Archive for July, 2010

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“As with the other Jewish intellectual and political movements, non-Jews have been welcomed into the movement and often given highly visible roles as the public face of the movement. This of course lessens the perception that the movement is indeed a Jewish movement, and it makes excellent psychological sense to have the spokespersons for any movement resemble the people they are trying to convince.” -Professor Kevin MacDonald

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Further reading HERE.

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Racism, not race, is the social construct. View Craig Bodeker’s independent documentary film in its entirety HERE and please support his work HERE. After initially mirroring the dvd outtakes for More of… A Conversation About Race below, it had occurred to me that this might be harming sales. Knowing that independent filmmakers often put in far more time, energy and capital than they tend to get back, I wrote Craig directly to get his personal perspective on the matter, and it has since been mutually agreed to remove the dvd outtakes from Ironlight. -W.


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They call[ed] it “Project for the New American Century” for a reason… -W.

Thinking About Neoconservatism
September 18, 2003
By Kevin MacDonald
Source: Vdare.com

Over the last year, there’s been a torrent of articles on neoconservatism raising (usually implicitly) some vexing issues: Are neoconservatives different from other conservatives? Is neoconservatism a Jewish movement? Is it “anti-Semitic” to say so?

The dispute between the neocons and more traditional conservatives — “paleoconservatives” — is especially important because the latter now find themselves on the outside, looking in on the conservative power structure.

Hopefully, some of the venom has been taken out of this argument by the remarkable recent article by neoconservative “godfather” Irving Kristol (“The Neoconservative Persuasion,” Weekly Standard, August 25, 2003). With commendable frankness, Kristol admitted that

“the historical task and political purpose of neoconservatism would seem to be this: to convert the Republican party, and American conservatism in general, against their respective wills, into a new kind of conservative politics suitable to governing a modern democracy.”

And, equally frankly, Kristol eschewed any attempt to justify U.S. support for Israel in terms of American national interest:

“[L]arge nations, whose identity is ideological, like the Soviet Union of yesteryear and the United States of today, inevitably have ideological interests in addition to more material concerns… That is why we feel it necessary to defend Israel today, when its survival is threatened. No complicated geopolitical calculations of national interest are necessary.”

If the US is an “ideological” nation, this can only mean that the motivations of neoconservative ideology are a legitimate subject of intellectual inquiry.

For example, it is certainly true that the neocons’ foreign policy fits well with a plausible version of Jewish interests, but is arguably only tenuously related to the interests of the U.S. Also, neocons oppose the isolationism of important sections of traditional American conservatism. And neocon attitudes on issues like race and immigration differ profoundly from those of traditional mainstream conservatives — but resemble closely the common attitudes of the wider American Jewish community.

Count me among those who accept that the Jewish commitment of leading neoconservatives has become a critical influence on U.S. policies, and that the effectiveness of the neoconservatives is greatly enhanced by their alliance with the organized Jewish community. In my opinion, this conclusion is based on solid data and reasonable inferences. But like any other theory, of course, it is subject to reasoned discussion and disproof.

We shouldn’t be surprised by the importance of ethnicity in human affairs. Nor should we be intimidated by charges of anti-Semitism. We should be able to discuss these issues openly and honestly. This is a practical matter, not a moral one.

Ethnic politics in the U.S. are certainly not limited to Jewish activism. They are an absolutely normal phenomenon throughout history and around the world.

But for well over half a century, with rare exceptions, Jewish influence has been off-limits for rational discussion. Now, however, as the U.S. acquires an empire in the Middle East, this ban must inevitably fall away.

My views on these issues are shaped by my research on several other influential Jewish-dominated intellectual and political movements, including the Boasian school of anthropology, Freudian psychoanalysis, the Frankfurt School of Social Research, Marxism and several other movements of the radical left, as well as the movement to change the ethnic balance of the United States by allowing mass, non-traditional immigration.

My conclusion: Contemporary neoconservatism fits into the general pattern of Jewish intellectual and political activism I have identified in my work.

I am not, of course, saying that all Jews, or even most Jews, supported these movements. Nor did these movements work in concert: some were intensely hostile to one another. I am saying, however, that the key figures in these movements identified in some sense as Jews and viewed their participation as in some sense advancing Jewish interests.

In all of the Jewish intellectual and political movements I studied, there is a strong Jewish identity among the core figures. All center on charismatic Jewish leaders—people such as Boas, Trotsky and Freud— who are revered as messianic, god-like figures.

Neoconservatism’s key founders trace their intellectual ancestry to the “New York Intellectuals,” a group that originated as followers of Trotskyite theoretician Max Schactman in the 1930s and centered around influential journals like Partisan Review and Commentary (which is in fact published by the American Jewish Committee). In the case of neoconservatives, their early identity as radical leftist disciples shifted as there began to be evidence of anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union. Key figures in leading them out of the political left were philosopher Sidney Hook and Elliot Cohen, editor of Commentary. Such men as Hook, Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, Nathan Glazer and Seymour Martin Lipset, were deeply concerned about anti-Semitism and other Jewish issues. Many of them worked closely with Jewish activist organizations. After the 1950s, they became increasingly disenchanted with leftism. Their overriding concern was the welfare of Israel.

By the 1970s, the neocons were taking an aggressive stance against the Soviet Union, which they saw as a bastion of anti-Semitism and opposition to Israel. Richard Perle was the prime organizer of Congressional support for the 1974 Jackson-Vanik Amendment which angered the Soviet Union by linking bilateral trade issues to freedom of emigration, primarily of Jews from the Soviet Union to Israel and the United States.

Current key leaders include an astonishing number of individuals well placed to influence the Bush Administration: (Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, I. Lewis Libby, Elliott Abrams, David Wurmser, Abram Shulsky), interlocking media and thinktankdom (Bill Kristol, Michael Ledeen, Stephen Bryen, John Podhoretz, Daniel Pipes), and the academic world (Richard Pipes, Donald Kagan).

