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Thread: Dominos of Democracy

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    Council Member jcustis's Avatar
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    Default Dominos of Democracy

    So I'm tooling around in my stack of PME books today, and one portion covers the Bush Administrations National Security Strategy, produced in 2002 http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archiv...002/index.html, as well as an interview given by John Lewis Gaddis to Frontline in Jan 2003, just prior to the invasion of Iraq http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontl...ws/gaddis.html

    Gaddis made the point that the administration, without publicly stating so, believed that the toppling of Saddam Hussien and a resulting shift towards democracy in Iraq might serve as the first domino in the region. Other democratic shifts in Iran and Saudi Arabia were plausible, and that was where the administration was moving with the "grand strategy" it developed in NSS-2002.

    Gaddis also made note of how much preemption factored into this strategy, in terms of countering threats. This makes sense to some degree, considering the shock of 9/11 just a few months before, but it leaves me thinking hard on whether this domino theory eventually hurt us or helped us.

    "Victory for the American people," and "growth of democracy," became the buzzwords of speeches, and I wonder if all this rhetoric simply polarized other elements of the world into thinking the United States had shifted to a realm of imperialism. Is there additional literature out there (besides the tinfoil hatters) that critiques the Bush Administration in this regard? I've done some looking, but it's hard to wade through all the hits. Furthermore, what does the council think...have elements of the world become polarized for the worse?
    Last edited by jcustis; 08-10-2009 at 04:47 AM.

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Dominoes of democracy?

    Jon,

    To me this strategy was rhetorical, possibly like the 'rollback' theme in Cold War Europe - which ended with Hungary 1956. Maybe it worked in the USA as providing legitimacy for the war(s).

    'Democracy' in the Arab perspective is very different from that in Western Europe, which appears to be a ballot box decision every 'X' years. Put that alongside US support for Israel, Mubarek in Eygpt and more - the US advocating democracy was damaged beyond repair.

    The 'Domino' theory appears to work the opposite way, if 'X' goes radical, then 'Y' will and later 'B'. I would suggest looking at the reaction to the FIS electoral victory in Algeria, plus the emergence of Hamas and Hizbollah.

    For the "man in the Arab street" I speculate that the US strategy meant nothing; for the politically active in and out of government different reactions. Overall IMHO it did not help outside the USA.
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 08-10-2009 at 09:29 AM.

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    Default - culture follows culture

    - there has been a shift in Saudi domestic political involvement with their women and I read where cosmetic surgery is becoming real popular over there and it won't be long until the women are allowed to drive in that wealthy society and more of them are getting more education - granted, it's a downward trickle but real, not that they are going to be erecting Thomas Jefferson statues any time soon. These are essentially trappings, vague, of Democracy but some regard it as a waning of Patriarchal power as well.

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    Council Member Dayuhan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jcustis View Post
    Gaddis made the point that the administration, without publicly stating so, believed that the toppling of Saddam Hussien and a resulting shift towards democracy in Iraq might serve as the first domino in the region. Other democratic shifts in Iran and Saudi Arabia were plausible, and that was where the administration was moving with the "grand strategy" it developed in NSS-2002.

    Gaddis also made note of how much preemption factored into this strategy, in terms of countering threats. This makes sense to some degree, considering the shock of 9/11 just a few months before, but it leaves me thinking hard on whether this domino theory eventually hurt us or helped us.
    I don't see how a theory can help or hurt us... actions based on that theory would be another story, and in that event we'd have to assess the impact of the actions.

    The administration may not have publicly stated the "democratic domino theory" (I'm not going to check the archives to see), but this belief was stated loudly and often by many of the key supporters of the war, particularly those from the "neocon" side. Remember all the talk about "draining the swamp" in the Middle East? At times it started to sound like there was a row of huge crates in some warehouse in DC, each labeled "Democracy, functioning, one", ready to be "installed" like a spare tire or a light bulb. The assumption seemed to be that democracy is some sort of natural state, and that once the dictatorship was removed it would flourish of its own accord with a minor bit of judicious American cultivation, winning acclamation from all and setting a glowing example for the benighted peoples of the region.

