Commentary Magazine


Topic: Norman Podhoretz

Norman Podhoretz on Liberalism, Conservatism, and the Jews

Readers of COMMENTARY will no doubt be interested in a newly released interview with the magazine’s long serving former editor Norman Podhoretz. The interview, which includes fascinating insights into the evolution of the magazine, as well as some lively reflections from one of America’s preeminent public intellectuals on his own life and work, was recorded at a recent event organized by the Tikvah Fund as part of an advanced institute on Liberalism, Conservatism, and the Jews. You can watch a full recording here, at the Tikvah Fund’s newly launched Live @ Tikvah blog, which features highlights from all of Tikvah’s academic programming.

Read More

Readers of COMMENTARY will no doubt be interested in a newly released interview with the magazine’s long serving former editor Norman Podhoretz. The interview, which includes fascinating insights into the evolution of the magazine, as well as some lively reflections from one of America’s preeminent public intellectuals on his own life and work, was recorded at a recent event organized by the Tikvah Fund as part of an advanced institute on Liberalism, Conservatism, and the Jews. You can watch a full recording here, at the Tikvah Fund’s newly launched Live @ Tikvah blog, which features highlights from all of Tikvah’s academic programming.

During the wide-ranging discussion with the Tikvah Fund’s executive director Eric Cohen, Podhoretz offers a colorful first-hand account of both the emergence of the New Left and the origins of neoconservatism. Describing vividly the political atmosphere he witnessed during the height of the Cold War, Podhoretz recounts the turns of his own ideological transition: from anti-Communist liberal to fellow traveler of the counter-cultural left, before he then began the move toward what would come to be called neoconservatism, a move primarily driven by the pernicious anti-Americanism that was becoming ever more prevalent on the radical left at the time.

Some of the most illuminating parts of the discussion concerned COMMENTARY’s evolution and Norman Podhoretz’s role in these developments. Podhoretz reminded listeners of COMMENTARY’s founding ethos, established in the wake of the Second World War as a fiercely anti-Communist liberal and Jewish magazine. Taking over as editor in 1960 at the age of just thirty, Podhoretz steered the publication from being a predominantly Jewish magazine that took an interest in wider affairs to a general interest magazine with a special concern for Jewish affairs. And having initially given prominence to writers coming from the left, Podhoretz would soon reorient the magazine’s stance once again, leading it to play a crucial role in countering the most subversive elements responsible for waging the culture war, and perhaps more significantly still, positioning COMMENTARY to play a leading part in shaping American thinking on combating the expansionism and ideology of the Soviet Union.

Toward the end of the conversation, Podhoretz gives his thoughts on such contemporary concerns as radical Islam’s war on the West, Israel, religious faith, and the current state of American Jews. He reflects on why so many American Jews still adhere to a certain left-leaning liberalism, and in turn on why this political outlook has been bad for society in general, and why it remains “bad for the Jews” in particular.

If nothing else, listening to this interview, one is reminded of just what a powerful and compelling voice Norman Podhoretz has been over the years, and just how much American conservatives today owe to the work that he and his generation undertook.

Read Less

Gore Vidal and “The Hate That Dare Not Speak Its Name”

On Tuesday, Gore Vidal died at the age of 86. In response to readers’ requests, we have made available Norman Podhoretz’s famous essay on Vidal, “The Hate That Dare Not Speak Its Name.” Originally published in the November 1986 issue of COMMENTARY, the piece exposes both Vidal’s hatred for Israel and his steadfast enthusiasm for anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about the Jews.  

The Hate That Dare Not Speak Its Name

Norman Podhoretz — November 1986

Last March, in a special issue commemorating its 120th anniversary, the Nation published an article by the novelist Gore Vidal entitled “The Empire Lovers Strike Back” which impressed me and many other people as the most blatantly anti-Semitic outburst to have appeared in a respectable American periodical since World War II. The Nation is a left-wing (or, some would say, a liberal) magazine run by an editor, Victor Navasky, who is himself Jewish. Yet one reader (who happened not to be Jewish) wrote in a personal letter to Navasky that he could not recall encountering “that kind of naked anti-Semitism” even in papers of the lunatic-fringe Right which specialize in attacks on Jews; to find its like one had to go back to the Völkische Beobachter. Nor was he the only reader to be reminded of the Nazi gutter press. “I thought I was back in the 30′s reading Der Stürmer,” wrote another.

Actually, however, it was not the crackpot racism of Julius Streicher that Vidal was drawing on, but sources closer to home. Prominent among these, I would guess, was Henry Adams, about whom Vidal has written admiringly and with whom he often seems to identify. Adams, as a descendant of two Presidents, was a preeminent member of the old American patriciate—the class to which Vidal also, if somewhat dubiously, claims to belong—and his resentment at the changes which came over the United States in the decades of industrialization and mass immigration after the Civil War knew no bounds. The country was being ruined, and Adams blamed it all on the Jews: “I tell you Rome was a blessed garden of paradise beside the rotten, unsexed, swindling, lying Jews, represented by Pierpont Morgan and the gang who have been manipulating the country for the last few years.” It made no difference that J.P. Morgan was neither Jewish himself nor in any sense a representative of the Jews. For as Adams wrote in another of his letters: “The Jew has got into the soul. I see him—or her—now everywhere, and wherever he—or she—goes, there must remain a taint in the blood forever.”

Click here to read “The Hate That Dare Not Speak Its Name” in its entirety.

On Tuesday, Gore Vidal died at the age of 86. In response to readers’ requests, we have made available Norman Podhoretz’s famous essay on Vidal, “The Hate That Dare Not Speak Its Name.” Originally published in the November 1986 issue of COMMENTARY, the piece exposes both Vidal’s hatred for Israel and his steadfast enthusiasm for anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about the Jews.  

The Hate That Dare Not Speak Its Name

Norman Podhoretz — November 1986

Last March, in a special issue commemorating its 120th anniversary, the Nation published an article by the novelist Gore Vidal entitled “The Empire Lovers Strike Back” which impressed me and many other people as the most blatantly anti-Semitic outburst to have appeared in a respectable American periodical since World War II. The Nation is a left-wing (or, some would say, a liberal) magazine run by an editor, Victor Navasky, who is himself Jewish. Yet one reader (who happened not to be Jewish) wrote in a personal letter to Navasky that he could not recall encountering “that kind of naked anti-Semitism” even in papers of the lunatic-fringe Right which specialize in attacks on Jews; to find its like one had to go back to the Völkische Beobachter. Nor was he the only reader to be reminded of the Nazi gutter press. “I thought I was back in the 30′s reading Der Stürmer,” wrote another.

Actually, however, it was not the crackpot racism of Julius Streicher that Vidal was drawing on, but sources closer to home. Prominent among these, I would guess, was Henry Adams, about whom Vidal has written admiringly and with whom he often seems to identify. Adams, as a descendant of two Presidents, was a preeminent member of the old American patriciate—the class to which Vidal also, if somewhat dubiously, claims to belong—and his resentment at the changes which came over the United States in the decades of industrialization and mass immigration after the Civil War knew no bounds. The country was being ruined, and Adams blamed it all on the Jews: “I tell you Rome was a blessed garden of paradise beside the rotten, unsexed, swindling, lying Jews, represented by Pierpont Morgan and the gang who have been manipulating the country for the last few years.” It made no difference that J.P. Morgan was neither Jewish himself nor in any sense a representative of the Jews. For as Adams wrote in another of his letters: “The Jew has got into the soul. I see him—or her—now everywhere, and wherever he—or she—goes, there must remain a taint in the blood forever.”

Click here to read “The Hate That Dare Not Speak Its Name” in its entirety.

Read Less

Is Syria the New Vietnam?

There are strong arguments for and against American military intervention in Syria. And everyone is weighing in. An editorial in the Jewish Daily Forward asks: ‘‘What is to be done about Syria,’’ and asserts that, ‘‘passivity [is] impossible.’’ And so the piece sets out to consider some of those arguments. However, its intention comes to naught, and instead the editorial finds itself reduced to precisely the equivocation that it claims is so unacceptable.

That alone wouldn’t be worth comment. But it gets worse: the editorial not only fails to confront the arguments seriously, but has the further audacity to criticize from its transcendent perch those who have actually staked positions on the matter. And not only that either: it ends with the self-righteous assertion that only the Forward’s editors really appreciate the true complexity of the issue. Their sentiments are best communicated in their own words, so here are the particularly offending concluding paragraphs:

But how should the international community channel this new indignation? Is the answer as simple as military intervention? It appears not. Even the human rights organizations are cautioning against such a move. Though the Holocaust and the genocides of the 1990s make passivity impossible, there are even more recent precedents that do and should give us pause: Iraq and Afghanistan.

There are those who, like Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, offer cavalier solutions, such as providing arms to the fractious band of rebels. Others demand a NATO-led air war. But these hawks can’t answer basic questions about who exactly could take power in Syria after Assad, which of the various factions of warring opposition groups to even support, or how to avoid turning an intervention into a regional conflagration. Legions of experts keep making the same point that what worked for Libya won’t work in Syria. After the interventions of the past decade and their Sisyphean aftermaths, it would be irresponsible to imagine we could dip our toe into this conflict without considering the consequences.

But this complexity should not be an invitation to sit on our hands, nor is it acceptable to simply give Assad more time to kill by settling for half-measures like former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s ineffectual peace plan or sending a few powerless UN observers.

What we can do is use this moment for the moral clarity it provides. If, before Houla, it was still conceivable for Assad’s remaining defenders to imagine they were witnessing in Syria an internal power struggle between pro- and anti-government forces, it should now be clear that Assad is a murderer, capable of ever worse brutalities and willing to cravenly exploit ethnic divisions to hold on to his power. This is now plain and simple to see. Perhaps if Russia and China — and, one can always hope, Iran as well — start to feel his bloody hands staining theirs, the path might be open to the sort of isolation that will make a difference.

Our responsibility, in the meantime, is now more apparent than ever. Don’t forget the massacred children of Houla, and don’t let the world forget them, either.

Read More

There are strong arguments for and against American military intervention in Syria. And everyone is weighing in. An editorial in the Jewish Daily Forward asks: ‘‘What is to be done about Syria,’’ and asserts that, ‘‘passivity [is] impossible.’’ And so the piece sets out to consider some of those arguments. However, its intention comes to naught, and instead the editorial finds itself reduced to precisely the equivocation that it claims is so unacceptable.

That alone wouldn’t be worth comment. But it gets worse: the editorial not only fails to confront the arguments seriously, but has the further audacity to criticize from its transcendent perch those who have actually staked positions on the matter. And not only that either: it ends with the self-righteous assertion that only the Forward’s editors really appreciate the true complexity of the issue. Their sentiments are best communicated in their own words, so here are the particularly offending concluding paragraphs:

But how should the international community channel this new indignation? Is the answer as simple as military intervention? It appears not. Even the human rights organizations are cautioning against such a move. Though the Holocaust and the genocides of the 1990s make passivity impossible, there are even more recent precedents that do and should give us pause: Iraq and Afghanistan.

There are those who, like Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, offer cavalier solutions, such as providing arms to the fractious band of rebels. Others demand a NATO-led air war. But these hawks can’t answer basic questions about who exactly could take power in Syria after Assad, which of the various factions of warring opposition groups to even support, or how to avoid turning an intervention into a regional conflagration. Legions of experts keep making the same point that what worked for Libya won’t work in Syria. After the interventions of the past decade and their Sisyphean aftermaths, it would be irresponsible to imagine we could dip our toe into this conflict without considering the consequences.