As the neoconservatives lost faith in radical leftism, several key neocons became attracted to the writings of Leo Strauss, a classicist and political philosopher at the University of Chicago. Strauss had a very strong Jewish identity and viewed his philosophy as a means of ensuring Jewish survival in the Diaspora. As he put it in a 1962 Hillel House lecture, later republished in Leo Strauss: Political Philosopher and Jewish Thinker:

“I believe I can say, without any exaggeration, that since a very, very early time the main theme of my reflections has been what is called the ‘Jewish ‘Question’.”

Strauss has become a cult figure—the quintessential rabbinical guru with devoted disciples.

While Strauss and his followers have come to be known as neoconservatives — and have even claimed to be simply “conservatives”— there is nothing conservative about their goals. This is most obviously the case in foreign policy, where they are attempting to rearrange the entire Middle East in the interests of Israel. But it is also the case with domestic policy, where acceptance of rule by an aristocratic elite would require a complete political transformation. Strauss believed that this aristocracy would be compatible with Jewish interests.

Strauss notoriously described the need for an external exoteric language directed at outsiders, and an internal esoteric language directed at ingroup members. In other words, the masses had to be deceived.

But actually this is a general feature of the movements I have studied. They invariably frame issues in language that appeals to non-Jews, rather than explicitly in terms of Jewish interests. The most common rhetoric used by Jewish intellectual and political movements has been the language of moral universalism and the language of science—languages that appeal to the educated elites of the modern Western world. But beneath the rhetoric it is easy to find statements expressing the Jewish agendas of the principal actors.

For example, anthropologists under the leadership of Boas viewed their crusade against the concept of “race” as, in turn, combating anti-Semitism. They also saw their theories as promoting the ideology of cultural pluralism, which served perceived Jewish interests because the U.S. would be seen as consisting of many co-equal cultures rather than as a European Christian society.

Similarly, psychoanalysts commonly used their theories to portray anti-Jewish attitudes as symptoms of psychiatric disorder.

Conversely, the earlier generation of American Jewish Trotskyites ignored the horrors of the Soviet Union until the emergence there of state-sponsored anti-Semitism.

Neoconservatives have certainly appealed to American patriotic platitudes in advocating war throughout the Middle East—gushing about spreading American democracy and freedom to the area, while leaving unmentioned their own strong ethnic ties and family links to Israel.

Michael Lind has called attention to the neoconservatives’ “odd bursts of ideological enthusiasm for ‘democracy’”— odd because these calls for democracy and freedom throughout the Middle East are also coupled with support for the Likud Party and other like-minded groups in Israel that are driven by a vision of an ethnocentric, expansionist Israel that, to outside observers at least, bears an unmistakable (albeit unmentionable) resemblance to apartheid South Africa.

These inconsistencies of the neoconservatives are not odd or surprising. The Straussian idea is to achieve the aims of the elite ingroup by using language designed for mass appeal. War for “democracy and freedom” sells much better than a war explicitly aimed at achieving the foreign policy goals of Israel.

Neoconservatives have responded to charges that their foreign policy has a Jewish agenda by labeling any such analysis as “anti-Semitic.” Similar charges have been echoed by powerful activist Jewish organizations like the ADL and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

But at the very least, Jewish neoconservatives like Paul Wolfowitz, who were deeply involved in pushing for the war in Iraq, should frankly discuss how their close family and personal ties to Israel have affected their attitudes on US foreign policy in the Middle East.

Wolfowitz, however, has refused to discuss this issue beyond terming such suggestions “disgraceful.”

A common argument is that neoconservatism is not Jewish because of the presence of various non-Jews amongst their ranks.

But in fact, the ability to recruit prominent non-Jews, while nevertheless maintaining a Jewish core and a commitment to Jewish interests, has been a hallmark—perhaps the key hallmark—of influential Jewish intellectual and political movements throughout the 20th century. Freud commented famously on the need for a non-Jew to represent psychoanalysis, a role played by Ernest Jones and C. G. Jung. Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict were the public face of Boasian anthropology. And, although Jews represented over half the membership of both the Socialist Party and the Communist Party USA at various times, neither party ever had Jews as presidential candidates and no Jew held the top position in the Communist Party USA after 1929.

In all the Jewish intellectual and political movements I reviewed, non-Jews have been accepted and given highly-visible roles. Today, those roles are played most prominently by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld whose ties with neoconservatives go back many years. It makes excellent psychological sense to have the spokespeople for any movement resemble the people they are trying to convince.

In fact, neoconservatism is rather unusual in the degree to which policy formulation — as opposed to implementation — is so predominantly Jewish. Perhaps this reflects U.S. conditions in the late 20th century.

All the Jewish intellectual and political movements I studied were typified by a deep sense of orthodoxy—a sense of “us versus them.” Dissenters are expelled, usually amid character assassination and other recriminations.

This has certainly been a feature of the neocon movement. The classic recent example of this “We vs. They” world is David Frum’s attack on “unpatriotic conservatives” as anti-Semites. Any conservative who opposes the Iraq war as contrary to U.S. interests and who notes the pro-Israeli motivation of many of the important players, is not to be argued with, but eradicated. “We turn our backs on them.” This is not the spirit out of which the Anglo-American parliamentary tradition was developed, and in fact was not endorsed by other non-Jewish pro-war conservatives.

Jewish intellectual and political movements have typically had ready access to prestigious mainstream media channels, and this is certainly true for the neocons. The anchoring by the Washington Post of the columns of Charles Krauthammer and Robert Kagan and by the New York Times of William Safire’s illustrates this. But probably more important recently has been the invariable summoning of neoconservatives to represent the “conservative” line on the TV Networks. Is it unreasonable to suppose that this may be somewhat influenced by the famously heavy Jewish role in these operations?

Immigration policy provides a valuable acid test for the proposition that neoconservatism is actually a vehicle for perceived Jewish ethnic interests. I believe I have been able to demonstrate that pro-immigration elements in American public life have, for over a century, been largely led, funded, energized and organized by the Jewish community. American Jews have taken this line, with a few isolated exceptions, because they have believed, as Leonard S. Glickman, president and CEO of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, has bluntly stated, “The more diverse American society is the safer [Jews] are.” Having run out of Russian Jews, the HIAS is now deeply involved in recruiting refugees from Africa.

