Fred Siegel Explains It All, Part 1

We recently spent two hours conversing with the great historian Fred Siegel, author of several fine books, including most recently The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class (coming out soon in paperback with additional material).  We range widely, Brian Lamb-style, over the whole of his life and career, and we’ll be rolling out highlights in short installments over the next few weeks.  I had some problems with my sound and the video from Camera #2, so these selections are edited a bit crudely and abruptly, but we think Fred is so compelling it doesn’t matter.

Part 1 here, where Fred talks about his early intellectual roots and fascinating family background, is about 8 minutes long:

Saudi Arabia throws a monkey wrench into Obama’s Iran deal

As noted in a post I wrote earlier today, France has joined Israel in expressing dismay over the nuclear deal President Obama seems intent on reaching with Iran. Needless to say, Saudi Arabia, Iran’s arch-enemy, shares the disgust.

Israel and France seem to have little leverage with Obama. Indeed, Obama probably feels delighted that Prime Minister Netanyahu is unhappy.

Saudi Arabia might be another matter. In fact, the Saudis may already have thrown a monkey wrench into the deal. The Washington Free Beacon reports that, as condition of any deal, Iran is demanding that Saudi Arabia immediately halt airstrikes in Yemen. According to WFB reporter Adam Kredo, “the issue could complicate the talks, as the United States attempts to balance its regional alliance with Iran in Iraq against competing interests with traditional allies in Saudi Arabia.”

The Saudi bombing in Yemen is intended to prevent forces aligned with Iran from bringing down what’s left of an American-backed government. But who can doubt that, for Obama, getting a deal, almost any deal, with Iran trumps backing U.S. interests in Yemen?

If the Saudis stick to their guns in Yemen, and the Iranians insist that Yemen is a deal-breaker, the deal could fall through. Alternatively, the U.S. could simply make more concessions to the mullahs as compensation for the dastardly action taken by the Saudis to support an American-backed government in a terrorist-infected state.

If it comes to this, who would bet against Obama making additional concessions?

What price appeasement?

The damage to America’s relationship with Israel caused by President Obama’s desperate quest for a deal with Iran has been well-documented. It’s of no concern to Obama, who would like to see our ties with the Jewish state weakened anyway. For him, the weakening is a collateral benefit of the appeasement.

But now, the U.S. relationship with France has been shaken by Obama’s accommodation of the mullahs. Adam Kredo of the Washington Free Beacon reports:

A series of conversations between top American and French officials, including between President Obama and French President Francois Hollande, have seen Americans engage in behavior described as bullying by sources who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon.

The disagreement over France’s cautious position in regard to Iran threatens to erode U.S. relations with Paris, sources said. . . .

Western policy analysts who spoke to the Free Beacon, including some with close ties to the French political establishment, were dismayed over what they saw as the White House’s willingness to sacrifice its relationship with Paris as talks with Iran reach their final stages. . . .

A recent phone call between Obama and Hollande was reported as tense as the leaders disagreed over the White House’s accommodation of Iranian red lines.

The opinion of the French is highly regarded by many on the American left, John Kerry for example. But chances are that Obama sees the French as former imperialists in decline — less despicable than Great Britain, but not a partner to be taken seriously. The future resides in Tehran, not Paris.

Obama’s arrogance aside, the French have good reason to be upset with the American president. Like other major European countries, France has paid a higher price than the U.S. for the economic sanctions against Iran. Now they fear that ten years of economic sacrifice are about to be for naught thanks to Obama’s capitulation to the mullahs.

Accordingly, France has made its unhappiness known. French officials say they want a deal, but see no reason to rush, given that Iran needs a deal more than the West does. For this reason, they disagree with fixing artificial deadlines that put more pressure on us than on Iran.

