OxBlog

Friday, February 27, 2009

# Posted 6:34 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BEWARE OF TINY CONSPIRACIES: Reihan:
At a forum in Philadelphia, I interviewed Ramesh [Ponnuru] on the Republican future. He noted that we were part of the tiny conspiracy of non-Hindu South Asian conservatives, and I believe [he] is literally the only other member.


Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 6:33 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CONSOLATION FOR JINDAL: In light of the kind words I had for Bobby Jindal earlier in the week, I thought I should weigh in on his response to the President's address. It hurts to say it, but the speech was awful. It was a lost opportunity of epic proportions, unequaled since...

Bill Clinton's awful nomination speech at the 1988 Democratic Convention. The speech was so long and so boring that the entirely Democratic crowd cheered when Clinton finally said "In conclusion..."

Rising star. Southern governor. Rhodes Scholar. Clinton's example shows that talented politicians do get a second chance.

Now back to Jindal's speech for the moment. I agree with the criticism that Jindal delivered a shopworn Republican message about the need for less government and lower taxes. But the entire party is struggling right now to adapt its message, so if Jindal delivered the old message competently, his speech would've been a footnote, not a headline.

The real issue was the delivery. Although hesitant to praise fellow Manhattan nativeMatt Yglesias lest I validate his condescending snark, I think Matt captured the problem quite well:
Bobby Jindal apparently believes it’s appropriate to address the citizens of the United States in a tone that suggests we’re all nine years old.
Where Matt goes too far is his suggestion that somehow Jindal really thought it was a good idea to sound like an elementary school teacher. I think it makes a lot more sense so say that Jindal was struggling to find an effective tone that balanced his own intellect with a more accessible common touch.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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Thursday, February 26, 2009

# Posted 11:12 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AFGHANISTAN: McCAIN VS. KISSINGER: Within the space of 24 hours, both men have elaborated their thoughts on how to turn around the war in Afghanistan. In short, they disagree. As a former McCain staffer, I'm no impartial judge, but I think I can make a pretty compelling case for why McCain's approach is better.

The foundation of McCain's approach is the core principle of counterinsurgency doctrine: secure the population. As he explained it in his speech yesterday at AEI,
Effective counterterrorism operations rely, among other elements, on accurate intelligence provided by the local population, which has no incentive to cooperate in the absence of sustained security or the promise of a better life...the way to provide enduring security is by applying the same basic principles of counterinsurgency tailored for the unique circumstances of Afghanistan, backed with robust intelligence resources and a sufficient number of troops to carry it out.
In the WaPo, Kissinger contends that,
Heretofore, America has pursued traditional anti-insurgency tactics: to create a central government, help it extend its authority over the entire country and, in the process, bring about a modern bureaucratic and democratic society.

That strategy cannot succeed in Afghanistan -- especially not as an essentially solitary effort. The country is too large, the territory too forbidding, the ethnic composition too varied, the population too heavily armed.
Kissinger sets up a strawman by saying that our existing strategy has been to create "a modern bureaucratic and democratic society." For good reason, the US and NATO have made an effort to give Afghanistan some bureaucratic capacity. We've also supported free and fair elections, because the Afghan government needs a measure of legitimacy. Instead of confronting that reality, Kissinger tries to suggest that "traditional anti-insurgnecy tactics" rest on a foundation of delusional idealism. Yet as McCain stated succintly, the core principle of counterinsurgency doctrine is to secure the population

Kissinger makes several arguments about why the traditional approach can't work in Afghanistan. First the country is too large and its terrain too rugged. According to the CIA Factbook, Afghanistan is about 50% larger than Iraq. Given the extraordinary mobility of our forces, I'm not really sure that's a problem. Nor have we struggled until now because of thie terrain.

As for Afghanistan's diverse ethnic composition, why is it any different than the ethnic and sectarian divides that plagued Iraq? A traditional counterinsurgency strategy turned around the war in Iraq in the midst of a Sunni-Shi'a bloodbath. As McCain pointed out, Afghanistan hasn't descended to those depths:
The situation in Afghanistan is nowhere near as dire as it was in Iraq just two years ago – to cite one example, civilian fatalities at their peak in Iraq were ten times higher than civilian deaths at their peak in Afghanistan last year. But the same truth that was apparent three years ago in Iraq is apparent today in Afghanistan: when you aren’t winning in this kind of war, you are losing.
Finally, Kissinger says the population in Afghanistan is too well-armed. In Iraq, most homes have assault rifles. But the real question isn't how well armed the average citizen is. It's whether the insurgents have access to heavier weapons. In Iraq, the insurgents had access to vast stockpiles kept by Saddam Hussein, and Shi'ites brought in extensive weapons shipments from Iran.

But you don't win guerrilla wars with firepower (of which American forces have plenty). You win guerrilla wars with intelligence and popular support, as McCain emphasized.

Strangely, the one part of Afghanistan where Kissinger favors a McCain-style approach is the crucial region adjacent to the Pakistani border:
Military strategy should concentrate on preventing the emergence of a coherent, contiguous state within the [area] controlled by jihadists. In practice, this would mean control of Kabul and the Pashtun area. A jihadist base area on both sides of the mountainous Afghan-Pakistani border would become a permanent threat to hopes for a moderate evolution and to all of Afghanistan's neighbors. Gen. David Petraeus has argued that, reinforced by the number of American forces he has recommended, he should be able to control the 10 percent of Afghan territory where, in his words, 80 percent of the military threat originates. This is the region where the "clear, hold and build" strategy that had success in Iraq is particularly applicable.
This exception to Kissinger's general rule changes his argument entirely. If he favors a classical counterinsurgency in the most strategically important regions with the most violence, then he is effectively on the same page as McCain. In more peaceful areas, you don't need that kind of effort.

