member of the political party that is currently replacing one of the four anti-Second Amendment votes (Justice John Paul Stevens) with another liberal, in the form of Elena Kagan, and which would, if they got the chance, happily replace any of the five members of the majority on this issue with a liberal who will tip the balance, is still a liability in those parts of the country where support for the Second Amendment is considered a matter of life and death.

Liberals may hope that the ruling dampens the ardor of conservatives who care about gun rights. But though Democrats like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is currently fighting an uphill battle to hold his seat in Nevada, may applaud the ruling in McDonald, voters know that he would vote to confirm a liberal, nominated by a Democratic president, who would overturn it, but that his Republican opponent would not do such a thing.

But even looking beyond the election, the idea that any Supreme Court ruling on the issue will end the political maelstrom on gun rights is almost certainly wrong. The court’s decision in Row v. Wade only rekindled the debate about abortion and the fact that most members of Congress and even the president have no direct power to either reaffirm or overturn Roe — except through the potential for change in the Supreme Court’s membership — hasn’t prevented abortion from remaining a hot-button political issue for decades. So long as there is a potential for either new legislation that will try to get around the Constitution or a switch in the composition of the court, there is little likelihood that the NRA will lower its guard or that its adherents will, even in a figurative sense, lay down their arms.

Yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling in McDonald v. City of Chicago was another major victory for supporters of the individual right to bear arms guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the Constitution. Building on the court’s 2008 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller, which held that the individual right to own guns could not be abrogated by the federal government, this new decision applies to state and local gun laws that similarly attempt to ignore the Second Amendment.

The 5-4 decision in McDonald has cheered conservatives and further depressed liberals, whose attempts to re-interpret the Constitution to allow for complete bans on gun possession have now been stopped in their tracks. But according to Politico, there’s a silver lining in all this for the Democratic Party, which has long been the driving force behind pieces of anti-gun legislation that treated the Second Amendment as an 18th-century typo. Kasie Hunt writes that the McDonald decision has effectively ended all discussion about gun rights in the country, and that means “Democratic candidates across the map figure they have one less issue to worry about on the campaign trail. And they won’t have to defend against Republican attacks over gun rights and an, angry energized base of gun owners.”

If she’s right, that would be a big break for conservative Democrats in districts outside of liberal urban strongholds, who are burdened with defending their party’s stand on guns even if they claim to be pro-gun rights themselves. Indeed, Hunt goes so far as to claim that the “neutralization” of the gun issue and the influence of the National Rifle Association may make the difference in enabling the Democrats to hold onto their majorities in Congress.

But Democrats who think the court has silenced debate on the issue forever are kidding themselves. After all, the two decisive rulings reaffirming the meaning of the Second Amendment were 5-4 votes. That means the swing of even one vote on the court from the conservative majority to the liberal minority could change everything. That makes control of the Senate and the White House no less crucial in the future than it has been in the past for those who care about this issue. It’s true that conservative Democrats in the House can claim that this has nothing to do with them. But being a member of the political party that is currently replacing one of the four anti-Second Amendment votes (Justice John Paul Stevens) with another liberal, in the form of Elena Kagan, and which would, if they got the chance, happily replace any of the five members of the majority on this issue with a liberal who will tip the balance, is still a liability in those parts of the country where support for the Second Amendment is considered a matter of life and death.

Liberals may hope that the ruling dampens the ardor of conservatives who care about gun rights. But though Democrats like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is currently fighting an uphill battle to hold his seat in Nevada, may applaud the ruling in McDonald, voters know that he would vote to confirm a liberal, nominated by a Democratic president, who would overturn it, but that his Republican opponent would not do such a thing.

But even looking beyond the election, the idea that any Supreme Court ruling on the issue will end the political maelstrom on gun rights is almost certainly wrong. The court’s decision in Row v. Wade only rekindled the debate about abortion and the fact that most members of Congress and even the president have no direct power to either reaffirm or overturn Roe — except through the potential for change in the Supreme Court’s membership — hasn’t prevented abortion from remaining a hot-button political issue for decades. So long as there is a potential for either new legislation that will try to get around the Constitution or a switch in the composition of the court, there is little likelihood that the NRA will lower its guard or that its adherents will, even in a figurative sense, lay down their arms.

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Eons Away from Peace in the Middle East

This report, from the BBC no less (the giveaway is that “terrorist” isn’t used), gives you an idea of how divorced from reality is the “peace process”:

Masked gunmen in the Gaza Strip have set fire to a United Nations-run summer camp for children. This follows a similar attack in May on another UN-run summer camp. Some militants view the UN as a symbol of the West and claim that the summer camps allow boys and girls to mix freely – something that the UN denies. The attackers tied up the guard at the camp in central Gaza before setting fire to chairs, tables, easels and other equipment. The UN says about 25 armed men attacked the beach camp in the middle of Sunday night. … Nobody was hurt, and nobody has claimed responsibility for the attack. But in a similar incident last month a previously unknown Islamist group said its had attacked a UN summer camp in Gaza city. The head in Gaza of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestinian refugees condemned the attack as “cowardly and despicable.”