The French recognize, moreover, that Obama’s desperation for a deal has produced American weakness at the negotiating table. Benjamin Haddad, who has advised senior French political figures on foreign policy issues, says:

The French want a robust deal with clear guarantees on issues like [research and development] and inspections to ensure that Iranians won’t be able to reduce breakout time during the duration of the agreement (also an issue of discussion), or just after thanks to research conducted during the period. That is also why they disagreed on lifting sanctions.

In addition, the French “don’t trust Iran and believe an ambiguous deal would lead to regional proliferation,” says Haddad.

Obama is reacting to these concerns as he always does — not by listening to the message, but by attacking the messenger. Kredo reports:

There have been very harsh expressions of displeasure by the Americans toward French officials for raising substantive concerns about key elements of what the White House and State Department negotiators are willing to concede to Iran,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “That is because the clarifications expose just how weak the Americans’ deal is shaping up to be.”

In sum, Obama — as indifferent to French concerns as he is to those of Israel and Saudi Arabia — is prepared to harm relations with America’s oldest ally in order to get his “historic” deal with our leading enemy state.

Anyone who stands it the way of the deal will be attacked and demonized. Except for the mullahs. They will be appeased.

Iranian-backed militias accept Obama’s invitation to pull back from Tikrit

When President Obama decided to employ U.S. air power to support the effort to dislodge ISIS from Tikrit, he pushed for the Iranian-dominated Shiite militias to leave the battlefield. He did so even though these forces made up more than 80 percent of the attacking force.

The Shiite militiamen didn’t need to be asked twice. According to the Washington Post, they have refused to continue fighting. One militia threatens to shoot down coalition planes in the area on the pretext that we are airlifting supplies to ISIS.

So now the force that remains in the fight consists of an estimated 4,000 regular Iraqi troops and some Sunni tribsmen. To succeed in taking Tikrit, they must do the job that more than 30,000 troops couldn’t.

The use of U.S. air power and intelligence should help, but will it compensate for such a significant decline in manpower? And will the remaining troops even be willing to continue what has been a very difficult fight?

There’s plenty of room for serious doubt on both scores. Yet Obama’s policy on Tikrit seems to be predicated on the view that U.S. air power plus a small Iraqi force will prevail.

I’m not certain we should take at face value the Shiite militias’ assertion that they have pulled back due to U.S. involvement. These militias were taking a serious beating. According to Max Boot, there are reports that they have lost 6,000 men in the fighting and were already pulling back.

Most of the Shiite militias remain in the area (the only one that reportedly has left is that of Moqtada al-Sadr — remember him? — which had just arrived and hadn’t fought). It may be that the Shiites plan to let the U.S. soften up the battlefield and then, if the outlook seems improved, rush in and, if successful, claim victory.

But this brings us back to the question of whether our bombing campaign and a fighting force of maybe 4,000 will significantly weaken ISIS in Tikrit. A reader, formerly with the State Department, tells me that in the Second Battle of Fallujah, U.S.-U.K. forces numbering around 13,000 troops needed almost two months to root out 3,000 al Qaeda forces. Iraqi forces were also present but mostly just observed, according to the reader.

In Tikrit, ISIS is once again demonstrating what a tough, highly-motivated fighting force it is. When it wants to advance, ISIS can sometimes be halted by tough, highly-motivated fighters like the Kurds plus U.S. air power.

But when it comes to pushing ISIS out of towns and cities they are determined to hold, it may be that only U.S. led ground forces are up to the task. Conceivably, large numbers of Iranian-dominated forces might accomplish this. As for regular Iraqi forces and Sunni tribesmen, one fears this may be mission impossible.

If there is any basis for optimism, it lies in the fact that Iraq’s most senior Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, has called for unity among the armed factions fighting ISIS. Sistani said:

Differing points of view lead to negative results in the military position. I don’t distinguish the public mobilizations [militias] from the [government] security forces. The public mobilization is a part of the security forces.

However, after he visited forces arrayed outside of Tikrit, Sistani admitted that there are “differences” over the status of the international coalition. This sounds like an understatement. As influential as Sistani is, the differences may be too vast for him to bridge.