Ever the diplomat, Kissinger seems inclined to agree with everyone. Or disagree with them, depending on your perspective.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

# Posted 4:40 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AL GORE AND OTHER GREAT AMERICAN INVENTORS: Some people are giving Barack Obama a hard time for saying that America invented solar energy technology and the automobile. Apparently, French and British scientists came up with solar energy technology and several Germans came up with the gasoline-powered automobile.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

# Posted 4:07 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DRAMATIC ISRAELI INFILTRATION OF HEZBOLLAH: The Israelis had GPS units placed in almost all of Hezbollah's vehicles by a high-ranking Hezbollah official. Correspondent Mitchell Prothero tells the story in The National (UAE).

Now, if I just read that story in a random Persian Gulf paper, I would assume its fiction. But Andrew Exum vouches for Prothero, and interviewed him about the story. [Correction:] Prothero is a US Army veteran [journalist] with extensive experience [reporting on the US Army] in Iraq.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 11:47 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FROM GITMO TO SUICIDE BOMBER: Kuwaiti citizen Abdallah Saleh al-Ajmi was released from Guantanamo in the fall of 2005. After his acquittal by a Kuwaiti judge, al-Ajmi began associating again with radical Islamists. In early 2008, he travelled to Iraq, where he killed 13 Iraqi soldiers by driving a truck full of explosives into their compound.

This is an important story and I'm glad it made the front-page of yesterday's WaPo. There are several points in the story worth emphasizing. The Post reports, "The U.S. government was not willing to share evidence that conclusively linked Ajmi or any of the four others to terrorist activities." Thus al-Ajmi acquittal was almost assured. Afterward, the Kuwaitis apparently did nothing to prevent al-Ajmi from falling in with radicals.

The Post's story is also constructed in a manner to suggest that Guantanamo transformed al-Ajmi from a rank-and-file gunman into a suicide terrorists. Here are the story's closing paragraphs:
When [al-Ajmi's attorney] Thomas Wilner learned that his client had become a suicide bomber, he said he felt physically ill. He thought of the victims, and he thought of Ajmi. "Here was this poor, dumb kid -- I really don't think he was a bad kid -- who was thrown into a hellhole of a prison and who went mad," he said. "Should we really be surprised that somebody we treated this way would become radicalized, would become crazy?"

The bodies of 13 Iraqi soldiers -- all of them Muslims -- were recovered from the rubble at Combat Outpost Inman. Ajmi's body was never found.

A few days after the attack, Mansur Ajmi received a telephone call. "I have good news for you," the caller said. "Your brother is a martyr."
Not exactly a balanced ending. But not a purely implausible hypothesis either. On other hand, al-Ajmi's decision to leave his home in Kuwait in order to fight with the Taliban suggests he was on the road to radicalization long before he made it to Gitmo. Perhaps even more important was the opportunity al-Ajmi had to associate with radicals in Kuwait after his release:
Although Ajmi's family tried to get him to move on, to forgive and forget, he did not want to let go. He filled his computer with gruesome images of killings in Iraq. He started listening to religious songs that glorified violence. He developed friendships with young men who espoused war in the name of Islam.

His new friends began calling him "The Lion of Guantanamo." To them, he was a hero, a survivor. They wanted to hear his stories of life behind the concertina wire in Cuba. He told them of beatings, of being interrogated by a woman who wore nothing but underwear.
Should we trust al-Ajmi's account of what happened? It may not matter. Al-Ajmi and his friends believed it. There was nothing to stop his radicalization. As we get ready to close down Gitmo, the real question may be whether US and foreign governments have good plans to keep the inmates under control once they're released.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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Monday, February 23, 2009

# Posted 3:35 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JINDAL THE WONK: Listening to Bobby Jindal is different from listening to almost any other Republican. For example, consider Jindal's discussion with David Gregory yesterday on Meet the Press. Jindal consistently tries to win points by demonstrating that he has mastered the details of an issue. When Gregory tried to portray Jindal as inconsistent, Jindal mounted his defense by going further into the details. Judging by the lack of effective follow-up questions from Gregory, I'm inclined to say that Jindal one almost every round. Moreover, Jindal sounded like he was talking about what he knows, rather than reading off a set of talking points.

To be fair, I don't know enough about the specific issues being addressed to say whether Jindal's points are objectively valid. But his style is clearly different from many prominent Republicans and similar to to some of the most prominent Democrats. It will be very interesting to see how Jindal's style plays on a national stage, although I don't expect to have that chance before 2015 or 2016. But I would expect all those conservative columnists who condemned Sarah Palin as lacking substance to fall in love Jindal the same way that liberal columnists fell in love with Obama.

Cross-posted on Conventional Folly
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# Posted 3:34 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JINDAL ON THE FUTURE OF THE GOP: 

Yesterday:
MR. [DAVID] GREGORY: What is the state of the Republican Party?

GOV. [BOBBY] JINDAL: Look, our Republican Party got fired with cause these last two election cycles. We became the party that defended spending, corruption that we never should've tolerated, and we stopped offering relevant solutions to the problems that Americans care about.
Jindal isn't going easy on the GOP. Nor should he. At the same time, popular governors -- such as Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton -- have the advantage of being able to attack their comrades in Washington without implicating themselves.

Jindal continued:
We can't just be the party of no, we have to offer real solutions. We stand ready to work with our president. I think he, he has a chance to, to work and lead our country in a bipartisan way. Unfortunately, with the stimulus he allowed Congressional leaders to write this bill.
Tomorrow night, Jindal will provide the GOP response to President Obama's televised address. I think his message is the right one. In spite of what has happened the past few weeks, the party is still ready to work with the President if his programs are bipartisan in substance.


Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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Friday, February 13, 2009

# Posted 2:41 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SECOND THOUGHTS ON JUDD GREGG:Last night, I was simply puzzled by Gregg's withdrawal. Then I listened to the audio of his withdrawal statement, rather than just reading it. What struck me was Greggs repeated statement about his inability to be part of a team if he wasn't 100% or 110% part of a team.

No doubt, Gregg knew what kind of team he was joining. But until he joined, he may not have recognized what obligations come from being part of the team. When you're in the Cabinet, you talk the president's talking points and you better sound like you're being sincere. Maybe Gregg thought that with the (hoped for) return of bipartisanship, he could be in the Obama Cabinet and still speak his mind as a Republican.

I admit, this is all mind-reading. We're going on very little data. Thus, I think it's reasonable for Charles Krauthammer to insist that Gregg's withdrawal really was about White House efforts to politicize the census, even if Gregg downplayed that issue.

One thing I still can't figure is the timing. Gregg seems very sincere in his respect for Obama and his desire to cause as little damage as possible. But if so, why didn't Gregg wait until this afternoon to announce his withdrawal, so it would get buried in the weekend news? The way Gregg did it will persuade a lot of Democrats it was an intentional slap in the face.
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# Posted 2:40 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JUDD GREGG EXPLAINS HIS WITHDRAWAL: This afternoon:
“I’m a fiscal conservative, as everybody knows, a fairly strong one,” Mr. Gregg told reporters at a news conference in the Capitol. “And it just became clear to me that it would be very difficult, day in and day out, to serve in this cabinet or any cabinet.”
I guess I'm a little curious about what led Sen. Gregg to believe last week that a strong fiscal conservative belonged in the Obama cabinet. More reactions:

Jake Tapper: "I find this baffling."

Michael Goldfarb: Gregg was kneecapped by Obama's decision last week to shift control of the Census from the Dept. of Commerce to the White House.

Glenn Reynolds: "At least Gregg paid his taxes."

Steve Benen: "It's a good thing no one seems to know what the Commerce Secretary does, or these troubles might start to be consequential."
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# Posted 2:39 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

POLITICIZING THE CENSUS: Last week, the Obama administration announced that senior White House aides would supervise the Census Bureau's conduct of the 2010 survey. Republicans quickly charged that the White House was politicizing a potentially explosive issue that has traditionally been dealt with in a non-partisan manner. The White House responded that it's only doing what its predecessors did.

Ed O'Keefe of the WaPo decided to talk to previous Census directors to see what the record really shows about White House involvement with the decennial survey. The director for the 2000 census engaged in some coordination with the White House on what sound like pretty mundane issues, never above the deputy chief of staff level. The 1990 director said she had no contact with the White House, except via her superiors at the Department of Commerce. If Rahm Emanuel is going to call the shots this time around, that would be a real change (not of the kind we're supposed to believe in).
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# Posted 2:38 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PROGRESSIVE REPUBLICANS:Seriously. I guess 'progressive conservative' might be something of a contradiction, although American conservatism, with its emphasis on individual freedom and free markets, could actually be described as progressive. (Hat tip: DS)
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# Posted 2:36 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BEHIND THE HEADLINES AT THE NSC: The lead story in Sunday's WaPo was Obama's NSC To Get New Power. Will Inboden -- a former NSC official and new blogger at Shadow Government -- explains why there is much less to this story than meets the eye. Kristen Silverberg -- also new to Shadow Gov and a recently our ambassador to the EU -- argues that it would be a serious mistake for Obama's NSC to absorb the Homeland Security Council.
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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

# Posted 2:45 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AFGHANISTAN, RESOURCES VS. STRATEGY: "We should not allow resources to determine strategy." Standing on its own, this statement embodies a classic fallacy of defense planning. Resources are the foundation of any coherent strategy. However, I would like to suggest that Damir and Daniel may want to place slightly greater emphasis on the context of this quotation from Chris Brose's post on Afghanistan. In that context, the statement is quite reasonable.

Chris meant what he said as a comment on a Carnegie Endowment study that apparently takes for granted our inability to invest significant new resources in Afghanistan. This led to Chris' riposte,
We should determine the optimal outcome we are confident we can accomplish, and then pay for it. After all, we still have a GDP of, what, $12 trillion?
In other words, from a global perspective, we clearly have additional resources available to invest in Afghanistan, which the President has consistently described as the war we must win.

I agree with Daniel that "we musn’t fall into the trap of thinking that if, say, $150 billion per year isn’t doing the trick, then surely $300 billion will." I think Chris' post shows that he understands this problem. The first of his five conclusions about Afghanistan includes the observation that
Half of our problems are self-inflicted: muddled command structures, poor coordination, an embassy not fully on a war footing, lack of an integrated civil-military campaign plan, etc.
These are problems directly related to how we expend our resources, not whether we have enough of them. Although President Obama has yet to deliver a major address on Afghanistan that elaborates his understanding of the problem, I think it's fair to say that Gen. Petraeus, as CENTCOM commander, fully understands that more money and more troops won't work without new ideas.

This brings us to the much tougher question of what counts as victory. Damir asks,
What should our strategy be? A massive state-building project in one of the most primitive and underdeveloped parts of the world? To what end? Is developing Afghanistan an end in itself?
As Damir suggests, I will "color him skeptical." There is a consensus that our most fundamental objective in Afghanistan is counter-terrorism. We cannot allow it become a base for further attacks on American soil. So how do we create a sustainable order in Afghanistan resistant to terrorism? In spite of the heated debate about whether democracy is viable in Afghanistan, there seems to be a consensus that Afghanistan will not be immune to terrorist influence unless its government is legitimate. As Chris reports from Germany,
Another question I asked everyone in Munich was, what kind of political order should we seek in Afghanistan? I hear so many tortured efforts, both by the administration and by commentators, to qualify our definition of the Afghan state: legitimate, accountable, non-corrupt, effective, law-abiding, rights-based, etc. -- in short, anything but "democratic."
I think Chris is onto something here. Even those with strong Realist inclinations seems to recognize that we need a government in Afghanistan that has certain core attributes of liberal democracy. To my surprise Fareed Zakaria -- he of impeccable Realist credentials -- suggested in a recent column in the WaPo,
Make the Afghan government credible. The central government is widely
seen as weak, dysfunctional and utterly corrupt...