But this complexity should not be an invitation to sit on our hands, nor is it acceptable to simply give Assad more time to kill by settling for half-measures like former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s ineffectual peace plan or sending a few powerless UN observers.

What we can do is use this moment for the moral clarity it provides. If, before Houla, it was still conceivable for Assad’s remaining defenders to imagine they were witnessing in Syria an internal power struggle between pro- and anti-government forces, it should now be clear that Assad is a murderer, capable of ever worse brutalities and willing to cravenly exploit ethnic divisions to hold on to his power. This is now plain and simple to see. Perhaps if Russia and China — and, one can always hope, Iran as well — start to feel his bloody hands staining theirs, the path might be open to the sort of isolation that will make a difference.

Our responsibility, in the meantime, is now more apparent than ever. Don’t forget the massacred children of Houla, and don’t let the world forget them, either.

What is interesting about this is that it is not the first time we have been forced to endure the unjustified pietistic vainglory of the Left. Norman Podhoretz, in his Ex-Friends, recalled his earlier analysis of the Vietnam War, where he had famously observed this same phenomenon:

Certain people took the position that they were against both Saigon and Hanoi. What then were they for? The answer given in a piece written jointly by Irving Howe and the political theorist Michael Walzer, the editors of Dissent, after the war was over was that they had ‘‘hoped for the emergence of a Vietnamese ‘third force’ capable of rallying the people in a progressive direction by enacting land reforms and defending civil liberties.’’ But since, as they themselves admitted, there was very little chance that this would happen, to have thrown their energies into opposing the American effort was tantamount to working for the Communist victory they said (in all sincerity) they did not want. Nothing daunted by this contradiction, they still awarded themselves moral congratulations on having been against the evils on both sides of the war:

‘‘Those of us who opposed American intervention yet did not want a Communist victory were in the difficult position of having no happy ending to offer…And we were in the difficult position of urging a relatively complex argument at a moment when most Americans, pro- and anti-war, wanted blinding simplicities.’’

Yet considering the actual alternatives that existed, what did the urging of ‘‘a relatively complex argument’’ avail other than to make those who urged it feel pleased with themselves?

There we see that oppressive ‘‘complexity’’ again, and the self-congratulatory self-pity of those isolated few who, unlike everyone else, perceive it. And, once again, we see that convenient combination of equivocation and fantasy – ‘‘the emergence of a ‘third force’’’ or the hope that Russia, China, and Iran will pressure Syria so that we don’t have to – that all but disqualifies these commentators from being taken seriously.

To reiterate, there are strong arguments for and against intervention, and no serious thinker on either side of this debate believes that their policy is straightforward or without cost, but at least their arguments aren’t smug and are based on real, and not imaginary, circumstances.

Read Less

YIVO Conference on “Jews and the Left”

Last week, the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research held a remarkable conference on “Jews and the Left,” convening an international group of scholars — largely from the left — to deliver formal papers on the subject. The conference has been covered by Tablet Magazine (Adam Kirsch), The Forward (Eitan Kensky), Newsday (Cathy Young) and American Thinker (me).

As Eitan Kensky wrote, “one of the most intriguing aspects of the conference was the extent to which the participants who self-identify with the left agreed with the view that it had indeed betrayed the Jewish state.” Adam Kirsch noted that “speaker after speaker agreed that the embrace of Communism by many Jews was a moral disaster” from a historical standpoint.

Read More

Last week, the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research held a remarkable conference on “Jews and the Left,” convening an international group of scholars — largely from the left — to deliver formal papers on the subject. The conference has been covered by Tablet Magazine (Adam Kirsch), The Forward (Eitan Kensky), Newsday (Cathy Young) and American Thinker (me).

As Eitan Kensky wrote, “one of the most intriguing aspects of the conference was the extent to which the participants who self-identify with the left agreed with the view that it had indeed betrayed the Jewish state.” Adam Kirsch noted that “speaker after speaker agreed that the embrace of Communism by many Jews was a moral disaster” from a historical standpoint.

But perhaps most striking was the number of speakers acknowledging the current moral disaster that infects a substantial part of the left. The paper presented by Norman Geras, professor emeritus of the University of Manchester and a man of the left – “Alibi Anti-Semitism” – concluded:

It is a moral scandal that some few decades after the unmeasurable catastrophe that overtook the Jewish people in Europe, these anti-Semitic themes and ruses are once again respectable; respectable not just down there with the thugs but pervasively also within polite society, and within the perimeters of a self-flattering liberal and left opinion. It is a bleak lesson to all but those unwilling to see…. We now know, as well, that should a new calamity ever befall the Jewish people, there will be, again, not only the direct architects and executants but also those who collaborate, who collude, who look away and find the words to go with doing so. Some of these, dismayingly, shamefully, will be of the left.

There is, of course, a difference between leftism and liberalism, and the reference to the “Left” in the title of the YIVO conference was to the former rather than the latter. But both reflect, in differing degrees, the historical phenomenon described by Norman Podhoretz in Why Are Jews Liberals? – the creation of a replacement religion based on the siren songs of utopianism and universalism. Michael Walzer’s keynote address acknowledged that the left had failed to appreciate the political achievements of traditional Jews – ones Ruth Wisse brilliantly explicated in Jews and Power.

When YIVO publishes the conference papers – which will be well worth reading – it will be worthwhile reading Podhoretz and Wisse at the same time.

Read Less

What to Do About the Israel-Hating Left

There is an interesting column by Aryeh Rubin (no relation) from the Jewish Week that is creating some buzz. The column addresses the phenomenon that Norman Podhoretz deftly explored in Why Are Jews Liberals? Rubin writes:

I believe in equality for all. I support civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, universal health care, feeding the poor, social justice, separation of church and state, access to education, diversity, the arts, animal rights (I have not eaten meat or poultry in 33 years), and more. …

Still, I have not elevated liberalism to the status of religion. I do not blindly follow the liberal agenda and my convictions take a backseat to my commitment to the well-being of Israel and the Jewish people. Unfortunately, this is not the case for the majority of U.S. Jews, who have substituted liberalism for Judaism and whose actions are often governed by misguided priorities. In lieu of traditional Jewish belief or value systems, many American Jews have adopted what is essentially a theology of universalism and tikkun olam, or social justice. In doing so, much of American Jewry has essentially become de-Judaicized.

It is hard to dispute — what with the likes of J Street, Peter Beinart, et. al, daily attacking the Jewish state — that the leftist value system has run headlong into support for the Jewish state. (“Many American Jews have become distanced from Judaism’s larger core values and are uncomfortable making moral judgements concerning the distinction between good and evil, which is an inherent part of our heritage. In addition, many are uncomfortable with the notion of the exceptionalism of Israel, and even with the exceptionalism of the U.S.”) And we have seen time and again that the Jewish state comes in a distant second to their liberal dogma. Read More

There is an interesting column by Aryeh Rubin (no relation) from the Jewish Week that is creating some buzz. The column addresses the phenomenon that Norman Podhoretz deftly explored in Why Are Jews Liberals? Rubin writes:

I believe in equality for all. I support civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, universal health care, feeding the poor, social justice, separation of church and state, access to education, diversity, the arts, animal rights (I have not eaten meat or poultry in 33 years), and more. …

Still, I have not elevated liberalism to the status of religion. I do not blindly follow the liberal agenda and my convictions take a backseat to my commitment to the well-being of Israel and the Jewish people. Unfortunately, this is not the case for the majority of U.S. Jews, who have substituted liberalism for Judaism and whose actions are often governed by misguided priorities. In lieu of traditional Jewish belief or value systems, many American Jews have adopted what is essentially a theology of universalism and tikkun olam, or social justice. In doing so, much of American Jewry has essentially become de-Judaicized.

It is hard to dispute — what with the likes of J Street, Peter Beinart, et. al, daily attacking the Jewish state — that the leftist value system has run headlong into support for the Jewish state. (“Many American Jews have become distanced from Judaism’s larger core values and are uncomfortable making moral judgements concerning the distinction between good and evil, which is an inherent part of our heritage. In addition, many are uncomfortable with the notion of the exceptionalism of Israel, and even with the exceptionalism of the U.S.”) And we have seen time and again that the Jewish state comes in a distant second to their liberal dogma.

The irony here, as many of us on the right have pointed out, is that the very values the leftists champion are those protected and nourished by the Jewish state. If the Israel haters would put their animus aside for a moment, they might see that support for the Jewish state is compatible, indeed essential, to defense of their agenda. As Rubin puts it:

Liberal Jews should be making the case for Israel as a bastion of liberal values. Israel is the only country in the Middle East with a free press. It is the only true democracy in the Middle East, with equal rights for women and, in practice, a refuge for gay Arab men from neighboring countries. In Israel there are no honor killings, no stonings, no capital punishment, no cutting off of the hands of thieves.

Throughout our history there have been Jews who have opted out, and this is an acceptable reality. What is not acceptable is that today, entire legions of Jews, in the name of liberalism, are in effect working against the survival of the Jewish people, whether out of ignorance, different priorities, or a lack of understanding of the global perspective.

There are, I suppose, two ways to address this grim reality. One is to hope that the leftist Jews can be persuaded by evidence and reasoned with. But alas, they all too often seem to prefer constructing their own counter-reality — whether it is the Richard Goldstone report or the vilification of Israel following the flotilla incident. Another is to move on. It is not as if Israel doesn’t have friends in the U.S. Rubin suggests:

[T]oday it is the American right that has evolved to the point where it is much more philo-Semitic and more pro-Israel than the left. The hawks and the evangelicals among them are the most fervent supporters of the State of Israel. From the perspective of our own survival, we must gravitate to, and work with, those who wish us well and support our standing in the world.

And as we’ve seen in recent polling, Americans — excepting the left — remain overwhelmingly pro-Israel.

So I’d prefer not to waste too much time or breath on trying to persuade the unpersuadable. Their untruths should be combated and their propaganda exposed. But there is much to be done in making alliances across the political spectrum, rallying Congress to confront the administration’s laxity on Iran, and redirecting mainstream Jewish groups away from their obsession with non-peace talks and toward more productive activities such as delegitimizing Israel’s delegitimizers.

Read Less

Jews Go Nuts over a Counseling Group for Pregnant Jewish Teens — Really

It is no secret that American Jews, especially Jewish women, are staunchly pro-choice. Norman Podhoretz has written that many Jewish women “think that the absolute right to an abortion had been inscribed on the tablets Moses brought down from Sinai.” It is no exaggeration to say that abortion rights are a much more significant factor (as are the environment, health care, and every item on the domestic wish list of the left) than Israel in determining the votes of a sizeable segment of Jewish voters.

So you can imagine the reaction when a new Jewish organization dedicated to providing resources, counseling, and ample information to pregnant Jewish women and teens — one not even pro-life in its core message — arrived on the scene. Yes, liberal Jews went bonkers.