    Of course it didn't quite work that way, as anyone with 4 functioning synapses would have expected from the start. Democracy cannot be installed, it evolves, and the evolution is often a prolonged process fraught with disorder and instability. When a dictator is overthrown by internal forces, there are by definition internal forces with at least enough coherence and support to overthrow a dictatorship. That doesn't assure a smooth transition to democracy, but it's a start. When a dictator is overthrown from the outside, where do you start? The institutions needed for democracy to function don't exist. If the outside party tries to create them, they are meddling. If they don't, there is chaos. Not a great place to be.

    Are we striving for stability in the Middle East, or democracy? They are not the same thing, and trying to force democratic transitions is hardly going to promote stability... quite the opposite.

    There's a lot of ranting about Saudi Arabia, and much of it overlooks the quite dramatic moves by the Saudis in the last 5-6 years, not toward democracy but toward providing a better life for the citizenry. The 90s were a pretty grim time in the Kingdom: the royals invested the proceeds of the first oil boom outside the country, for the most part, and when the glut and the price plunge came the royals were living in style while the populace felt the pinch - not a combination that promotes stability. The recent oil price surge saw a very different approach: the Saudis have spent enormous sums on domestic infrastructure, housing, health care, education, and job creation, and there has been a real influence on popular sentiment. Of course there are still fundamentalists who will take off and join the jihad, but they are not agitating for democracy, and democracy and liberalism are as likely to provoke radicalism as to alleviate it.

    The Gulf States are not democratic, but what business of ours is that? They are ordering their affairs in their own way, and whatever change takes place will happen in their way at their demand: I don't see any real evidence of widespread demand for democracy there. They aren't invading anybody, they aren't bothering anybody, why mess with them? We've more than enough problems elsewhere...

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Political handsprings to attract attention -- or deflect it...

    Quote Originally Posted by Dayuhan View Post
    I don't see how a theory can help or hurt us... actions based on that theory would be another story, and in that event we'd have to assess the impact of the actions.
    Political rhetoric. Not worth assessing.
    Are we striving for stability in the Middle East, or democracy? They are not the same thing, and trying to force democratic transitions is hardly going to promote stability... quite the opposite.
    In order, No; No; Only a few Ideological oddjobs even tried -- and that only briefly. The object was to send a message that attacks on American interest worldwide emanating from the ME would no longer be tolerated as Afghanistan was a message to the world not to attack American soil; two different things in two very different areas. Needed to do all that without disrupting world oil supply. The 'democracy bit was an afterthought in an attempt to replace the flawed WMD rationale.
    The Gulf States are not democratic, but what business of ours is that? ... We've more than enough problems elsewhere...
    True and you'll note that we've made no noise to them -- or the Saudis -- and very little to Pakistan about democracy...

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    Council Member Dayuhan's Avatar
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    True and you'll note that we've made no noise to them -- or the Saudis -- and very little to Pakistan about democracy...
    I agree that we've made no effort to force democracy on the Saudis, but we hear quite a bit of noise from outside Government suggesting that we should, though it's never quite clear how. I've even heard it said that Saudi Arabia is dependent on the US or even a US client state... again, I'm not sure how, certainly they aren't financially dependent on us (more the opposite). We've moved to protect the Saudis from potential external aggressors, but that was in defence of our own interests, and I see no hypocrisy there.

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    Council Member jcustis's Avatar
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    Is the issue of democracy in the Kingdom, Pakistan, Iran, etc., a neocon platform? Has any of Obama's rhetoric stated a similar aim?

    I admit that I've been a bit removed from the issue previously, but I am curious now.

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default I don't pay much attention to domestic politcs because it's so predictable

    and boring, so I'm not at all sure -- nor do I care - who wears what tags but my perception is that the Neocons were former liberals who became conservative and got, through Cheney, various positions in the last Administration. Perception is also that they made no noise about the Saudis but that those who opposed the previous administration and the Neocons were noisy about our failure to 'tackle' the Saudis or Pakistan and instead making the mistake of attacking Afghanistan -- until that worked, then they switched to the mistake of attacking Iraq. They are now quiet and will likely remain so until Iraq erupts than it will be someone else's fault.

    Everyone seems to have an idea about Iran...

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    Council Member Dayuhan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    Everyone seems to have an idea about Iran...
    Does anyone have a good idea on what to do in Iran? I hope so, because I don't.