The most immediate way to enhance the legitimacy of the Afghan
government would be to ensure that presidential and local elections take
place this year.
If that is the way to keep terrorists out of Afghanistan, I think it would be a prudent investment of our resources.
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# Posted 2:44 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE WaPo GETS IT: To my surprise, this morning's Post had a whole article about how Obama caricatures the opponents of the stimulus as people who want to do nothing in the midst of a crisis. Here's the key grafs from Obama Paints America's Choice As His Plan Or Nothing:

FORT MYERS, Fla., Feb. 10 -- President Obama likes to portray the battle over the economic stimulus package that passed the Senate on Tuesday as a stark choice between his approach and that of those who would "do nothing."...

"There seems to be a set of folks who -- I don't doubt their sincerity -- who just believe that we should do nothing," he said.

But in truth, few of those involved in the stimulus debate are suggesting that the government should not take action to aid the cratering economy.

Many of the president's fiercest congressional critics support a stimulus package of similar size but think it should be built around a much higher proportion of tax cuts than new spending. Others have called for a plan that is half the size of the one headed for a House-Senate conference -- still massive by historical standards.
Think about those words: "in truth". You don't see them often in a newspaper that plays by the unofficial rules of concealing its correspondents' opinions.

Anyhow, in order to achieve the balance expected from correspondents for the WaPo, the article includes this graf:

But if Republicans express frustration about Obama's rhetorical device, they need only look back to the man he succeeded for precedent. George W. Bush was proficient at setting up straw men when arguing for his policies, only to tear down the positions of those phantom opponents as irresponsible, unworkable or downright shameful in comparison with his own.

During debates with Democrats about the Iraq war, Bush often cast his rivals as believing that "the war is lost and not worth another dime or another day."
Now, I'm not going to defend George W. Bush as a model of upright debating tactics. But since the Majority Leader in the Senate actually said "the war is lost", I've got to take Bush's side on that one. Just saying, y'know.
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# Posted 2:43 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PELOSI'S OFFICE GETS LIBERAL WITH JOB LOSS NUMBERS: Time Magazine's Justin Fox explains. For a look at the original, super-scary Pelosi chart, see Dennis Sanders.
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# Posted 2:42 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OBAMA LIVE! The President held his first live news conference last night. I thought it was very interesting how Obama kept attacking the same strawman, an alleged group of Republicans that would rather do "nothing" than support the stimulus package. In his final answer of the night, Obama said
And so when I hear people just saying, "Ah, we don't need to do anything," "This is a spending bill, not a stimulus bill," without acknowledging that, by definition, part of any stimulus package would include spending -- that's the point -- then what I get a sense of is, is that there's some ideological blockage there that needs to be cleared up.
I'm surprised Obama rolled out that talking point again about how critics don't understand that a stimulus package is a spending package. There is a serious debate going on about what kind of spending is actually stimulative, but the President preferred to write off any position except his own as "ideological blockage". He also dismissed his critics as unserious in his first answer of the night:
There have been criticisms from a bunch of different directions about this bill, so let me just address a few of them.

Some of the criticisms really are with the basic idea that government should intervene at all in this moment of crisis. Now, you have some people, very sincere, who philosophically just think the government has no business interfering in the marketplace. And, in fact, there are several who've suggested that FDR was wrong to interfere back in the New Deal. They're fighting battles that I thought were resolved a pretty long time ago.
What's especially interesting is how Obama tries to validate his caricature of Republican critics by praising the "sincerity" with which they hold their outlandish positions:
As I said, the one concern I've got on the stimulus package, in terms of the debate and listening to some of what's been said in Congress, is that there seems to be a set of folks who -- I don't doubt their sincerity -- who just believe that we should do nothing.

Now, if that's their opening position or their closing position in negotiations, then we're probably not going to make much progress, because I don't think that's economically sound and I don't think what -- that's what the American people expect, is for us to stand by and do nothing.
An interesting variation on this approach is to caricature the critics' "philosophical" position, then assert that this caricature is undermining "respectful debate":
Now, maybe philosophically you just don't think that the federal government should be involved in energy policy. I happen to disagree with that; I think that's the reason why we find ourselves importing more foreign oil now than we did back in the early '70s when OPEC first formed.

And we can have a respectful debate about whether or not we should be involved in energy policymaking, but don't suggest that somehow that's wasteful spending. That's exactly what this country needs.
Of course, if these advanced tactics don't work, you can just suggest your critics are completely out to lunch:
And there have been others on the Republican side or the conservative side who said, "No matter how much money you spend, nothing makes a difference, so let's just blow up the public school systems."
The bombing begins in five minutes....
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Monday, February 09, 2009

# Posted 12:11 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WILL: "THE BEST THING [OBAMA] HAS DONE AS PRESIDENT..."

George Will: "The best thing [Obama] has done as president, and the most presidential, is to come out against the protectionism in this [stimulus], the Buy America provisions." (Link opens a video. This quote is about 90 seconds in.)

Barack Obama, free-trader? The same President who threatened to pull out of NAFTA unilaterally? To be fair, I like this Obama better than the protectionist who ran for the Democratic nomination last year.
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Sunday, February 08, 2009

# Posted 11:57 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IT'S TIME TO LOWER ETHICAL STANDARDS:David Brooks on Tom Daschle:

I just personally think it's just craziness.

