Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

June 20, 2007

Counterpoint: Sometimes Intervention is Necessary

by Stephen Littau

(Responding to Brad Warbiany’s post here)

After reading Brad’s arguments opposed to interventionism, I found many more areas of agreement than I expected. Brad makes the point that he does not favor isolationism or pacifism and points out that force is sometimes justified, though he does not explain the circumstances where he believes force or “intervention” is justified. I believe that the real question Brad, myself, and many others are grappling with is this very question, not so much if the U.S. should adopt either an interventionist or non-interventionist foreign policy. To offer these as the only two choices is to fall prey to an either/or fallacy. Rather than generally arguing in favor of intervention, I will instead argue for intervention under very limited and specific circumstances.

Under most circumstances the U.S. should neither intervene militarily nor otherwise be involved in the internal affairs of other sovereign states. It is probably safe to say that the U.S. has significant policy differences with every other country on the planet but very few of these differences require any kind of military action or other intervention. If I were to hazard a guess, I would guess that in 95% of these cases, the U.S. should not use military force. But what should be done about the other 5%? At what point should the U.S. use military force against Iran, North Korea, or other states which harbor terrorists who are credible threats to our national security?

Brad is mostly correct in his assessment that America’s intervention in other countries over the past 60 years has been an abject failure. Misadventures in Cuba, Vietnam, South America, Africa, and the Middle East come to mind as being among some of the most obvious examples of failed and/or unjustifiable interventions. Indeed we are now dealing with the consequences of the U.S. support of the Taliban in the Afghan War and Saddam Hussein during the Iraq/Iran war and we will continue to deal with the consequences for the foreseeable future. But is it really fair to say that every intervention has been a failure or has not yielded some positive results for the U.S. and the world?

Consider that over this same span of time that we witnessed the fall of the Soviet Union and successfully drove Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. Both of these required intervention on the part of the U.S. and the world is better off for it.

I would further argue that interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan have also delivered some positive results which have been downplayed by the MSM and those who oppose these interventions. In the case of Afghanistan, the Taliban was driven out of power and has given the Afghanis their best opportunity to pursue freedom. Roughly 1/3 of the Afghan people and 40% of eligible women participated in the 2004 elections with minimal violence.

In Iraq the U.S. deposed a dictator and his heirs. Since that time Iraq has had several elections (with much greater participation than we could expect in our own elections) and wrote a constitution supported by 79% of the Iraqis (however imperfect). More recently, even the Sunnis who have been part of the insurgency have begun to join forces with the coalition to fight al Qaeda elements in Iraq. Even the bipartisan Iraq Study Group Report , which on balance paints a grim picture, admits that only 4 of Iraq’s 18 provinces (home to 40% of the Iraqi population) are considered “highly insecure.” The report also cites “encouraging signs” of improvement in the Iraqi economy, especially in regard to its currency reserves, consumer imports (especially computers, cell phones, and appliances), and opening of new businesses (especially in more secure areas).

This isn’t to suggest all is well in these two crucial fronts in the war against Islamofascism—far from it. But if the troops were to leave now, most if not all of the progress would be lost and our brave men and women who have died in these missions would have died in vain. To make matters worse, the Islamofascist terrorists would become emboldened and focus their energies on U.S. soil.*

Many on my side of the debate have made the mistake of responding to the other side by falsely suggesting that hindsight is 20/20. Hindsight is no closer to 20/20 than foresight. To say that hindsight is 20/20 in regard to were we are in the war against Islamofascism is to suggest that we know for certain what would have happened had the president and the congress opted not to go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the same way we do not know what would have happened had the U.S. stayed out of World War I, limited U.S. involvement in World War II to Japan, or opted not to drop the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we have no way of knowing what would have happened if the U.S. kept Saddam Hussein in power. For all we know, Europe could have emerged from the first World War more peacefully (and thereby avoid the second World War), Nazi Germany may have been defeated without the help of the U.S., the Japanese may have surrendered after a few more U.S. victories, and Saddam Hussein may have decided not to reconstitute his WMD program and limit his rein of terror to his own people. It is also possible that Europe would have remained at a perpetual state of war, that Hitler would have taken over Europe and eventually the world, that the U.S. may have suffered up to 500,000 casualties (at least by some estimates) in taking Japan’s mainland, and that Saddam Hussein would have reconstituted his WMD program to destabilize the Middle East even further. The possibilities of what might have happened in any of these cases are almost infinite.