The group is In Shifra’s Arms, headed by a young Jewish woman, Erica Pelman. Pelman was inspired to start the organization after a life-altering experience — she found herself unable and uncertain about how to provide advice to a friend who was pregnant and who felt she had no choice but to have an abortion. The group does not advocate politically or tout a pro-life line. Rather, its focus is on providing resources to pregnant girls and women should they choose to have their baby and making clear that no woman should feel that abortion is her only option. Its website explains:

We know that many women do not feel free to choose parenting or adoption when faced with an unplanned pregnancy, and therefore feel they must abort. In one study, 64% of American women who aborted reported being pressured by others to abort and 84% reported that they did not receive adequate counseling prior to aborting (1). Additionally, research has found that college campuses in particular are very unlikely to provide support for pregnant students and this lack of support becomes a pressure to abort; about a third of abortions take place amongst college-aged women (2). …

We respect each woman’s ability to determine her future.  We would not judge any woman for becoming pregnant unintentionally or for considering abortion.  We believe in the inner strength, independence, and capabilities of the women who call us.

Now could that be controversial?  How could giving a girl maternity clothes, an internship in D.C. (so her gap in schooling is not a hindrance in her future career), and explaining that there is a huge demand among Jewish women to adopt (all of which Shifra’s Arms does) objectionable?  After all, there are many Christian and non-denominational counseling organizations, but none other than Shifra’s Arms that is aimed at the Jewish community. Well, to those who shudder at the notion that abortion may have adverse psychological consequences or that an abortion is not any bigger deal than have your nails done, Shifra’s Arms is an anathema.

In a piece by the Jewish Weekly, critics pounced. Alyssa Zucker, professor of psychology and women’s studies at George Washington University, asserted “while these organizations say they are about choice, they are really not. Their goal is to convince women not to have abortions.” Nancy Ratzan, the president of the National Council of Jewish Women, declared that Sifra’s Arms’s website “looks like it fits the model that targets young women in a deceptive way. … [We are] greatly concerned about pregnancy crisis centers and their focus to limit women’s choice and undermine the rights of women.”

What seems to get under these groups’ skins is the mere suggestion that abortion may be a traumatic event with long-term consequences to women. (In the Jewish Weekly, Zucker proclaimed: “From looking at the In Shifra’s Arms Web site, it is talking about emotional risks, but it is citing studies that show extreme results. … The majority of studies show women are fine.”) The Shifra’s Arms’s website provides links to research studies and websites regarding the impact of abortion. In measured language, it explains:

Every abortion procedure involves some potential risk of harm and side effects. You have the legal right to know what type of procedure will be performed upon you and what specific risks of harm or side effects are associated with the performance of this procedure on you. Many women, particularly women who have felt rushed or coerced into abortion, or who felt they did not have access to other options, report significant emotional side effects. Other women feel relieved in the short term, but later feel significant loss or regret.

But that is too much for many rabidly pro-abortion groups. Attacks sprang up at a variety of websites. At the Reproductive Health website, the editor in chief, Jodi Jacobson, attacked Shifra’s Arms and all pregnancy-counseling organizations as frauds and menaces that seek to “channel” women’s choices (unlike the pristinly neutral Planned Parenthood?). Over at the Sisterhood blog at the Forward, they were outraged that women might not get an undiluted pro-abortion message, but they were heartened as well: “At least we can get comfort in the backlash from other Jewish groups and bloggers, and the fact that out of thousands of these centers, only one is aimed at Jewish women.” Good to know that the hysteria from fellow Jews was solace.

The critics also complain that Shifra’s Arms doesn’t provide contraception or medical advice. Pelman explains to me that the employees are not medical professionals and don’t dispense medical advice. Instead, they provide mentors to young women, explain adoption rules, assist in dealing with school administrators, and, for clients who want to either keep the baby or pursue adoption, support them in counteracting the overwhelming pressure they may face to abort and “get on” with their lives. Perlman says simply, “There are two ways to terminate a pregnancy — abortion and giving birth.”

The critics of Shifra’s Arms reveal far more about themselves than the object of their ire. It seems there is nothing quite so dangerous in their eyes as providing Jewish women with information and an alternative that clashes with the abortion-on-demand inscription on those liberal tablets. And abortion-rights activists certainly don’t appreciate the reminder that there are Jewish couples waiting in some cases more than a decade to adopt a Jewish baby.

Abortion-rights advocates insist they aren’t “pro-abortion,” but their vehement reaction to a group offering real choice (and an opportunity for Jewish women to contemplate a critical life decision) is the most telling evidence that this is precisely what they are.

It is no secret that American Jews, especially Jewish women, are staunchly pro-choice. Norman Podhoretz has written that many Jewish women “think that the absolute right to an abortion had been inscribed on the tablets Moses brought down from Sinai.” It is no exaggeration to say that abortion rights are a much more significant factor (as are the environment, health care, and every item on the domestic wish list of the left) than Israel in determining the votes of a sizeable segment of Jewish voters.

So you can imagine the reaction when a new Jewish organization dedicated to providing resources, counseling, and ample information to pregnant Jewish women and teens — one not even pro-life in its core message — arrived on the scene. Yes, liberal Jews went bonkers.

The group is In Shifra’s Arms, headed by a young Jewish woman, Erica Pelman. Pelman was inspired to start the organization after a life-altering experience — she found herself unable and uncertain about how to provide advice to a friend who was pregnant and who felt she had no choice but to have an abortion. The group does not advocate politically or tout a pro-life line. Rather, its focus is on providing resources to pregnant girls and women should they choose to have their baby and making clear that no woman should feel that abortion is her only option. Its website explains:

We know that many women do not feel free to choose parenting or adoption when faced with an unplanned pregnancy, and therefore feel they must abort. In one study, 64% of American women who aborted reported being pressured by others to abort and 84% reported that they did not receive adequate counseling prior to aborting (1). Additionally, research has found that college campuses in particular are very unlikely to provide support for pregnant students and this lack of support becomes a pressure to abort; about a third of abortions take place amongst college-aged women (2). …

We respect each woman’s ability to determine her future.  We would not judge any woman for becoming pregnant unintentionally or for considering abortion.  We believe in the inner strength, independence, and capabilities of the women who call us.

Now could that be controversial?  How could giving a girl maternity clothes, an internship in D.C. (so her gap in schooling is not a hindrance in her future career), and explaining that there is a huge demand among Jewish women to adopt (all of which Shifra’s Arms does) objectionable?  After all, there are many Christian and non-denominational counseling organizations, but none other than Shifra’s Arms that is aimed at the Jewish community. Well, to those who shudder at the notion that abortion may have adverse psychological consequences or that an abortion is not any bigger deal than have your nails done, Shifra’s Arms is an anathema.

In a piece by the Jewish Weekly, critics pounced. Alyssa Zucker, professor of psychology and women’s studies at George Washington University, asserted “while these organizations say they are about choice, they are really not. Their goal is to convince women not to have abortions.” Nancy Ratzan, the president of the National Council of Jewish Women, declared that Sifra’s Arms’s website “looks like it fits the model that targets young women in a deceptive way. … [We are] greatly concerned about pregnancy crisis centers and their focus to limit women’s choice and undermine the rights of women.”

What seems to get under these groups’ skins is the mere suggestion that abortion may be a traumatic event with long-term consequences to women. (In the Jewish Weekly, Zucker proclaimed: “From looking at the In Shifra’s Arms Web site, it is talking about emotional risks, but it is citing studies that show extreme results. … The majority of studies show women are fine.”) The Shifra’s Arms’s website provides links to research studies and websites regarding the impact of abortion. In measured language, it explains:

Every abortion procedure involves some potential risk of harm and side effects. You have the legal right to know what type of procedure will be performed upon you and what specific risks of harm or side effects are associated with the performance of this procedure on you. Many women, particularly women who have felt rushed or coerced into abortion, or who felt they did not have access to other options, report significant emotional side effects. Other women feel relieved in the short term, but later feel significant loss or regret.

But that is too much for many rabidly pro-abortion groups. Attacks sprang up at a variety of websites. At the Reproductive Health website, the editor in chief, Jodi Jacobson, attacked Shifra’s Arms and all pregnancy-counseling organizations as frauds and menaces that seek to “channel” women’s choices (unlike the pristinly neutral Planned Parenthood?). Over at the Sisterhood blog at the Forward, they were outraged that women might not get an undiluted pro-abortion message, but they were heartened as well: “At least we can get comfort in the backlash from other Jewish groups and bloggers, and the fact that out of thousands of these centers, only one is aimed at Jewish women.” Good to know that the hysteria from fellow Jews was solace.

The critics also complain that Shifra’s Arms doesn’t provide contraception or medical advice. Pelman explains to me that the employees are not medical professionals and don’t dispense medical advice. Instead, they provide mentors to young women, explain adoption rules, assist in dealing with school administrators, and, for clients who want to either keep the baby or pursue adoption, support them in counteracting the overwhelming pressure they may face to abort and “get on” with their lives. Perlman says simply, “There are two ways to terminate a pregnancy — abortion and giving birth.”

The critics of Shifra’s Arms reveal far more about themselves than the object of their ire. It seems there is nothing quite so dangerous in their eyes as providing Jewish women with information and an alternative that clashes with the abortion-on-demand inscription on those liberal tablets. And abortion-rights activists certainly don’t appreciate the reminder that there are Jewish couples waiting in some cases more than a decade to adopt a Jewish baby.

Abortion-rights advocates insist they aren’t “pro-abortion,” but their vehement reaction to a group offering real choice (and an opportunity for Jewish women to contemplate a critical life decision) is the most telling evidence that this is precisely what they are.

Read Less

On Obama’s Behavior Toward Israel

By now the efforts of the White House to isolate and humiliate Israel because of the latter’s decision to approve 1,600 new Jewish homes in East Jerusalem (which is, after all, its capital) are well known: from the scolding language to the leaks about Secretary Clinton’s phone call dressing down Prime Minister Netanyahu to the failure to release even one official photograph of the prime minister’s meeting with President Obama to much else. One cannot but conclude that this escalation of tensions with Israel is not the result of a misunderstanding or of things spinning unexpectedly out of control. No, what we are seeing is premeditated, calculated, and indefensible.

Among the practical outcomes, this will lead to further Palestinian intransigence. We have already seen this. Thanks to the approach taken by the Obama administration, Palestinians are for the first time demanding as a precondition for negotiations a freeze on settlements, even as they haven’t offered any concessions of their own.

It will embolden the enemies of Israel and America. Memo to the Obama administration: we share the same ones. As Norman Podhoretz pointedly once wrote, “the hatred of Israel is in large part a surrogate for anti-Americanism.” And the president’s actions will make Israel more reluctant to make concessions of any kind. If Israel’s most important ally is undercutting her, then she will feel doubly threatened and significantly more insecure. (One of the reasons Ariel Sharon felt he could withdraw from Gaza was because in George W. Bush, Israel knew it had a strong and faithful friend in the White House.)

The entire theory on which the Obama administration is operating is false. The problem isn’t with Israel’s unwillingness to negotiate or even any dispute over territory; it is with the Palestinians’ unwillingness to make their own inner peace with the existence of a Jewish state.

Yet in thinking through all this, what is most striking to me is the disfiguring of moral considerations. Barack Obama is treating one of our best allies, and one of the most admirable and impressive nations in the world, worse than he treats the theocratic dictatorship in Iran or the anti-American dictator Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Obama bows before autocrats and shakes the hands of tyrants and speaks with solicitude and undeserved respect to malevolent leaders. Yet with Israel he is petulant and angry, unable to detach himself from a weeks-long tantrum. Or, perhaps, unwilling to detach himself.