The problem in Washington is not that we have too many corrupt people. The problem is we don't have enough people who know how to pass legislation. And Tom Daschle does know how to pass legislation. He could have really helped pass a health care bill.

And to lose him, it's just not worth it. It's not worth it long term.
Not everyone likes the kind of legislation that Tom Daschle likes to pass, but that's sort of besides the point. Losing supremely qualified Cabinet officers over relatively minor ethical issues problematic. What if Bob Gates never became Secretary of Defense because he forgot to pay some taxes?

On the other hand, it's strange for Brooks to say that "too many corrupt people" isn't the problem in Washington. It is, although a lack of competent Cabinet members is a problems. It's a tough trade off.

As Brooks himself points out later in the discussion, today's political climate made Daschle's withdrawal unavoidable. At least rhetorically, Obama raised the ethics bar so high that there was no way Daschle could survive the scrutiny of the nominating process. To Obama's chagrin, he didn't realize the implications of his own rhetoric until it was too late.

Interestingly, Brooks' liberal debating partner Mark Shields, an unflagging admirer of Obama, now seems to agree that the President was just plain wrong to spend 18 months denouncing lobbyists:
MARK SHIELDS: It was a great applause line to say, "No lobbyists." I think lobbyists are important to the process. I mean, not all lobbyists are stealing from widows and orphans. They are people who understand and care deeply about the process.
I feel like not too many liberal pundits made that point during the campaign.
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# Posted 11:41 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AXELROD: WE CAN'T AFFORD BIPARTISANSHIP ANYMOREPBS NewsHour:
JIM LEHRER: So it's now an Obama Democratic stimulus plan, right? If this thing passes and only by just a couple of votes or by one vote, say, then that's what it is. It's not a bipartisan plan, correct?

DAVID AXELROD: Well, look, Jim, here's what I would say. We are interested in building coalitions to move the country forward, but mostly we're interested in moving the country forward. And however we have to do it, we're going to do it.
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# Posted 11:39 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

STEELE: "THE WaPo OUGHT TO BE ASHAMED OF ITSELF" 

The Post ran a front page story on Saturday about alleged violations of campaign finance laws by RNC Chairman Michael Steele's 2006 Senate campaign.

Steele defended himself on ABC:
[GEORGE] STEPHANOPOULOS: You just got elected of the Republican National Committee last week...

STEELE: Yes.

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... yet you're already facing some headlines about potential financial irregularities in your past. The Washington Post yesterday...

STEELE: Yes.

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... and I want to give you a chance to respond to these allegations -- here was the Washington Post yesterday. It says that "Steele's campaign spending is questioned." It goes on to say, "Michael S. Steele, the newly elected chairman of the Republican National Committee, arranged for his 2006 Senate campaign to pay a defunct company run by his sister for services that were never performed, his finance chairman from that campaign has told federal prosecutors."

Is that true?

STEELE: No, it's not true. And -- and -- and those allegations were leveled by a convicted felon who is trying to get a reduced sentence on his -- on his conviction.

And the reality of it is that the U.S. attorney, as well as the judge, looked at what he presented and did not apply it, said there was no credibility to it. The Washington Post ought to be ashamed of itself for getting out in front of something without all the facts.

To the extent that we gave the Washington Post the documentation to show the receipts that were -- that were used and applied towards the $37,000, it was a legitimate reimbursement of expenses. If my sister had not been reimbursed, I and she would have been in violation of McCain-Feingold finance law.

Steele sounded extremely confident and on top of the situation. One small item he didn't seem to know about was why the $37,000 was transferred to his sister's firm after she had filed papers to dissolve it legally.

If no evidence emerges of any misdoing, beyond the allegations of a convicted felon, the WaPo should be deeply embarrassed. Yes, the Post was clear that the accusations against Steele were made by a felon seeking leniency. But when the best paper in the country puts a story about alleged corruption on page one, it gives the story legitimacy. It forces interviewers to ask Steele about the story as opposed to talking about policy issues.

For all I know, there could be more to this story. It's only in the past few months that Democrats have dominated the scandal pages.
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# Posted 11:38 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHY DO JEWS VOTE OVERWHELMINGLY DEMOCRATIC? That's the question at the heart of Shmuel Rosner's essay in the new issue of Commentary (subscription required). In 2008, more than 75% of Jews voted for Obama, compared to 53% of all Americans.

Why? First of all, Jewish voters are "less concerned with Israel and its fate than they were in the past", according to recent survey data. More importantly, even though Jewish voters want their candidates to be pro-Israel, their standards for what counts as pro-Israel have become very lax. According to Rosner, "all one has to do to qualify as 'pro-Israel' is not actively agitate for the country’s demise

I respectfully disagree with this hypothesis. To my mind, the overwhelming reason that Americans Jews vote Democratic is their cultural liberalism and their suspicions of evangelicals.

To begin with, I disagree with Rosner's premise that "the GOP can honestly claim it is a far better friend to Israel and the Jewish people than its rival." I think it's certainly fair to say that Republicans are more hawkish than Democrats on Israel, but American Jews have considerably sympathy for the Democrats' approach, an approach often shared by Israel's Labor governments.

In my experience, a good half of American Jews hold Bill Clinton's efforts to negotiate an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty in high regard. Many of them -- my Republican self included -- wish that Yasser Arafat had cooperated seriously, instead of undermining Clinton's efforts and unleashing a new wave of terrorism. Many American Jews also look back very fondly on the Israeli-Egyptian peace of 1979. Jimmy Carter isn't terribly popular in the Jewish community these days, but there is good reason to be thankful for what he achieved.