When, in the middle 1990s an immigration reform movement arose amongst American conservatives, the reaction of the neoconservatives ranged from cold to hostile. No positive voice was permitted on the Op-Ed page of the Wall Street Journal, by then a neoconservative domain. (Perhaps significantly, a more recent exception has been a relatively favorable review of the anti-illegal immigration book Mexifornia— whose author, the military historian Victor Davis Hanson, has distinguished himself by the extreme hawkishness of his views on the Middle East.) The main vehicle of immigration reform sentiment, National Review, once a bastion of traditional conservative thought, was quite quickly captured by neoconservatives and its opposition to immigration reduced to nominal.

Prior to the post-9/11 U.S. invasion of the Middle East, this suppression of the immigration reform impulse among conservatives was probably the single most important contribution of the neoconservatives to the course of U.S. history.

It may yet prove to be the most disastrous.

Kevin MacDonald [email him] is Professor of Psychology at California State University-Long Beach.
The Neocons as a Hostile Conservative (!) Elite
January 24, 2008
Source: KevinMacDonald.net

I haven’t read Jacob Heilbrunn’s book on the neocons yet, but I’m not sure I need to after seeing Philip Weiss’s review. Weiss’s review makes it clear that Heilbrunn’s book corroborates several of the themes in my writing on the neocons and on Jewish intellectual and political movements generally.

First, neoconservatism is a Jewish movement. That should have been clear to everyone by now, but references to the Jewish basis of the movement have been noticeably missing from much of the mainstream media, to the point that Bill Kristol was introduced as a columnist at the New York Times as simply a “conservative.” This is critical because the neocons have now become the conservative establishment. When Kristol (or Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity) hold forth at Fox News, most people have no idea that they are tuning into the public face of a fundamentally Jewish movement that elbowed out more traditional conservatives.

Secondly, Jewish neocons not only have a strong Jewish identity, they also have strong Jewish interests. This is obvious from their involvement in pro-Israel activism, their personal relationships with Israeli leaders, and close ties with other Jews and with the wider Jewish community. In fact, I have argued that the neocons are more strongly identified as Jews than the mainstream liberal/left Jews — that the neocons form the vanguard of the Jewish community. After all, neocons were the first segment of the Jewish community to strongly condemn the USSR, both for its [postwar] domestic anti-Semitism and for its alliances with Arab governments. Prominent neocons like Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz began their political careers by making alliances with Cold War hawks like Henry Jackson. This was at a time when the Jewish left was prominently involved in defending the USSR, apparently blind to the fact that the status of Jews as an elite in the USSR had changed greatly following World War II.

And the neocons are notorious for their strong ties to the most extreme racialist and nationalist segments of Israeli society — elements that the mainstream liberal/left Jewish community probably wishes would disappear or at least be less visible. (Hence the uproar over Christiane Amanpour’s God’s Jewish Warriors.) Indeed, the Jewish liberal/left has a huge blind spot, continuing to pursue its leftist multicultural agenda in the U.S. while ignoring the fact that the organized Jewish community is deeply complicit in dispossessing the Palestinians and erecting a racialist, apartheid state in Israel. As Weiss has noted elsewhere, “Steve Rabinowitz, Clinton friend, told me this year that if anyone did a study of how much [Democrat] money comes from Jews, it would fuel conspiracy theories.” The Jewish liberal/left lavishly supports Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, but makes no attempt to wrest control of the pro-Israel lobby from the hands of what James Petras terms the “reactionary minority of American Jews” who head the major American Jewish organizations.

But more interestingly, Heilbrunn points to the “lifelong antipathy toward the patrician class among the neocons … [that] prompted them to create their own parallel establishment.” In this regard, the neocons are entirely within the American Jewish mainstream. As I noted in a previous blog (also commenting on Philip Weiss), “Jews have become an elite, but an elite that does not identify with its subjects — a hostile, estranged but very wealthy elite that still sees themselves as outsiders.” And along with the American Jewish mainstream, the neocons have been vital players in the establishment of a variety of policies opposed to the interests and attitudes of the American majority, most egregiously unrestricted immigration which has successfully altered the ethnic composition of the country. Indeed, neoconservative Ben Wattenberg famously wrote that “The non-Europeanization of America is heartening news of an almost transcendental quality.”

This hostility toward the traditional peoples and culture of America among people calling themselves conservatives is striking — the antithesis of normal and natural conservative tendencies. As Sam Francis noted, what the neocons dislike about traditional conservatives is simply that they “are conservative at all”:

There are countless stories of how neoconservatives have succeeded in entering conservative institutions, forcing out or demoting traditional conservatives, and changing the positions and philosophy of such institutions in neoconservative directions. Writers like M. E. Bradford, Joseph Sobran, Pat Buchanan, and Russell Kirk, and institutions like Chronicles, the Rockford Institute, the Philadelphia Society, and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute have been among the most respected and distinguished names in American conservatism. The dedication of their neoconservative enemies to driving them out of the movement they have taken over and demonizing them as marginal and dangerous figures has no legitimate basis in reality. It is clear evidence of the ulterior aspirations of those behind neoconservatism to dominate and subvert American conservatism from its original purposes and agenda and turn it to other purposes…. What neoconservatives really dislike about their “allies” among traditional conservatives is simply the fact that the conservatives are conservatives at all—that they support “this notion of a Christian civilization,” as Midge Decter put it, that they oppose mass immigration, … that they entertain doubts or strong disagreement over American foreign policy in the Middle East, that they oppose reckless involvement in foreign wars and foreign entanglements, and that, in company with the Founding Fathers of the United States, they reject the concept of a pure democracy and the belief that the United States is or should evolve toward it.

Francis, S. (2004). The neoconservative subversion. In B. Nelson (ed.), “Neoconservatism.” Occasional Papers of the Conservative Citizens’ Foundation, Issue Number Six, 6–12. St. Louis: Conservative Citizens’ Foundation, p. 9.

That the New York Times can call Kristol a conservative without shame or irony is a striking commentary on the death of American conservatism.