There is in the Obama administration an animus toward Israel that is troubling and may be unmatched in modern times (though Jimmy Carter, as ex-president, probably rivals it). Because of what is unfolding, there will be significant injury to our relationship with Israel. But it is also doing considerable damage to America’s moral standing. At its best, America stands for the right things and stands beside the right friends. In distancing us from Israel, Obama is distancing America from a nation that has sacrificed more for peace, and suffered more for their sacrifices, than any other. It is a deeply discouraging thing to see. And it is dangerous, too. Hatred for Israel is a deep and burning fire throughout the world. We should not be adding kindling wood to that fire.

Barack Obama is an ambitious man. He’s undertaking a project to remake America in deep and important ways. Health care is one arena. This, sadly, is another.

By now the efforts of the White House to isolate and humiliate Israel because of the latter’s decision to approve 1,600 new Jewish homes in East Jerusalem (which is, after all, its capital) are well known: from the scolding language to the leaks about Secretary Clinton’s phone call dressing down Prime Minister Netanyahu to the failure to release even one official photograph of the prime minister’s meeting with President Obama to much else. One cannot but conclude that this escalation of tensions with Israel is not the result of a misunderstanding or of things spinning unexpectedly out of control. No, what we are seeing is premeditated, calculated, and indefensible.

Among the practical outcomes, this will lead to further Palestinian intransigence. We have already seen this. Thanks to the approach taken by the Obama administration, Palestinians are for the first time demanding as a precondition for negotiations a freeze on settlements, even as they haven’t offered any concessions of their own.

It will embolden the enemies of Israel and America. Memo to the Obama administration: we share the same ones. As Norman Podhoretz pointedly once wrote, “the hatred of Israel is in large part a surrogate for anti-Americanism.” And the president’s actions will make Israel more reluctant to make concessions of any kind. If Israel’s most important ally is undercutting her, then she will feel doubly threatened and significantly more insecure. (One of the reasons Ariel Sharon felt he could withdraw from Gaza was because in George W. Bush, Israel knew it had a strong and faithful friend in the White House.)

The entire theory on which the Obama administration is operating is false. The problem isn’t with Israel’s unwillingness to negotiate or even any dispute over territory; it is with the Palestinians’ unwillingness to make their own inner peace with the existence of a Jewish state.

Yet in thinking through all this, what is most striking to me is the disfiguring of moral considerations. Barack Obama is treating one of our best allies, and one of the most admirable and impressive nations in the world, worse than he treats the theocratic dictatorship in Iran or the anti-American dictator Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Obama bows before autocrats and shakes the hands of tyrants and speaks with solicitude and undeserved respect to malevolent leaders. Yet with Israel he is petulant and angry, unable to detach himself from a weeks-long tantrum. Or, perhaps, unwilling to detach himself.

There is in the Obama administration an animus toward Israel that is troubling and may be unmatched in modern times (though Jimmy Carter, as ex-president, probably rivals it). Because of what is unfolding, there will be significant injury to our relationship with Israel. But it is also doing considerable damage to America’s moral standing. At its best, America stands for the right things and stands beside the right friends. In distancing us from Israel, Obama is distancing America from a nation that has sacrificed more for peace, and suffered more for their sacrifices, than any other. It is a deeply discouraging thing to see. And it is dangerous, too. Hatred for Israel is a deep and burning fire throughout the world. We should not be adding kindling wood to that fire.

Barack Obama is an ambitious man. He’s undertaking a project to remake America in deep and important ways. Health care is one arena. This, sadly, is another.

Read Less

Zuckerman Candidacy Would Change Everything in New York Senate Race

Well-heeled New York Democrats dismayed at the prospect of even another two years of Kirsten Gillibrand in the United States Senate have been floating the candidacy of former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford Jr. But the floundering candidacy of Ford may be bolstered by the appearance of a new Republican candidate for the seat: publisher and real-estate magnate Mortimer Zuckerman.

According to the New York Times, the 72-year-old Zuckerman is considering a run for the Senate this year. It is assumed that if he  throws his hat in the ring, the 72-year-old billionaire will have the GOP nomination for the asking. But if Zuckerman runs, it will also have an impact on the Democrats.

Until Ford’s boomlet appeared last month, Gillibrand appeared to be cruising to an easy primary victory simply because Chuck Schumer, New York’s senior senator, has very much enjoyed his last year in office. That’s because Gillibrand, unlike her predecessor Hillary Clinton, not only does whatever Schumer asks her to do, but is also content to let the legendary Brooklyn publicity hound hog have all the media attention. So Schumer has used his considerable fund-raising power to not only help build Gillibrand’s campaign account, but to also intimidate possible foes such as Manhattan Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney from pursuing the race. But the problem with this scheme is that Gillibrand has made such a poor impression in the Senate that despite Schumer’s best efforts, some Democrats still think that not only can they do better but also that she is potentially vulnerable in November. Gillibrand’s weakness is accentuated by the possibility that the mid-term election this fall will feature a Republican tide sweeping the country.

So far, Ford’s tryout in the media hasn’t gone that well. His initial interview with the Times was almost as disastrous as a similar encounter with the press, in which Caroline Kennedy’s putative candidacy for the appointment that eventually went to Gillibrand went down in flames. Back in December 2008, Kennedy set new indoor records for a would-be politician saying “You know” and “um” when speaking to reporters. Last month Ford was more articulate but he probably would have done just as well saying “you know” and “um” rather than admitting that, as a vice president for Merrill Lynch, he rarely takes the subway, had only flown over the outer boroughs of New York, and likes pedicures and breakfast at swank hotels.

When the only Republicans considering a run for the Senate were unknowns with little chances of victory in November, Gillibrand’s cipher-like profile wasn’t an obstacle to a Democratic victory. But against a candidate like Zuckerman, whose vast fortune would make her considerable war chest look like a pittance, a safe Democratic seat might become a tossup. Indeed, given Zuckerman’s impeccable pro-Israel credentials (he’s a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations and his command of both economic issues and foreign affairs has been demonstrated in the columns he has written and in appearances on talk shows); his candidacy has the potential to put a sizable percentage of the Jewish vote in question. It is true that Democrats will dismiss this possibility because the vast majority of Jews are liberals and loyal Democrats (see former COMMENTARY editor Norman Podhoretz’s insightful book Why Are Jews Liberal?). But in New York there is a larger percentage than in the rest of the country of Orthodox Jews and of those who care deeply about Israel. Though it should be conceded that even a weak Democrat could do well against a strong pro-Israel Jewish Republican in New York, there is little question that Zuckerman could cut into the expected huge Democratic majority in the Jewish vote. In a state where Jews still make up about 9 percent of the population (and a much larger percentage of those who actually vote) even a small shift in the Jewish vote could make the difference for a massively financed Zuckerman campaign.

It’s not clear yet that Ford could poll any better against Zuckerman than Gillibrand could, or that he can beat her in a primary even if he raises all the money he needs. Nor do we know yet whether Zuckerman is really interested in running. But with a billionaire GOP candidate looming in the wings, you’d have to expect that some Democrats who are reluctantly backing Gillibrand would re-examine their options.

Well-heeled New York Democrats dismayed at the prospect of even another two years of Kirsten Gillibrand in the United States Senate have been floating the candidacy of former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford Jr. But the floundering candidacy of Ford may be bolstered by the appearance of a new Republican candidate for the seat: publisher and real-estate magnate Mortimer Zuckerman.

According to the New York Times, the 72-year-old Zuckerman is considering a run for the Senate this year. It is assumed that if he  throws his hat in the ring, the 72-year-old billionaire will have the GOP nomination for the asking. But if Zuckerman runs, it will also have an impact on the Democrats.

Until Ford’s boomlet appeared last month, Gillibrand appeared to be cruising to an easy primary victory simply because Chuck Schumer, New York’s senior senator, has very much enjoyed his last year in office. That’s because Gillibrand, unlike her predecessor Hillary Clinton, not only does whatever Schumer asks her to do, but is also content to let the legendary Brooklyn publicity hound hog have all the media attention. So Schumer has used his considerable fund-raising power to not only help build Gillibrand’s campaign account, but to also intimidate possible foes such as Manhattan Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney from pursuing the race. But the problem with this scheme is that Gillibrand has made such a poor impression in the Senate that despite Schumer’s best efforts, some Democrats still think that not only can they do better but also that she is potentially vulnerable in November. Gillibrand’s weakness is accentuated by the possibility that the mid-term election this fall will feature a Republican tide sweeping the country.

So far, Ford’s tryout in the media hasn’t gone that well. His initial interview with the Times was almost as disastrous as a similar encounter with the press, in which Caroline Kennedy’s putative candidacy for the appointment that eventually went to Gillibrand went down in flames. Back in December 2008, Kennedy set new indoor records for a would-be politician saying “You know” and “um” when speaking to reporters. Last month Ford was more articulate but he probably would have done just as well saying “you know” and “um” rather than admitting that, as a vice president for Merrill Lynch, he rarely takes the subway, had only flown over the outer boroughs of New York, and likes pedicures and breakfast at swank hotels.

When the only Republicans considering a run for the Senate were unknowns with little chances of victory in November, Gillibrand’s cipher-like profile wasn’t an obstacle to a Democratic victory. But against a candidate like Zuckerman, whose vast fortune would make her considerable war chest look like a pittance, a safe Democratic seat might become a tossup. Indeed, given Zuckerman’s impeccable pro-Israel credentials (he’s a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations and his command of both economic issues and foreign affairs has been demonstrated in the columns he has written and in appearances on talk shows); his candidacy has the potential to put a sizable percentage of the Jewish vote in question. It is true that Democrats will dismiss this possibility because the vast majority of Jews are liberals and loyal Democrats (see former COMMENTARY editor Norman Podhoretz’s insightful book Why Are Jews Liberal?). But in New York there is a larger percentage than in the rest of the country of Orthodox Jews and of those who care deeply about Israel. Though it should be conceded that even a weak Democrat could do well against a strong pro-Israel Jewish Republican in New York, there is little question that Zuckerman could cut into the expected huge Democratic majority in the Jewish vote. In a state where Jews still make up about 9 percent of the population (and a much larger percentage of those who actually vote) even a small shift in the Jewish vote could make the difference for a massively financed Zuckerman campaign.

It’s not clear yet that Ford could poll any better against Zuckerman than Gillibrand could, or that he can beat her in a primary even if he raises all the money he needs. Nor do we know yet whether Zuckerman is really interested in running. But with a billionaire GOP candidate looming in the wings, you’d have to expect that some Democrats who are reluctantly backing Gillibrand would re-examine their options.

Read Less

Talk and Listen and Meet and Sail with COMMENTARY

It could be one of the most informative, pleasurable, and dramatically beautiful weeks of your life. Join us from August 4 through August 11, 2010, as COMMENTARY’s first Conference of Ideas convenes aboard the Regent SS Mariner as it sails through the waters of Alaska, North America’s most dazzling natural venue. We’ll be talking about what really matters—the American political and economic situation, the 2010 elections, Iran, Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan, the state of the Obama presidency, and the condition of the GOP. With us will be Bret Stephens, the brilliant Wall Street Journal columnist; Elliott Abrams, former chief White House Mideast expert; the great World War II historian Andrew Roberts; the omni-knowledgeable Michael Medved, of radio, movie-reviewing, and book-publishing fame; CONTENTIONS’s own Jennifer Rubin; and the ultimate power couple, Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter. We’ll eat, we’ll meet, we’ll speak, you’ll have dinner with the special guests, and there will be plenty of time to rest and relax and visit this unique destination. You can find out more about the Commentary Conference and Cruise here.