In spite of robust Jewish support for American peace initiatives, I don't think this factor alone comes close to explaining why 75% of Jews will vote not just for Obama, but for considerably less impressive Democrats like John Kerry. This is where cultural liberalism comes into play.

In political terms, American Jews are profoundly secular. They are hardliners when it comes to the separation of church and state, because they believe that even the slightest encroachment represents a threat to religious minorities. And what really puts the fear of God into my fellow Jews is the Christian right. From a Jewish perspective, the evangelical agenda amounts to a persistent effort to impose Christian values on the rest of us by making them law. Jews fear that the Christian right is not interested in rational argument because it considers Scripture to be sufficient justification for its political projects.

I believe that Jewish concerns about evangelicals are extremely exaggerated. Yet such concerns are extremely hard to overcome because American Jews tend to have so little contact with evangelicals. In addition, the historical experience of being oppressed by Christians continues to resonate deeply. I'm referring just to severe repression in Europe, but to the ugly prejudice that was widespread in this country even forty years ago. To a certain extent, Americans Jews still live in this past because they have so little first-hand knowledge of today's evangelicals.

One reason that Jews don't interact much with evangelicals is that Jews are overwhelmingly blue-state residents. Although numerous Jews live in swing states like Ohio and Florida, they tend to live in the bluest parts of those states, usually in major metropolitan areas. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if geography explains almost the entire Democratic advantage among Jewish voters. I don't think it would be a hard proposition to test. Just look at the exit poll data and see if Jews voted differently from those in their county or precinct, as opposed to comparing the Jewish vote to the national results.

In the final analysis, I don't think there is much potential for change in Jewish voting patterns. The community's geographical distribution doesn't seem to be changing much. Although the Democratic base (especially the netroots) is much less pro-Israel than the Jewish community, Democratic politicians are just as fervent in their professions of support. I don't expect that to change soon, either.
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Thursday, February 05, 2009

# Posted 1:25 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THREE CHEERS FOR THE EUROPEAN* HEALTH CARE SYSTEM: Jurgen Reinhoudt at New Majority takes a look at several European health care systems and points out that the Swiss looks almost exactly like what conservatives might hope for in this country. He quotes the following summary by a management prof at Harvard:
The country of Switzerland has universal coverage, costs that are 40% lower than ours and that inflate at lower rates, and an excellent health care system in terms of outcomes and resources. The key to their success is that the Swiss system is consumer-driven: consumers buy their own health insurance from more than 90 private health insurance firms. If they cannot afford it, the cantons subsidize it. If they are sick, they pay no more for their health insurance than the well (the Swiss insurers risk-adjust each other).

(Hat tip: DS)
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# Posted 1:24 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OUCH:
David Broder (not exactly a conservative):
Even when the White House belatedly learned of Daschle's tax troubles, it misjudged the political fallout. Despite the glaring contradiction between Obama's proclaimed ethical standards and Daschle's lucrative expense-account life that led to his tax underpayment, Obama said he "absolutely" stood by his choice. One day later, he accepted Daschle's withdrawal. This is a blow to Obama's credibility that will not be easily forgotten.
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# Posted 1:24 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE FUNNIEST THING ABOUT OBAMA'S OP-ED is that the WaPo felt it necessary to include a line at the end that says "The writer is president of the United States." Yes, I know it's standard practice for POTUS op-eds, but it's almost as unnecessary as running an op-ed by Osama bin Laden and having a line at the end that says "The writer is the head of Al Qaeda."

Anyhow, the op-ed itself is a set of White House talking points on the stimulus. Not surprisingly, it carefully evades the issue of whether the programs in the stimulus package are actually rapid spending measures that may counteract the recession, or just regular spending measures that are being rushed through at a moment of opportunity.
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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

# Posted 10:59 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ON BEING THE SECRETARY OF COMMERCE:

Krauthammer:
Really, the job is not really worth a pitcher of warm spit, to quote a famous vice president years ago. It a second- level job in the cabinet. It doesn't have a lot of influence.

Ask yourself who was the commerce secretary in the Bush administration. Nobody can tell you. The only one who is remembered historically is Herbert Hoover
Hey, some of us remember Carlos Gutierrez. I ran into him a couple of times at McCain headquarters during the campaign. The GOP could really use the support of those who are working to get out the Latino conservative vote.
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# Posted 10:58 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THAT'S MY WARD, BABY: David Brooks describes Ward 3, home to Washington's highly-educated, upper middle-class "Democratic staffers, regulators, journalists, lawyers, Obama aides and senior civil servants". (Ward maps available here. I live in Ward 3, Precinct 26.)

I would add one-point to Brooks' description. Most Ward 3 residents have lost 30-40% of their retirement savings as a result of the financial crisis. That's just one more reason they resent Wall Street executives who still get six-figure bonuses.
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# Posted 10:56 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NY TIMES CALLS FOR DASCHLE TO WITHDRAW (UPDATE: HE'S GONE):

Check it:
We believe that Mr. Daschle ought to step aside and let the president choose a less-blemished successor.
The WaPo is more forgiving:

Mr. Daschle deserves to be judged also on the basis of his long career in public service and his knowledge of and interest in health-care reform... if Mr. Obama still wants Mr. Daschle in the job, and he said yesterday that he does, based on the record known so far he's entitled to have him.
Former WaPo correspondent (and relentless Bush critic) Tom Ricks observes:

That sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach is caused by the course of Obama's cabinet picks: Richardson blew up on the launch pad, two of the more prominent picks have tax problems, his CIA pick seems inexplicable, his no. 2 guy at the Pentagon needed a waiver from his new anti-lobbying rule, and Hillary Clinton and her hubbie strike me as a ticking bombs.
And to top it all off: Obama's Choice For Chief Performance Officer Withdraws Name. Why? She's in trouble with the IRS.

