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Saturday, March 26, 2011

In six weeks, Obama fails miserably at what Bush père did so very well in one

We're entering the sixth week of the Libyan crisis, and someone attempting to defend President Obama's feckless handling of it might point out, correctly, that there was very much an element of unexpected emergency created by Kadafi's decision to start shooting his own citizens when they started protesting on February 15th. So it's only fair to judge President Obama's reaction in that context. Certainly it takes time to consult allies, to nudge into motion giant bureaucratic agencies like the U.N. or even multi-national military ones NATO, and to formulate a clear national and international position with clear goals unequivocally communicated to friend and foe alike. 

So let's consider another recent (in historical terms) and unexpected emergency in the Middle East — Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait on August 2, 1990, which came as an utter surprise to the entire world, and America's response, which was called "Operation Desert Shield."

Pres. George H.W. Bush addressing the country on August 8, 1990 In less than one week — by August 8, 1990 — Pres. George H.W. Bush had already gotten resolutions from the U.N. and the Arab League comdemning the invasion, along with U.N. Security Council Resolutions establishing economic sanctions and authorizing a blockade of Iraq to enforce them. He had exhausted both formal and back-channel negotiations seeking a voluntary Iraqi pull-back. He had started the deployment of American air and ground forces to defensive positions in Saudi Arabia (which in turn required the most delicate of negotiations to reconcile those troops' presence with the Saudis' keen sensitivities as guardians of Islam's most holy cities). He had consulted with both parties' leaders in Congress to their general satisfaction — even though he wasn't (yet) sending troops or even aircraft into combat. (Eventually he'd come back to them for, and win, a formal Congressional vote authorizing that.)

And in a straight-forward but powerful speech to America and the world on the evening of August 8, he laid out exactly what he had done, was doing, and promised to do about Saddam's invasion of Kuwait.

It was an expanded version of the same message he'd had since his very first public statements on the crisis: "This will not stand." No bluster, nothing grand, and certainly no diplomatic double-speak, but just the kind of grim and absolutely credible determination the American men of his generation were known for.

It was as graceful and swift and deft and brilliant an exercise in international diplomacy as this planet has ever seen. It was a symphonic ballet of practical, urgent diplomacy — with Jim Baker and Bush both working the phones, and Bush jotting hand-written notes to world leaders he'd known and dealt with for decades. It was followed up with sustained performance throughout the fall and into what eventually became Operation Desert Storm in 1991 — a diplomatic accomplishment so total that there were even Syrian and Egyptian tanks helping us and the Brits and the French (and a bunch of other countries) liberate Kuwait.

Throughout, Pres. Bush-41 was gracious and tactful in sharing credit with all of our allies, some of whom were even persuaded to kick in for some of the cost! But never, ever, did he shrink from America's essential role, nor pretend that we could fool the rest of the world into thinking anyone else could replace us in it.

Which is to say: 

George H.W. Bush's performance in beginning Desert Shield had almost nothing in common with Barack Obama's performance now. And that's unfortunate for the latter — and the country.


UPDATE (Sat Mar 26 @ 2:10am): Now that he's fresh and well-rested from his South American vacation and he's found an unlocked door to get back into the Oval Office, it appears that The One "will deliver an address to the nation on Monday with an update on the situation in Libya, the White House announced Friday evening."

No sooner because, you know, there are games this weekend. We're talking the Elite Eight here, baby — Butler versus Florida! Virginia Commonwealth versus Kansas! — just so you understand the priorities.


UPDATE (Sat Mar 26 @ wee-smalls): Okay, here's the hold-up. The administration is having a vigorous internal debate over whether to arm the Libyan rebels with sophisticated western technology, although we're apparently not sure whether that should be pepper spray or TOW anti-tank missiles:

Gene Cretz, the recently withdrawn U.S. ambassador to Libya, said administration officials were having "the full gamut" of discussions on "potential assistance we might offer, both on the non-lethal and the lethal side," but that no decisions had been made.

So apparently the Obama Administration is already committed to the notion that Libya needs more weapons with less accountability. But we wouldn't want to rush into any decisions on Stingers versus Tasers until we've actually ruled out the entire line-up of Nerf weapons, some of which, I think you'll agree, are pretty formidable.