Harry Reid to step down, says not due to “exercise accident”

Until today, New York Times reporter Carl Hulse reminds us, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has insisted he’s running for reelection. In the video below, however, Reid announces that he will not face the voters again next year. He will step down from his Senate seat.

Reid still insists (and Hulse dutifully states it as a fact) that Reid’s serious facial and eye injuries resulted from a New Year’s day exercise accident. John expressed doubt in the post “What really happened to Harry Reid?” John observed: “He looks like he has been in a fight, and not with an elastic band.”

In the video, Reid also insists right at the top that his injuries have nothing to do with his retirement. Reid’s denial that his injuries have led to his retirement seem to me to signify the opposite. Given Reid’s habitual alienation from the truth, I infer that Reid’s “exercise accident” must be a substantial contributing factor.

Whether or not that is the case, I would like to add this historical note occasioned by Reid’s service as Majority Leader. His service in office as Majority Leader proved a disgrace. The Washington Free Beacon, for example, compiled the video below of Reid chanting “Koch brothers” 134 times on the Senate floor in those happy days before his “exercise accident.” Reid’s chant had a formulaic quality, like the phrases Homer held in reserve to fill out dactylic hexameter lines in the Iliad and the Odyssey.

What “wine-dark sea” was to Homer, “Koch brothers” was to Harry Reid in 2014. Like Achilles and Odysseus, the “Koch brothers” had simply been turned into mythical figures, although the result fell short of any art other than character assassination. Reid wasn’t in search of a formulaic phrase to fill out a metrical line. He was simply executing the latest Democratic campaign to stigmatize private citizens in the service of his partisan political purposes.

Reid also took to the floor of the Senate to lie about Mitt Romney in 2012. At the time, of course, unlike the Koch brothers, Romney was a candidate for higher office.

Reid has demonstrated an infinite capacity for disgrace, dishonesty and hypocrisy. He has made himself the true face of the Democratic Party in the Age of Obama.

Losin’ in Lausanne (3)

Omri Ceren writes from Lausanne by email with comments for media covering developments related to the negotiations with the Islamic Republic of Iran:

Secretary Kerry and FM Zarif started off the second day in a row with a 10:00am meeting (technically 10:08am), which again including US Energy Secretary Moniz and Iranian Atomic Energy Organization chief Salehi. Presumably the rumor mill will pick up around lunch time again, but in the meantime all the overnight action was in DC. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers processed yesterday’s WSJ and AP scoops – describing US collapses on PMDs and Fordow respectively – and moved quickly (and in the Senate’s case, unanimously) to register their opposition.

The concession on PMDs would push back demands that Iran fully disclose its nuclear activities from the beginning of a deal to a time after the sanctions regime had been weakened. Critics say the arrangement would enable the Iranians to simply say no (“if they’re denying the IAEA access to facilities now, with sanctions in place, why wouldn’t they do the same thing later, when there are fewer sanctions?”). The concession on Fordow would allow Iran to keep spinning centrifuges at its underground military bunker at Fordow on elements other than uranium. Critics say that the arrangement would allow the Iranians to develop N-generation centrifuges even if they’re not cheating, and give them the option of kicking out inspectors and repurposing the centrifuges for uranium enrichment in the facility, which is largely impervious to air attack.

Now the political backlash.

(1) House: the House had already asserted itself on the eve of talks. On Monday 367 members – a bipartisan, veto-proof majority – sent the White House a letter saying among other things that “Congress must be convinced that its terms foreclose any pathway to a bomb, and only then will Congress be able to consider permanent sanctions relief.”…Boehner’s “not a good deal” tweet was up within an hour here.

(2) Senate: in the Senate the aftermath had similar statements, but action went way beyond that…. see Menendez here (“we are not inching closer to Iran’s negotiating position, but leaping toward it with both feet… not a good deal”).

