Commentary Magazine


Topic: Manouchehr Mottaki

Flotsam and Jetsam

The exception to the rule that I never mention poetry.

Dan Coats takes a big lead in Indiana. “Newly chosen Republican nominee Dan Coats earns 51% support while his Democratic rival Brad Ellsworth’s attracts 36% in the first Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of the Indiana Senate race following Tuesday’s GOP Primary.”

A huge majority — 60 to 32 percent — still favor offshore drilling. And that’s in the Daily Kos poll.

When more people get hired, more enter the job market, and there aren’t enough new jobs to absorb them. So despite 290,000 new jobs: “The unemployment rate, however, crept up to 9.9 percent in April from 9.7 percent in March, mostly the government said, because about 805,000 people joined the labor force either working or looking for work. Yet in a sign that many will not be able to find a job even as the economy improves, the number of people who have been out of work for more than six months hit 6.7 million, nearly 46 percent of the unemployed.”

The result of 15 months of Obama’s Iran policy: “Iran will not stop enriching uranium and has a right to pursue atomic technology, the country’s foreign minister told UN Security Council diplomats at a private dinner. A US official familiar with Thursday night’s meeting in New York told The Associated Press that Manouchehr Mottaki was defiant in the face of demands that Iran halt the process that can produce fuel for a nuclear weapon. … Mottaki said Iran would not suspend uranium enrichment, according to the US official. The foreign minister said that position was firm and would not change even if Iran accepted a proposal to send uranium from a medical research reactor in Teheran abroad for reprocessing, the official said Friday.”

Maybe it is because, as Israel’s UN Ambassador says, the sanctions under contemplation “are not going to be crippling. … They’re not even going to be biting. … They’re going to be moderate, watered down, diluted.”

Eric Holder only allows career employees with nice things to say about the administration to speak up. “So here were two customs officers speaking on national television about what they did in this case, revealing to the world (and any terrorist networks) the strengths and weaknesses of our airline-security system. They obviously could not appear without having gotten permission from the highest levels of the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department, which is handling the prosecution of this case. Yet Eric Holder refuses to let his front-line Voting Section employees talk about what happened in the New Black Panther case (even purely factual matters having nothing to due with any DOJ deliberations), unlawfully defying subpoenas from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.”

Ronald Brownstein is surprised: “The great political surprise of Obama’s presidency is that amid these hard times, the electorate has directed its frustration less against Big Business (though it is hardly popular) than against Big Government, especially as Obama has aggressively expanded Washington’s reach in response to the economic crisis.” I think it’s because Obama has aggressively expanded Washington’s reach.

The exception to the rule that I never mention poetry.

Dan Coats takes a big lead in Indiana. “Newly chosen Republican nominee Dan Coats earns 51% support while his Democratic rival Brad Ellsworth’s attracts 36% in the first Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of the Indiana Senate race following Tuesday’s GOP Primary.”

A huge majority — 60 to 32 percent — still favor offshore drilling. And that’s in the Daily Kos poll.

When more people get hired, more enter the job market, and there aren’t enough new jobs to absorb them. So despite 290,000 new jobs: “The unemployment rate, however, crept up to 9.9 percent in April from 9.7 percent in March, mostly the government said, because about 805,000 people joined the labor force either working or looking for work. Yet in a sign that many will not be able to find a job even as the economy improves, the number of people who have been out of work for more than six months hit 6.7 million, nearly 46 percent of the unemployed.”

The result of 15 months of Obama’s Iran policy: “Iran will not stop enriching uranium and has a right to pursue atomic technology, the country’s foreign minister told UN Security Council diplomats at a private dinner. A US official familiar with Thursday night’s meeting in New York told The Associated Press that Manouchehr Mottaki was defiant in the face of demands that Iran halt the process that can produce fuel for a nuclear weapon. … Mottaki said Iran would not suspend uranium enrichment, according to the US official. The foreign minister said that position was firm and would not change even if Iran accepted a proposal to send uranium from a medical research reactor in Teheran abroad for reprocessing, the official said Friday.”

Maybe it is because, as Israel’s UN Ambassador says, the sanctions under contemplation “are not going to be crippling. … They’re not even going to be biting. … They’re going to be moderate, watered down, diluted.”

Eric Holder only allows career employees with nice things to say about the administration to speak up. “So here were two customs officers speaking on national television about what they did in this case, revealing to the world (and any terrorist networks) the strengths and weaknesses of our airline-security system. They obviously could not appear without having gotten permission from the highest levels of the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department, which is handling the prosecution of this case. Yet Eric Holder refuses to let his front-line Voting Section employees talk about what happened in the New Black Panther case (even purely factual matters having nothing to due with any DOJ deliberations), unlawfully defying subpoenas from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.”

Ronald Brownstein is surprised: “The great political surprise of Obama’s presidency is that amid these hard times, the electorate has directed its frustration less against Big Business (though it is hardly popular) than against Big Government, especially as Obama has aggressively expanded Washington’s reach in response to the economic crisis.” I think it’s because Obama has aggressively expanded Washington’s reach.

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Iran Engagement Lives

The Washington Post reports:

In a highly unusual move, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki hosted a dinner Thursday for the 15 members of the U.N. Security Council, including a senior U.S. diplomat, at the Iranian mission’s sumptuous Fifth Avenue townhouse in New York, according to Security Council diplomats. … The United States was represented at the dinner, but not by its top diplomat, Susan E. Rice. Alejandro D. Wolff, the second-ranking ambassador at the U.S. mission to the United Nations, attended instead.

The administration hastens to add that this doesn’t signal that we are backing away from sanctions (albeit the itty-bitty ones we are negotiating), and we should, I suppose, be thankful that Rice herself didn’t attend. But the administration can’t help but reveal its muddled approach: “The United States maintained that its presence at the dinner should not be interpreted as a sign that it is backing away from sanctions. ‘This is a dual-track strategy of engagement on one hand and pressure on the other,’ the U.S. official said.” The result is, of course, a mixed message — and an ineffective policy. We can’t commit to regime change — for that might anger the mullahs or smear the Green Movement. We can’t pass crippling sanctions, because that would cause too much pain and impair our ability to resume engagement.