Those who argue in favor of non-intervention in the Middle East or elsewhere fail to realize that there are potential negative consequences for non-intervention as well as there are for intervention. Ron Paul seems to believe that had the U.S. never intervened in any capacity in the Middle East, we would not be targets of the Islamofascists. Rudolph Giuliani believes the Islamofascists simply hate us for our freedoms. Paul and Giuliani are both right and wrong. I believe Paul is right in terms of the ways the Islamofascists have used past interventions in the Middle East to stoke the flames of hatred of Western culture; Paul is wrong to suggest that such flames of hatred did not already exist toward Western culture prior to U.S. interventions. Giuliani is right to suggest that the Islamofascists hate us because of our freedoms but is wrong when he suggests that the U.S. has never interjected itself in the Middle East (whether justified or not) to the detriment of ordinary people in these countries.

The reason why we have this “reverse King Midas” phenomenon is due to the politicians running the war instead of the generals. Our government is composed of what Thomas Paine referred to as “sunshine patriots and winter soldiers” (meaning individuals who are gung ho about fighting for a cause when things are going well but defeatist when things are going poorly). Politicians (arm chair generals) have further placed the troops in impossible situation of acting as police officers rather than soldiers (cops Mirandize, soldiers vaporize). Overly burdensome rules of engagement (i.e. no attacking “holy sites” even when these sites are used as fortresses by the enemy), a failure of President Bush to better manage the expectations of the American people (he should have stuck to his “long, hard, slog” line and should have continued to warn everyone that this war would likely last decades rather than his two terms in office) and a lack of clarity of the mission have contributed greatly to the challenge of defeating Islamofascism. Things were not always this way. American interventionism helped beat back the forces of Nazism, Fascism, and Communism to make the world much more like the world we “wished it to be” (to borrow a phrase). Clearly, something has changed since that time, but there is no reason why we cannot relearn how to make the world safer for America and the world.

To end on yet another point of agreement with Brad, I also believe that we should be looking for ways to decrease foreign intervention whenever possible. Intervention, especially military intervention, should always be a last resort. But intervention should never be taken off the table entirely.

*I concede Brad’s point about the argument myself and others have made: “either we fight them over here or we fight them over there.” This too is an either/or fallacy and I should take this moment to clarify my point. My point is we have to be vigilant on both fronts. If we abandon the fight “over there,” then it stands to reason that the terrorists will concentrate their activities “over here.”

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  • http://www.garyksmithlaw.com C. Wesley Fowler

    [quote]Paul is wrong to suggest that such flames of hatred did not already exist toward Western culture prior to U.S. interventions. Giuliani is right to suggest that the Islamofascists hate us because of our freedoms”[/quote]

    This is really the primary point of disagreement I have with your analysis (aside from my general belief that intervention should be VERY much rarer than I read this very well written article to imply).

    The beef I have with the above statement is that, while isolated from external facts the statements may be true, (I don’t entirely agree they are) they are meaningless for that very reason. Why does it matter if “islamofascists” “hate[ed] us for our freedoms” before we began to unreasonably attack their culture, counters and resources? It only matters to the extent those individuals are able to organize, galvanize and practice enough solidarity to harm us. I submit that the very few extremists existing in the Muslim world willing and able to harm the USA would never find/have found the support or empowerment from even their own people to harm us absent the substantial motivation our intervention has provided. Yes, I am suggesting we have bred extremism in the Middle East.

    Even considering the increase in anti-American sentiment the world over, and especially in the middle-east, I submit that “terrorism” just isn’t all that terrifying.

    http://www.reason.com/news/show/36765.html

    Certainly not scary enough for me to electively give up an ounce of liberty in exchange for the lie of safety.

    “We stood up to the Soviets who had 40,000 nuclear weapons, and now we’re fretting day in and day night about third world countries that have no Army, Navy, or Air Force.” – Ron Paul

    The fetters imposed on liberty at home have ever been forged out of the weapons provided for defence against real, pretended, or imaginary dangers from abroad.