There are several other themes highlighted in Weiss’s review that are worth mentioning because they are typical of other Jewish intellectual and political movements. Heilbrunn describes neocon “cabals” in the State Department and in academic departments at elite universities. This is a reference to Jewish ethnic networking. In general, all of the important Jewish intellectual and political movements — from psychoanalysis and Boasian anthropology to neoconservatism — have a mutually reinforcing core of Jews centered around charismatic leaders. In the case of the neocons, individuals such as Leo Strauss, Richard Perle, and Norman Podhoretz have played this role. Neoconservative cabals have been largely successful in controlling or at least heavily influencing elite institutions in academia, the government, think tanks, and the media.

And finally, the neocons are prime examples of another important theme of Jewish intellectual life — self-deception. Weiss writes:

The reader is left with the shadowy sense that the neocons have a pro-Israel agenda that they are not upfront about. But it isn’t a conspiracy, Heilbrunn warns. The neocons have convinced themselves that the U.S. and Israel have congruent interests. “They just believe this stuff. They’re not agents,” an anonymous source tells him, speaking of Cheney aide David Wurmser, who is married to an Israeli.

The neocons may believe it, but the rest of us need not be so foolish. For example, Douglas Feith is depicted by Heilbrunn as having published a letter defending the capture of the West Bank while still a teenager. Feith has also been credibly charged with spying for Israel, and was deeply involved in the disinformation used by the U.S. government to justify the invasion of Iraq. He has close ties to the settler movement, and was a participant in the notorious “A Clean Break” paper that advised the Israeli government that removing Saddam Hussein should be an Israeli strategic goal. The authors of this report speak as Jews and Israelis, not as U.S. citizens: “Our claim to the land—to which we have clung with hope for 2000 years—is legitimate and noble.”

European Americans may have a difficult time processing all of this. Their individualism and their own fragile and beleaguered sense of ethnicity make them less likely to attribute ethnic motives to others. And there is an imposing edifice of taboos surrounding even the mention of Jewish influence, much less anything that hints that Israel is the first loyalty of Jewish neocons — an edifice aggressively maintained by the organized Jewish community. But the rather unpleasant facts are staring European Americans in the face, even if the New York Times insists on calling them conservatives.
Neoconservative Resurgence in the Age of Obama
August 27th, 2009
Source: HichemKaroui.com

The election of Barack Obama appeared to signal the decline of the neoconservative foreign policy brand. But six months into the Age of Obama, it’s apparent that neoconservatives and their allies are proving remarkably adept at exerting their influence in an administration that was supposed to be their worst nightmare.

The disastrous aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, neoconservatism’s signature initiative, was widely seen as the key factor contributing to the collapse of the Bush presidency and the political descent of the Republican Party. Obama not only soundly defeated neoconservative favorite John McCain, he swept into office with a set of foreign policy prescriptions more antithetical to neoconservative ideology than any presidential candidate in decades. Elected on a platform of ending the Iraq war and initiating engagement with Iran, Obama soon demonstrated his willingness to take a tougher line with Israel than any president since George H.W. Bush.

But those tempted to consign neoconservatives to irrelevance would do well to remember the last time Republicans found themselves shut out of the White House. It was in 1997—soon after Bill Clinton pummeled Bob Dole to win a second term in office—that William Kristol and Robert Kagan founded the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), the now-infamous group that laid much of the intellectual groundwork for the Bush administration’s foreign policy.

Even from the depths of political exile, right-wing hawks—and the think tanks that foster their work—have proven themselves capable of resurrection and reinvention. Within a few months of Obama’s inauguration, the neoconservatives have shown clear signs of resurgence. From forming new organizations, to flirting with liberal and centrist think tanks, to using their continued foothold in newspaper op-ed pages and cable talk shows to influence —and narrow —the foreign policy debate, right-wing hawks have demonstrated an undeniable resilience in shaping the political agenda.

The leading right-wing think tanks have choreographed a not-so-subtle dance—throwing support behind the president when he takes positions compatible with neoconservative dogma, and excoriating him when he doesn’t. For a supposedly discredited movement, this “carrots-and-sticks” approach has proven surprisingly effective.

The hawks’ influence has been especially evident in solidifying support for military escalation in Afghanistan, in fighting plans for diplomatic engagement with Iran, and in heading off any urge to revisit Bush-era abuses during the “global war on terror.”

One key aspect of the neoconservatives’ continued political influence is the power of their ideological cousins, the liberal hawks, who have given neoconservative-flavored ideas a seat at the table in every Democratic administration. The Obama administration is no exception, featuring several key figures with strongly hawkish reputations. Dennis Ross, the special advisor on Iran policy who was first based at the State Department before moving to the National Security Council (NSC), attracted the most media attention in this regard. But he is far from alone. Richard Holbrooke, the administration’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, was a cofounder with Ross of the hawkish group United Against Nuclear Iran. And both Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earned reputations as archetypal liberal hawks during their time in the Senate.

In addition, an army of former staffers from hawkish liberal think tanks —most prominently the recently-formed Center for a New American Security —have joined Obama’s State Department and Pentagon. On the whole, Obama’s foreign policy appointments earned more praise from the right than from the left, with neoconservative Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) calling them “virtually perfect.”

But building right-wing institutions has been just as important to the hawks as cultivating liberal allies. When they are shut out of power, neoconservatives migrate to the network of like-minded think tanks that sustain the movement in lean years. The most important of these—at least as a propagator of neoconservative foreign policy doctrine—has been the American Enterprise Institute, but there are plenty of others: the Heritage Foundation, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the Hudson Institute, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and more.

Change at AEI

Of the think tanks that have incubated right-wing foreign policy doctrine in the last 20 years, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) is preeminent. A few months before Obama was elected, AEI welcomed a new president of its own who was anything but a hawkish firebrand: Arthur Brooks, by most accounts a mild-mannered social scientist best known for his work on charitable giving and for writing a book called “Gross National Happiness: Why Happiness Matters for America—And How We Can Get More of It.”