So we seek halfhearted sanctions that have no hope of success, as we signal — plead, in fact — for the Iranians to return to the bargaining table, where they can resume the stalling tactics that have bought them months and months of time to pursue their nuclear program. The notion that we should isolate Iran, engage in a full-court press to make it a pariah state, and push for, at the very least, petroleum sanctions is alien to this administration. We shouldn’t then worry about a dinner party. We should worry that the administration has given up on preventing the mullahs from getting the bomb.

The Washington Post reports:

In a highly unusual move, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki hosted a dinner Thursday for the 15 members of the U.N. Security Council, including a senior U.S. diplomat, at the Iranian mission’s sumptuous Fifth Avenue townhouse in New York, according to Security Council diplomats. … The United States was represented at the dinner, but not by its top diplomat, Susan E. Rice. Alejandro D. Wolff, the second-ranking ambassador at the U.S. mission to the United Nations, attended instead.

The administration hastens to add that this doesn’t signal that we are backing away from sanctions (albeit the itty-bitty ones we are negotiating), and we should, I suppose, be thankful that Rice herself didn’t attend. But the administration can’t help but reveal its muddled approach: “The United States maintained that its presence at the dinner should not be interpreted as a sign that it is backing away from sanctions. ‘This is a dual-track strategy of engagement on one hand and pressure on the other,’ the U.S. official said.” The result is, of course, a mixed message — and an ineffective policy. We can’t commit to regime change — for that might anger the mullahs or smear the Green Movement. We can’t pass crippling sanctions, because that would cause too much pain and impair our ability to resume engagement.

So we seek halfhearted sanctions that have no hope of success, as we signal — plead, in fact — for the Iranians to return to the bargaining table, where they can resume the stalling tactics that have bought them months and months of time to pursue their nuclear program. The notion that we should isolate Iran, engage in a full-court press to make it a pariah state, and push for, at the very least, petroleum sanctions is alien to this administration. We shouldn’t then worry about a dinner party. We should worry that the administration has given up on preventing the mullahs from getting the bomb.

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Iran Wants In

As we noted last month, Iran is making a bid for membership on the United Nations’s Human Rights Council. Yes, we’ve passed farce awhile back when Libya joined the august body of despotic regimes — which spends its time pronouncing on the imagined offenses of the one democracy in the Middle East. (Hint: it isn’t the Islamic Republic of Iran.) The Wall Street Journal‘s editors note that Iran wants a piece of the action:

Among its presumptive qualifications, says Iran’s foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki, is that last June’s elections were “an exemplary exhibition of democracy and freedom.” Other contenders vying for election include the Maldives, which bans the public practice of all religions save Sunni Islam; and Malaysia, whose judiciary is currently prosecuting opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on dubious charges of sodomy.

But the disgrace is not that Libya or Iran may sit on the Human Rights Council; it’s that the U.S. does. As the editors remark, “A year ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised that by joining the Council—the Bush Administration had refused—the U.S. ‘will engage in the work of improving the U.N. human rights system.’ Whatever they’re doing, it doesn’t seem to be working.” Well working for whom, I guess is the question. America’s presence on the Human Rights Council provides a patina of respectability to the thugs who appear periodically to condemn Israel, raise the banner for terrorists and their state sponsors, and dream up ways to impinge on the free expression of anyone who might criticize the less-than-admirable human-rights record in their own country.

If we want to stop the erosion of America’s moral standing in the world, a good way to start would be by leaving the Human Rights Council. And then we could actually begin condemning, loudly and specifically, the atrocities of the Iranian regime. Too much to ask? There’s always hope for change — but, regrettably, for the Obama administration that too often seems to stop at the water’s edge.

As we noted last month, Iran is making a bid for membership on the United Nations’s Human Rights Council. Yes, we’ve passed farce awhile back when Libya joined the august body of despotic regimes — which spends its time pronouncing on the imagined offenses of the one democracy in the Middle East. (Hint: it isn’t the Islamic Republic of Iran.) The Wall Street Journal‘s editors note that Iran wants a piece of the action:

Among its presumptive qualifications, says Iran’s foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki, is that last June’s elections were “an exemplary exhibition of democracy and freedom.” Other contenders vying for election include the Maldives, which bans the public practice of all religions save Sunni Islam; and Malaysia, whose judiciary is currently prosecuting opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on dubious charges of sodomy.

But the disgrace is not that Libya or Iran may sit on the Human Rights Council; it’s that the U.S. does. As the editors remark, “A year ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised that by joining the Council—the Bush Administration had refused—the U.S. ‘will engage in the work of improving the U.N. human rights system.’ Whatever they’re doing, it doesn’t seem to be working.” Well working for whom, I guess is the question. America’s presence on the Human Rights Council provides a patina of respectability to the thugs who appear periodically to condemn Israel, raise the banner for terrorists and their state sponsors, and dream up ways to impinge on the free expression of anyone who might criticize the less-than-admirable human-rights record in their own country.

If we want to stop the erosion of America’s moral standing in the world, a good way to start would be by leaving the Human Rights Council. And then we could actually begin condemning, loudly and specifically, the atrocities of the Iranian regime. Too much to ask? There’s always hope for change — but, regrettably, for the Obama administration that too often seems to stop at the water’s edge.