    -James Madison
    4th US president
    (1751-1836)

  • http://thedailyburkeman1.blogspot.com/ C Bowen

    This piece is an example of navel gazing.

    If you believe in Islamofacism, you are simply spewing agitprop and not interested in an intellectual discussion of why free states should not and cannot go looking for monsters to destroy.

  • http://unrepentantindividual.com/ Brad Warbiany

    The reason why we have this “reverse King Midas” phenomenon is due to the politicians running the war instead of the generals.

    And when do you expect that to change?

    I’m being serious here. We all look at the government and think it’s a piss-poor system, driven by political pandering and desire (above all) for reelection and increasing the size of one’s ego.

    If you accept that, why exactly is the situation of interventionism different? Why is it that the government is going to be more effective at foreign interventionism than, say, delivering the mail or curbing child poverty?

    We can assume that sometimes the government gets it right, but then again, even a blind squirrel occasionally finds a nut. Considering the damage they do when they’re wrong, and the cost in American lives and tax dollars to be wrong, the real question is whether it’s worth it.

    Interventionism might work on some occasions. In my opinion, though, it’s probably a net negative, not a net positive.

  • http://dangerouslyidealistic.blogspot.com/ UCrawford

    I agree with C. Bowen. Subscribing to the entire “Islamo-fascist” argument put out by Bush negates the majority of your argument in favor of intervention. Why? Because “Islamofascism” implies that there is an overreaching ideology that crosses the internal rifts of Islam to create a direct and eminent threat against us…and, frankly, such an ideology does not exist.

    Despite what the Bush administration has continually insinuated and misled us to believe, the attacks of 9/11 were committed by one non-state terrorist group, al-Qaeda. Iraq had nothing to do with it. Iran had nothing to do with it. Syria had nothing to do with it. The terrorists who participated came from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, two countries in which we are not forcing regime change. The Taliban were built and supported by Pakistan, a country that we currently supply military aid to. Most of these countries I’ve listed are at odds with each other and/or with al-Qaeda, so there is no meaningful cooperation between these supposed threats on a large scale. Simply put, the “Islamofascist” movement is a myth created by the Bush administration to try and simplify a situation that cannot be simplified and to justify foreign policy decisions that cannot be rationally justified. When people talk about “Islamofascism” they’re generally indicating a willful ignorance of the Islamic culture and the nature of the war on terror. When you use it to justify your position, you might as well be repeating words off a campaign bumper sticker, because that’s all the legitimacy that term has, and any arguments using that ideology as a justification for intervention are pretty much invalid.

    None of our interventions since deposing the Taliban have done anything to make our country any safer from the threat of terrorism, because we haven’t actually caught the people who were responsible for 9/11 (al-Qaeda’s leadership) and most of what we’ve done has turned opinion in that region against us. In the case of Iraq (and lately Afghanistan) our foreign policy has made the world more dangerous for us, not less. And it’s made it easier, not harder, for terrorists to kill Americans…mainly because we’re sending our people there to be killed.

    There are times when military intervention in the affairs of a sovereign nation is appropriate…in cases of self-defense or imminent attack on our homeland or citizens by that nation. But those times are few and far between, and Iraq, Iran and North Korea (none of whom have attacked us or are an imminent threat to attack us) clearly do not fit those criteria.

  • http://dangerouslyidealistic.blogspot.com/ UCrawford

    And even if you got your wish and the generals were really the ones in charge, it’s unlikely they’d subscribe to your philosophy of constant intervention. The military tends to be a lot more hesitant to enter into conflicts than politicians…mainly because they’re the ones getting shot at and they’re the ones who end up burying the results, not the politicians. Think it’s a coincidence that the JCS and the military generally hated Bill Clinton’s nation-building policies in the 90s? Think it’s a coincidence that the military was supportive of Bush’s non-interventionist policy platform in 2000? Think it’s a coincidence that a war (Iraq) conceived and run by a group of men with pretty much zero military experience turned into a disaster?

    Military intervention as a first option has historically been the policy of tyrants, diplomatic incompetents, and armchair warriors…and that’s why most presidents have been smart enough to avoid it.