In short order, AEI’s foreign policy division, under the oversight of Danielle Pletka, carried out a purge of several neoconservative stalwarts—notably Michael Ledeen, Joshua Muravchik, and Reuel Marc Gerecht. [1] Ledeen was notorious not only for his involvement in the Iran-Contra affair, but also for allegedly propagating disinformation about Saddam Hussein having bought yellowcake uranium in Niger. (Ledeen is also known for delivering a steady stream of dire warnings about the purported Iranian menace in books like The Iranian Time Bomb.) Muravchik, a strident defender of the Bush’s neocon-inspired “democracy promotion” agenda, had called for bombing Iran in 2006, [2] while Gerecht was a former PNAC staffer known as a prominent advocate of regime change in Tehran. Ledeen and Gerecht soon landed at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a newer think tank with less funding and mainstream visibility than AEI.

On the surface, the purge appeared to distance AEI from hardline neoconservative doctrine, and particularly from those pushing for confrontation with Tehran. But in this case, appearances are deceiving. Pletka herself is anything but a foreign policy moderate, and even with the loss of Ledeen, Muravchik, and Gerecht, AEI remains a bastion of neoconservatism. In fact, on Iran —particularly as seen during the tumultuous aftermath of Iran’s disputed June 12 election—AEI has proven to be a stronghold for hawkish hardliners, notably Pletka herself, plus Michael Rubin, Frederick Kagan, and Ali Alfoheh. Far from being a broad renunciation of neoconservatism, Pletka’s purge now looks like an attempt to restore credibility to neoconservatism by distancing AEI from some of its most extreme elements. On a fundamental level, little at AEI appears to have changed.

PNAC Reinvents Itself

Less than a month after Obama took office, the usual neoconservative suspects unveiled a new organization that some commentators instantly dubbed “PNAC 2.0” (and that one liberal blogger cleverly named “The Project for the Rehabilitation of Neoconservatism.”) This was the more blandly named Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), founded by PNAC principals Kristol and Kagan along with Dan Senor, best known for his stint as the spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in the early days of the Iraq war. [3]

While FPI’s mission statement offered rhetoric reminiscent of PNAC—arguing that “the United States remains the world’s indispensable nation” and warning against “policies that would lead us down the path to isolationism”—in its early months FPI seemed content to maintain a lower profile and more anodyne stance than its predecessor. Aside from sending out a daily news roundup, since its birth the organization’s public activities have been limited to hosting a March 31 conference at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel entitled “Afghanistan: Planning for Success,” and publishing a July open-letter to President Obama promoting human rights in Russia which, a la PNAC, includes signatures from several key neocons as well as several reputable human rights activists. [4] (In late September, FPI will host a two-day event on “Advancing and Defending Democracy.” )

FPI’s March conference on Afghanistan offered unabashed support for Obama, to a degree that surprised many observers. The new president had just announced what many expected to be the first of several escalations of the Afghanistan effort, revealing plans to send 21,000 new troops to the theater.

A bipartisan cast of commentators—including headliner John McCain, Robert Kagan and his brother Frederick, Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), and Center for a New American Security (CNAS) president John Nagl—offered support for Obama’s escalation. However, many also used the moment to try to lock the president into further troop increases, arguing, as Nagl did, that the 21,000 represented “merely a down payment on the vastly expanded force needed to protect all 30 million Afghani people.” [5]

This praise for the Democratic president was consistent with Kristol and Kagan’s past modus operandi. Christian Brose, a former speechwriter in the Bush administration State Department, explained what he saw as the logic behind Kristol and Kagan’s ventures: “PNAC was set up not to tar and feather Democrats for being weak-kneed appeasers of evil, but to encourage Clinton’s more internationalist tendencies, and to give him political cover from the right to do so against his more nationalist, conservative critics. Judging by the conference today, my sense is that FPI has been founded with much the same purpose vis-à-vis Obama.” [6] FPI founder Senor admitted as much, saying that “our objective right now is to give President Obama cover in the eyes of those who would otherwise be skeptical on the right.”

While more strident groups like FDD were quick to denounce Obama’s every move as feckless and cowardly, FPI took a savvier tack. When Obama took interventionist (what Brose called “internationalist”) positions, FPI would sing his praises, thereby building goodwill while further marginalizing anti-interventionists in both parties. As Obama would soon discover, it was only when he resisted the logic of intervention and escalation that the knives came out.

“There used to be a bipartisan consensus in this country on foreign policy, in particular when we have our sons and daughters at war,” CNAS’s Nagl said at the conference. “And I am hopeful that events like this will contribute to that.” [7] The importance of bipartisan support for escalation in Afghanistan could not be overstated in shaping the course of the debate in Washington. (The FPI conference came only two months after Sen. Joseph Lieberman gave a widely-publicized speech at the Brookings Institution, Washington’s premier liberal establishment organ, calling for six distinct “surges” in Afghanistan.) [8] It was for this reason that Nagl’s appearance at the FPI conference was so notable—for if Kristol and Kagan’s PNAC was the leading intellectual force behind the Bush administration’s foreign policy, so far it is CNAS that has played that role for the Obama administration.

Center for a New American Security

CNAS was founded in 2007 by Kurt Campbell (soon to become Obama’s top State Department hand in Asia) and Michele Flournoy (soon to become Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, the Pentagon’s third-ranking position, and widely rumored to be a potential successor to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates). When its founders headed an influx of roughly a dozen CNAS fellows into the Obama administration, [9] the organization turned to Nagl, a mediagenic retired Army colonel, Rhodes scholar, and author of an acclaimed book on counterinsurgency (COIN) warfare.

Choosing Nagl made sense, since CNAS made its name largely because of its expertise in COIN and other forms of irregular operations.

Unlike traditional military think tanks, which tended to focus primarily on conventional warfare against other militaries, CNAS was formed in the midst of the messy wars of occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan. Its debut came in 2007, just as General David Petraeus was preparing to implement the “surge” plan in Iraq (which AEI’s Kagan had vigorously pushed); the perceived success of the surge soon made Petraeus a revered figure among hawks and brought COIN to the forefront of American military strategy.

CNAS’s fellows include a number of prominent figures from the COIN world, such as David Kilcullen, an Australian-born COIN strategist and former Petraeus advisor; Andrew Exum, who runs the influential blog Abu Muqawama; and Thomas Ricks, author of the admiring surge account The Gamble.