    The talk about Saudi Arabia came mainly from neocons outside the administration. Here's Michael Ledeen, in the National Review, Aug 2002:

    One can only hope that we turn the region into a cauldron, and faster, please. If ever there were a region that richly deserved being cauldronized, it is the Middle East today. If we wage the war effectively, we will bring down the terror regimes in Iraq, Iran, and Syria, and either bring down the Saudi monarchy or force it to abandon its global assembly line to indoctrinate young terrorists.
    Of course Ledeen was also one of the guys who thought the INC was a reliable source of information and that we should turn Iraq over to Chalabi...

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    Council Member MikeF's Avatar
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    Default Iran

    Quote Originally Posted by Dayuhan View Post
    Does anyone have a good idea on what to do in Iran? I hope so, because I don't.
    Do nothing...They'll sort it out for themselves. That is a lesson that has been hard for us to learn.

    In some ways, dealing with Iran is like dealing with a teenage high school prom queen, in her own mind she is above the fray, and she has to figure things out on her own. The Persians are a great society, and they have a proud history. The worst thing we could do would be to tell them how to dress....

    v/r

    Mike

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    Council Member Dayuhan's Avatar
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    That's about the conclusion I've reached. I'm not sure that doing nothing while MA and the mullahs go for a nuke is a good idea, but it's probably the best of an unappealing range of alternatives.

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Thanks for the corrrection

    I thought I recalled scanning the left leaning blogs over the past few years and seeing a great deal of froth about Saudi Arabia and Pakistan being ignored as friends of the Bush family while poor Afghanistan was attacked and we went to Iraq for the oil...

    Not of any great interest to me then or now so my recall could be off. Blog chatter and pundits don't know or say much of note. Yes, including me
    Quote Originally Posted by Dayuhan View Post
    Does anyone have a good idea on what to do in Iran? I hope so, because I don't.
    My vote would be to resume diplomatic relations -- or try; that would put them in a put up or shut up position. They want the Persian Empire back but know that's not likely; they want International respect but on their terms because they are the Persian Empire who rule from the Bosporus to Samarkand -- except they don't...

    They're conflicted and have delusions of grandeur and the leaders are really rather happy with their own little world, demanding things from the west, tweaking the nose of the great Satan. So my solution is, as it is for North Korea, play the game as we have been doing since 1979 and 1953 respectively. Certainly cheaper than most alternatives.

    But then, I'm not a nuke worrier, whether has the the capability or not I believe makes little real difference.

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    ‘The Next Founders: Voices of Democracy in the Middle East’
    MESH invites selected authors to offer original first-person statements on their new books—why and how they wrote them, and what impact they hope and expect to achieve. Joshua Muravchik is a fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute of the Johns Hopkins University School for Advanced International Studies, and a member of MESH. His new is book is The Next Founders: Voices of Democracy in the Middle East.

    From Joshua Muravchik

    When I would tell people that I was writing a book about Middle Eastern democrats, the reaction was invariably the same: “That will be a short book.” This jibe expressed the common knowledge that the region remains stubbornly autocratic.

    The fact that there is precious little democracy in the Middle East does not mean, however, that there are no democrats.
    (Snip)

    Depressing book in what these people are going up against. Uplifting in that they have the courage to do it.

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    Council Member MikeF's Avatar
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    Default Prom Queens and such...

    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    They're conflicted and have delusions of grandeur and the leaders are really rather happy with their own little world, demanding things from the west, tweaking the nose of the great Satan. So my solution is, as it is for North Korea, play the game as we have been doing since 1979 and 1953 respectively. Certainly cheaper than most alternatives.

    But then, I'm not a nuke worrier, whether has the the capability or not I believe makes little real difference.
    Ken, that's what I meant with the prom queen analogy. I think most of our foreign policy matters can be handled with State not DoD...Walk softly and carry a bit stick and all that.

    If non-proliferation remains a major national policy consideration, then re-organize a 21st century version of the OSS (not to be stricken by the beauracracies of our current CIA)...

    Again, just my two cents...

    v/r

    Mike

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dayuhan View Post
    That's about the conclusion I've reached. I'm not sure that doing nothing while MA and the mullahs go for a nuke is a good idea, but it's probably the best of an unappealing range of alternatives.
    1 IMO (freely given and worth almost that much) there are no good solutions.
    2 Doing nothing? Begs the question, will the Israelis go for that, given the statements coming out of Tehran, I doubt the Israelis will sit by and do nothing.
    3 From what I understand their nuclear program in very popular with all segments of the country, even those that oppose the mullahs.