But Israel is the subject of the ire of the “international community” and is chastised for being too exacting in its list of blockaded goods. Well, when everything is a weapon — rope, matches, etc. — it gets hard to decide what should be excluded.

The most chilling part of the report is this: “Hamas also runs rival summer camps.” One can only imagine what their activities must be like and how many young minds are being corralled into the cult of death. Imagine, too, the mothers who choose to send their children to such places, and who pine for their flesh and blood to be martyred.

Meanwhile, there is this report:

The continued power struggle between Hamas and Fatah has left tens of thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in the dark following the closure of the area’s main power plant. The power plant, which supplies 25% of electricity to the Gaza Strip, was shut down on Friday night because of a dispute between the rival Palestinian parties over payment for fuel that is needed to keep it running. Hamas and Fatah traded allegations over the power outage, with each party blaming the other for the crisis.

Only by turning a blind eye to these and the hundreds of other indications that Israel’s foes remain dedicated to the Jewish state’s destruction does the Obama team imagine that George Mitchell is going to bring “peace” to Israel and the Palestinians. It is hard to make the case that “peace” in our time will come about by his shuffling between the two sides, one of which has not the authority or the will to make a deal and no means of ensuring that summer camps, schools, and hospitals do not remain targets of those who don’t share the vision of a two-state solution.

This report, from the BBC no less (the giveaway is that “terrorist” isn’t used), gives you an idea of how divorced from reality is the “peace process”:

Masked gunmen in the Gaza Strip have set fire to a United Nations-run summer camp for children. This follows a similar attack in May on another UN-run summer camp. Some militants view the UN as a symbol of the West and claim that the summer camps allow boys and girls to mix freely – something that the UN denies. The attackers tied up the guard at the camp in central Gaza before setting fire to chairs, tables, easels and other equipment. The UN says about 25 armed men attacked the beach camp in the middle of Sunday night. … Nobody was hurt, and nobody has claimed responsibility for the attack. But in a similar incident last month a previously unknown Islamist group said its had attacked a UN summer camp in Gaza city. The head in Gaza of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestinian refugees condemned the attack as “cowardly and despicable.”

But Israel is the subject of the ire of the “international community” and is chastised for being too exacting in its list of blockaded goods. Well, when everything is a weapon — rope, matches, etc. — it gets hard to decide what should be excluded.

The most chilling part of the report is this: “Hamas also runs rival summer camps.” One can only imagine what their activities must be like and how many young minds are being corralled into the cult of death. Imagine, too, the mothers who choose to send their children to such places, and who pine for their flesh and blood to be martyred.

Meanwhile, there is this report:

The continued power struggle between Hamas and Fatah has left tens of thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in the dark following the closure of the area’s main power plant. The power plant, which supplies 25% of electricity to the Gaza Strip, was shut down on Friday night because of a dispute between the rival Palestinian parties over payment for fuel that is needed to keep it running. Hamas and Fatah traded allegations over the power outage, with each party blaming the other for the crisis.

Only by turning a blind eye to these and the hundreds of other indications that Israel’s foes remain dedicated to the Jewish state’s destruction does the Obama team imagine that George Mitchell is going to bring “peace” to Israel and the Palestinians. It is hard to make the case that “peace” in our time will come about by his shuffling between the two sides, one of which has not the authority or the will to make a deal and no means of ensuring that summer camps, schools, and hospitals do not remain targets of those who don’t share the vision of a two-state solution.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Don’t expect a better description of the world’s unique treatment of Israel. From Mark Steyn: “North Korea sinks a South Korean ship; hundreds of thousands of people die in the Sudan; millions die in the Congo. But 10 men die at the hands of Israeli commandos and it dominates the news day in, day out for weeks, with UN resolutions, international investigations, calls for boycotts, and every Western prime minister and foreign minister expected to rise in parliament and express the outrage of the international community. Odd. But why? Because Israel is supposed to be up for grabs in a way that the Congo, Sudan or even North Korea aren’t. Only the Jewish state attracts an intellectually respectable movement querying its very existence, and insisting that, after 62 years of independence, that issue is still not resolved.”

Don’t miss the latest from Lee Smith on appeasing Muslim extremists: “The way Obama sees it, the upside is that it will not be a war without end, like the war on terror. All the extremists in the Muslim world want is money and the power that will flow their way as the consequence of the U.S. withdrawal from the Persian Gulf. The faster the United States leaves, the cheaper the cost. This is why the Jewish state is isolated today and why Washington stands with her only reluctantly: Distancing ourselves from Israel is part of the deal we are preparing to strike.”