I'll tell you who ought to get to answer that question: Somebody at about the major or lieutenant colonel level in, say, the 101st Airborne, who more than likely is going to have some percentage of the weapons we hand out now pointed back at his troopers within days, weeks, or months. So I'm actually going with the Nerf line-up, if I get a vote.


UPDATE (Sat Mar 26 @ wee-smallers): Oh, yes, I definitely saw this coming:

President Barack Obama told congressional leaders there are no plans to use the U.S. military to assassinate Libyan strongman Muammar Qadhafi — despite the administration’s policy of seeking regime change in the North African country — according to sources familiar with a Friday White House Situation Room briefing.

“There was a discussion of how we have other ways of regime change,” Maryland Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee told POLITICO. “It’s not our role to do anything at this point from a kinetic point of view. It is our goal for regime change, but we’re not going to do it from a kinetic point of view.”

So yeah, add that to Adm. Gortney's "guarantee" that Kadafi is "not on the target list" and I think you've pretty much got the picture here. We're going to keep all of our options right out on the table, including holding our breath until we turn blue and we get really dizzy. Except the one option which would really work, right away. That one we've ruled out repeatedly.

Kadafi's possibly the safest person in Libya, at least for tonight. He's got Obama's word on it. Even if Obama could just push the button and Kadafi would magically, instantly, disappear without a hair being harmed on any other Libyan's head, Obama wouldn't do it.

The Kadafi Box: A Parody of a (recent) Major Motion Picture

(But I wonder if Kadafi knows Geraghty's Law?)

Further prediction: If it's live and not a re-run tonight, Saturday Night Live will be all over "kinetic."

Further, further prediction: Obama will repeat this utter stupidity about not targeting Kadafi in his national address on Monday night. It will encourage Kadafi and confuse Americans and our main allies, including the Brits, who've quite wisely refused to rule out regime decapitation.

Posted by Beldar at 01:17 AM in Foreign Policy, Global War on Terror, History, Obama | Permalink


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(1) Gregory Koster made the following comment | Mar 26, 2011 2:10:45 AM | Permalink

Dear Mr. Dyer: I tried some mental telepathy on The One's likely response, and at the cost of a migraine, got this answer:

"Let me make this clear: Bush41 was a one-term president. I'm going to be a two-term president. Even if the bitter clingers kick me out, I won't be a failure like Bush41. After all, he was father to Bush43, so that proves he was a failure, unlike me."

Note too in this crisis, the silence of Geo. and Geo. W. Try to imagine The One as ex-Prez showing so much deference.

Final thought: The One piously warbled that he'd a really good one-term prez instead of a mediocre two-termer. Well. There's Lincoln, and then to drop some, Polk. After that? J. Adams, J.Q Adams, Van Buren. Tyler, Taylor/Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan, A. Johnson, Hayes. Garfield/Arthur, Harrison, Taft, Harding, Coolidge Hoover, Kennedy, L. Johnson, Jimmy Bumpkin, and Bush41. Which two categories does "Obama" fit, easily and naturally?

Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

(2) Beldar made the following comment | Mar 26, 2011 2:23:38 AM | Permalink

In a spirit of bipartisanship, I will allow that I would not begrudge Obama time off on Sunday for Kentucky versus North Carolina.

[Editing note: I've changed the title slightly, and edited the text in a couple of places, to use something other than "Poppy" to describe Pres. Bush-41. I had thought I had remembered that as an intimate nickname used within the Bush family, but I didn't find confirmation of that with some casual Googling. Also added a link with the imdb.com entry for The Box, whose advertising poster I've parodied here (after changing it so thoroughly there's no likelihood of actual confusion, viz, nobody really thinks Barack Obama was in the movie "The Box" in March 2011, he hardly resembles Cameron Diaz, and no one really thinks their movie was about Kadafi). Also added the words "without a hair being harmed on any other Libyan's head" near that link to make clear that the parameters of my thought experiment are parallel to the premise of that movie. I have no connection to the movie or its owners, makers, distributors, etc., and they probably disagree with everything I've written and disapprove of my "fair use" for parody's sake while urging a First Amendment-protected political argument on my nonprofit blog, so no one should infer any approval or sponsorship on their part. (But I won't take it down unless someone convinces me I'm wrong on the relevant copyright and IP law. Good luck with that.) — Beldar]


UPDATE (Tue Aug 7, 2012, @ 10:40 pm): I finally got around to watching Jeffrey Roth's HBO documentary on George H.W. Bush, "41," tonight. In it, Bush-41 explains:

I was named for my grandfather Walker, G.H. Walker. I was "G.H. Walker Bush." His sons and daughter called him "Pop." So then I came along, I was Little Pop — "Poppy." And so I was called "Poppy" all my life.