But the more dramatic move was a 100-0 vote – just before 6:30pm ET – on Kirk’s amendment to reimpose sanctions on the Iranians if they get caught cheating on a deal. The nonbinding language is grounded in a section on violations written into the Kirk-Menendez legislation, which more broadly increases pressure on Iran if they fail to sign on to a deal that puts their atomic program beyond use for weaponization. The effect of the vote was to put the entire Senate on record supporting the principles of Kirk-Menendez, and AFP quickly moved to describe the vote as “US Senate threatens Iran with new sanctions[.]” Note that just a few days ago Democrats had been blocking the measure (http://freebeacon.com/national-security/senate-dems-blocking-new-iran-sanctions-measure/). Yesterday the entire caucus voted for it.

* Note on terminology…about the Fordow cave-in…[T]he administration seems set on ensuring that this concession not be characterized as enrichment and not be characterized as allowing nuclear research & development, even though the Iranians will be permitted to conduct isotope separation in a way that allows them to research & develop N-generation centrifuge technology that could be used on uranium.

Continuing with this series, I’ll be posting Omri’s further updates as received.

A shocking breach

Yesterday we noted the Arutz Sheva story reporting on the Obama administration’s disclosure of formerly top secret data regarding Israel’s nuclear facilities and capabilities. The disclosure came in the form of the declassification and release of a detailed, 386-page report on Israeli and NATO nations’ nuclear facilities and capabilities; the Pentagon declassified only the part about Israel, continuing to classify the parts regarding other countries.

The document was quietly declassified on February 12. Its release marks the first time Israel’s alleged nuclear program has ever been officially and publicly acknowledged by the government of the United States. At the time of the document’s release in February, coverage was limited to state-funded Iranian regime station Press TV and the state-funded Russian outlet RT.

According to Tom Gross in the Weekly Standard column “In shocking breach, US declassifies document revealing some of Israel’s nuclear capabilities,” the Iranian and Russian outlets “were rumored to have been tipped off about this obscure report at the time by persons in Washington.”

News of the report has now gone mainstream, but what is happening here? Gross explains:

Israel has never admitted to having nuclear weapons. To do so might spark a regional nuclear arms race, and eventual nuclear confrontation.

The declassification is a serious breach of decades’ old understandings concerning this issue between Israel and its north American and certain European allies.

The Pentagon’s February declassification coincided with intense pressure on the Netanyahu government by the Obama administration, trying to force the Israeli prime minister to cancel a planned speech to Congress questioning the wisdom of a highly risky nuclear deal with the Iranian regime.

However, in the past 24 hours several media in the U.S. and elsewhere have now chosen to report on the February declassification by the Pentagon. This coincides with stepped up efforts this week by the Obama administration to weaken Israel’s deterrent capabilities, including leaking to the Wall Street Journal incorrect allegations that Israel directly spies on the U.S.

An informed person connected to the government in Jerusalem, tells me:

“Over the years there have been backhanded references and comments made by individuals with some familiarity with this issue. But there has never before been any official description of the quality and capacity of installations. This kind of declassified document constitutes a whole different level of acknowledgement. It is part of a pattern of carefully controlled leaking of information which is very hard to attribute to a specific government agency or individual. Nevertheless it is clear what is happening.

“The failure to maintain the degree of mature and cooperative discretion that officials from several governments have exercised up to now, marks a serious change in the code of conduct. It is not wise to draw attention to this issue because it would tend to destabilize the international order and encourage others to pursue nuclear capabilities.”

Gross adds: “The full story of the Obama administration’s effort to undermine, and effectively attempt to take control of, Israel’s deterrent capabilities in various spheres is yet to be written. There have been several other aspects to these efforts.”

The release of the report makes out another deeply sinister aspect of the Obama administration’s efforts to undermine Israel as it prepares the ground for the imminent deal with Iran.