  • Tristian Spier

    “Giuliani is right to suggest that the Islamofascists hate us because of our freedoms”

    Hey Gomer,

    I have a question for you, did Osama bin Laden fight the Soviet Union for 10 years because he hated their freedoms?

    What? Silence? You are the weekest link, goodbye!

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/ Stephen Littau

    Mr. Fowler:

    You may very well be right. U.S. interventions may have stoked the flames of hatred more than if the U.S. had not intervened in the Middle East. Then again, seeing as these same terrorist groups have attacked France, Spain, Russia, and other countries which haven’t been as involved in the Middle East as the U.S., you might very well be wrong. From the statements I have read from the leaders of these organizations, they want to spread their brand of fundamentalist Islam throughout the world by whatever means they deem necessary.

    I would also like to point out that even though al Qaeda and other Islamofascist organizations of their ilk do not have a navy, army, or air force, it only took four small groups of al Qaeda terrorists armed with box cutters to take out the World Trade Center, a chunk of the Pentagon, and roughly 2,000 American civilians on 9/11. What could they do with a suitcase nuke provided by Iran, North Korea, or a host of other state sponsors? Al Qaeda does not need a fleet of ships, an infantry, nor a squadron of fighters and bombers to inflict a great deal of damage on an American city.

    C. Bowen:

    If you want an intellectual conversation, then you have to do better than calling my post “navel gazing.” You may disagree with my conclusions but I think I laid out my case quite clearly and made an attempt to back up my assertions. Mr. Fowler, Brad, and Mr. Crawford, each argued their specific points in a much more civil and productive manner. Not one of them saw fit to resort to calling me a “chicken hawk” (as you have done in the past), or a “neocon,” or any other such bumper sticker B.S. If you want to take another stab at an intellectual conversation, then I suggest you do the same and save the cheap shots for someone else. I don’t normally like to respond to cheap shots but I’ll make an exception this time since you claim to want an intellectual conversation.

    Brad:

    Maybe I’m just hopeful that we will reach a certain point to where the American people and our leaders will finally get serious and make the difficult decisions which lie ahead. Am I optimistic this will happen anytime soon? Not really.

    I will say though that I do not believe we should have any new interventions until the Iraq and Afghanistan issues are resolved. At this point I could not support any sort of attack against Iran (for example) because, as we have both pointed out, our elected officials have been mostly incompetent.

    The only reason I have any hope that our elected officials might get their act together is by the fact that in our history, we had leaders which overcame insurmountable odds in matters of war. Consider that George Washington’s army had very few significant victories against the British until the decisive Battle of Yorktown. The Union also suffered its share of defeats in the American Civil War (or the War Between the States) before finally having its decisive victory in Gettysburg. During World War II, U.S. and Allied forces suffered more than its share of defeats; the D-Day Landing alone cost some 10,000 American lives. My point is that all of these could have just as easily gone the other way.

    Mr. Crawford:

    I think I only heard President Bush use the term “Islamofascist” on one occasion (this offended CAIR and he never used the term again). I wish he would do more to identify the enemy instead of use the generic term “terrorism” and “terrorist.” Terrorism is a tactic and does not effectively identify the enemy. You make a critical mistake if you think we are only fighting against al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden. Killing bin Laden will not mean our fight with Islamic extremists (would you prefer that term to “Islamofascists”?) is over.

    Regardless of your unwillingness to see this threat, there are such groups (which sometimes do coordinate their activities) who wish to kill you and me. Ask the families of the 9/11 victims if they believe Islamic terrorism is a myth.

    To your second point about the generals and there reluctance to intervene except when absolutely necessary, I agree. But not all generals agree on matters of war and peace either.

    Tristian:

    I can’t believe I am going to take the time to respond to your dumb ass comment but what the hell. No, bin Laden did not attack the Soviets because he hated the Soviets’ “freedom.” The Soviet Union wanted to spread communism to Afghanistan with military force. Bin Laden quite naturally did not want to be under Soviet control and retaliated. Its really not that hard to figure out Tristian. You are easily the weakest link among those who have already commented (notice that the word “weakest” is spelled w-e-a-k-e-s-t NOT w-e-e-k-e-s-t). Jackass!