It would be inaccurate to portray CNAS as indiscriminately hawkish; its fellows include some notable Iraq war skeptics such as Ricks. But the organization’s general self-presentation, like COIN itself, comes across as more technocratic than political and concerned with tactics rather than strategy. Counterinsurgency doctrine’s emphasis on political solutions and so-called civilian protection over brute firepower has made it attractive to CNAS and other center-liberal groups eager to balance humanitarian concerns with a desire to avoid seeming “soft” on foreign policy. CNAS did not come to prominence with sweeping statements about the justice or wisdom of America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; rather, its output tended to be pragmatic advice on how to more effectively manage these wars.

Exum described his own approach as “focused on counterinsurgency operations and tactics without getting involved too much in either policy or strategy,” a characterization that could describe CNAS itself. Exum conceded that this sort of narrow tactical focus has been criticized as “at best irresponsible and at worst immoral,” and in response recently launched a discussion on his blog of whether the Afghan war is worth fighting at all. [10]

But CNAS’s impressive roster of alums in the Obama administration is a testament to the influence of the organization’s technocratic approach in Democratic foreign policy circles. At the Pentagon alone, Flournoy brought no fewer than seven CNAS colleagues with her:

  • James Miller, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy
  • Colin Kahl, deputy assistant secretary for the Middle East
  • Price Floyd, principal deputy assistant secretary for public affairs
  • Shawn Brimley, special advisor on strategy
  • Vikram Singh, special advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan
  • Eric Pierce, deputy chief for legislative affairs
  • Alice Hunt, special assistant

Other CNAS alums include Campbell and Derek Chollet in the State Department and Nate Tibbits in the White House Office of Presidential Personnel. [11]

Within the new bipartisan consensus favoring the escalating application of COIN doctrine to Afghanistan—a consensus stretching from CNAS to FPI, Nagl to Kristol—only a few isolated voices of dissent have emerged.

Perhaps the most prominent is Andrew J. Bacevich, a former Army colonel, Boston University historian, and leading COIN critic. Along with a veritable Who’s Who of Washington’s foreign policy media establishment, in June Bacevich attended CNAS’s conference at D.C.’s Willard Hotel. General Petraeus was the keynote speaker.

Appearing at a panel on Afghanistan, Bacevich reiterated his belief that the current enthusiasm for COIN serves as a smokescreen for maintaining a continued U.S. imperial presence built around the occupation and pacification of far-flung countries.

“At the outset of these proceedings, John Nagl referred to what he called ‘our ongoing global counterinsurgency campaign,’” Bacevich noted. “And Nate [Fick, CNAS’s CEO], in his remarks, told us that the goal of counterinsurgency is to make the population feel secure. It would follow that the aim or the objective of the global counterinsurgency campaign should be to make the global population feel secure.

“And I would simply suggest that we really don’t need to undertake such a grandiose effort and we cannot afford to undertake such a grandiose effort. As long as we maintain adequate defenses, Al Qaeda operatives hunkered down in their caves pose no more than a modest threat to U.S. national security.”

Bacevich’s gloomy message was strikingly out of synch with the generally upbeat tone of the CNAS conference. The audience responded with nervous laughter and applause. Panelist Andrew Exum, the COIN specialist who had just co-authored a new CNAS report on the war in Afghanistan, called Bacevich’s remarks “a gloriously heretical response—and one that’s completely divorced from the political realities facing this administration.”

Bacevich seemed to agree. “The heretic has no expectations that in this city any of these notions will be taken seriously,” he said with a rueful chuckle. [12]

The Limits of Bipartisanship

Although CNAS in the liberal center and FPI on the right may have been important in building support for Obama’s escalation in Afghanistan, the new president quickly discovered, if he did not know already, that this bipartisan support was likely to be a rare occurrence. On other issues—particularly the defense budget, detainee treatment, and Iran—right-wing think tanks forcefully opposed the president, managing to inflict considerable political damage.

Pushback against the administration’s new defense budget— which scaled back several of the hawks’ favorite programs, including the F-22 jet fighter and missile defense funding, even as it increased overall defense spending— began shortly after Secretary Gates unveiled it on April 6. That same day, AEI fellows Thomas Donnelly and Gary Schmitt published a provocative Wall Street Journal op-ed entitled “Obama and Gates Gut the Military.” [13] Over the coming weeks, AEI hosted two events warning about the dangers of the new budget— one featuring Sen. John Cornyn, the other featuring Donnelly, Frederick Kagan, and Sen. Saxby Chambliss. [14] Obama and Gates did ultimately manage to win the battle over the F-22, although it took a notably caustic speech from Gates at the Economic Club of Chicago in July to seal the plane’s fate.

For its part, AEI’s friendly rival, the Heritage Foundation—whose politics tend to be more generically hawkish than narrowly neoconservative—focused primarily on missile defense, a longtime hawkish hobbyhorse. Heritage went so far as to produce “33 Minutes,” described as “a thrilling, one-hour documentary that tells the story of the very real threat foreign enemies, like Iran and North Korea, pose to every one of us.” [15] (The title refers to the amount of time a hypothetical enemy missile would take to hit the United States.) In actuality, the film—along with the two Heritage events that accompanied it—served primarily as advertisements for missile defense and warnings against the Obama administration’s cuts in this area.

On torture and other “war on terror” issues, AEI also played a prominent part, most notably by hosting former Vice-President Dick Cheney’s much-publicized May 21 speech defending the Bush administration’s policies. Cheney’s AEI speech, which came on the same day that Obama himself spoke out on detainee issues, marked the apex of the former vice-president’s torrent of criticism against his successors. Cheney claimed that “enhanced interrogation” prevented the deaths of “thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent people,” warned that closing Guantanamo Bay prison “would be cause for great danger and regret in the years to come,” and alleged that “releasing the interrogation memos was flatly contrary to the national security interest of the United States.” [16]

In the face of this political onslaught by Cheney and congressional Republicans, Democrats in Congress wilted. Fearing a backlash from constituents, they stripped away the funding meant to close Guantanamo, and many announced they would oppose the transfer of Guantanamo prisoners to their districts—moves that put the president’s decision to close Guantanamo in serious jeopardy. While recent reports indicate that Attorney General Eric Holder is still considering appointing a criminal prosecutor to investigate CIA torture of detainees, the Obama administration apparently has ruled out any probe of the top-ranking Bush administration officials who actually formulated detainee policies.