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RE: Spokesman for Evil

The Leveretts are on quite a roll — blogs, interviews, speeches all spinning the mullahs’ rhetoric. But they’ve also developed a nasty habit of talking about covert operations. We saw a hint of that in their embarrassing interview with Michael Crowley. Now comes this in their latest straight-from-the-mullahs’-PR-office blog:

Iranian officials are not the only sources claiming that U.S. intelligence is linked to groups carrying out terrorist operations inside the Islamic Republic. Some Western media reports—citing former CIA case officers—say that there are links between Jundallah and U.S. intelligence; for example, see this widely noted story published by Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker in July 2008. Some of these reports say that Jundallah is one of a number of ethnic separatist groups (including Arab, Azeri, Baluch, and Kurdish groups) receiving covert support from the United States, as part of a covert campaign authorized during the George W. Bush Administration to press Tehran over the nuclear issue and destabilize the Islamic Republic.  For a recent discussion of the issue by a retired CIA officer, see here. As we ourselves have written, there is considerable evidence that President Obama inherited from his predecessor a number of overt programs for “democracy promotion” in Iran, as well as covert initiatives directed against Iranian interests.

As we have noted, Obama has done nothing to scale back or stop these programs—a posture that has not gone unnoticed in Tehran. We understand that, last year, the Obama Administration reviewed whether Jundallah should be designated a foreign terrorist organization, but decided not to do so. Why was that? And, even though the Muhahedin-e Khalq (MEK) retains its designation as a foreign terrorist organization, the Obama Administration continues to push the Iraqi government not to consider longstanding a longstanding Iranian request that MEK cadres in Iraq—which were granted special protective status by the George W. Bush Administration—be deported to Iran. Why is the Obama Administration trying to protect members of a U.S. government-designated terrorist group?

It’s one thing to cite other press reports, but what in the world are they doing speaking from their own knowledge of top secret operations? Really, it’s bad enough to shamelessly shill for the butchers of Tehran but do they also have to blab information they have no legal or ethical standing to discuss publicly? They then do a final bit of water-carrying, assuring us that it wasn’t the Iranians who reneged on the Vienna dealmaking:

It has become conventional wisdom in Western commentary that Iran “reneged” from its commitment to a “swap” arrangement for refueling the TRR and “rejected” the generous ElBaradei proposal because of internal political conflicts that have left the leadership too divided to take clear decisions about important foreign policy matters. We have challenged this conventional wisdom, pointing out that, since the Vienna meeting in October, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has consistently stressed Iran’s “positive view regarding the essence and nature of the [ElBaradei] proposal”, but wanted to negotiate specific details of the “swap”, regarding timing—in particular, when Iranian LEU would need to be turned over to the IAEA and when new fuel for the TRR would be delivered, where Iranian LEU would be held pending delivery of new fuel for the TRR, and how much LEU Iran would need to swap for a given amount of finished fuel.  More strategically, we have argued that Iran’s reaction to the ElBaradei proposal was inevitably conditioned by the ongoing insistence of the United States and its British and French partners on “zero enrichment” as the only acceptable long-term outcome from nuclear negotiations with Tehran.

A fine week indeed for the mullahs’ PR operation.

The Leveretts are on quite a roll — blogs, interviews, speeches all spinning the mullahs’ rhetoric. But they’ve also developed a nasty habit of talking about covert operations. We saw a hint of that in their embarrassing interview with Michael Crowley. Now comes this in their latest straight-from-the-mullahs’-PR-office blog:

Iranian officials are not the only sources claiming that U.S. intelligence is linked to groups carrying out terrorist operations inside the Islamic Republic. Some Western media reports—citing former CIA case officers—say that there are links between Jundallah and U.S. intelligence; for example, see this widely noted story published by Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker in July 2008. Some of these reports say that Jundallah is one of a number of ethnic separatist groups (including Arab, Azeri, Baluch, and Kurdish groups) receiving covert support from the United States, as part of a covert campaign authorized during the George W. Bush Administration to press Tehran over the nuclear issue and destabilize the Islamic Republic.  For a recent discussion of the issue by a retired CIA officer, see here. As we ourselves have written, there is considerable evidence that President Obama inherited from his predecessor a number of overt programs for “democracy promotion” in Iran, as well as covert initiatives directed against Iranian interests.

As we have noted, Obama has done nothing to scale back or stop these programs—a posture that has not gone unnoticed in Tehran. We understand that, last year, the Obama Administration reviewed whether Jundallah should be designated a foreign terrorist organization, but decided not to do so. Why was that? And, even though the Muhahedin-e Khalq (MEK) retains its designation as a foreign terrorist organization, the Obama Administration continues to push the Iraqi government not to consider longstanding a longstanding Iranian request that MEK cadres in Iraq—which were granted special protective status by the George W. Bush Administration—be deported to Iran. Why is the Obama Administration trying to protect members of a U.S. government-designated terrorist group?

It’s one thing to cite other press reports, but what in the world are they doing speaking from their own knowledge of top secret operations? Really, it’s bad enough to shamelessly shill for the butchers of Tehran but do they also have to blab information they have no legal or ethical standing to discuss publicly? They then do a final bit of water-carrying, assuring us that it wasn’t the Iranians who reneged on the Vienna dealmaking:

It has become conventional wisdom in Western commentary that Iran “reneged” from its commitment to a “swap” arrangement for refueling the TRR and “rejected” the generous ElBaradei proposal because of internal political conflicts that have left the leadership too divided to take clear decisions about important foreign policy matters. We have challenged this conventional wisdom, pointing out that, since the Vienna meeting in October, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has consistently stressed Iran’s “positive view regarding the essence and nature of the [ElBaradei] proposal”, but wanted to negotiate specific details of the “swap”, regarding timing—in particular, when Iranian LEU would need to be turned over to the IAEA and when new fuel for the TRR would be delivered, where Iranian LEU would be held pending delivery of new fuel for the TRR, and how much LEU Iran would need to swap for a given amount of finished fuel.  More strategically, we have argued that Iran’s reaction to the ElBaradei proposal was inevitably conditioned by the ongoing insistence of the United States and its British and French partners on “zero enrichment” as the only acceptable long-term outcome from nuclear negotiations with Tehran.

A fine week indeed for the mullahs’ PR operation.