Don’t expect her to get a cushy White House job after leaving office: “Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm says the oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico has become a symbol that Barack Obama’s got to shake.”

Don’t think Obama’s foreign policy can’t get worse: “The Obama administration is secretly working with Russia to conclude an agreement that many officials fear will limit U.S. missile defenses, a key objective of Moscow since it opposed plans for a U.S. missile defense interceptor base in Eastern Europe, according to American officials involved in arms control issues.” Aside from the inanity of unilateral disarmament, how does he think this is going to get through the U.S. Senate?

Don’t hold your breath. The Washington Post editors go after Obama for his counterproductive timeline in Afghanistan: “It’s time for him to make clear whether the United States is prepared to stay long enough to ensure a stable and peaceful Afghanistan.”

Don’t imagine Republicans are ungrateful for a speech this bad: “President Barack Obama’s less-than-specific Oval Office address on energy has White House aides and Senate Democrats scrambling to find a way to pass climate change legislation. What it will be — if anything — remains an open question.”

Don’t let your guard down, but Obama finally seems to have been effective at killing some bad legislation: “Senate Democrats emerged from a special caucus meeting in the Capitol on Thursday with no clear consensus yet on the fate of energy and climate legislation due on the floor before the August recess.”

Don’t expect a better description of the world’s unique treatment of Israel. From Mark Steyn: “North Korea sinks a South Korean ship; hundreds of thousands of people die in the Sudan; millions die in the Congo. But 10 men die at the hands of Israeli commandos and it dominates the news day in, day out for weeks, with UN resolutions, international investigations, calls for boycotts, and every Western prime minister and foreign minister expected to rise in parliament and express the outrage of the international community. Odd. But why? Because Israel is supposed to be up for grabs in a way that the Congo, Sudan or even North Korea aren’t. Only the Jewish state attracts an intellectually respectable movement querying its very existence, and insisting that, after 62 years of independence, that issue is still not resolved.”

Don’t miss the latest from Lee Smith on appeasing Muslim extremists: “The way Obama sees it, the upside is that it will not be a war without end, like the war on terror. All the extremists in the Muslim world want is money and the power that will flow their way as the consequence of the U.S. withdrawal from the Persian Gulf. The faster the United States leaves, the cheaper the cost. This is why the Jewish state is isolated today and why Washington stands with her only reluctantly: Distancing ourselves from Israel is part of the deal we are preparing to strike.”

Don’t expect her to get a cushy White House job after leaving office: “Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm says the oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico has become a symbol that Barack Obama’s got to shake.”

Don’t think Obama’s foreign policy can’t get worse: “The Obama administration is secretly working with Russia to conclude an agreement that many officials fear will limit U.S. missile defenses, a key objective of Moscow since it opposed plans for a U.S. missile defense interceptor base in Eastern Europe, according to American officials involved in arms control issues.” Aside from the inanity of unilateral disarmament, how does he think this is going to get through the U.S. Senate?

Don’t hold your breath. The Washington Post editors go after Obama for his counterproductive timeline in Afghanistan: “It’s time for him to make clear whether the United States is prepared to stay long enough to ensure a stable and peaceful Afghanistan.”

Don’t imagine Republicans are ungrateful for a speech this bad: “President Barack Obama’s less-than-specific Oval Office address on energy has White House aides and Senate Democrats scrambling to find a way to pass climate change legislation. What it will be — if anything — remains an open question.”

Don’t let your guard down, but Obama finally seems to have been effective at killing some bad legislation: “Senate Democrats emerged from a special caucus meeting in the Capitol on Thursday with no clear consensus yet on the fate of energy and climate legislation due on the floor before the August recess.”

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Oh, Before I Forget…

Yahya Wehelie is an American Muslim man who, after spending 18 months in Yemen, was detained in Cairo by U.S. intelligence agents. For six weeks now he has been living in a  no-fly-list Egyptian limbo. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and various other activist groups are raising a stink to get him back to his Virginia home. In the New York Times, Scott Shane paints a largely sympathetic portrait of Wehelie and his predicament, quoting ACLU lawyers who say things like, “For many of these Americans, placement on the no-fly list effectively amounts to banishment from their country.” Fine. Maybe Wehelie is being treated unfairly; maybe not. However, I can’t help but think that Shane was a bit remiss in placing the following factoid 22 paragraphs into the  story about the luckless world traveler:

Mr. Wehelie studied computer science at Lebanese International University in Sana, the Yemeni capital, he said, and last year he married a Somali woman in Yemen. And in the small American expatriate community, he said, he met Sharif Mobley, the New Jersey man who was later accused of joining Al Qaeda and killing a Yemeni guard. Mr. Wehelie said their handful of encounters were brief and casual, the innocent small talk of two expatriates.