  • http://ownlifeamerica.wordpress.com thoughtpolice

    “Consider that over this same span of time that we witnessed the fall of the Soviet Union and successfully drove Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. Both of these required intervention on the part of the U.S. and the world is better off for it.”

    The US never truly intervened with the Soviet Union and they collapsed mainly due to economic problems. Saudi Arabia, other Arab countries, and even Osama Bin Laden*, could have taken on Iraq and restored independance to Kuwait. Although, I really don’t see how restoring Kuwait’s indepenance makes the world better off. Let’s also not forget how the US sent economic AND military aid to Iraq immediately before the Gulf War (between 1983 and 1990).

    This doesn’t really contribute much to the argument. I just wanted to point out that I don’t think that statement is justification for intervention.

    *Bin Laden offered to help, but the Saudis turned him down favoring US assistance, which ultimately sparked Bin Laden’s ideas of attacking America since “American infedels” were in the Muslim Holy Land.

  • http://www.kaligulawired.com Kaligula

    Sometimes Intervention is Necessary? Hell, I could live with “sometimes.” By my last count, the US has troops in 150 countries and has military bases in 60 countries. Really, since Pearl Harbor, the US has engaged continually in war of some kind. And with this term “islamofascism,” it looks like 9-11 will be used to fuel war for the next century, until we collapse under the weight of our empire, which is what happens to all empires.

  • http://theradicaltimes.blogspot.com/ Radical Times

    I believe when we are attacked we fight those who attacked us. We should not protect or pay tribute to other countries and get involved in their affairs. I don’t believe we should try to remake the world in our image by force. If another nation takes an aggressive tone towards us then the American people should debate if we should kick their ass.

    Europe, South Korea, and Israel can finance their own security and protect themselves.

    We aren’t going to win the War on Terror without understanding the underlying alien ideologies and cultures we are facing. Do we truly know our enemies? The demographic distribution, concerning where they are located and how many they are.

  • http://thedailyburkeman1.blogspot.com/ C Bowen

    Stephen;

    I didn’t claim to want an intellectual conversation as politics is about coalition building and tactics not Truth. You posted this exercise under the guise of searching for truth, but merely recycled agitprop phrases.

    Politicizing truth is a Marxist tendency so it follows that you embrace collectivist arguments on ‘defense’ matters.

    Now, if you will concede that you are a collectivist on issues of defense, I might take the time to offer a deconstruction of why socialism fails. Hayek doesn’t stop at the shores.

  • Tristian Spier

    Hey Gomer,

    It’s rather sad that your only argument is an ad hominem attack and a spelling nazi comment.

    What you left out of your explanation was that Bin Laden isn’t Afghani, so why is quite natural for him to care?

    Yours truly,

    Tristian

  • http://dangerouslyidealistic.blogspot.com/ UCrawford

    Stephen,

    We were attacked on 9/11 by al-Qaeda, and only al-Qaeda. The Taliban, although they did not apparently actively participate in 9/11, were sheltering al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. The only enemies we were therefore justified in pursuing were al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Al-Qaeda had no operational presence in Iraq prior to our invasion. Al-Qaeda has no operational presence in Iran or Syria now. Therefore there was no justification to attack Iraq as part of the war on terror (there were more reasons not to attack) and there is no justification to attack Iran or Syria in the future.

    As for your argument about there being “groups” that are willing to attack us, your argument is speculative generalization, frankly, not a little racist. I’m sure somewhere in the world there are black people who would like to do harm to me because I’m white. Does that mean white people are justified in attacking any black person they see without provocation and/or regardless of whether that person poses an actual risk because someday that black person might pose a threat to white people? Such a rationalization is ridiculous and indicative of a lynch mob mentality. Your descriptions of the situation essentially paint all Muslims with the same brush because of the actions of one group (al-Qaeda), it seems predicated on an overreactive panic to 9/11, and your pro-intervention arguments reflect this.

    As for your jibe about asking the 9/11 families, I don’t need to. We have reasonable proof that the attacks were committed by al-Qaeda and abetted by the Taliban, they’re the only enemy that 9/11 has any bearing on, and the reactions of grieving and traumatized family members of victims from 9/11 have absolutely no bearing on an argument for intervention against enemies that had nothing to do with 9/11. The grief of 9/11 families does not impart to them any more or less expertise on the dynamics of foreign policy than anyone else possesses, so their opinion has no more or less inherent weight than anyone else’s.