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Re: Re: Iran Strike, Out

Abe, we seem to be trailing not only France and Canada on the Iran nuclear issue but also that well-known bastion of neocon aggression, the International Atomic Energy Agency. It appears, unlike the Obami, that the IAEA is willing to concede the obvious:

An International Atomic Energy Agency report expresses worry that Iran may be working on a nuclear warhead, despite a 2007 U.S. intelligence assessment that found the Islamic Republic stopped such work in 2003.

The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog also confirmed that Iran had indeed enriched uranium to nearly 20 percent, a claim made by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during revolutionary anniversary festivities last week but rebuffed by the White House.

“We do not believe they have the capability to enrich to the degree they say they are enriching,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said at last Thursday’s daily briefing.

But the IAEA report said that Iran had hit 19.8 percent enrichment on two days last week.

So what’s up here? Could it be that the Obami are — I know it’s hard to imagine — foot-dragging and trying to downplay the urgency of the situation? Might it be that the policy of  do-nothingism only works as long as the public doesn’t get the idea that the mullahs are doing something, namely making steady progress toward a nuclear weapons capability. Once that becomes apparent, the Obami may be called upon to do something.

At this point, the Obami look feckless (more so than usual) and can only float the idea that, yes, they might be revising that now entirely discredited 2007 National Intelligence Estimate. But for now, it seems that’s the extent of their concern.

And it’s not simply on the nuclear threat that the Obami have gone mute. As Kim and Fred Kagan point out, they also appear dangerously indifferent to the growing influence of Iran in Iraq’s nascent democracy. They explain that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, and Chairman of the Assembly of Experts Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani “worked doggedly in 2009 to rebuild the coalition of the three major Iraqi Shiite parties that had run in 2005 as a bloc.”  When Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki refused to join, and that effort fell apart, the Iranians orchestrated a ban of some 500 Iraqi candidates, including “some of the most prominent Sunni leaders who had been running on cross-sectarian lists.” The Kagans sum up:

But politics is by no means Tehran’s only sphere of influence in Iraq. The Iranian armed forces violated Iraqi sovereignty on at least two occasions in 2009—U.S. forces shot down an Iranian drone in Iraqi territory in March 2009, and Iranian troops ostentatiously seized an Iraqi oil well in December 2009 as the Iraqis completed a round of international oil bids.

Against this continuous Iranian campaign of engagement, intimidation and political machinations, the Obama administration has offered little more than moral support. In practical terms, this administration has done little to implement the nonmilitary aspects of the Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA) that would signal an American commitment to Iraq.

Thus, the Obami are paralyzed. They show no determination to prevent Iran from moving closer and closer to membership in the nuclear weapons club or to interfere with Iran’s efforts to subvert its neighbor Iraq. Israel and its Arab neighbors have reason to be nervous. The Obama administration seems keen on stopping Israel from striking Iran yet indifferent to any action that would halt the emergence of a nuclear-armed Iran bent on regional hegemony and destruction of the Jewish state. One wonders why U.S. lawmakers and Jewish groups aren’t more concerned as we sleepwalk into a world with a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state.

Abe, we seem to be trailing not only France and Canada on the Iran nuclear issue but also that well-known bastion of neocon aggression, the International Atomic Energy Agency. It appears, unlike the Obami, that the IAEA is willing to concede the obvious:

An International Atomic Energy Agency report expresses worry that Iran may be working on a nuclear warhead, despite a 2007 U.S. intelligence assessment that found the Islamic Republic stopped such work in 2003.

The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog also confirmed that Iran had indeed enriched uranium to nearly 20 percent, a claim made by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during revolutionary anniversary festivities last week but rebuffed by the White House.

“We do not believe they have the capability to enrich to the degree they say they are enriching,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said at last Thursday’s daily briefing.

But the IAEA report said that Iran had hit 19.8 percent enrichment on two days last week.

So what’s up here? Could it be that the Obami are — I know it’s hard to imagine — foot-dragging and trying to downplay the urgency of the situation? Might it be that the policy of  do-nothingism only works as long as the public doesn’t get the idea that the mullahs are doing something, namely making steady progress toward a nuclear weapons capability. Once that becomes apparent, the Obami may be called upon to do something.

At this point, the Obami look feckless (more so than usual) and can only float the idea that, yes, they might be revising that now entirely discredited 2007 National Intelligence Estimate. But for now, it seems that’s the extent of their concern.

And it’s not simply on the nuclear threat that the Obami have gone mute. As Kim and Fred Kagan point out, they also appear dangerously indifferent to the growing influence of Iran in Iraq’s nascent democracy. They explain that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, and Chairman of the Assembly of Experts Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani “worked doggedly in 2009 to rebuild the coalition of the three major Iraqi Shiite parties that had run in 2005 as a bloc.”  When Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki refused to join, and that effort fell apart, the Iranians orchestrated a ban of some 500 Iraqi candidates, including “some of the most prominent Sunni leaders who had been running on cross-sectarian lists.” The Kagans sum up:

But politics is by no means Tehran’s only sphere of influence in Iraq. The Iranian armed forces violated Iraqi sovereignty on at least two occasions in 2009—U.S. forces shot down an Iranian drone in Iraqi territory in March 2009, and Iranian troops ostentatiously seized an Iraqi oil well in December 2009 as the Iraqis completed a round of international oil bids.

Against this continuous Iranian campaign of engagement, intimidation and political machinations, the Obama administration has offered little more than moral support. In practical terms, this administration has done little to implement the nonmilitary aspects of the Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA) that would signal an American commitment to Iraq.

Thus, the Obami are paralyzed. They show no determination to prevent Iran from moving closer and closer to membership in the nuclear weapons club or to interfere with Iran’s efforts to subvert its neighbor Iraq. Israel and its Arab neighbors have reason to be nervous. The Obama administration seems keen on stopping Israel from striking Iran yet indifferent to any action that would halt the emergence of a nuclear-armed Iran bent on regional hegemony and destruction of the Jewish state. One wonders why U.S. lawmakers and Jewish groups aren’t more concerned as we sleepwalk into a world with a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state.