I knew I hadn't hallucinated that nickname!

(3) PTL made the following comment | Mar 26, 2011 8:36:08 AM | Permalink

So now the academics will get together in the faculty room and decide not to decide. The military effort is led by the French,
who, if I'm not mistaken, last won a war over 200 hundred years
ago. It is run by a committee (you know the one about a camel being
a horse designed by a committee) of people who have bankrupted
their countries with excessive social programs at the expense of their military. Who needs to spend on defense when the U.S. is
defending you?

(4) Penny Bonnar made the following comment | Mar 26, 2011 9:05:03 AM | Permalink

And who was the secretary of Defense at the time? Why, the great evil one himself: Richard B. Cheney!

(5) guydreaux made the following comment | Mar 26, 2011 9:37:45 AM | Permalink

Take any week of GHW Bush or Baker's career in the 10 years prior to the first Gulf War. In that week they had more relevant experience in international affairs than Obama or Hillary have had in their lifetimes.

Now take a spec of dandruff off of GHW's head. There is more decency, integrity, humility, appreciation for America and love for the American people than in the entire Obama gene pool.

How could anyone compare Obama to GHW Bush? It is preposterous and unfair. Like comparing me to LeBron in basketball.

(6) Bigol made the following comment | Mar 26, 2011 11:35:22 AM | Permalink

Outstanding read... I had forgotten how effect Bush was. The difference between a leader and a zero.

My own take on the missing Obama was here:

Thank you for the reminder!

(7) subrot0 made the following comment | Mar 26, 2011 2:47:01 PM | Permalink

guydreaux: You are obviously a racist person. Dandruff is white and you obviously are bringing out GHW Bush's whiteness aren't you? That's just so darn racist.

You had a better idea comparing obama to lebron. Obama would win because when it comes to basketball he is just so cerebral, so darn good looking, such beautiful pec's that lebron just can't compete. And of course Obama is a social worker so he cares more about the people.

Your biggest mistake was comparing Obama to other presidents. Even Jimmy Carter wins by a mile.

(8) Andrew weisblatt made the following comment | Mar 26, 2011 3:36:14 PM | Permalink

I hardly think the situations are comparable. First of all it was much easier to gather support to protect an oil rich country from an unprovoked aggressor. We didn't have two difficult wars going on in the region at the time. We also were not suffering the economic pressure that presently exists. It was much, much easier to define the mission and the enemy. I think the comparison only makes sense if you disregard the context. It amazes me that the right can simultaneously complain about the lack of quick action and then complain about the fact that when the decision to act is taken, then to complain that notnenough time was taken to iron out every detail prior to acting. Finally, I am thrilled that we have built in an exit strategy for the US from the beginning. This isn't our war. Instead of doing the easy, flag waving, action
It appears to me that Obama has placed us in a position that is much more fiscally responsible than jumping to the front of the line and claiming this war as ours. Let the EU take an active role. I'm fine with that - much more comfortable than yet again being the country who has to shoulder the entire burden. I would rather use some of our money to educate our children than to continue to pour gigantic dollars into another nebulous project with no clear end.

(9) Beldar made the following comment | Mar 26, 2011 5:21:00 PM | Permalink

Andrew (#8), my excellent friend: Thanks for your comment!

So let's see, re "defining the mission and the enemy": You think it's much easier for the world to pick out the bad guy if he's invading a neighbor, as opposed to merely using anti-aircraft guns and other heavy weapons on his own civilian populace.

We agree, apparently, that oil-rich countries have increased strategic importance for the U.S. and the world, especially when they're being held by a ruthless dictator who's shown a keen interest in WMDs and has a long history of using oil wealth to foster international terrorism that's killed hundreds of Americans over decades — so both the Kuwait/Iraq situation and the Libyan situation actually have that in common.