Small world.

Yahya Wehelie is an American Muslim man who, after spending 18 months in Yemen, was detained in Cairo by U.S. intelligence agents. For six weeks now he has been living in a  no-fly-list Egyptian limbo. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and various other activist groups are raising a stink to get him back to his Virginia home. In the New York Times, Scott Shane paints a largely sympathetic portrait of Wehelie and his predicament, quoting ACLU lawyers who say things like, “For many of these Americans, placement on the no-fly list effectively amounts to banishment from their country.” Fine. Maybe Wehelie is being treated unfairly; maybe not. However, I can’t help but think that Shane was a bit remiss in placing the following factoid 22 paragraphs into the  story about the luckless world traveler:

Mr. Wehelie studied computer science at Lebanese International University in Sana, the Yemeni capital, he said, and last year he married a Somali woman in Yemen. And in the small American expatriate community, he said, he met Sharif Mobley, the New Jersey man who was later accused of joining Al Qaeda and killing a Yemeni guard. Mr. Wehelie said their handful of encounters were brief and casual, the innocent small talk of two expatriates.

Small world.

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RE: How Obama’s Policy Ensures More Flotillas

Hard on the heels of Evelyn Gordon’s stingingly accurate analysis, the news comes that Iran is offering a naval escort for the next flotilla. The UK Guardian quotes a top Revolutionary Guard official speaking this past weekend:

“Iran’s Revolutionary Guard naval forces are prepared to escort the peace and freedom convoys that carry humanitarian assistance for the defenceless and oppressed people of Gaza with all their strength,” pledged Hojjatoleslam Ali Shirazi, Khamenei’s personal representative to the guards corps.

This is not an empty threat. Iran’s navy has deployed units to the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea for antipiracy operations since December 2008. The Iranians have taken great pride in expanding their maritime operating range across the region; extending their navy’s reach into the Eastern Mediterranean is now an incremental step, something no longer obviously beyond their force’s capabilities.

This is the kind of move President Obama could have deterred by affirming U.S. support for Israel’s right to secure borders and self-defense. Iran has been emboldened to take this step — one that must provoke a regional showdown — by the perception that Israel stands condemned and alone.

With his response implying U.S. disengagement, however, Obama has ensured that we will ultimately have to do more to protect our own interests. If Iran makes good on this offer, Egypt will quickly face the game-changing decision about whether to allow Iranian navy ships through the Suez Canal for such a mission. And if the U.S. is not acting overtly to give Egypt what the military calls “top cover” — political support and material backing for a negative decision — there is no guarantee that Arab regional fears of Iranian militarism will govern the Egyptian thought process.

Indeed, the long-term effects would be worse than the immediate consequences of an Iranian tactical triumph. A self-imposed posture of impotence on America’s part would drive nations like Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia to turn elsewhere for patronage. In addition to giving them a reason for accommodation with Turkey and Iran, passivity and incoherence on our part would open regional doors further for Russia and perhaps for China, as well.

Events are moving quickly now. It was clear a year ago that Israel’s national security could not be put in question without a feeding frenzy erupting in the Middle East. The past week has demonstrated that Western nations need not actively repudiate Israel to galvanize Israel’s terrorist enemies. Simply withholding affirmation of Israel’s rights as a nation works equally well.

The enemies of Israel are also the enemies of Western civilization — and they are emboldened today to press for what they want. They do not want the global stasis on which our way of life depends, with its liberality of trade, travel, and culture. Obama still has a little time to avert the battle they are preparing for — a battle that will unfold excruciatingly over weeks and months of probing Israel and the West by unconventional methods — but now is the time to act. If he fails to do so, he will rapidly lose control over what the fight is about and what America’s role in it is to be.

Hard on the heels of Evelyn Gordon’s stingingly accurate analysis, the news comes that Iran is offering a naval escort for the next flotilla. The UK Guardian quotes a top Revolutionary Guard official speaking this past weekend:

“Iran’s Revolutionary Guard naval forces are prepared to escort the peace and freedom convoys that carry humanitarian assistance for the defenceless and oppressed people of Gaza with all their strength,” pledged Hojjatoleslam Ali Shirazi, Khamenei’s personal representative to the guards corps.

This is not an empty threat. Iran’s navy has deployed units to the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea for antipiracy operations since December 2008. The Iranians have taken great pride in expanding their maritime operating range across the region; extending their navy’s reach into the Eastern Mediterranean is now an incremental step, something no longer obviously beyond their force’s capabilities.

This is the kind of move President Obama could have deterred by affirming U.S. support for Israel’s right to secure borders and self-defense. Iran has been emboldened to take this step — one that must provoke a regional showdown — by the perception that Israel stands condemned and alone.