It could be one of the most informative, pleasurable, and dramatically beautiful weeks of your life. Join us from August 4 through August 11, 2010, as COMMENTARY’s first Conference of Ideas convenes aboard the Regent SS Mariner as it sails through the waters of Alaska, North America’s most dazzling natural venue. We’ll be talking about what really matters—the American political and economic situation, the 2010 elections, Iran, Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan, the state of the Obama presidency, and the condition of the GOP. With us will be Bret Stephens, the brilliant Wall Street Journal columnist; Elliott Abrams, former chief White House Mideast expert; the great World War II historian Andrew Roberts; the omni-knowledgeable Michael Medved, of radio, movie-reviewing, and book-publishing fame; CONTENTIONS’s own Jennifer Rubin; and the ultimate power couple, Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter. We’ll eat, we’ll meet, we’ll speak, you’ll have dinner with the special guests, and there will be plenty of time to rest and relax and visit this unique destination. You can find out more about the Commentary Conference and Cruise here.

Read Less

Vacation Stimulation—A Conference and Alaskan Cruise in One

As America heads into the 2010 elections, with unprecedented turmoil and possibly revolutionary change, COMMENTARY will be convening its first Conference of Ideas from August 4 through August 11, 2010, aboard the Regent Navigator as it sets sail from Anchorage and takes a week-long journey through the waters of Alaska. There will be daily sessions, speeches, meals, a chance to meet some of your favorite writers and thinkers, a chance to dine with them as well, and an unparalleled opportunity to meet fellow thinkers and readers from across the country. With us on the cruise will be Wall Street Journal global-affairs columnist Bret Stephens; COMMENTARY’s power couple, Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter; the great World War II historian Andrew Roberts; talk-show host and author Michael Medved; CONTENTIONS’s own Jennifer Rubin; and former chief White House Mideast hand Elliott Abrams. We’ll talk Obama, Israel, Iran, the GOP, the Democrats, 2010, 2012, the state of the culture, the state of Western civilization, and the prospects for American recovery. I’ll be there too, playing traffic cop. And all of it will take place amid the most dramatic scenery in the Western Hemisphere, on a small and luxurious craft that is one of the jewels in the Regent fleet. Please consider joining us. You can learn more about the cruise here.

As America heads into the 2010 elections, with unprecedented turmoil and possibly revolutionary change, COMMENTARY will be convening its first Conference of Ideas from August 4 through August 11, 2010, aboard the Regent Navigator as it sets sail from Anchorage and takes a week-long journey through the waters of Alaska. There will be daily sessions, speeches, meals, a chance to meet some of your favorite writers and thinkers, a chance to dine with them as well, and an unparalleled opportunity to meet fellow thinkers and readers from across the country. With us on the cruise will be Wall Street Journal global-affairs columnist Bret Stephens; COMMENTARY’s power couple, Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter; the great World War II historian Andrew Roberts; talk-show host and author Michael Medved; CONTENTIONS’s own Jennifer Rubin; and former chief White House Mideast hand Elliott Abrams. We’ll talk Obama, Israel, Iran, the GOP, the Democrats, 2010, 2012, the state of the culture, the state of Western civilization, and the prospects for American recovery. I’ll be there too, playing traffic cop. And all of it will take place amid the most dramatic scenery in the Western Hemisphere, on a small and luxurious craft that is one of the jewels in the Regent fleet. Please consider joining us. You can learn more about the cruise here.

Read Less

A Vacation with Benefits—a Conference with a Vacation Attached

It’s never too early to make plans for summer travel, so why not plan on attending the first COMMENTARY Conference of Ideas from August 4 through August 11, 2010, aboard the Regent Navigator as it spends a week sailing around and about Alaska? We will spend the week discussing Israel, Iran, the 2010 elections, the 2012 elections, the Obama agenda and what it means for America, and the lessons of history for the present and the future. Speakers include former chief White House Mideast hand Elliott Abrams; the great historian Andrew Roberts; Michael Medved, talk-show host, author, movie critic, and man who knows everything about everything; CONTENTIONS superstar Jennifer Rubin; Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter, who need no introduction; and me. Dine with us, meet fellow thinking iconoclasts from across the nation, and visit some of the most dazzling scenery in the world. You can learn more about the conference that’s also a vacation here.

It’s never too early to make plans for summer travel, so why not plan on attending the first COMMENTARY Conference of Ideas from August 4 through August 11, 2010, aboard the Regent Navigator as it spends a week sailing around and about Alaska? We will spend the week discussing Israel, Iran, the 2010 elections, the 2012 elections, the Obama agenda and what it means for America, and the lessons of history for the present and the future. Speakers include former chief White House Mideast hand Elliott Abrams; the great historian Andrew Roberts; Michael Medved, talk-show host, author, movie critic, and man who knows everything about everything; CONTENTIONS superstar Jennifer Rubin; Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter, who need no introduction; and me. Dine with us, meet fellow thinking iconoclasts from across the nation, and visit some of the most dazzling scenery in the world. You can learn more about the conference that’s also a vacation here.

Read Less

Are Michiko Kakutani and Michael Scheuer An Item?

In today’s New York Times, Michiko Kakutani gives a mixed review to Fareed Zakaria’s latest book, The Post-American World.  She faults it for, among others things, some “curious gaps and questionable assertions.”

One of those is Zakaria’s “dubious” contention that  “over the last six years, support for bin Laden and his goals has fallen steadily throughout the Muslim world.” Taking issue with this, Kakutani complains that Zakaria ignores the contrary views of “Qaeda expert” Michael Scheuer.

Interestingly, back in April, reviewing Martin Amis’s The Second Plane, Kakutani chastised Amis for “completely ignoring . . . experts like Michael Scheuer.”

Reviewing Norman Podhoretz’s World War IV back in October, she scored him, too, for guess what:  “he ignores experts like Michael Scheuer.”

And reviewing Dinesh D’Souza last February, she complained that “He ignores the host of experts like the former C.I.A. officer Michael Scheuer.”

Listening to this broken record makes me all the more curious about Kakutani’s review of Scheuer’s most recent book, The Road to Hell. She called it “wildly uneven,” “intemperate,” “shrill,” and a “messy agglomeration” “seeded” with “alarming rants.”

These appropriate judgments leave me wondering why, in repeatedly enlisting the crackpot Scheuer to chastise various authors, Michiko Kakutani completely ignores — of all people — Michiko Kakutani.

In today’s New York Times, Michiko Kakutani gives a mixed review to Fareed Zakaria’s latest book, The Post-American World.  She faults it for, among others things, some “curious gaps and questionable assertions.”

One of those is Zakaria’s “dubious” contention that  “over the last six years, support for bin Laden and his goals has fallen steadily throughout the Muslim world.” Taking issue with this, Kakutani complains that Zakaria ignores the contrary views of “Qaeda expert” Michael Scheuer.

Interestingly, back in April, reviewing Martin Amis’s The Second Plane, Kakutani chastised Amis for “completely ignoring . . . experts like Michael Scheuer.”

Reviewing Norman Podhoretz’s World War IV back in October, she scored him, too, for guess what:  “he ignores experts like Michael Scheuer.”

And reviewing Dinesh D’Souza last February, she complained that “He ignores the host of experts like the former C.I.A. officer Michael Scheuer.”

Listening to this broken record makes me all the more curious about Kakutani’s review of Scheuer’s most recent book, The Road to Hell. She called it “wildly uneven,” “intemperate,” “shrill,” and a “messy agglomeration” “seeded” with “alarming rants.”

These appropriate judgments leave me wondering why, in repeatedly enlisting the crackpot Scheuer to chastise various authors, Michiko Kakutani completely ignores — of all people — Michiko Kakutani.

Read Less

More on Joe Klein

In a rather stunning sentence that Ramesh Ponnuru flagged over at National Review‘s The Corner, Joe Klein, in saying that the “chronic disease among Democrats” is their tendency to talk more about what’s wrong with America than what’s right, wrote this:

This is ironic and weirdly self-defeating, since the liberal message of national improvement is profoundly more optimistic, and patriotic, than the innate conservative pessimism about the perfectibility of human nature.

As Ponnuru points out, can you imagine Klein’s outrage if the charge had been made the other way – that the conservative message of national improvement is more “patriotic” than liberalism? Actually, we don’t have to leave it to the imagination. Here is Joe Klein in “An Overdose of Invective,” one of his many angry columns from 2004:

To be sure, there is a bright line between tough and scurrilous. The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth crossed it, and the Bush campaign joined them when presidential surrogates, including Bush the Elder, ratified the Swifties’ lies. (They can’t all be liars, the former President told Don Imus.) Zell Miller’s frontal attacks on Kerry’s patriotism at the Republican Convention also crossed the line-as did the President’s celebration of Miller’s speech in subsequent stump appearances. Indeed, Bush’s gleeful willingness to personally join in the mudslinging is unprecedented in modern U.S. politics. Usually Presidents leave the dirty work to others. Even Richard Nixon, an apotheosis of darkness, had Spiro Agnew do most of the heavy lifting.

Liberals have made a habit out of getting furious about having their patriotism challenged even when it’s not; in Klein’s most recent column we have an example of an explicit assertion that liberalism is more patriotic than conservatism, but without the sound and fury.

This charge, beyond its falsity, is also ignorant and shallow. For one thing, some of the best arguments on behalf of patriotism in recent years have been made by leading conservative intellectuals like Walter Berns in his book, Making Patriots; Norman Podhoretz in My Love Affair With America: The Cautionary Tale of A Cheerful Conservative; William Bennett in Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism (see in particular his chapter “Love of Country”); Yale Professor Donald Kagan’s November 4, 2001 lecture on patriotism; and Gertrude Himmelfarb’s May 1997 Commentary essay “For the Love of Country.”

Read More

In a rather stunning sentence that Ramesh Ponnuru flagged over at National Review‘s The Corner, Joe Klein, in saying that the “chronic disease among Democrats” is their tendency to talk more about what’s wrong with America than what’s right, wrote this:

This is ironic and weirdly self-defeating, since the liberal message of national improvement is profoundly more optimistic, and patriotic, than the innate conservative pessimism about the perfectibility of human nature.

As Ponnuru points out, can you imagine Klein’s outrage if the charge had been made the other way – that the conservative message of national improvement is more “patriotic” than liberalism? Actually, we don’t have to leave it to the imagination. Here is Joe Klein in “An Overdose of Invective,” one of his many angry columns from 2004:

To be sure, there is a bright line between tough and scurrilous. The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth crossed it, and the Bush campaign joined them when presidential surrogates, including Bush the Elder, ratified the Swifties’ lies. (They can’t all be liars, the former President told Don Imus.) Zell Miller’s frontal attacks on Kerry’s patriotism at the Republican Convention also crossed the line-as did the President’s celebration of Miller’s speech in subsequent stump appearances. Indeed, Bush’s gleeful willingness to personally join in the mudslinging is unprecedented in modern U.S. politics. Usually Presidents leave the dirty work to others. Even Richard Nixon, an apotheosis of darkness, had Spiro Agnew do most of the heavy lifting.