But one of the few other common threads between now and 1990 is that on both occasions, we quickly got at least verbal support from the Arab League against an Arab leader. Thus, unlike you, Arab countries regard the events as comparable in that essential respect. (The difference, of course, is that Bush-41 was able to eventually translate that verbal support into actual boots on the ground — armored columns of Syrian and Egyptian Soviet-built tanks under a U.S.-led coalition's control — to help drive the Iraqis from Kuwait.)

You've obviously forgotten the damage done to Bush-41 at the ballot box in Nov. 1992 from the regular, inevitable contraction in the business cycle and resulting recession that had peaked several months before. Because of that recession, Bush-41 went from being so presumptively invulnerable during the primary season that none of the top Democrats would throw their hat into the ring, to being beaten by the governor of a small, comparatively backward state who hadn't even been able to win consecutive terms as governor.

You're certainly right, however, that that recession — while enough, with defections to Perot, to cause Bush-41 to lose to Clinton — wasn't remotely as grave as the multi-trillion deficits Obama has rung up in his first two years and guaranteed for years to come. Along with a growing majority of Americans, I tend to view that as a bug, not a feature — and certainly not something which excuses Obama's incompetence in foreign affairs.

You've also forgotten that with the exception of the brief American interventions in Grenada and Lebanon (with very mixed results) under Reagan, we had no recent military experience: the entire American military in 1990-1991 was still suffering from the lingering doubts that since Vietnam, we were a paper tiger, as evidenced by the wreckage of our helicopters at a site called "Desert One" somewhere in Iran. The troops Bush-41 had to deploy to Saudi Arabia came from bases in Europe with their tanks still painted in the forest camouflage appropriate to facing Soviet tanks across the Fulda Gap. They turned out to be damned good even though they'd never fired a shot in anger before, but nobody knew for sure that's how it would turn out. All the Dems who voted against Desert Storm — including, prominently, our current VPOTUS — predicted it would be "another Vietnam," and that vote was much, much closer than either of the Congressional votes authorizing Bush-43 to use force in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Obama, by contrast, inherited a superb, confident American military that had so convincingly trounced Saddam's army in 2003 that this self-same Kadafi we're dealing with now voluntarily gave up his WMD program as soon as Dubya looked at Kadafi cross-wise. I'm still waiting for you or any other Democrat I know to acknowledge just how much worse things would be in Libya today if not for George W. Bush's resolve to overthrow Saddam and its immediate resulting effect on Kadafi back then.

Yes, since 9/11/01 our military has been continuously tested, stretched, honed, and refined. But don't insult our soldiers and sailors and airmen and Marines by suggesting that they're in any way the weak link here: They have done, and will do, every mission Obama gives them magnificently, and even though they they follow the POTUS' orders even when the POTUS is obviously being a dolt, they certainly aren't to blame for his shortcomings.

No, sir, it wasn't a lack of capable,battle-tested, and battle-ready aircraft carrier groups, but rather direct orders from Pres. Barack Obama, that kept our carrier groups out of the Med for, literally, weeks while Kadafi proceeded to consolidate his position and re-take ground won by rebel forces. The weak link here is at 1600 Pennsylvania, not at the Pentagon. That the muddled political and diplomatic efforts of the Administration haven't yet visibly impaired our actual war-fighting ability much is a tribute to our troops' professionalism, but one must wonder how much more effective they'd be with a clear, unconflicted mission.

And thank you for one very thorough belly laugh: The only "exit strategy" Obama has is punting to someone else — and there's no one there! NATO is us, we're its senior and majority partner. American planes and ships are going to continue doing all the combat — while other countries enforce a no-fly zone only against Libyan planes that aren't flying anyway, and a sea embargo only against a Libyan navy that won't come out of port. Bush-43 had a coalition containing twice as many countries for even the Iraq War in 2003, and many of them put their soldiers in harm's way with ours and suffered casualties as a result.