With his response implying U.S. disengagement, however, Obama has ensured that we will ultimately have to do more to protect our own interests. If Iran makes good on this offer, Egypt will quickly face the game-changing decision about whether to allow Iranian navy ships through the Suez Canal for such a mission. And if the U.S. is not acting overtly to give Egypt what the military calls “top cover” — political support and material backing for a negative decision — there is no guarantee that Arab regional fears of Iranian militarism will govern the Egyptian thought process.

Indeed, the long-term effects would be worse than the immediate consequences of an Iranian tactical triumph. A self-imposed posture of impotence on America’s part would drive nations like Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia to turn elsewhere for patronage. In addition to giving them a reason for accommodation with Turkey and Iran, passivity and incoherence on our part would open regional doors further for Russia and perhaps for China, as well.

Events are moving quickly now. It was clear a year ago that Israel’s national security could not be put in question without a feeding frenzy erupting in the Middle East. The past week has demonstrated that Western nations need not actively repudiate Israel to galvanize Israel’s terrorist enemies. Simply withholding affirmation of Israel’s rights as a nation works equally well.

The enemies of Israel are also the enemies of Western civilization — and they are emboldened today to press for what they want. They do not want the global stasis on which our way of life depends, with its liberality of trade, travel, and culture. Obama still has a little time to avert the battle they are preparing for — a battle that will unfold excruciatingly over weeks and months of probing Israel and the West by unconventional methods — but now is the time to act. If he fails to do so, he will rapidly lose control over what the fight is about and what America’s role in it is to be.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

When you want clarity on the flotilla, watch Liz Cheney.

When you want moral sanity on Helen Thomas, follow Sarah Palin on Twitter: “Helen Thomas press pals condone racist rant? Heaven forbid ‘esteemed’ press corps represent society’s enlightened elite; Rest of us choose truth.” (When will liberal Jews admit they were conned by candidate Obama’s professed attachment to Israel? When they admit Palin is among the most pro-Israel political figures. Yeah, never.)

When you are prepared to scream and throw things, read Peter Beinart’s call for an end to “American dominance.” It does seem to prove the point that Beinart’s new anti-Israel bent is more about liberalism than about Israel. (A reader e-mails me: “To what does he owe his standard of living and his security?” Err … America’s superpower status? Yup.)

When reporters refer to the flotilla as “humanitarian,” you realize they are ignorant of or intentionally ignoring mounting evidence: “Accumulating evidence in the IDF’s investigation of the Gaza flotilla incident is pointing to the fact a separate group of Islamist radicals whose sole intention was to initiate a violent conflict was aboard the Mavi Marmara, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said at the opening of Sunday’s cabinet meeting. He said that a group of street-fighters ‘boarded the ship at a separate port, did their own provisioning, and were not subject to the same security check of their luggage as all the other passengers.’ The prime minister’s remarks followed IDF reports that a group of about 50 men — of the 700 on board — had been identified as being well-trained, and a ringleader who recruited them from the northwestern Turkey city of Bursa. The group was split up into smaller squads that were distributed throughout the deck and communicated with one another with handheld communication devices. The men wore bulletproof vests and gas masks and laid an ambush for the Shayetet 13 soldiers as they rappelled onto the ship’s deck from a helicopter. The members of this violent group were not carrying identity cards or passports. Instead, each of them had an envelope in his pocket with about $10,000 in cash.”

When Obama ignores Iranian aggression and fails to come up with a reasonable plan to halt the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions, you will get more of this: “Iran would be willing to send its Revolutionary Guard members to accompany further aid ships to Gaza, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Sunday in an interview cited by Reuters.” You see, it’s not about Gaza or humanitarians – this is about Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East and Obama’s failure to do anything about it.

When Chuck Schumer calls for an investigation of the flotilla’s terrorist ties to al-Qaeda, that’s further proof that Obama is increasingly isolated in his noxious stance toward Israel. When he asks the State Department — who was willing to go along with the UN resolution – to do the investigation, you wonder if he’s serious. How about letting Israel do the investigation? You know, like America does when there is a controversial national-security incident.

When an investigation needs to be done, there really isn’t anyone better able to do it than Israel, which has already identified five flotilla passengers with prior involvement in terrorist activities. How long (if ever) would it have taken Hillary to figure that out?

When you want clarity on the flotilla, watch Liz Cheney.

When you want moral sanity on Helen Thomas, follow Sarah Palin on Twitter: “Helen Thomas press pals condone racist rant? Heaven forbid ‘esteemed’ press corps represent society’s enlightened elite; Rest of us choose truth.” (When will liberal Jews admit they were conned by candidate Obama’s professed attachment to Israel? When they admit Palin is among the most pro-Israel political figures. Yeah, never.)