How I long for the good old days of "No Drama" Obama.
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# Posted 10:54 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NEW RNC CHAIRMAN TALKS ABOUT IDEAS:

Michael Steele on Fox News Sunday:
[CHRIS] WALLACE: But do you need to show Americans that you have new solutions...

STEELE: Absolutely.

WALLACE: ... to their daily kitchen-table concerns?

STEELE: Absolutely. Absolutely. It is taking those core principles of this party and making them relevant in the 21st century.

WALLACE: Such as? Give me an example of a new idea.

STEELE: Well, a new idea would be let's focus on poverty. Let's focus on how we can take someone who is being poorly educated in an American public school and how they are poorly trained for a job, and put in place those opportunities for them to get that education, give their parents choice in education, make it real for them.

We did it right here in my home town of the District of Columbia. The president of the United States, when he was a U.S. senator, blocked three times — tried to block three times legislation that would enable poor black children in this city to go to the high school that I graduated from, what they otherwise wouldn't be able to afford to do.

So create those opportunities. Put people on a pathway to earn a job, earn an education, so they can empower themselves. I don't need the government to do that.
Sounds like a good idea, but I'm not an education policy guy, so I'm not sure what program Steele was talking about. If you listen to the broadcast, it sounds like Steele was struggling to come up with an answer to Wallace's question. An RNC chair should always be ready with a half-dozen new ideas that can make people say, "Hey, why didn't I think of that?"
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# Posted 10:54 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IN DEFENSE OF THE MAOIST: My esteemed colleague Mr. Polansky is displeased with Bill Kristol's suggestion that the time has come to Let 1,000 Republican Flowers Bloom. David writes that Kristol's essay is a "pedestrian call for greater diversity and creativity in formulating new Republican strategies." But I think Kristol has a point that is hardly self-evident.

Kristol notes that a lot of Republicans want the party to have a clear message, a clear strategy and a unified leadership that can mount the best possible defense against an overwhelming Democratic majority. With good reason, a lot of Republicans are happy about the GOP House delegation refusing to cast a single vote for the stimulus package. But unity shouldn't come at the price of suppressing internal discussion. The real driver of unity and success is a compelling vision, not discipline for its own sake.

David is also displeased with Kristol because the title of his essay is an example of
"hackish, cliched writing, recasting a political catchphrase that has already been appropriated to death. Second, it betokens a callousness (hardly limited to Kristol) to other peoples’ historical horrors: I can’t imagine him calling for a journalistic 'night of the long knives'."
It's not the most original title ever, but I think it gets the point across. As for the history, the Hundred Flowers Campaign represented a brief moment of optimism when Mao gave China hope that freedom of thought and conscience would be part of the revolution. As David points out, this was a false hope, since the Campaign was a trap to lure dissidents into the open. Yet Mao's hypocrisy doesn't undermine the ideal he cynically invoked. China is still waiting for what Mao once promised. Thus, I consider the metaphor of one hundred (or one thousand) flowers as more of a tribute to that ideal than a callous disregard for the consequences of Mao's betrayal.
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# Posted 10:50 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OBAMA TO SLASH DEFENSE BUDGET?

Robert Kagan:
Pentagon officials have leaked word that the Office of Management and Budget has ordered a 10 percent cut in defense spending for the coming fiscal year, giving Defense Secretary Robert Gates a substantially smaller budget than he requested.
As a candidate, Obama talked about using a "scalpel" to reduce government in a surgical and precise manner. A ten percent across-the-board cut doesn't sound surgical at all. And what about Obama's commitment to win the war in Afghanistan while increasing the overall size of our land forces?

This decision isn't final, so we can hope that Obama remembers his commitments and restores all or most of the Pentagon's budget. At a moment like this, I am quite glad that Bob Gates is still in charge of DoD.

UPDATE: The budget office demanded a cut in the Pentagon's request for the upcoming year. Even with the cut, the new Pentagon budget may be larger than last year. However, this will depend on whether supplemental funding is provided for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, or if those funds will have to come out of the regular budget.
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# Posted 10:49 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CAPPUCCINO CONSERVATIVES: I grew up in the liberal hothouse of Greenwich Village. Although my politics have strayed, my culinary tastes seem to be in perfect alignment with my coastal elitist upbringing. First of all, I like arugula almost as much as President Obama. Now it turns out, we like the same bottled iced tea:
There is also a new addition to White House cuisine: the refrigerators are stocked with the president’s favorite organic brew: Honest Tea, in Mr. Obama’s preferred flavors of Black Forest Berry and Green Dragon.
Several months ago, I would've said that Honest Tea is my favorite brand. But my new #1 is the slightly more expensive Inko's.

Also, an open question: What is the earliest known use of the term "cappucino conservatives", i.e. the right-of-center counterparts of the latte liberals? I used the term myself in March 2005.
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# Posted 10:47 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NEW ROCKET FIRE FROM GAZA: The Jerusalem Post reports that Israeli planes launched air strikes in response to the firing of 15 Qassam rockets from Gaza. Shmuel Rosner:
Add these [rockets] to the rocket launched last week and to the attack on an IDF patrol near the Gaza border, and those claiming that the Gaza operation was a huge success have a problem.
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# Posted 10:45 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OBAMA REACHES OUT TO THE MUSLIM WORLD: I may have a slightly more positive reaction than other conservative-types to Obama's interview with Al-Arabiya. Now, I certainly agree with Charles Krauthammer and others that Obama's thumbnail history of the US relationship with the Muslim world was atrocious:
And what of that happy U.S.-Muslim relationship that Obama imagines existed "as recently as 20 or 30 years ago" that he has now come to restore? Thirty years ago, 1979, saw the greatest U.S.-Muslim rupture in our 233-year history: Iran's radical Islamic revolution, the seizure of the U.S. Embassy, the 14 months of America held hostage.