Although AEI and its brethren could not in fairness claim much responsibility for these events, AEI had played a small but crucial role in giving Cheney his most high-profile forum.

Hawking Iran

But it was on the Iran issue that the Washington hawks worked hardest to undercut Obama. To be sure, their viewpoint had allies within the administration, most notably Dennis Ross. Although they had founded United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), after joining the Obama administration, Ross and Holbrooke left the group—at which point longtime Republican political operative Mark Wallace took over. UANI’s advisory board includes prominent neoconservative-aligned hawks such as Fouad Ajami and R. James Woolsey; as of August 2009, Ross and Holbrook were still listed on the “leadership” page of UANI’s website. [17]

Political fallout due to Ross and Holbrooke’s past involvement with UANI surfaced in the blogosphere in June, after UANI aired an advertisement promoting a hardline view of Iran and suggesting economic sanctions. [18] The ad, which implicitly undercut the Obama administration’s engagement strategy, caused renewed questioning of Ross’s role in the administration. “I’m shocked that Ross wouldn’t have completely dissociated himself from this group considering his government role, and the fact that UANI is advocating a position that not only is dangerous and contrary to current U.S. policy, but mirrors Israel’s interests and the goals of its military and intelligence apparatus,” wrote blogger Richard Silverstein. [19]

Ross’s involvement with the Iran hawks far predated the formation of UANI. He had previously been one of the key figures behind the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), unofficially known for its close links with the Israeli right. After helping to found WINEP in the 1980s, Ross returned in 2001 and served there until joining the Obama administration in 2009. He recently published a book co-written with WINEP’s David Makovsky that attracted notoriety for disputing some of the pillars of the administration’s Middle East policy (such as the idea of “linkage” between the Israeli-Palestinian and Iranian issues). [20]

In 2008, Ross participated in a WINEP task force—also featuring Obama’s future U.N. ambassador Susan Rice and key campaign advisor Anthony Lake—that produced a notably hawkish report about the Iranian nuclear issue. In the words of journalist Robert Dreyfuss, the report “opted for an alarmist view of Iran’s nuclear program” and “raised the spurious fear that Iran plans to arm terrorist groups with nuclear weapons.” [21] Ross also took part in yet another task force—this one under the auspices of the Bipartisan Policy Center, and spearheaded by Michael Rubin and Makovsky’s brother Michael— which produced a report on Iran that journalist Jim Lobe characterized as a “road map to war.” [22]

Clearly, administration figures such as Ross, Holbrooke, and Rice have a history of hawkishness on the Iran issue, but all have insisted they would be team players and work faithfully to execute Obama’s engagement strategy. Neoconservatives outside the administration, however, had no compunctions about undercutting engagement, and it was here that the right-wing think tanks—notably AEI—came in. Even after it purged Ledeen, Muravchik, and Gerecht, AEI employed several of Washington’s most prominent Iran hawks, including Michael Rubin, Frederick Kagan, and Ali Alfoneh.

Rubin, in particular, had been a leading critic of Obama’s plans for engagement with Tehran, arguing that the Islamic Republic’s leadership has no interest in a deal and that previous U.S. administrations had tried engagement—and failed.

In April 2009, under Frederick Kagan’s supervision, AEI launched the website IranTracker. The project is devoted to disseminating news and information about Iran, typically with an alarmist and hawkish slant. To mark the launch of IranTracker, AEI organized a conference on Iran policy that was headlined by Senator Joseph Lieberman and also featured Rubin, Kagan, and Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution. It was one of five Iran-themed events that AEI hosted between the U.S. presidential elections in November 2008 and the Iranian elections in June 2009.

At IranTracker’s April 27 conference, Lieberman argued that Iran’s elections are ultimately unimportant, since “the overwhelming concentration of power in the Iranian political system lies not with the country’s presidents, who change, but with the supreme leader, who rarely does”. [23] This is a widely held view among neoconservatives, some of whom even declared it would be better for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to win reelection, since he would present a more alarming face to the world. (Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum attracted some notoriety for spelling out this view at a Heritage Foundation panel in early June.) [24]

But after Iran’s June 12 election ended in an Ahmadinejad victory widely alleged to have been the result of fraud, and images of the Iranian government’s repression of protesters were broadcast worldwide, neoconservatives at these think tanks led the charge in attacking Obama for his cautious response.

In the two weeks following Iran’s election, Michael Rubin wrote no fewer than six articles arguing that Obama’s engagement strategy had been discredited and accusing the president of “shirk[ing] his duty.” [25] Others, including AEI’s Danielle Pletka and Ali Alfoneh and FDD’s Ledeen and Gerecht, also got in on the act, writing op-eds and blog posts that contributed to the echo chamber of attacks on Obama’s Iran policy.

The leaders of FPI, which had earned favor for “moderation” by lavishly praising Obama’s Afghanistan escalation, turned on the president with notable quickness. William Kristol co-wrote a Weekly Standard editorial alleging that Obama’s “weakness” had made him “a de facto ally of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.” [26]

Robert Kagan leveled the same accusation, writing a Washington Post column entitled “Obama, Siding With the Regime” which claimed that Obama’s “strategy toward Iran places him objectively on the side of the [Iranian] government’s efforts.” [27] FPI cofounder Dan Senor appeared on CNN and, with FPI staffer Christian Whiton, wrote a Wall Street Journal piece on “Five Ways Obama Could Promote Freedom in Iran,” including coordination with anti-regime expatriate leaders and increased funding for Radio Farda. [28] The latter measure was quickly incorporated into a bill sponsored by Senators Lieberman, John McCain, and Lindsey Graham.

AEI, FPI, and the other hawkish think tanks served as bases for what appears to have been a concerted media campaign aimed at discrediting Obama’s engagement strategy and forcing him to take a more hawkish line against Tehran. There are indications their strategy may have been successful, as Obama eventually stepped up his criticism of the Islamic Republic to say that he was “outraged” and “appalled” by its actions. However, it is also plausible that the intensification of Obama’s criticism during this time may have had more to do with the intensification of the regime’s repression of demonstrators. Regardless, the fierce media attacks did succeed in putting the administration on the defensive.