When you are prepared to scream and throw things, read Peter Beinart’s call for an end to “American dominance.” It does seem to prove the point that Beinart’s new anti-Israel bent is more about liberalism than about Israel. (A reader e-mails me: “To what does he owe his standard of living and his security?” Err … America’s superpower status? Yup.)

When reporters refer to the flotilla as “humanitarian,” you realize they are ignorant of or intentionally ignoring mounting evidence: “Accumulating evidence in the IDF’s investigation of the Gaza flotilla incident is pointing to the fact a separate group of Islamist radicals whose sole intention was to initiate a violent conflict was aboard the Mavi Marmara, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said at the opening of Sunday’s cabinet meeting. He said that a group of street-fighters ‘boarded the ship at a separate port, did their own provisioning, and were not subject to the same security check of their luggage as all the other passengers.’ The prime minister’s remarks followed IDF reports that a group of about 50 men — of the 700 on board — had been identified as being well-trained, and a ringleader who recruited them from the northwestern Turkey city of Bursa. The group was split up into smaller squads that were distributed throughout the deck and communicated with one another with handheld communication devices. The men wore bulletproof vests and gas masks and laid an ambush for the Shayetet 13 soldiers as they rappelled onto the ship’s deck from a helicopter. The members of this violent group were not carrying identity cards or passports. Instead, each of them had an envelope in his pocket with about $10,000 in cash.”

When Obama ignores Iranian aggression and fails to come up with a reasonable plan to halt the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions, you will get more of this: “Iran would be willing to send its Revolutionary Guard members to accompany further aid ships to Gaza, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Sunday in an interview cited by Reuters.” You see, it’s not about Gaza or humanitarians – this is about Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East and Obama’s failure to do anything about it.

When Chuck Schumer calls for an investigation of the flotilla’s terrorist ties to al-Qaeda, that’s further proof that Obama is increasingly isolated in his noxious stance toward Israel. When he asks the State Department — who was willing to go along with the UN resolution – to do the investigation, you wonder if he’s serious. How about letting Israel do the investigation? You know, like America does when there is a controversial national-security incident.

When an investigation needs to be done, there really isn’t anyone better able to do it than Israel, which has already identified five flotilla passengers with prior involvement in terrorist activities. How long (if ever) would it have taken Hillary to figure that out?

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A New Sheriff in the Strait

In the flurry of mildly interesting disclosures from the Iranian military exercise this week, one is likely to be overlooked. Iranian state media report that on Friday, April 23, the Revolutionary Guard’s naval arm stopped two ships for inspection in the Strait of Hormuz. The ships, according to Iran’s Press TV, were French and Italian. The photo accompanying the story depicts a Kaman-class guided-missile patrol boat on which the boxy, Chinese-designed C802 anti-ship-missile launchers can be seen amidships. The stated purpose of the inspections was to verify “environmental compliance.”

The names of the foreign ships were not provided; sketchy details make it difficult to be certain exactly where in the strait they were stopped. But European ships — even private yachts — rarely venture outside the recognized navigation corridors in the Strait of Hormuz. If this news report is valid, it almost certainly means that Iran detained ships that were transiting those corridors.

That, as our vice president might say, is a big effing deal. That’s not because Iran has committed an act of war by intercepting these ships, as some in the blogosphere are speculating. The intercepts were not acts of war. The purpose of verifying environmental compliance is one Iran can theoretically invoke on the basis of its maritime claims lodged with the UN in 1993. Ironically, however, Iran has never signed the Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS), the instrument by which the terms of its claims are defined. Many nations, of course, have yet to either sign or ratify UNCLOS, America being among them. In the meantime, world shipping has operated in the Strait of Hormuz for decades on the basis of UNCLOS’s definition of “transit passage,” which has customarily immunized ships in routine transit through straits against random intercept by the littoral navies (e.g., Iran’s or Oman’s).

Iran would be breaking with that custom by stopping ships for inspection in the recognized transit corridors. But this venue for a newly assertive Iranian profile is chosen well: stopping foreign ships that are conducting transit passage is uncollegial and inconvenient for commerce, but it is not clearly in breach of international law.

What it is, however, is an incipient challenge to the maritime regime enforced by the U.S., which includes the quiescent transit-passage custom on which global commerce relies. Mariners take care to observe the law as it is written, regardless of their nationality or national position on UNCLOS; but the guarantee of their unhindered passage isn’t international law, it’s the U.S. Navy. Demonstrations of force are required only rarely. Reagan put down revolutionary Iran’s only serious challenge to international maritime order back in 1988, in the final months of the Iran-Iraq War. Since then, Iran has refrained from unilateral action against shipping in the recognized transit corridors of the strait.