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The Saturday Night Live Iran Sketch

Twenty years ago on “Saturday Night Live,” a sketch set in 1947 Hollywood was aired featuring Jon Lovitz as a hardboiled movie-studio chief and the late Phil Hartman as a vain actor. It went something like this:

LOVITZ: I’m lettin ya go, Johnny.

HARTMAN: Tell it to me straight, Harry.

LOVITZ: You’re washed up, I tell ya, you’re through.

HARTMAN: I can take it, Harry, you just lay it on me.

LOVITZ: You stink, Johnny, you’re the worst actor on the lot, you’ll never work in this town again!

HARTMAN: Don’t leave me hangin’ by a thread, I gotta know where I stand!

Today, for about the 300th time in the past three weeks, Iran has let the world know in no uncertain terms that it is not going to assent to the cockamamie scheme dreamed up by some UN dupe to ship its weapons-grade uranium out of the country in exchange for uranium that can be used for peaceful purposes — a plan then sold to the Obama administration, which scarfed it up like the band instruments  peddled to the good people of River City by the conman Harold Hill in The Music Man. And for about the 300th time, the media are reporting the fact breathlessly, as though the 299 other times the Iranians have made it clear they are keeping their uranium for their would-be bomb never happened. You can read this right now, on the website of the New York Times:

Iran’s foreign minister said in remarks reported Wednesday that he opposes sending the country’s enriched uranium abroad under a tentative deal negotiated with the United States and other big powers last month. The foreign minister’s remarks cast further doubt on the deal, which the Obama administration had hoped would defuse a standoff over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

The foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, told the student news agency ISNA that Iran would consider a simultaneous swap of its nuclear fuel for other uranium. But he told ISNA, “Definitely, Iran will not send its 3.5 percent-enriched fuel out.”

Mr. Mottaki is the highest-ranking Iranian official to openly reject the deal…

By the time, this farce is over, there is sure to be a conversation that goes something like this:

AHMADINEJAD: I tell ya, Barack, there’s no deal.

OBAMA: Give it to me straight, Mahmoud.

AHMADINEJAD: It’s finished, ya get me? It’s through.

OBAMA: Don’t beat around the bush, Mr. President.

AHMADINEJAD: We’re building a bomb, Obama! We’re building a bomb and if you don’t strike our facilities and destroy them we are going to nuclearize the Middle East!

OBAMA: I can take it, Mahmoud! Say what you gotta say!

(Yes, for the record, my beloved wife works at Saturday Night Live. She bears no responsibility for this post.)

Twenty years ago on “Saturday Night Live,” a sketch set in 1947 Hollywood was aired featuring Jon Lovitz as a hardboiled movie-studio chief and the late Phil Hartman as a vain actor. It went something like this:

LOVITZ: I’m lettin ya go, Johnny.

HARTMAN: Tell it to me straight, Harry.

LOVITZ: You’re washed up, I tell ya, you’re through.

HARTMAN: I can take it, Harry, you just lay it on me.

LOVITZ: You stink, Johnny, you’re the worst actor on the lot, you’ll never work in this town again!

HARTMAN: Don’t leave me hangin’ by a thread, I gotta know where I stand!

Today, for about the 300th time in the past three weeks, Iran has let the world know in no uncertain terms that it is not going to assent to the cockamamie scheme dreamed up by some UN dupe to ship its weapons-grade uranium out of the country in exchange for uranium that can be used for peaceful purposes — a plan then sold to the Obama administration, which scarfed it up like the band instruments  peddled to the good people of River City by the conman Harold Hill in The Music Man. And for about the 300th time, the media are reporting the fact breathlessly, as though the 299 other times the Iranians have made it clear they are keeping their uranium for their would-be bomb never happened. You can read this right now, on the website of the New York Times:

Iran’s foreign minister said in remarks reported Wednesday that he opposes sending the country’s enriched uranium abroad under a tentative deal negotiated with the United States and other big powers last month. The foreign minister’s remarks cast further doubt on the deal, which the Obama administration had hoped would defuse a standoff over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

The foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, told the student news agency ISNA that Iran would consider a simultaneous swap of its nuclear fuel for other uranium. But he told ISNA, “Definitely, Iran will not send its 3.5 percent-enriched fuel out.”

Mr. Mottaki is the highest-ranking Iranian official to openly reject the deal…

By the time, this farce is over, there is sure to be a conversation that goes something like this:

AHMADINEJAD: I tell ya, Barack, there’s no deal.

OBAMA: Give it to me straight, Mahmoud.

AHMADINEJAD: It’s finished, ya get me? It’s through.

OBAMA: Don’t beat around the bush, Mr. President.

AHMADINEJAD: We’re building a bomb, Obama! We’re building a bomb and if you don’t strike our facilities and destroy them we are going to nuclearize the Middle East!

OBAMA: I can take it, Mahmoud! Say what you gotta say!

(Yes, for the record, my beloved wife works at Saturday Night Live. She bears no responsibility for this post.)

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Blockading Iran

On Monday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert proposed a U.S. naval blockade of Iran. In talks with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, he also suggested that nations not allow the entry of Iranian business people and senior regime leaders. Both measures are intended to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons. “The present economic sanctions on Iran have exhausted themselves,” Olmert said, according to today’s Haaretz, the Israeli paper, in its online edition.

At about the same time that Haaretz reported the news of Olmert’s proposals, the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security released a May 13 letter from Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. In the letter, Iran proposed talks on its nuclear program and other topics, such as nuclear disarmament, the Palestinian issue, and democracy in the Balkans. “I see it as a way to start negotiations,” said Institute for Science and International Secutrity President David Albright, referring to Iran’s wide-ranging offer.

Is there anything left to negotiate at this point? After all, most everything that could be said about Iran’s enrichment of uranium has already been uttered. Most every proposal has already been made in one form or another. Mottaki, in his letter, notes his country wants “constructive interaction and reasonable and just negotiations, without preconditions and based on mutual respect.” Of course, what the foreign minister is really saying is that Iran will not stop enrichment as the Security Council has demanded.