If this isn't "our war," whose is it? If that's true, shouldn't you be condemning Obama outright for waging it? We've seen how well things went in, say, the Balkins in the 1990s when we left "the E.U." to "handle things," and instead saw them effectively facilitate the Serbs' massive "ethnic cleansing" of Muslims. And of course, the Europeans didn't do such a great job on their own in 1914 and 1939, either — so why should we defer to them now? In the real world, the E.U. is about as effectual and coherent as a wet noodle. The E.U. can't even prevent civil strife threatening a national breakup in Belgium, Andrew, which hosts the E.U. government! The strongest economic power in Europe, the Germans, are already back-pedaling away from Obama's coalition as fast as they can. So your reason for believing that the E.U. will, or even that they can, handle Libya capably if only we'll just let them is ... what, exactly? To believe that, one has to live in a fantasy world which doesn't include any of the history of the 20th Century.

Finally, you can't possibly still be deceived into thinking that the problems with American education are the result of inadequate money flowing into the system. Over the past decades we've doubled and doubled again what we pay into that system at the state and, increasingly (and increasingly wrongly) federal, levels — yet public education gets worse and worse, with more and more administrators and more union stupidity and more bloat. This is one of the most wicked Democratic memes because it continues to hurt — by misdirection of attention from what's to genuinely blame — our children in the public school systems. And what makes you think Obama is getting anyone else to pay for the costs of our warships and planes that are actually going into harms way, expending ordinance, etc.? 'Cause he hasn't gotten that agreement, nor anything remotely close to it. So presenting this as a fiscal triumph of the Obama Administration is a particularly bad way to try to change the subject.

(10) Andrew weisblatt made the following comment | Mar 26, 2011 7:29:34 PM | Permalink

Bill -

We'll do better to continue this conversation at lunch next week, but I did want to point out a couple of important thought I had when reading your reply.

1. Your response does not really address the central point of my comment: the present situation in Libia is much more complex than the situation which presented in Iraq/Kuwait. We both can agree that Gadaffi is a madman. I concede that this situation would be worse if he had continued his weapon programs. I also do not understand even the argument for why we don't kill him right now. I presume the reason we don't just kill
Gadaffi is the same logic that kept Bush 41 from just killing
Saddam. But that's all aside the point. It is much simpler situation to say "our job is to make this madman get out of a country that he's wrongfully invaded and as soon as we do we are done" than to get support for stopping someone from doing bad things to his own people. It is the essence of the difference between what Bush 41 did (which had a clear goal and a clear end) and what Dubya got us into in which we are still mired.

2. Never, not once, ever, have you heard me say or seen me write anything that suggested less than full support for our military men and women. There isn't a better fighting force in the world. I did not mean to suggest that there was any military reason for Obama's decision not to take the lead in the Libyan situation. My comment about fighting two wars was not an attempt to subtly suggest that our military wasn't competent to take on this task - they will do exactly what they are ordered to do - but rather to note that we have jumped into these situations quickly in the past and it's easier to get in than out.

3. Finally - is it seriously your contention that the problem with public education is the children? What then is the solution? We live in a resource limited world. The amount of money that we spend reflects our priorities. We should be spending money on education. It's not a sin and it's not a misdirection of our national priorities and saying that we should spend money on it isn't "wicked."

To be continued next week at Barnaby's I hope.

(11) Beldar made the following comment | Mar 26, 2011 8:35:06 PM | Permalink

(1) Most of my comment was designed to rebut your assertion that things were easier for Bush-41. Our military wasn't busy elsewhere, but it was completely untested. The economy was tough then too. The excuses you were making for Obama just aren't persuasive. And as far as the military situation, Libya is a country whose population and infrastructure are all concentrated along the coast, where it's completely subject to continuous patrol by American ships and naval aviation; we can project our military power there much more easily, cheaply, and continuously, than in Iraq, or than in land-locked Afghanistan. Of course, Libya's military has only a fraction of the capabilities that Saddam's had in either 1990-1991 or 2003. We've been recognizing American interests in Libya since Jefferson was president, and the first line of the Marines Hymn refers to the same "shores of Tripoli" that we're talking about now.

So I stand by my original point: I agree that the situations aren't entirely comparable, but to the extent they're not, Bush-41 faced much larger and more difficult challenges, and yet in six days managed to do what Obama hasn't done in six weeks.