As the summer wore on, the administration showed signs of taking a harder line, suggesting that Iran only had until the September 30 meeting of the U.N. General Assembly to respond favorably to the engagement offer. Washington hawks focused in on sanctions targeting Iran’s refined petroleum imports as the next step, despite warnings from Iran analysts that sanctions would merely harm the Iranian people while solidifying support around the regime.

On July 22, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs held hearings revolving around the sanctions issue—hearings that were a tangible demonstration of neoconservatives’ continuing ability to influence the Iran debate. Of six speakers, two were centrists (Suzanne Maloney of the Brookings Institution and Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace); the remaining four were rightists who called for swiftly increasing sanctions: AEI’s Rubin, WINEP’s Patrick Clawson, FDD’s Orde Kittrie, and the Hoover Institution’s Abbas Milani. Soon after, a flood of anonymously-sourced media reports suggested that the administration itself was considering new sanctions, [29] while other reports suggested a September push for sanctions legislation in Congress backed by a media blitz from “Likud lobby” groups like AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. [30]

By all appearances, the backlash against Obama’s Iran policy spearheaded by the hawkish think tanks had been quite effective.

Staying Power

On Iran—as on Afghanistan, torture, and defense spending—groups like AEI and FPI have revealed a talent for continuing to influence political debates, even at a time when they are seen as representing a discredited ideology and party. Without real political power of their own, these groups have nonetheless been able to impact the decisions of those in power—most often by drumming up so much media attention for a hawkish line that Democrats in the executive and legislative branches have been forced to tack to the right to counter it.

The early visibility and viability of neoconservative think tanks over the first months of the Obama administration suggests that weakened or not, marginalized or not, these groups are likely to maintain their influence on Washington foreign policy debates for many years to come.

Daniel Luban writes for Inter Press Service and is a regular contributor to PRA’s Right Web (http://rightweb.irc-online.org/).

Additional Resources

1. Jacob Heilbrunn, “Flight of the Neocons,” The National Interest, Dec. 19, 2008.
2. Joshua Muravchik, “Bomb Iran,” The Los Angeles Times, November 19, 2006.

3. Daniel Luban and Jim Lobe, “Neo-Con Ideologues Launch New Foreign Policy Group,” Inter Press Service, March 25, 2009.
4. For details, see Right Web Profile: Foreign Policy Initiative
5. “Afghanistan: Internationalism vs. Isolationism,” panel transcript, Foreign Policy Initiative website.
6. Christian Brose, “Neo-Cons Gone Wild!,” Shadow Government blog, Foreign Policy website, March 31, 2009.

7. “Afghanistan: Internationalism vs. Isolationism” transcript.
8. “Turning the Tide in Afghanistan: A Discussion with Senator Joseph Lieberman,” The Brookings Institution, Jan. 29, 2009.
9. See Laura Rozen, “CNAS’s Floyd to Defense Department,” The Cable blog, Foreign Policy website, June 6, 2009.

10. Abu Muqawama, “Maybe Bacevich Has A Point: Introducing the Afghan Strategy Dialogue.” August 7, 2009.
11. See Laura Rozen, “CNAS’s Floyd to Defense Department,” The Cable blog, Foreign Policy website, June 6, 2009.
12. Center for a New American Security, “Triage: The Next 12 Months in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” panel transcript, June 11, 2009.

13. Thomas Donnelly and Gary Schmitt, “Obama and Gates Gut the Military,” The Wall Street Journal, April 7, 2009.
14. “No Time To Cash in a Peace Dividend: America’s Defenses in a Time of Uncertainty,” American Enterprise Institute, May 7, 2009; “The Defense Budget and U.S. Strategy: Preferences, Priorities, and Risks,” American Enterprise Institute, May 20, 2009.
15. “33 Minutes: Protecting America in the New Missile Age,” Heritage Foundation, June 24, 2009.

16. Dick Cheney, “Remarks by Richard B. Cheney,” American Enterprise Institute, May 21, 2009.
17. Robert Dreyfuss, “Dennis Ross’s Iran Plan,” The Nation, April 27, 2009.
18. Mike Allen, “Anti-Iran nuke Group launches TV ad,” Politico, June 8, 2009.
19. Richard Silverstein, “Iran’s Game of Chicken,” Tikun Olam, June 15, 2009.

20. Dennis Ross and David Makovsky, “Myths, Illusions, and Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East” (Viking, 2009).
21. Robert Dreyfuss, “Still Preparing to Attack: The Neoconservatives in the Obama Era.” Tom Dispatch, Dec. 2, 2008.
22. Jim Lobe, “Top Obama Advisor Signs on to Roadmap to War with Iran,” LobeLog, October 23, 2008.
23. “After the Ballot Box: U.S.-Iranian Relations in an Era of Change,” American Enterprise Institute, April 27, 2009.

24. Daniel Luban, “Neocons for Ahmadinejad,” LobeLog, June 4, 2009.
25. See especially Michael Rubin, “The Obama Effect? Iran’s Election Result Proves the U.S. Formula in the Middle East Is Not Working,” New York Daily News, June 14, 2009; “Silence Is Not Neutrality,” National Review Online, June 23, 2009.

26. William Kristol and Stephen F. Hayes, “Resolutely Irresolute,” The Weekly Standard, June 29, 2009.
27. Robert Kagan, “Obama, Siding With the Regime,” The Washington Post, June 17, 2009.
28. Dan Senor and Christian Whiton, “Five Ways Obama Could Promote Freedom in Iran,” The Wall Street Journal, June 17, 2009.

29. Barak Ravid, “U.S. Briefs Israel on New Iran Nukes Sanctions,” Ha’aretz, July 31, 2009; David E. Sanger, “U.S. Weighs Iran Sanctions if Talks Are Rejected,” The New York Times, Aug. 3, 2009; Simon Tisdall, “Time’s Running Out for Obama in Iran,” The Guardian, Aug. 3, 2009.
30. Nathan Guttman, “Congress Gives Obama Deadline for Dealing with Iran,” Forward, July 29, 2009.

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