Liberals have made a habit out of getting furious about having their patriotism challenged even when it’s not; in Klein’s most recent column we have an example of an explicit assertion that liberalism is more patriotic than conservatism, but without the sound and fury.

This charge, beyond its falsity, is also ignorant and shallow. For one thing, some of the best arguments on behalf of patriotism in recent years have been made by leading conservative intellectuals like Walter Berns in his book, Making Patriots; Norman Podhoretz in My Love Affair With America: The Cautionary Tale of A Cheerful Conservative; William Bennett in Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism (see in particular his chapter “Love of Country”); Yale Professor Donald Kagan’s November 4, 2001 lecture on patriotism; and Gertrude Himmelfarb’s May 1997 Commentary essay “For the Love of Country.”

Beyond that, is Klein really prepared to argue that the aim of the institutional strongholds of contemporary liberalism – whether we are talking about the academy or Hollywood or others – is to deepen our love for America and increase our civic devotion and pride? That their efforts will make us a more perfect union? Does Klein believe that during the last several decades liberals rather than conservatives have been more likely to reject cultural relativism and radical multiculturalism? Have liberals rather than conservatives been more vocal in arguing why the United States is better in every way than its totalitarian enemies? Is Ted Kennedy really more patriotic in his “liberal message of national improvement” than Ronald Reagan was in his conservative message of national improvement?

To be sure, patriotism is a complicated matter, as it has many elements to it and tensions within it. It is certainly not the property of any one political party. It is not blind support for America, just as it is not reflexive opposition to America. But what we can say, I think, is that, as Berns points out, part of what it has traditionally meant to be an American is to believe in our most cherished creeds – most especially that we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. Patriotism also demands that we hold an honest view of our nation — which, in the case of America, means we should acknowledge our injustices (past and present) even as we acknowledge that, in Allan Bloom’s words, “America tells one story: the unbroken ineluctable progress of freedom and equality.” And of course patriotism requires us to sacrifice for our country, to defend her when she is under assault, and to do what we can to help America live up to her founding ideals.

I would finally add this: Conservatives are not “pessimistic” about the perfectibility of human nature; rather, they are realistic about human nature, which is an admixture of virtues and vices. Conservatism is skeptical about grand programs to remake human nature itself, but it is risible to argue that conservatism is philosophically proscribed from making an argument for national improvement. Many of the greatest conservatives in American history have done just that. One could also argue that those who believe in the perfectibility of human nature tend to embrace the view that we are “citizens of the world” even before we are citizens of America.

Joe Klein has waded into ugly waters. Let’s hope he can make his way out of them before too long.

Read Less

Who Is Afraid of Iran’s Nukes?

Norman Podhoretz has been courageously making the case for a U.S. strike on Iran’s nuclear-weapon’s program for some time now. He also has — or had — been predicting that President Bush would carry out such a strike before the end of his presidency. As time grows short, that seems increasingly unlikely.

But let’s not rule it out entirely.We have already pointed to the fact that as Iran acquires sophisticated Russian air-defenses, which it may deploy as early as this fall, the execution of a U.S. strike will be greatly complicated and the risks associated with it will rise. It would be easier for the U.S. to the job before the SA-20s are pointing toward the skies.

There is another factor as well that pushes in the same direction: growing pressure from an insecure but highly influential ally in the region — and, no, it is not Israel.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has taken a look at Saudi Arabian attitudes toward Iran’s nuclear program:

senior and mid-level Saudi officials express an apparently unambiguous belief among the upper-echelon of the Saudi Government that the Iranian nuclear program does not solely exist for peaceful purposes. One senior Saudi official told staff confidently, “Iran is determined to get a nuclear weapon.”. . . One senior long-serving U.S. diplomat in Riyadh said he had “never met anyone from the King on down who didn’t think it was a nuclear weapons program.”

Saudi officials believe Iran wants a nuclear weapon in order to become a regional superpower, to alleviate a sense of marginalization, to serve as a deterrent, and to be a more dominant force in the Gulf. While senior Saudi officials describe a nuclear-armed Iran as “an existential threat,” most Saudi officials do not believe Iran would actually use nuclear weapons against Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia worries that Iranian nuclear weapons would encourage and enable the Iranians to pursue a more aggressive, hegemonic foreign policy in the region. However, it would be inaccurate to completely characterize SAG [Saudia Arabian government] anxiety regarding Iranian nuclear weapons as a purely “balance of power concern.” Based largely on Iran’s subversive activities directed against the Saudi regime in the 1980’s, some senior Saudi leaders find a nuclear-armed Iran especially disconcerting. Such past Iranian subversion efforts has imbued the senior Saudi leadership with an intense distrust of Tehran.

What do the Saudis think should be done about the mounting danger?

When presented with a hypothetical choice between a nuclear-armed Iran and a U.S. [preventive] attack, a significant number of Saudi officials interviewed explicitly or implicitly preferred a U.S. attack. A correlation seems to exist between the seniority of Saudi officials and views on Iranian nuclear weapons. More senior Saudi officials tended to be more “hawkish” in their viewpoint toward Iran. Some key Saudi officials believe a U.S. attack could set the Iranian nuclear program back over a decade. More cautious members of the senior inner circle express concern that a military attack would affect “everything and will not be easy to pull off,” and doubt whether a U.S. attack could destroy all key components of the Iranian nuclear program. Based on U.S. actions in Iraq, some key Saudi officials feared a “nightmare” scenario in which the U.S. attacks Iran but fails to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

The Saudis have a lot of oil, a lot of money, and a lot of influence in Washington. If the U.S. does take action, and if it is successful, they will surely reap some of the credit. And if it goes badly, we will surely hear from John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt that the “Israel Lobby” is to blame.

Norman Podhoretz has been courageously making the case for a U.S. strike on Iran’s nuclear-weapon’s program for some time now. He also has — or had — been predicting that President Bush would carry out such a strike before the end of his presidency. As time grows short, that seems increasingly unlikely.

But let’s not rule it out entirely.We have already pointed to the fact that as Iran acquires sophisticated Russian air-defenses, which it may deploy as early as this fall, the execution of a U.S. strike will be greatly complicated and the risks associated with it will rise. It would be easier for the U.S. to the job before the SA-20s are pointing toward the skies.

There is another factor as well that pushes in the same direction: growing pressure from an insecure but highly influential ally in the region — and, no, it is not Israel.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has taken a look at Saudi Arabian attitudes toward Iran’s nuclear program:

senior and mid-level Saudi officials express an apparently unambiguous belief among the upper-echelon of the Saudi Government that the Iranian nuclear program does not solely exist for peaceful purposes. One senior Saudi official told staff confidently, “Iran is determined to get a nuclear weapon.”. . . One senior long-serving U.S. diplomat in Riyadh said he had “never met anyone from the King on down who didn’t think it was a nuclear weapons program.”

Saudi officials believe Iran wants a nuclear weapon in order to become a regional superpower, to alleviate a sense of marginalization, to serve as a deterrent, and to be a more dominant force in the Gulf. While senior Saudi officials describe a nuclear-armed Iran as “an existential threat,” most Saudi officials do not believe Iran would actually use nuclear weapons against Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia worries that Iranian nuclear weapons would encourage and enable the Iranians to pursue a more aggressive, hegemonic foreign policy in the region. However, it would be inaccurate to completely characterize SAG [Saudia Arabian government] anxiety regarding Iranian nuclear weapons as a purely “balance of power concern.” Based largely on Iran’s subversive activities directed against the Saudi regime in the 1980’s, some senior Saudi leaders find a nuclear-armed Iran especially disconcerting. Such past Iranian subversion efforts has imbued the senior Saudi leadership with an intense distrust of Tehran.

What do the Saudis think should be done about the mounting danger?

When presented with a hypothetical choice between a nuclear-armed Iran and a U.S. [preventive] attack, a significant number of Saudi officials interviewed explicitly or implicitly preferred a U.S. attack. A correlation seems to exist between the seniority of Saudi officials and views on Iranian nuclear weapons. More senior Saudi officials tended to be more “hawkish” in their viewpoint toward Iran. Some key Saudi officials believe a U.S. attack could set the Iranian nuclear program back over a decade. More cautious members of the senior inner circle express concern that a military attack would affect “everything and will not be easy to pull off,” and doubt whether a U.S. attack could destroy all key components of the Iranian nuclear program. Based on U.S. actions in Iraq, some key Saudi officials feared a “nightmare” scenario in which the U.S. attacks Iran but fails to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

The Saudis have a lot of oil, a lot of money, and a lot of influence in Washington. If the U.S. does take action, and if it is successful, they will surely reap some of the credit. And if it goes badly, we will surely hear from John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt that the “Israel Lobby” is to blame.

Read Less

Two Windows Are Closing At Once

As Norman Podhoretz has pointed out in a series of courageous and cogently argued articles (click here and here) making the case for an American strike on Iran’s nuclear program, President Bush seemingly locked himself into such an action when he said, in Podhoretz’s paraphrase,

that if we permit Iran to build a nuclear arsenal, people 50 years from now will look back and wonder how we of this generation could have allowed such a thing to happen, and they will rightly judge us as harshly as we today judge the British and the French for what they did and what they failed to do at Munich in 1938.

But with less than a year left in his term, there are no indications that Bush intends to follow through. If he doesn’t, Israel may have to go it alone.

The venomous anti-Israel rhetoric spewing from Tehran is becoming increasingly bellicose. Iran is said to be supplying the Grad missiles used by Hamas in Gaza to strike the Israeli city of Ashkelon. Iran’s nuclear program, despite the trickily worded U.S. National Intelligence Estimate issued late last year, is continuing apace. With all these ominous trends in place, the pressure on Israel to employ military measures to ward off the Iranian nuclear menace will only grow.

What is the likely timing of an Israeli strike? One new factor in the equation is the Russian supply of surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) to Iran, rumored about for months and now evidently moving forward. Tucked away in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee last Wednesday was a single sentence from General Michael Maples, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.  Iran, stated Maples, “is close to acquiring long-range SA-20 SAMs.”

The SA-20 is an advanced air-defense system with a radius of up to 250 miles. Although it presumably can be defeated by electronic measures of the kind at which Israel excels, its deployment would nonetheless seriously complicate the planning and execution of an Israeli attack. Given the risks of such an operation even without having to overcome the SA-20, Israel would presumably have a strong incentive to act before the new Russian system becomes operational.

Some reports are now placing the date for the SA-20 deployment as early as December. Of course, it would take time for the Iranian military to learn to operate the system even half-way effectively. But once the surface-to-air missiles are pointing toward the sky, the clock on that process would be ticking, just as it is ticking on Iran’s nuclear bomb program. Two windows would be closing at once.

Last week, Iran’s president called Israel a “a dirty microbe.” The intentions communicated by this Nazi-style metaphor are all too clear. But Israel is not about to let itself be exterminated. Barring a sudden change of course by Iran, the Middle East is heading for another major war.

As Norman Podhoretz has pointed out in a series of courageous and cogently argued articles (click here and here) making the case for an American strike on Iran’s nuclear program, President Bush seemingly locked himself into such an action when he said, in Podhoretz’s paraphrase,

that if we permit Iran to build a nuclear arsenal, people 50 years from now will look back and wonder how we of this generation could have allowed such a thing to happen, and they will rightly judge us as harshly as we today judge the British and the French for what they did and what they failed to do at Munich in 1938.