Re targeting Kadafi, I'm glad we agree on that. Recall that regime change in Iraq, however, was no part of the expressed goal of Desert Storm and Desert Shield; rather, its goal, as Bush-41 made clear from the first day until the last, was to force Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait. Even so, Bush-41 didn't ever rule out the possibility that we'd encourage Iraq's withdrawal by taking out Saddam, and we flew combat missions designed to decapitate his regime's command and control (which included, potentially, him); I'm sure you remember the Amiriyah shelter bombing, in which our smart bomb which hit exactly the bunker it was intended to hit, but that bunker turned out to be a night-time air raid shelter in addition to a day-time command center, with tragic results. Bush-43, by contrast, had a statutory mandate passed by Congress in the Clinton years to support regime change, and we made no bones about targeting him and his sons by name then. So I hope you'll join me and the Brits in agreeing that it's stupid at best to rule out Kadafi as a target; and if you can think of any constituency that Obama's trying to court with that policy other than the folks at Code Pink or MoveOn.org, I'd be glad to hear it, because I think he's guilty of trading Libyan civilian lives, and potentially American warriors' lives, for hopes of maintaining Hard Left voter turnout.

(2) I know you support our military, and that you're a patriot. I also know that many in your party (e.g., the Code Pink and MoveOn.org types) are not patriots, and that they have indeed rooted for the U.S. military to fail, and they've declared failure repeatedly already in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they will be equally eager to declare failure in Libya.

But my specific point was to rebut what I thought was your suggestion that because we're involved in two mid-east wars already, that ought to excuse Obama from doing a competent job in Libya. It doesn't, and I gather that we now agree on that.

And it's true but trite to say that it's "easier to get in than get out." We are in now, Andrew. If we force out Kadafi but let Libya become a failed state like Somalia, the world will blame America for that. And completely apart from the humanitarian concerns, we cannot afford to just walk away — not when the country in question is sitting on oil wealth that would permit it to promote and sponsor world terrorism.

So we're going to have to fix Libya — not because we're going to colonize it or exploit their oil resources without compensation, but because we've known since 9/11 that we can't permit countries like Libya to continue to do what Kadafi was doing before he gave up his WMD and cut back dramatically on his sponsorship of terror organizations.

Libya has a different history and structure and culture than Iraq or Afghanistan, and poses some different challenges. Even if it ended up imposing costs in blood and treasure comparable to Iraq, though, it would be worth those costs to prevent it from becoming a terrorist haven and financier.

Only a child can pretend that this job can be left undone, or that anyone else can do it. Unfortunately, I'm afraid that we have such a child in the White House.

(3) Re education: Please re-read my comment. If you think I blame children, you're ignoring what I wrote and the specific culprits I identified (none of whom are children). And I know you know that no school child in America is going to be disadvantaged in any direct way by anything we do or don't do in Libya. When and if the Obama Administration stops running multi-trillion dollar deficits, we can talk again about domestic spending priorities. Until then, I'm not going to cooperate in changing the subject of this thread to that. (I hope you realize that just Obama's budget deficit for just this year exceeds the total cumulative cost of both the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars since 2001. You know that, right?)

(12) Beldar made the following comment | Mar 26, 2011 8:43:35 PM | Permalink

Ah, I see the roots of your misunderstanding. It's this sentence from my comment (#9):

This is one of the most wicked Democratic memes because it continues to hurt — by misdirection of attention from what's to genuinely blame — our children in the public school systems.

I thought it clear from the context that "what's genuinely to blame" were the administrators and union officials and other bloat whom I had just identified (in general terms) in the previous sentence. Claims that our schools are underfunded divert attention from these parasites who've been sucking up the tons of money, especially federal money, we've been throwing at education. It's our children who are continuing to be hurt as a result, because not enough of the existing money is going to things like genuine merit and recruitment bonuses that would actually break up and reform these monopolies of mediocrity, and pretending like the problem is inadequate funding will prevent the real problems from ever being addressed.

I plead guilty to an ambiguous sentence, but you must plead guilty to not having tried very hard to make sense of it.

(13) Jeff made the following comment | Mar 30, 2011 11:36:04 AM | Permalink

I would point out that most sentient beings think Presentdent Obama is a bold faced liar and I would have to think the Libyan madman thinks so as well ...

so his "we won't target you" line is being taken with a grain of salt ...

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