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    Council Member Dayuhan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    I thought I recalled scanning the left leaning blogs over the past few years and seeing a great deal of froth about Saudi Arabia and Pakistan being ignored as friends of the Bush family while poor Afghanistan was attacked and we went to Iraq for the oil...
    I'm sure you did. Froth from the left and froth from the right are in no way mutually exclusive, even on the same issue. Still just froth, of course.

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    Default Back to jcustis' original post...

    jcustis - any answer to your question(s) relating to why the US (or the Bush admin) invaded Iraq is complicated, not least as most if not all of the main Bush admin decision makers almost certainly had several justifications of equal relevance for taking down Iraq. Indeed, no state, no group of policy makers ever (well, maybe on rare occasions somewhere in history) commits to war for one reason. In other words, there no short answer. My view, for what it is worth and which broadly accords with Ken White’s, is as follows as shortly as I can make it given it is well past midnight and my bedtime (and I am out of single malt):

    A) The rationale of Iraq becoming nuclear state was more about providing legitimacy for the invasion of Iraq in the eyes of the American public and garnering international legitimacy as well (ie, Husseins violation of UN Sec Council resolutions, so UN support, which provides more internal legitimacy). But some of the principles, probably Rumsfeld and Cheney, believed this the main, or at least a principle, casus belli.

    B) The neocons, as well as agreeing with the publicly articulated need to remove a putative threat (which they had wanted to do since 1991!), perceived the source of terrorism was, well, the Middle East itself. 9/11 posed a conundrum: 50 or so years of US policy towards the Middle East resulted in three airliners smashing into buildings on American soil (with a fourth thwarted by the heroic measure of that plane’s passengers) plus 15 of 19 of the hijackers were Saudi’s. So, do you continue with the same policies as before (which is what the Europeans were arguing at the time) or do you do something different? Possibly radically different? We know what the Bush admin decided…..

    C) Take this and think about 15 Saudi nationalists as the hijackers. Saudi is a problem. Well, not really ‘the’ problem, The problem as the Bu####es saw it, it seems to me, was the why behind what these 15 did what they did. The Euros at the time argued it was about poverty, lack of education, etc and so on, except the 15 were all at least middle class, looking at a future as professionals with a comfortable life style (you know, 2.3 wives, 3.4 kids, 4.1 cars, etc and so on). So, the answer for the neocons was that these 15 (and the other four) did what they did because they were politically disenfranchised – that is, they were not free, did not live in democracies. The Neo Cons were as, I term them, messianic democrats – a foundation of their view of how to ensure US security was to transform the world into democracies (and yes, seriously long term goal – and imperialistic goals at that). So, to generalize, the source of terrorism in the Mid East for them was (is?) the systems of governance – they are not democratic.

    D) So, the solution to terrorism, long term at least, is to transform the governance in the Mid East. For the Neo Cons believed, as Wolfowitz publically argued, that Islam and Arabic culture were not incompatible with democratic governance, contrary to what many argued (including many on the left who made this politically incorrectly argument).

    E) There is clearly a central problem in Saudi A, yet US cannot attack and overthrow the House of Saud. Heck, the US cannot really even pressurize it too much, because a) the US receives about 10% of its oil from Saudi [I likely have the percentage wrong, but not far off], and b) you need the House of Saud on side to sustain the King Fahd [sic?] Airbase, a forward US military base. Which the US needs why? To deter Hussein’s propensity for adventurism. Interestingly enough, within 3-4 months of the toppling of Hussein the US had reportedly mothballed the airbase and removed all US personnel (well, I think all). [Hmm, what did Osama demand in his 1996 declaration of war against the US? – right, the removal of all American personnel from the Islamic Holy Land.] Oddly enough, thereafter the House of Saud started to take the threat of AQ more seriously. And yes, in part as AQ elements started to attack the Saudi state, but there is a bit of a chicken and egg question here – which came first, increasing pressure by the House of Saud on supporters of AQ - and likely quietly pressured by the US to do this - with the AQ elements responding with violence (no more safe haven!) or the other way around?