So, despite Tehran’s defiance of U.N. demands, should we start discussions with its representatives on the problems of the world? I say, let’s talk. But let’s also impose the blockade before we sit down with the mullahs’ representatives. As Defense Secretary Robert Gates said yesterday,

The key here is developing leverage, either through economic or diplomatic or military pressures on the Iranian government so they believe they must have talks with the United States because there is something they want from us, and that is the relief of the pressure.

There’s nothing wrong about talking with repugnant and dangerous adversaries–as long as they come to surrender.

On Monday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert proposed a U.S. naval blockade of Iran. In talks with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, he also suggested that nations not allow the entry of Iranian business people and senior regime leaders. Both measures are intended to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons. “The present economic sanctions on Iran have exhausted themselves,” Olmert said, according to today’s Haaretz, the Israeli paper, in its online edition.

At about the same time that Haaretz reported the news of Olmert’s proposals, the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security released a May 13 letter from Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. In the letter, Iran proposed talks on its nuclear program and other topics, such as nuclear disarmament, the Palestinian issue, and democracy in the Balkans. “I see it as a way to start negotiations,” said Institute for Science and International Secutrity President David Albright, referring to Iran’s wide-ranging offer.

Is there anything left to negotiate at this point? After all, most everything that could be said about Iran’s enrichment of uranium has already been uttered. Most every proposal has already been made in one form or another. Mottaki, in his letter, notes his country wants “constructive interaction and reasonable and just negotiations, without preconditions and based on mutual respect.” Of course, what the foreign minister is really saying is that Iran will not stop enrichment as the Security Council has demanded.

So, despite Tehran’s defiance of U.N. demands, should we start discussions with its representatives on the problems of the world? I say, let’s talk. But let’s also impose the blockade before we sit down with the mullahs’ representatives. As Defense Secretary Robert Gates said yesterday,

The key here is developing leverage, either through economic or diplomatic or military pressures on the Iranian government so they believe they must have talks with the United States because there is something they want from us, and that is the relief of the pressure.

There’s nothing wrong about talking with repugnant and dangerous adversaries–as long as they come to surrender.

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The Ultimate Test of American Leadership

Today, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said his country would announce a new diplomatic initiative soon. “The Islamic Republic of Iran is trying to come up with a proposed package in an effort to resolve regional and international problems in dialogue with opposing parties,” he stated. Mottaki implied that the “new orientation” would relate to Tehran’s nuclear program. The foreign minister’s words followed Saturday’s announcement that Gholamreza Aghazadeh, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, will meet with the IAEA’s Mohamed ElBaradei tomorrow in Vienna.

The two announcements come within days of Wednesday’s gathering in Shanghai of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, the P5 + 1. The group is expected to discuss sweetening incentives for Iran to drop its enrichment of uranium.

Are there any coincidences when it comes to the Iranian nuclear program? Yes, but this series of events is not one of them. Tehran knows it can buy itself at least another year by holding out hope at this time that there can be a peaceful resolution to the impasse. Therefore, the announcements of yesterday and today are, like all of its past offers, insincere.

This is not to say that Iranians cannot be talked out of their enrichment program. They can—but only when they know they have been defeated. At this moment, however, the mullahs appear to believe they are the ones who are prevailing. So, contrary to what the New York Times has just suggested, it is pointless to begin a new round of negotiations. On Friday, the paper stated that “Washington needs to make Iran a serious offer to talk about everything, including security assurances and diplomatic and economic relations if it is willing to give up its fuel program and cooperate fully with inspectors.”

What Washington really needs to do is make sure that Iran’s new diplomatic offensive does not succeed and that the P5+1 pushes through a tougher round of sanctions soon. President Bush has staked so much on cooperation with Beijing and Moscow in the past few years. Yet if the Chinese and Russians cannot cooperate on such a basic matter as Iran’s nuclear program when it is on the verge of creating a weapon, then it is pointless to maintain dialogue with them because nothing much else will matter.

It is, of course, unlikely that these two nations will reverse course at this time. So we are at one of those moments when conventional diplomacy is failing. When that happens—when what is necessary is no longer considered practical—the world often experiences uncertainty, turbulence, and death in great numbers.

If the Bush administration cannot change the course of events one more time, then we could travel from the best moment in history to the worst. This is, up to now, the ultimate test of American leadership.

Today, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said his country would announce a new diplomatic initiative soon. “The Islamic Republic of Iran is trying to come up with a proposed package in an effort to resolve regional and international problems in dialogue with opposing parties,” he stated. Mottaki implied that the “new orientation” would relate to Tehran’s nuclear program. The foreign minister’s words followed Saturday’s announcement that Gholamreza Aghazadeh, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, will meet with the IAEA’s Mohamed ElBaradei tomorrow in Vienna.

The two announcements come within days of Wednesday’s gathering in Shanghai of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, the P5 + 1. The group is expected to discuss sweetening incentives for Iran to drop its enrichment of uranium.

Are there any coincidences when it comes to the Iranian nuclear program? Yes, but this series of events is not one of them. Tehran knows it can buy itself at least another year by holding out hope at this time that there can be a peaceful resolution to the impasse. Therefore, the announcements of yesterday and today are, like all of its past offers, insincere.

This is not to say that Iranians cannot be talked out of their enrichment program. They can—but only when they know they have been defeated. At this moment, however, the mullahs appear to believe they are the ones who are prevailing. So, contrary to what the New York Times has just suggested, it is pointless to begin a new round of negotiations. On Friday, the paper stated that “Washington needs to make Iran a serious offer to talk about everything, including security assurances and diplomatic and economic relations if it is willing to give up its fuel program and cooperate fully with inspectors.”

What Washington really needs to do is make sure that Iran’s new diplomatic offensive does not succeed and that the P5+1 pushes through a tougher round of sanctions soon. President Bush has staked so much on cooperation with Beijing and Moscow in the past few years. Yet if the Chinese and Russians cannot cooperate on such a basic matter as Iran’s nuclear program when it is on the verge of creating a weapon, then it is pointless to maintain dialogue with them because nothing much else will matter.