Which came just a few years after the Arab oil embargo that sent the United States into a long and punishing recession. Which, in turn, was preceded by the kidnapping and cold-blooded execution by Arab terrorists of the U.S. ambassador in Sudan and his chargé d'affaires.

This is to say nothing of the Marine barracks massacre of 1983, and the innumerable attacks on U.S. embassies and installations around the world during what Obama now characterizes as the halcyon days of U.S.-Islamic relations.

And don't forget our mini-war with Libya! I still remember when I was a kid how the morning DJs in Manhattan used to play a song called "Qaddafi Sucks!"

Attacking from a different vantage point, Michael Goldfarb blasts Obama for his failure to state clearly and unequivocally that it is unacceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons. As Mike points out, Obama was never shy about making this point during the campaign, at a time when Obama was under to pressure to show that he's tough. Jennifer Rubin thinks this is basically just Obama going soft.

I don't think Obama intended to go soft or to back off from his position that Iran going nuclear is unacceptable. But he wanted to make the point as softly as possible in an interview designed to reach out to the Muslim world. The deeper question here is whether Obama appreciates the conflict between his desire to reach out to the Muslim world and his actual positions on key issues in US-Muslim relations. The Iranian bomb is one example. Israel is another. When President Obama tells American audiences (as he did during the campaign) about his love for Israel, that will also be broadcast on Al-Arabiya and other networks in the Muslim world.

Is there any way to square this circle? I think Obama believes that if he can work out a deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians, that will change the entire regional dynamic. George Bush took a different approach. He told the Muslim world that America will help them achieve their long-repressed desire for political freedom. That didn't work out so well in the short-term, but it doesn't strike me as less probable than a peace deal for Israel and the Palestinians.

Clearly, Obama disagrees. He said nothing about freedom or human rights. He has carefully avoided that subject in the past as well. Precisely because Obama is seen as the antithesis of George W. Bush, it would send a powerful message if Obama sent the message America believes in human rights for the Muslim world. Obama seems to have calculated, however that any talk of human rights or political freedom will provoke a Muslim backlash.

In the final analysis, Obama deserves applause for using his first broadcast interview to reach out to Muslim audiences. As Obama correctly observed, "ultimately, people [in the Muslim world] are going to judge me not by my words but by my actions and my administration's actions." I hope Obama understands just how hard it will be to take actions that both advance our national interests and appeal to Muslim audiences.
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# Posted 10:43 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IRAQI ELECTION RESULTS A BLOW TO IRAN:

Max Boot:
Assuming that the preliminary results hold up, it will be another blow to Iran, which already suffered repudiation last year when the Iraqi parliament came to terms on an agreement to allow U.S. troops to remain in their country until at least the end of 2011.
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# Posted 10:41 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHO WON THE WAR IN GAZA? Max Boot provides a first-rate after-action report. Boot calls the conflict a
highly limited and attenuated victory, to be sure, but one that nevertheless restored Israelis' self-confidence and Arabs' fear of provoking Israel, both of which had been badly damaged by the inconclusive 2006 conflict with Hezbollah.

Although we tend to think of war as a lose-lose proposition, Hamas also won:
There is little doubt that Hamas, like Hezbollah, will rise from the rubble to emerge as strong as ever--and probably stronger...Hamas used the war to reassert its control in Gaza by killing, wounding, or torturing at least 100 Fatah officials who were accused of "collaboration" with Israel. All indications are that the Palestinian Authority's close association with Israel has only further damaged its already eroded standing among residents of both Gaza and the West Bank, while Hamas has claimed even more firmly for itself the mantle of "resistance movement" against the hated "Zionist entity."

Hamas may wear the mantle of resistance, but I wonder how Palestinians will respond to Hamas' incompetent, sometimes cowardly performance on the battlefield. After being routed in the Six-Day War, Arab nationalist governments suffered a major blow to their popularity, even though they were the vanguard of the anti-Zionist resistance.

Regardless, read the whole thing. Boot provides the kind of serious, substantive military analysis you won't find in the NYT or WaPo. Also, be sure to check out his frontline report from the quiet US counterinsurgency effort in the Philippines.
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# Posted 10:38 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

RUSSIA LOWERS THE VOLUME:

Steve Biegun:
Sources within the Russian Ministry of Defense appear to be hinting at a retreat from their plan (which Medvedev announced in his November 5 speech) to deploy Iskander short range missiles closer to Central Europe, in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad...

Obama has to beware that the Russian piper will want to be paid. During the campaign, Obama fudged questions on the NATO missile defense by saying he wanted to be sure the system was first viable before moving to construct it. Those evasions will not work for long as president: Either the system will have to be built or the Czech and Polish governments, which committed to its construction at significant political risk, will have to be cut loose. All of this is complicated of course by Iran's continued aggressive pursuit of both a nuclear weapon and a long range missile delivery system (and Russia's unhelpful role in ending those pursuits).

he Russian government's other demand is to reject Ukrainian and Georgian desires to join NATO. For nearly two decades, the United States has held inviolable the right of all European nations to make a sovereign choice of the institutions (e.g. NATO) that they will join to ensure their security. To rebuff outright the Ukrainian and Georgian desires to join NATO is likely to have a steep cost both in terms of the message it sends to struggling democracies in Central and Eastern Europe as well as the encouragement it gives to Russian irredentists.
On the campaign trail, President Obama insisted that America must listen more to its friends and allies. He also promised a more vigorous diplomatic approach to our adversaries. In this case, he may have to choose which one matters more.
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