    F) It was argued that Iraq had, under Hussein, was the most educated and middle class society, and so was most amenable to democracy (there are hints of Marxism in this assessment!). Plus of course that Chalabi and other external dissidents saying the US would be greeted as liberators (telling the neo cons what they thought was true). And if Iraq becomes democratic it serves an exemplar for the rest of the population that their countries, Islamic and Arabic though they may be, could be democratic too. So, yes, there was as a rational the view (hope) if the US destabilized the Mid East and established a democracy in Iraq, a democratic domino theory would come to pass. Topple, topple, topple…..

    To be cont....

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    Default Part doh

    Onwards....

    G) Then add to this that having the US military parked in Baghdad posed a serious threat to Iran and Syria – the US military only had to turn left or right, after the rather compelling demonstration of it capacity to fight and win. Syria and Iran were (and still are) critical supporters of two groups who are constant spoilers of any peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. Thusly the US parked in Baghdad could very credibly pressure Iran and Syria to at least temper, if not out and out stop, their support for Hezbollah and Hamas to increase, significantly mayhap, the prospects of a peace deal between Israel and Palestine – which many people, probably erroneously, see as being the cornerstone of any transformation of the Middle East (and to some, the reason for the radicalization of dissidents [aka terrorists] in the ME).

    H) And finally, of course, a final point was that such a demonstration of American power (hey, that the US took down a state with essentially three divisions – joint divisions mind – is a powerful demonstration of American power) would serve as a warning to other potentially problematic states that they should behave themselves lest they suffer the same fate (and worth mentioning is that the US military demonstrated that having chem weapons was not a deterrent when they invaded Iraq, undermining many states belief that chems were a poor man’s nuc).

    Convoluted? Oh, yes. Could it have worked had the recognized the crux was the post conflict phase? Possibly, but unlikely, as the linkages while having some coherence were (are) way too contingent. Still, to be fair, Iran and Syria both moderated their behaviour in the months after Hussein was toppled (indeed, reportedly Iran stopped its direct drive for nuc wpns in the 6-8 months aftermath – cause and effect here is hard to make, though, as far as I know). And of course Khaddafi gave up his WMD programmes (had chems, had wanted a nuc) in the same period. So, maybe…?

    So a short answer, distilled from the above, is that the Bush admin decided that the only way to transform the middle east was to destabilize it, knowing the consequences were uncertain and very certainly bloody, rather than carrying on the US had in the past. Iraq becomes democratic and the dominoe theory kicks in (over many years, mind). Bush frequently said that 50 years from now historians would judge him to have been right…… Or for an alternative short answer, what Ken said.

    Which brings us back to A – few Americans, or heck, Brits, Canucks, French, whatever – would buy into B through H as a casus belli, it is way too convoluted even if logically coherent (sort of), but there is no question these publics (particularly the American public) would buy into using force to remove a threat, putative or otherwise, of a hostile state with nucs.

    So to your main question, jcustis– what to read? Hard to recommend any one book, as they all have their pet theories. The above is derived from my reading the NYT (and others) at the time, as this was all in those papers if one read beyond the front page (which was all about WMDs). No conspiracy, just not openly articulated US policy. But it was there in the open. In any given book you read, though, you find most of the points I made above. Starting with the Woodward books (first two) is not a bad way to go, but read these with very, very large grain of salt…..

    And probably, as the above is one persons view, read the above with a very large grain of salt too......(grin).

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    Council Member jcustis's Avatar
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    And probably, as the above is one persons view, read the above with a very large grain of salt too......(grin).
    Good points nonetheless TT. And remember, the Gaddis interview took place before the invasion.

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    Council Member MikeF's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TT View Post
    Onwards....

    G) Then add to this that having the US military parked in Baghdad posed a serious threat to Iran and Syria – the US military only had to turn left or right, after the rather compelling demonstration of it capacity to fight and win. Syria and Iran were (and still are) critical supporters of two groups who are constant spoilers of any peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. Thusly the US parked in Baghdad could very credibly pressure Iran and Syria to at least temper, if not out and out stop, their support for Hezbollah and Hamas to increase, significantly mayhap, the prospects of a peace deal between Israel and Palestine – which many people, probably erroneously, see as being the cornerstone of any transformation of the Middle East (and to some, the reason for the radicalization of dissidents [aka terrorists] in the ME).
    Exellent points TT. Particularly G. Rereading it, it seems so obvious, but I had never considered it.

    Thanks for taking the time to post.

    v/r

    Mike

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