But with less than a year left in his term, there are no indications that Bush intends to follow through. If he doesn’t, Israel may have to go it alone.

The venomous anti-Israel rhetoric spewing from Tehran is becoming increasingly bellicose. Iran is said to be supplying the Grad missiles used by Hamas in Gaza to strike the Israeli city of Ashkelon. Iran’s nuclear program, despite the trickily worded U.S. National Intelligence Estimate issued late last year, is continuing apace. With all these ominous trends in place, the pressure on Israel to employ military measures to ward off the Iranian nuclear menace will only grow.

What is the likely timing of an Israeli strike? One new factor in the equation is the Russian supply of surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) to Iran, rumored about for months and now evidently moving forward. Tucked away in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee last Wednesday was a single sentence from General Michael Maples, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.  Iran, stated Maples, “is close to acquiring long-range SA-20 SAMs.”

The SA-20 is an advanced air-defense system with a radius of up to 250 miles. Although it presumably can be defeated by electronic measures of the kind at which Israel excels, its deployment would nonetheless seriously complicate the planning and execution of an Israeli attack. Given the risks of such an operation even without having to overcome the SA-20, Israel would presumably have a strong incentive to act before the new Russian system becomes operational.

Some reports are now placing the date for the SA-20 deployment as early as December. Of course, it would take time for the Iranian military to learn to operate the system even half-way effectively. But once the surface-to-air missiles are pointing toward the sky, the clock on that process would be ticking, just as it is ticking on Iran’s nuclear bomb program. Two windows would be closing at once.

Last week, Iran’s president called Israel a “a dirty microbe.” The intentions communicated by this Nazi-style metaphor are all too clear. But Israel is not about to let itself be exterminated. Barring a sudden change of course by Iran, the Middle East is heading for another major war.

Read Less

Bookshelf

• William F. Buckley, Jr., wrote books as easily as most people write letters, and most of them, not at all surprisingly, have proved to be of ephemeral interest. Such is the near-inevitable fate of the journalist, who writes not for posterity but for the immediate moment. Bill had a different kind of claim on posterity’s attention. But I suspect that some of his essays will also prove to have a lasting life as will at least one of his bonafide books, Cruising Speed: A Documentary. Published in 1971, Cruising Speed is a present-tense diary of a single, randomly chosen week in Bill’s phenomenally hectic life, written on the fly as a kind of literary experiment. It is, so far as I know, sui generis, a genre all to itself save for the companion volume, Overdrive, that Bill wrote in 1983, at which time Norman Podhoretz succinctly described the rules of the game in a glowing review that appeared in COMMENTARY:

Like Cruising Speed (1971) before it, Overdrive is an account of a single, and presumably typical, week in Buckley’s life. Everything he does or that happens to him in the course of that week is recorded, along with such background information or reminiscence as is needed to make the present moment fully intelligible. The form, in other words, is a journal, but one that differs from the usual journal in being frankly and deliberately written for publication.

I liked Overdrive very much, but its publication inevitably detracted from the uniqueness of Cruising Speed, which seemed and seems to me the most aesthetically satisfying piece of writing that Bill ever did, just as it conveys his wholly original personality more fully and precisely than anything else he wrote. He was not by nature an introspective man—that was why he never succeeded in writing the systematic exposition of conservative philosophy that had long been his great goal—but a journalist pur sang, and in Cruising Speed he miraculously found a way to tease art out of his unreflective hastiness.

The book’s most striking passage comes at the very end, when Bill pauses for a moment to consider a letter he had just received from “Herbert,” a friendly left-wing historian who urged him to turn from his incessant public pursuits and spend more time in intellectual contemplation. “What will be your thoughts,” Herbert wrote, “if when you come to your deathbed you look back and realize that all your life amounted to no more than one big highly successful game of power and self-glorification?”

The letter brought Bill up short, and caused him to ask of himself the hard questions that can be found in the penultimate paragraph of Cruising Speed:

Herbert is hauntingly right—c’est que la vérité qui blesse—what are my reserves? How will I satisfy them, who listen to me today, tomorrow? Hell, how will I satisfy myself tomorrow, satisfying myself so imperfectly, which is not to say insufficiently, today; at cruising speed?

I have been no less haunted by that passage ever since I first read it many years ago. It never occurred to me to ask Bill about it—I didn’t know him well enough—but I wondered whether he still asked himself the same questions. Certainly he was asking them in 1983, for Overdrive contains an equally striking sentence on a similar theme: “The unexamined life may not be worth living, in which case I will concede that mine is not worth living.”

It goes without saying that Bill’s life was worth living: he was one of the greatest public figures to come along in my lifetime, and one of the most consequential journalists of the century. But the fact that he should have thought to question the ultimate value of his own crowded life—and that he had the courage to do so in public—says something deeply moving about his own essential seriousness.

• William F. Buckley, Jr., wrote books as easily as most people write letters, and most of them, not at all surprisingly, have proved to be of ephemeral interest. Such is the near-inevitable fate of the journalist, who writes not for posterity but for the immediate moment. Bill had a different kind of claim on posterity’s attention. But I suspect that some of his essays will also prove to have a lasting life as will at least one of his bonafide books, Cruising Speed: A Documentary. Published in 1971, Cruising Speed is a present-tense diary of a single, randomly chosen week in Bill’s phenomenally hectic life, written on the fly as a kind of literary experiment. It is, so far as I know, sui generis, a genre all to itself save for the companion volume, Overdrive, that Bill wrote in 1983, at which time Norman Podhoretz succinctly described the rules of the game in a glowing review that appeared in COMMENTARY:

Like Cruising Speed (1971) before it, Overdrive is an account of a single, and presumably typical, week in Buckley’s life. Everything he does or that happens to him in the course of that week is recorded, along with such background information or reminiscence as is needed to make the present moment fully intelligible. The form, in other words, is a journal, but one that differs from the usual journal in being frankly and deliberately written for publication.

I liked Overdrive very much, but its publication inevitably detracted from the uniqueness of Cruising Speed, which seemed and seems to me the most aesthetically satisfying piece of writing that Bill ever did, just as it conveys his wholly original personality more fully and precisely than anything else he wrote. He was not by nature an introspective man—that was why he never succeeded in writing the systematic exposition of conservative philosophy that had long been his great goal—but a journalist pur sang, and in Cruising Speed he miraculously found a way to tease art out of his unreflective hastiness.

The book’s most striking passage comes at the very end, when Bill pauses for a moment to consider a letter he had just received from “Herbert,” a friendly left-wing historian who urged him to turn from his incessant public pursuits and spend more time in intellectual contemplation. “What will be your thoughts,” Herbert wrote, “if when you come to your deathbed you look back and realize that all your life amounted to no more than one big highly successful game of power and self-glorification?”

The letter brought Bill up short, and caused him to ask of himself the hard questions that can be found in the penultimate paragraph of Cruising Speed:

Herbert is hauntingly right—c’est que la vérité qui blesse—what are my reserves? How will I satisfy them, who listen to me today, tomorrow? Hell, how will I satisfy myself tomorrow, satisfying myself so imperfectly, which is not to say insufficiently, today; at cruising speed?

I have been no less haunted by that passage ever since I first read it many years ago. It never occurred to me to ask Bill about it—I didn’t know him well enough—but I wondered whether he still asked himself the same questions. Certainly he was asking them in 1983, for Overdrive contains an equally striking sentence on a similar theme: “The unexamined life may not be worth living, in which case I will concede that mine is not worth living.”

It goes without saying that Bill’s life was worth living: he was one of the greatest public figures to come along in my lifetime, and one of the most consequential journalists of the century. But the fact that he should have thought to question the ultimate value of his own crowded life—and that he had the courage to do so in public—says something deeply moving about his own essential seriousness.

Read Less

In Memoriam WFB

Although I barely knew him, I am, like many others, stunned and saddened by the news of William F. Buckley Jr.’s demise. A great deal will no doubt be written in the hours and days ahead about his colossal achievements: He practically invented the modern conservative movement, he founded a magazine that still endures as one of the most influential beacons of the Right, he nurtured many generations of talent, and he produced too many books and articles to count. On top of it all, he managed to live a whale of a life, whether skiing in Gstaad or sailing across the Atlantic. He was also, in my encounters with him, an unfailingly kind, generous, and gracious soul. Not even his most rabid political opponents could deny his innate decency, any more than they could deny his rapier wit.

One trait of his was, I believe, especially responsible for his success. It is hard to put into words, or perhaps my vocabulary is simply inadequate to the task—something that is particularly galling since I am speaking of the master of the mot juste. The best I can do is to say that he was “balanced.” That’s not quite right. But what, after all, is the opposite of “unbalanced?” That is the danger that anyone who devotes himself to an ideological pursuit, as Buckley did, runs. It is all too easy to go off the rails, to become fanatical in your convictions, and to leave good sense and moderation behind. That is a danger that has befallen countless conservatives from Joe Sobran to Jude Wanniski.

The most successful conservative editors, such as Bob Bartley, Norman Podhoretz, and, more recently, Bill Kristol, have not succumbed to the temptation of extremism. Neither did Bill Buckley. In fact, he managed on a number of occasions to keep the conservative movement as a whole from lurching into loony-land.

COMMENTARY is running an article by him that recalls the important role he played in the early 1960’s in repudiating the John Birch Society. This was one of the most important services he performed for conservatism, though it was hardly the last time that he would break with fellow-travelers (such as Sobran) who had simply gone too far. His common sense, his equipoise if you will, stood not only him but the entire conservative movement in good stead for many decades.

This is an important part of his remarkable legacy, and one that deserves to be honored and remembered—and emulated.

Although I barely knew him, I am, like many others, stunned and saddened by the news of William F. Buckley Jr.’s demise. A great deal will no doubt be written in the hours and days ahead about his colossal achievements: He practically invented the modern conservative movement, he founded a magazine that still endures as one of the most influential beacons of the Right, he nurtured many generations of talent, and he produced too many books and articles to count. On top of it all, he managed to live a whale of a life, whether skiing in Gstaad or sailing across the Atlantic. He was also, in my encounters with him, an unfailingly kind, generous, and gracious soul. Not even his most rabid political opponents could deny his innate decency, any more than they could deny his rapier wit.

One trait of his was, I believe, especially responsible for his success. It is hard to put into words, or perhaps my vocabulary is simply inadequate to the task—something that is particularly galling since I am speaking of the master of the mot juste. The best I can do is to say that he was “balanced.” That’s not quite right. But what, after all, is the opposite of “unbalanced?” That is the danger that anyone who devotes himself to an ideological pursuit, as Buckley did, runs. It is all too easy to go off the rails, to become fanatical in your convictions, and to leave good sense and moderation behind. That is a danger that has befallen countless conservatives from Joe Sobran to Jude Wanniski.

The most successful conservative editors, such as Bob Bartley, Norman Podhoretz, and, more recently, Bill Kristol, have not succumbed to the temptation of extremism. Neither did Bill Buckley. In fact, he managed on a number of occasions to keep the conservative movement as a whole from lurching into loony-land.

COMMENTARY is running an article by him that recalls the important role he played in the early 1960’s in repudiating the John Birch Society. This was one of the most important services he performed for conservatism, though it was hardly the last time that he would break with fellow-travelers (such as Sobran) who had simply gone too far. His common sense, his equipoise if you will, stood not only him but the entire conservative movement in good stead for many decades.