It’s ingenious to use environmental inspection as a pretext for establishing a new regime of unilateral Iranian prerogative. Iran is probing the U.S. and the West with this move. Fortunately, for the time being, diplomacy is the ideal tool for making it clear to Iran that the U.S. won’t tolerate capricious interference with shipping in the Strait of Hormuz. This initiative of Tehran’s must be nipped in the bud promptly, however. It can only escalate — and without pushback, it will.

In the flurry of mildly interesting disclosures from the Iranian military exercise this week, one is likely to be overlooked. Iranian state media report that on Friday, April 23, the Revolutionary Guard’s naval arm stopped two ships for inspection in the Strait of Hormuz. The ships, according to Iran’s Press TV, were French and Italian. The photo accompanying the story depicts a Kaman-class guided-missile patrol boat on which the boxy, Chinese-designed C802 anti-ship-missile launchers can be seen amidships. The stated purpose of the inspections was to verify “environmental compliance.”

The names of the foreign ships were not provided; sketchy details make it difficult to be certain exactly where in the strait they were stopped. But European ships — even private yachts — rarely venture outside the recognized navigation corridors in the Strait of Hormuz. If this news report is valid, it almost certainly means that Iran detained ships that were transiting those corridors.

That, as our vice president might say, is a big effing deal. That’s not because Iran has committed an act of war by intercepting these ships, as some in the blogosphere are speculating. The intercepts were not acts of war. The purpose of verifying environmental compliance is one Iran can theoretically invoke on the basis of its maritime claims lodged with the UN in 1993. Ironically, however, Iran has never signed the Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS), the instrument by which the terms of its claims are defined. Many nations, of course, have yet to either sign or ratify UNCLOS, America being among them. In the meantime, world shipping has operated in the Strait of Hormuz for decades on the basis of UNCLOS’s definition of “transit passage,” which has customarily immunized ships in routine transit through straits against random intercept by the littoral navies (e.g., Iran’s or Oman’s).

Iran would be breaking with that custom by stopping ships for inspection in the recognized transit corridors. But this venue for a newly assertive Iranian profile is chosen well: stopping foreign ships that are conducting transit passage is uncollegial and inconvenient for commerce, but it is not clearly in breach of international law.

What it is, however, is an incipient challenge to the maritime regime enforced by the U.S., which includes the quiescent transit-passage custom on which global commerce relies. Mariners take care to observe the law as it is written, regardless of their nationality or national position on UNCLOS; but the guarantee of their unhindered passage isn’t international law, it’s the U.S. Navy. Demonstrations of force are required only rarely. Reagan put down revolutionary Iran’s only serious challenge to international maritime order back in 1988, in the final months of the Iran-Iraq War. Since then, Iran has refrained from unilateral action against shipping in the recognized transit corridors of the strait.

It’s ingenious to use environmental inspection as a pretext for establishing a new regime of unilateral Iranian prerogative. Iran is probing the U.S. and the West with this move. Fortunately, for the time being, diplomacy is the ideal tool for making it clear to Iran that the U.S. won’t tolerate capricious interference with shipping in the Strait of Hormuz. This initiative of Tehran’s must be nipped in the bud promptly, however. It can only escalate — and without pushback, it will.

Read Less

Which Is the Party of Ideas?

Kim Strassel writes:

Marco Rubio appeared on a Sunday talk show this month to say something remarkable. The Republican running for Florida’s Senate seat suggested we reform Social Security by raising the retirement age for younger workers. Florida is home to 2.4 million senior citizens who like to vote. The blogs declared Mr. Rubio politically suicidal.

The response from Mr. Rubio’s primary competitor, Gov. Charlie Crist, was not remarkable. His campaign slammed Mr. Rubio’s idea as “cruel, unusual and unfair to seniors living on a fixed income.” Mr. Crist’s plan for $17.5 trillion in unfunded Social Security liabilities? Easy! He’ll root out “fraud” and “waste.”

Strassel says this is the real GOP “civil war”  — “the real divide is between reformers like Mr. Rubio and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, who are running on principles and tough issues, and a GOP old guard that still finds it politically expedient to duck or demagogue issues.”

This also confirms that the mainstream media spin that Tea Party protesters are dolts, fools, and rubes is, well, media spin. The darling of the Tea Partiers is the smart-guy reformer, not the party hack. And the Democrats — including the allegedly “intellectual” president — are the ones playing games with the budget scoring on ObamaCare and shoving off on a commission the hard work of entitlement and budget reform.

Before the economy melted down and John McCain’s campaign ground to a halt (and then began to eat its own), McCain was running as a reformer, someone not beholden to the party insiders. He came up with a credible health-care plan that was not too different from many circulating among Republicans in Congress now. McCain was a flawed candidate, running in an impossible election year for a Republican, but the message of reform along with a healthy dose of impatience with White House insiderism is a solid message for conservatives. In fact, it’s more compelling after Obama (who has vividly demonstrated what needs to be reformed) than it was in 2008.