It is, of course, unlikely that these two nations will reverse course at this time. So we are at one of those moments when conventional diplomacy is failing. When that happens—when what is necessary is no longer considered practical—the world often experiences uncertainty, turbulence, and death in great numbers.

If the Bush administration cannot change the course of events one more time, then we could travel from the best moment in history to the worst. This is, up to now, the ultimate test of American leadership.

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Iran Wants What?

In a 20-page letter dated Monday and released yesterday, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki threatened legal action for losses his country sustained due to UN Security Council sanctions on its nuclear program. “The Islamic Republic of Iran and its citizens have the right to resort to legal actions to seek redress against the sponsors of these unlawful actions,” the letter, addressed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, states.

The sponsors of the sanctions, Mottaki maintains, “should, as a minimum step, admit their mistakes, apologize to the great nation of Iran, correct their behavior, and above all, compensate for all the damages they have inflicted on the Islamic Republic of Iran.” The demand for compensation is apparently directed to the United States, Britain, France, and Germany.

Secretary-General Ban did not comment on Mottaki’s letter. I suspect he did not want to dignify it with a response, but let me take this opportunity to address the fundamental point raised by the Iranian foreign minister. If the United Nations has no authority to impose sanctions or take action against Iran, as Tehran maintains, then it is up to every member of the international community to decide what to do. Iran’s proven violations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and its failure to fully cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency are justifications for the use military force. Why? Because nuclear weapons are inherently dangerous and, therefore, automatically raise the right of self-defense, which every member state of the UN retains.

So go right ahead, Mr. Mottaki: make our day by de-legitimizing the UN. I hope that the United States can peacefully convince your nation to give up its nuclear program. But, if we can’t, then we have no choice but to end it by any and all necessary means.

In a 20-page letter dated Monday and released yesterday, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki threatened legal action for losses his country sustained due to UN Security Council sanctions on its nuclear program. “The Islamic Republic of Iran and its citizens have the right to resort to legal actions to seek redress against the sponsors of these unlawful actions,” the letter, addressed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, states.

The sponsors of the sanctions, Mottaki maintains, “should, as a minimum step, admit their mistakes, apologize to the great nation of Iran, correct their behavior, and above all, compensate for all the damages they have inflicted on the Islamic Republic of Iran.” The demand for compensation is apparently directed to the United States, Britain, France, and Germany.

Secretary-General Ban did not comment on Mottaki’s letter. I suspect he did not want to dignify it with a response, but let me take this opportunity to address the fundamental point raised by the Iranian foreign minister. If the United Nations has no authority to impose sanctions or take action against Iran, as Tehran maintains, then it is up to every member of the international community to decide what to do. Iran’s proven violations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and its failure to fully cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency are justifications for the use military force. Why? Because nuclear weapons are inherently dangerous and, therefore, automatically raise the right of self-defense, which every member state of the UN retains.

So go right ahead, Mr. Mottaki: make our day by de-legitimizing the UN. I hope that the United States can peacefully convince your nation to give up its nuclear program. But, if we can’t, then we have no choice but to end it by any and all necessary means.

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Hezbollah and Mughniyeh

Hezbollah’s very public display of affection for assassinated terrorist Imad Mughniyeh represents a stunning about-face. As Martin Kramer notes on the Middle East Strategy at Harvard blog, Hezbollah has broken from previous denials regarding its connections to Mughniyeh, with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah eulogizing him and a Hezbollah flag draping his coffin—clear symbols that Mughniyeh ranked highly in the Hezbollah chain. Indeed, its ties to Mughniyeh were so profound that Hezbollah appears prepared to fight Israel in response to his killing, hinting that it will attack Israeli interests abroad.

But Hezbollah isn’t the only Levantine player willing to engage Israel over Mughniyeh’s death. Yesterday, at a joint press conference with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem declared, “Whoever assassinated Imad Mughniyeh has assassinated any peace efforts”—a statement clearly aimed at Israel. Critically, al-Moallem seemingly echoed Mottaki, who had proclaimed at Mughniyeh’s funeral earlier in the day, “The freedom-seeking nations … have millions of such fighters, who are ready to join the fight against the terrorists who perpetrate such the unmanly crimes.” Following the funeral, Mottaki had arrived in Damascus for “brotherly talks,” meeting with al-Moallem and Syrian President Bashar al-Asad to discuss the developing situation in Lebanon.

In the days and weeks ahead, it will be important to monitor whether Hezbollah-Syrian cooperation is strengthened as a result of their unified defiance in the wake of Mughniyeh’s assassination. Of course, sustained Iranian involvement makes this quite likely.

Still, domestic Lebanese politics could intervene and force Hezbollah to downplay its Damascus contacts. At a massive rally held to commemorate the third anniversary of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination yesterday, Future Movement leader Saad Hariri castigated the Syrian regime as an “Israeli product.” Yet even as he lashed out against Syria—the regime that murdered his father—Hariri showed rare respect for Hezbollah, ending his rally at 2 PM so as to not interfere with Mughniyeh’s 2:30 funeral. Hariri further appealed to Hezbollah to negotiate a peaceful solution to the ongoing presidential crisis—a sharp break from his comments last week, when he accused the Hezbollah-led opposition of “destroying Lebanon.”

The big question is thus whether Hezbollah might see itself as having enough popular Lebanese support in the aftermath of Mughniyeh’s assassination to avoid relying on Damascus, a regime that is still reviled by a substantial portion of the population. Or, alternatively, Hezbollah could quickly return to Levantine politics as usual, taking its cues from Iran with Syria’s active consent.