This is an important part of his remarkable legacy, and one that deserves to be honored and remembered—and emulated.

Read Less

Out of Iraq Now

Barack Obama has a plan to the end the war in Iraq. Since he may well be the next President of the United States, let’s give it a respectful hearing. Here is the sum and substance of it, as presented in an issue paper posted on his website:

Bring Our Troops Home: Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months. Obama will make it clear that we will not build any permanent bases in Iraq. He will keep some troops in Iraq to protect our embassy and diplomats; if al Qaeda attempts to build a base within Iraq, he will keep troops in Iraq or elsewhere in the region to carry out targeted strikes on al Qaeda.

Hillary Clinton also has a plan to the end the war in Iraq. Even though her chances of becoming President are diminishing by the day, she is still in the race, so let’s give her plan a respectful hearing, too. Here is the sum and substance of it, as presented in an issue paper posted on her website:

Starting Phased Redeployment within Hillary’s First Days in Office: The most important part of Hillary’s plan is the first: to end our military engagement in Iraq’s civil war and immediately start bringing our troops home. As president, one of Hillary’s first official actions would be to convene the Joint Chiefs of Staff, her Secretary of Defense, and her National Security Council. She would direct them to draw up a clear, viable plan to bring our troops home starting with the first 60 days of her Administration.

Obama is promising a faster withdrawal than Hillary. although Hillary has also said, “Our message to the President is clear. It is time to begin ending this war — not next year, not next month — but today.”

For those Americans who want to end the war as rapidly as possible, should we vote for him or for her?

There can be only one answer: neither.

When the United States was contemplating the invasion, Colin Powell memorably enunciated the Pottery Barn doctrine: “you break it, you own it.” Both Hillary and Obama want to walk out of the shop with the crockery in pieces and without paying. Indeed, the main issue between them is which will exit the shop faster.

This leaves Connecting the Dots with two questions: 

1.  Is there anything more shameful than their blithe indifference to the fate of the Iraqi people?

2.  Is there anything more shameful then their insouciant disregard of the iron-clad logic of events: that if the U.S. withdraws without a credible security system in place, our forces will have to fight their way back after one or another ruthless Islamic group terrorizes its way into power?

Last night I listened to Henry Kissinger speak at a dinner (honoring Norman Podhoretz for his new book) that was put on by the amazing trio running Power Line. He made one point that struck me with special force: American withdrawal from Iraq will be an unmistakable American defeat, and the consequences will not be long-term, they will be immediate and grave.

No one can predict the future, but Kissinger’s analysis and warning seems irrefutable. Is that what America wants? This election is shaping up to be even more critical than the Carter-Reagan choice of 1980. Am I correct in thinking that, of the post-war elections, only the Nixon-McGovern race in 1972 had more riding on it?

 

Barack Obama has a plan to the end the war in Iraq. Since he may well be the next President of the United States, let’s give it a respectful hearing. Here is the sum and substance of it, as presented in an issue paper posted on his website:

Bring Our Troops Home: Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months. Obama will make it clear that we will not build any permanent bases in Iraq. He will keep some troops in Iraq to protect our embassy and diplomats; if al Qaeda attempts to build a base within Iraq, he will keep troops in Iraq or elsewhere in the region to carry out targeted strikes on al Qaeda.

Hillary Clinton also has a plan to the end the war in Iraq. Even though her chances of becoming President are diminishing by the day, she is still in the race, so let’s give her plan a respectful hearing, too. Here is the sum and substance of it, as presented in an issue paper posted on her website:

Starting Phased Redeployment within Hillary’s First Days in Office: The most important part of Hillary’s plan is the first: to end our military engagement in Iraq’s civil war and immediately start bringing our troops home. As president, one of Hillary’s first official actions would be to convene the Joint Chiefs of Staff, her Secretary of Defense, and her National Security Council. She would direct them to draw up a clear, viable plan to bring our troops home starting with the first 60 days of her Administration.

Obama is promising a faster withdrawal than Hillary. although Hillary has also said, “Our message to the President is clear. It is time to begin ending this war — not next year, not next month — but today.”

For those Americans who want to end the war as rapidly as possible, should we vote for him or for her?

There can be only one answer: neither.

When the United States was contemplating the invasion, Colin Powell memorably enunciated the Pottery Barn doctrine: “you break it, you own it.” Both Hillary and Obama want to walk out of the shop with the crockery in pieces and without paying. Indeed, the main issue between them is which will exit the shop faster.

This leaves Connecting the Dots with two questions: 

1.  Is there anything more shameful than their blithe indifference to the fate of the Iraqi people?

2.  Is there anything more shameful then their insouciant disregard of the iron-clad logic of events: that if the U.S. withdraws without a credible security system in place, our forces will have to fight their way back after one or another ruthless Islamic group terrorizes its way into power?

Last night I listened to Henry Kissinger speak at a dinner (honoring Norman Podhoretz for his new book) that was put on by the amazing trio running Power Line. He made one point that struck me with special force: American withdrawal from Iraq will be an unmistakable American defeat, and the consequences will not be long-term, they will be immediate and grave.

No one can predict the future, but Kissinger’s analysis and warning seems irrefutable. Is that what America wants? This election is shaping up to be even more critical than the Carter-Reagan choice of 1980. Am I correct in thinking that, of the post-war elections, only the Nixon-McGovern race in 1972 had more riding on it?

 

Read Less

World War IV: Powerline’s Book of the Year

Powerline has just announced that Norman Podhoretz’s World War IV is the winner of its first Book of the Year Award. Podhoretz is, of course, COMMENTARY’S Editor at Large, and the articles that formed the basis of the book first appeared in COMMENTARY. As Scott Johnson, one of the three proprietors of Powerline, writes:

We judge Podhoretz’s book perhaps the most important published last year. It is an elegantly written assessment of the long war in which we are engaged, and a passionate defense of the Bush Doctrine. As Podhoretz notes in the book, we have occasionally expressed our own second thoughts about the Bush Doctrine and do not necessarily agree with every tenet of his argument. We are nevertheless quite sure that it is a book, not just for this season, but for the foreseeable future during which the United States will confront the Islamist enemy that is at war with us.

The $25,000 prize, funded by an anonymous benefactor and to be donated in Podhoretz’s honor to Soldier’s Angels, makes it the most financially substantial award in American publishing. “With this award,” Johnson writes, “it is our intention to raise awareness of one of the several outstanding books published by conservative authors last year that have been or will be given short shrift by the Pulitzer and NBCC judges.” The award will be presented Monday night at a dinner in New York featuring Henry Kissinger and Mark Steyn.

Powerline has just announced that Norman Podhoretz’s World War IV is the winner of its first Book of the Year Award. Podhoretz is, of course, COMMENTARY’S Editor at Large, and the articles that formed the basis of the book first appeared in COMMENTARY. As Scott Johnson, one of the three proprietors of Powerline, writes:

We judge Podhoretz’s book perhaps the most important published last year. It is an elegantly written assessment of the long war in which we are engaged, and a passionate defense of the Bush Doctrine. As Podhoretz notes in the book, we have occasionally expressed our own second thoughts about the Bush Doctrine and do not necessarily agree with every tenet of his argument. We are nevertheless quite sure that it is a book, not just for this season, but for the foreseeable future during which the United States will confront the Islamist enemy that is at war with us.

The $25,000 prize, funded by an anonymous benefactor and to be donated in Podhoretz’s honor to Soldier’s Angels, makes it the most financially substantial award in American publishing. “With this award,” Johnson writes, “it is our intention to raise awareness of one of the several outstanding books published by conservative authors last year that have been or will be given short shrift by the Pulitzer and NBCC judges.” The award will be presented Monday night at a dinner in New York featuring Henry Kissinger and Mark Steyn.

Read Less

There Goes John Bolton Again

In order to justify its invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration cooked the intelligence about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. That is the allegation tirelessly hurled about by opponents of the war. Norman Podhoretz put paid to it in his Who is Lying About Iraq.

If turns out that if anyone has been doing the cooking, it has been the CIA and the broader intelligence community itself. The most recent glaring instance came with the recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran that opened with the flat — and flatly false — assertion “that in fall, 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.”

How did this come about? Are the institutions that produced this flawed estimate out of control? Michael McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence, has been testifying today on Capitol Hill today about the threats facing the United States. Just in time, John Bolton has a piece in today’s Wall Street Journal raising the key questions about the NIE that McConnell should be asked.

Was the NIE’s opening salvo intended to produce policy consequences congenial to Mr. McConnell’s own sentiments? If not, how did he miss the obvious consequences that flowed from the NIE within minutes of its public release?

This was a sin of either commission or omission. If the intelligence community intended the NIE’s first judgment to have policy ramifications — in particular to dissuade the Bush administration from a more forceful policy against Iran — then it was out of line, a sin of commission.

If, on the other hand, Mr. McConnell and others missed the NIE’s explosive nature, then this is at best a sin of omission, and perhaps far worse. Will Mr. McConnell say he saw nothing significant in how the NIE was written?
Does he believe in fact that the first sentence is the NIE’s single most important point? If not, why was it the first sentence?

These are excellent questions all. When Bolton was named United Nations ambassador by President Bush, the New York Times called it a “terrible choice at a critical time.” As I noted in my review of Bolton’s UN memoir, let us hope that more such terrible choices lie ahead. The nation needs an intelligence director who, in Bolton’s words, can “commit the intelligence community to stick to its knitting — intelligence — and return its policy enthusiasts to agencies where policy is made.” Come to think of it, John Bolton would be an excellent candidate for the job.

In order to justify its invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration cooked the intelligence about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. That is the allegation tirelessly hurled about by opponents of the war. Norman Podhoretz put paid to it in his Who is Lying About Iraq.

If turns out that if anyone has been doing the cooking, it has been the CIA and the broader intelligence community itself. The most recent glaring instance came with the recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran that opened with the flat — and flatly false — assertion “that in fall, 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.”

How did this come about? Are the institutions that produced this flawed estimate out of control? Michael McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence, has been testifying today on Capitol Hill today about the threats facing the United States. Just in time, John Bolton has a piece in today’s Wall Street Journal raising the key questions about the NIE that McConnell should be asked.

Was the NIE’s opening salvo intended to produce policy consequences congenial to Mr. McConnell’s own sentiments? If not, how did he miss the obvious consequences that flowed from the NIE within minutes of its public release?

This was a sin of either commission or omission. If the intelligence community intended the NIE’s first judgment to have policy ramifications — in particular to dissuade the Bush administration from a more forceful policy against Iran — then it was out of line, a sin of commission.

If, on the other hand, Mr. McConnell and others missed the NIE’s explosive nature, then this is at best a sin of omission, and perhaps far worse. Will Mr. McConnell say he saw nothing significant in how the NIE was written?
Does he believe in fact that the first sentence is the NIE’s single most important point? If not, why was it the first sentence?

These are excellent questions all. When Bolton was named United Nations ambassador by President Bush, the New York Times called it a “terrible choice at a critical time.” As I noted in my review of Bolton’s UN memoir, let us hope that more such terrible choices lie ahead. The nation needs an intelligence director who, in Bolton’s words, can “commit the intelligence community to stick to its knitting — intelligence — and return its policy enthusiasts to agencies where policy is made.” Come to think of it, John Bolton would be an excellent candidate for the job.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.