In 2010 and 2012, Republicans will need more competent proponents of that message. They have them in Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, and others. Suddenly the party of ideas is once again the GOP, while the Democrats — and their infatuation for statism — suddenly seem rather stale.

Kim Strassel writes:

Marco Rubio appeared on a Sunday talk show this month to say something remarkable. The Republican running for Florida’s Senate seat suggested we reform Social Security by raising the retirement age for younger workers. Florida is home to 2.4 million senior citizens who like to vote. The blogs declared Mr. Rubio politically suicidal.

The response from Mr. Rubio’s primary competitor, Gov. Charlie Crist, was not remarkable. His campaign slammed Mr. Rubio’s idea as “cruel, unusual and unfair to seniors living on a fixed income.” Mr. Crist’s plan for $17.5 trillion in unfunded Social Security liabilities? Easy! He’ll root out “fraud” and “waste.”

Strassel says this is the real GOP “civil war”  — “the real divide is between reformers like Mr. Rubio and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, who are running on principles and tough issues, and a GOP old guard that still finds it politically expedient to duck or demagogue issues.”

This also confirms that the mainstream media spin that Tea Party protesters are dolts, fools, and rubes is, well, media spin. The darling of the Tea Partiers is the smart-guy reformer, not the party hack. And the Democrats — including the allegedly “intellectual” president — are the ones playing games with the budget scoring on ObamaCare and shoving off on a commission the hard work of entitlement and budget reform.

Before the economy melted down and John McCain’s campaign ground to a halt (and then began to eat its own), McCain was running as a reformer, someone not beholden to the party insiders. He came up with a credible health-care plan that was not too different from many circulating among Republicans in Congress now. McCain was a flawed candidate, running in an impossible election year for a Republican, but the message of reform along with a healthy dose of impatience with White House insiderism is a solid message for conservatives. In fact, it’s more compelling after Obama (who has vividly demonstrated what needs to be reformed) than it was in 2008.

In 2010 and 2012, Republicans will need more competent proponents of that message. They have them in Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, and others. Suddenly the party of ideas is once again the GOP, while the Democrats — and their infatuation for statism — suddenly seem rather stale.

Read Less

Statesmanship 101

There isn’t a lot more to say about the bizarre quality of President Obama’s reference this week to America remaining a dominant military power “whether we like it or not.”

But it is worth noting how far this formulation diverges from the customs of responsible statesmanship. Comments of this kind belong in seminar discussions and spitball sessions, not in the public addresses of national leaders.

A national leader’s job is to communicate his nation’s intentions and interests, and to reinforce, when necessary, what the nation can be relied on to do. There is no need even to use words like “dominant military power.” That’s a theoretical description; a wonk’s expression. What a president should be stating is what America’s policy is. Instead, Obama has offered an explanation for our interest in reducing conflict overseas that can only come across as cynical and gratuitously insulting. Such conflicts, he laments, inevitably draw us, the dominant military power, into them.

The urge to editorialize is something effective statesmen rigorously suppress; their least-scripted comments align with the policies they advocate in official settings. Obama shouldn’t even utter words that dilute and detract from his message about America’s intentions. In the end, no one cares whether this president “gets” the irony and ambivalence attendant on national greatness. What will matter is the effect his words produce in the lives of millions. Perpetual consciousness of that is indeed a strain. It means setting a guard on one’s tongue every waking moment. But as we say in the military: that’s what we pay him the big bucks for.

There isn’t a lot more to say about the bizarre quality of President Obama’s reference this week to America remaining a dominant military power “whether we like it or not.”

But it is worth noting how far this formulation diverges from the customs of responsible statesmanship. Comments of this kind belong in seminar discussions and spitball sessions, not in the public addresses of national leaders.

A national leader’s job is to communicate his nation’s intentions and interests, and to reinforce, when necessary, what the nation can be relied on to do. There is no need even to use words like “dominant military power.” That’s a theoretical description; a wonk’s expression. What a president should be stating is what America’s policy is. Instead, Obama has offered an explanation for our interest in reducing conflict overseas that can only come across as cynical and gratuitously insulting. Such conflicts, he laments, inevitably draw us, the dominant military power, into them.

The urge to editorialize is something effective statesmen rigorously suppress; their least-scripted comments align with the policies they advocate in official settings. Obama shouldn’t even utter words that dilute and detract from his message about America’s intentions. In the end, no one cares whether this president “gets” the irony and ambivalence attendant on national greatness. What will matter is the effect his words produce in the lives of millions. Perpetual consciousness of that is indeed a strain. It means setting a guard on one’s tongue every waking moment. But as we say in the military: that’s what we pay him the big bucks for.

Read Less




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