Hezbollah’s very public display of affection for assassinated terrorist Imad Mughniyeh represents a stunning about-face. As Martin Kramer notes on the Middle East Strategy at Harvard blog, Hezbollah has broken from previous denials regarding its connections to Mughniyeh, with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah eulogizing him and a Hezbollah flag draping his coffin—clear symbols that Mughniyeh ranked highly in the Hezbollah chain. Indeed, its ties to Mughniyeh were so profound that Hezbollah appears prepared to fight Israel in response to his killing, hinting that it will attack Israeli interests abroad.

But Hezbollah isn’t the only Levantine player willing to engage Israel over Mughniyeh’s death. Yesterday, at a joint press conference with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem declared, “Whoever assassinated Imad Mughniyeh has assassinated any peace efforts”—a statement clearly aimed at Israel. Critically, al-Moallem seemingly echoed Mottaki, who had proclaimed at Mughniyeh’s funeral earlier in the day, “The freedom-seeking nations … have millions of such fighters, who are ready to join the fight against the terrorists who perpetrate such the unmanly crimes.” Following the funeral, Mottaki had arrived in Damascus for “brotherly talks,” meeting with al-Moallem and Syrian President Bashar al-Asad to discuss the developing situation in Lebanon.

In the days and weeks ahead, it will be important to monitor whether Hezbollah-Syrian cooperation is strengthened as a result of their unified defiance in the wake of Mughniyeh’s assassination. Of course, sustained Iranian involvement makes this quite likely.

Still, domestic Lebanese politics could intervene and force Hezbollah to downplay its Damascus contacts. At a massive rally held to commemorate the third anniversary of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination yesterday, Future Movement leader Saad Hariri castigated the Syrian regime as an “Israeli product.” Yet even as he lashed out against Syria—the regime that murdered his father—Hariri showed rare respect for Hezbollah, ending his rally at 2 PM so as to not interfere with Mughniyeh’s 2:30 funeral. Hariri further appealed to Hezbollah to negotiate a peaceful solution to the ongoing presidential crisis—a sharp break from his comments last week, when he accused the Hezbollah-led opposition of “destroying Lebanon.”

The big question is thus whether Hezbollah might see itself as having enough popular Lebanese support in the aftermath of Mughniyeh’s assassination to avoid relying on Damascus, a regime that is still reviled by a substantial portion of the population. Or, alternatively, Hezbollah could quickly return to Levantine politics as usual, taking its cues from Iran with Syria’s active consent.

Read Less

Our No-Contact Policy

On Wednesday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that the United States had not changed its no-contact policy with regard to Iran. The statement was prompted by Zalmay Khalilzad, who sat next to Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki at a panel at Davos on January 26. Khalilzad, Washington’s U.N. ambassador, neither greeted the Iranian nor shook his hand. Yet the American diplomat broke State Department practice by not seeking permission before appearing at the discussion session. McCormack implied that the Bush administration would have preferred that Khalilzad not have participated in the panel discussion.

Should American diplomats shun their Iranian counterparts? Our ultimate goals are not to isolate Iran and make it an enemy for generations. Our goals are to stop Tehran’s nuclear weapons program, end its support for Iraqi insurgents, and prevent it from closing the Persian Gulf. In all probability, we will not accomplish these objectives until the fanatical theocracy that rules the country falls. As Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute points out, since the 1979 revolution every American administration has tried to negotiate with Iran and all have failed. That’s because the ayatollahs wish to destroy those with whom they disagree and especially Americans. “They are not like us, and they do not share our dreams,” he has written. “Diplomacy will not tame them. Only our victory will.”

There are many routes to victory, and not all of them require American diplomats like Khalilzad to run for cover whenever a mullah approaches the room. The problem with American policy toward Iran—apart from the fact that it is achieving little—is that it is more petulant attitude than comprehensive plan. A no-contact rule only makes sense when it is part of a coordinated effort that actually has a chance of succeeding. We have no such plan. Not only do we look weak, we appear hardheaded and intransigent.

So the big story is how Condoleezza Rice is losing control of her diplomats, as evidenced by Khalilzad’s participation at Davos. Nobody is talking about how she is prevailing over the theocrats in Iran. Until the Secretary of State can come up with a credible policy, American diplomats will be prohibited from standing their ground in forums where Iranians are present. And, more important, we will lose even more time in the existential struggle against Tehran.

On Wednesday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that the United States had not changed its no-contact policy with regard to Iran. The statement was prompted by Zalmay Khalilzad, who sat next to Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki at a panel at Davos on January 26. Khalilzad, Washington’s U.N. ambassador, neither greeted the Iranian nor shook his hand. Yet the American diplomat broke State Department practice by not seeking permission before appearing at the discussion session. McCormack implied that the Bush administration would have preferred that Khalilzad not have participated in the panel discussion.

Should American diplomats shun their Iranian counterparts? Our ultimate goals are not to isolate Iran and make it an enemy for generations. Our goals are to stop Tehran’s nuclear weapons program, end its support for Iraqi insurgents, and prevent it from closing the Persian Gulf. In all probability, we will not accomplish these objectives until the fanatical theocracy that rules the country falls. As Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute points out, since the 1979 revolution every American administration has tried to negotiate with Iran and all have failed. That’s because the ayatollahs wish to destroy those with whom they disagree and especially Americans. “They are not like us, and they do not share our dreams,” he has written. “Diplomacy will not tame them. Only our victory will.”

There are many routes to victory, and not all of them require American diplomats like Khalilzad to run for cover whenever a mullah approaches the room. The problem with American policy toward Iran—apart from the fact that it is achieving little—is that it is more petulant attitude than comprehensive plan. A no-contact rule only makes sense when it is part of a coordinated effort that actually has a chance of succeeding. We have no such plan. Not only do we look weak, we appear hardheaded and intransigent.

So the big story is how Condoleezza Rice is losing control of her diplomats, as evidenced by Khalilzad’s participation at Davos. Nobody is talking about how she is prevailing over the theocrats in Iran. Until the Secretary of State can come up with a credible policy, American diplomats will be prohibited from standing their ground in forums where Iranians are present. And, more important, we will lose even more time in the existential struggle against Tehran.

Read Less




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