  • http://dangerouslyidealistic.blogspot.com/ UCrawford

    As for the usage of the term “Islamofascism”, the number of times Bush used it is irrelevant, you used Bush’s general definition as a basis for your argument for intervention and you seem to have at least partially acknowledged that the term is not sufficiently accurate to identify a threat. Since the primary part of your rationale for general intervention stems from that inaccurate generalization, I’d say that it significantly undermines the legitimacy of your argument.

  • http://dangerouslyidealistic.blogspot.com/ UCrawford

    And “Islamic extremists” is just as inaccurate as “Islamofascists”. It ignores variations and rifts within Islamic culture and does nothing to identify an actual threat. It’s just a generalization based on cultural ignorance. I’ve specifically identified the groups that are the legitimate threats…al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Those are the ones who were involved in attacking us, so those are the only Islamic extremists we are justified in pursuing.

    Of course, limiting the war to the people who actually attacked us doesn’t give the president the justification to ignore the Constitution, consolidate and wield unquestioned power, and generally do whatever he wants regardless of the cost. And that’s what the Iraq war has really been all about, and it’s what the “War on Terror” has become.

  • http://www.garyksmithlaw.com C. Wesley Fowler

    Very informative comments. I just wanted to take a second and thank Crawford and Bowen. I feel like I might have actually learned a little something today.

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/ Stephen Littau

    Mr. Bowen:

    Do you only consider something “truth” if it comes from your brain or from someone who agrees with you? This post is about my *opinion* which is based on the truth as I understand it based on evaluating what I consider to be credible sources and considering arguments of all sides. If my understanding of the facts changes or I am confronted with an argument which is persuasive enough, my opinion will change accordingly. Whether or not I am wrong or not is for you (and other readers) to decide. I’ve been wrong before, I’ll be wrong again, and I’m sure you will be wrong as well. One thing I promise is that I do not write things that I do not believe to be true. I do not try to change the facts to fit my viewpoint.

    I am also quite certain that Brad and others who write at The Liberty Papers use the same approach. Just because I slightly disagree with what Brad believes to be true does not mean I think he is lying; he simply comes to a different conclusion than I do on this particular issue.

    Now to your point about defense issues. Am I understanding you correctly that you do not believe the U.S. should have a military? If this is your definition of a “collective defense,” then yes, I do support collective defense. Providing for the common defense of the U.S. citizens is one of the few truly legitimate roles of government (according to our constitution at least). I have no problem with the concept of citizen or state militias but I also believe the U.S. military is completely legitimate and necessary for national security. I do not believe for a minute that the Nazis or Imperial Japan would have been defeated with a citizen’s militia alone.

    And although I believe that the U.S. military is legitimate, that does not mean it has always been used for legitimate purposes. I agree with Kaligula, there is no reason why we should have troops in that many countries.

  • http://dangerouslyidealistic.blogspot.com/ UCrawford

    Stephen,

    The operative word in “collective defense” should be “defense”. In other words, the military exists to protect our homeland and citizens against imminent attack from a foreign power, or to provide appropriate retaliatory action against a foreign power that has attacked us. “Defense” does not apply to attacking nations that have not attacked us and are not an imminent threat to attack us because we think that we can run their affairs better than they can. That’s called “conquest”, or more accurately “imperialism”.

    I suspect that the “collectivism” Mr. Bowen was referring to was your tendency to view the disparate cultures of the world as collective groups (“Islamo-fascists” in this case) and preaching a foreign policy approach that caters to this world view. “Islamofascists” are no more an accurate description of any coherent group than “yellow hordes” or “the great unwashed”, and the solution you propose (increased military intervention) is generally just a form of authoritarian empire-building that will not serve our individual interests for either security or prosperity.

    At least, that’s the gist of what I got from Mr. Bowen’s comments. If I’m wrong, I’d be interested in hearing differently.

  • http://www.semitool.com Raymon F. Thompson

    I’m a gay farmer and I don’t care about any of you girls that disagree with Stephen. You are obviously wildly uninformed and can not comprehend that an opinion is an opinion.

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