Britain’s Tricky Relationship with Iran

This was the moment that British-Iranian relations re-emerged as a major global talking point. The storming of the British embassy in Iran provided the spark for the latest bout of trouble between Ahmadinejad’s oil-rich state and Great Britain.

Al Jazeera – Britain to expel all Iranian diplomats

William Hague in response closed both Iran’s embassy in London and Britain’s embassy in Tehran where he expelled 25 diplomats. Al Jazeera reported at the time that these events marked “a complete split in diplomatic relations, not cut off completely but [downgraded to] the lowest level”. Whereas the Ottawa Citizen described it as the “worst crisis in decades”.

Diplomatic relations however were already precariously balanced over a somewhat rocky precipice due to a report made by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that indicated Iran may be preparing to build nuclear weapons. The Asia Times, who claim this report to merely contain “flimsy expressions of concern”, chastise Britain for leading the charge for imposing financial sanctions on Iran due to the report’s findings. The predictions that Britain’s actions in expelling Iranian diplomats could proliferate throughout the EU were condemned as a “misguided overreaction…unlikely to yield any positive results”. The article is equally critical of David Cameron’s administration as “ill-prepared for reflection on how its own actions may have precipitated the current crisis in relations, and is instead trying to seize the moment and isolate iran in the international community”.

Due to Britain’s actions, Afrasiabi, the reporter for the Asian Times asserts that suggestions Tehran and London could rebuild their relations is somewhat premature and unlikely due to “Britain’s campaign of unbounded hostility toward the Islamic Republic”.

The growing antipathy of the West towards the Iranians and vice versa worsened after the threat to close the Strait of Hormuz, a key route for global oil supplies. Iran’s Press TV reported that Phillip Hammond (wrongly credited as British Foreign Secretary) had “violated international law by threatening to attack Iran if it closes its territorial waters in the Strait of Hormuz”. Britain, and other Western powers however did send a naval presence into the Straits to prevent this potential crisis taking place. The Iranian perspective is that the British are re-exercising their colonial muscles by citing “non-existent portions of the international law in its threats of military action on Iran in case it does not allow foreign vessels pass through its territorial waters in the strategic Strait of Hormuz”. “The international law rules that all ships can enter Iranian territorial waters only upon authorization from Iran”, according to Press TV. They have also used this criticism of British colonialism to describe Britain’s intervention in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and recent tension over the Falkland Islands.

Press TV have since been banned from British television which American political newsletter, Counterpunch question somewhat critically. It’s conclusion is that OFCOM’s decision is “another front” on the war already being waged against Iran. In fact endorsement of Press TV’s removal by some British journalists is considered an example of “the insouciant hackery of some British journalists when it comes to issues of free speech”. British journalists, of course, have taken quite a proverbial beating from the worlds media in recent weeks due to the hacking scandal.

The international response to Britain’s declining relations with Iran has provided somewhat of a mixed bag. What can be demonstrated from this, is that there is support for Iran against British actions and Iran are quite naturally documenting events as oppressive and colonial. Is this a fair assessment? We will only know as things progress, however the steady decline does not bode well for the future of British-Iranian relations which seem increasingly likely to escalate.


The Worst of the Worst?

As a follow up from my previous post, who in your opinion is the worst dictator of modern times?

The Dictators

Peep Show – Series 4, Episode 1  ‘Sophie’s Parents’ (2007)

Sophie: [Picking out a T-shirt with Mao Tze-tung on it] What about this? 
Mark: You do know who that is, don’t you? 
Sophie: Yeah, it’s Chairman Mao, isn’t it? 
Mark: Exactly, the man was responsible for the deaths of 60 million people. I don’t want him on my chest. 
Sophie: 60 million, that’s more than Stalin, isn’t it? 
Mark: It’s not a competition, Soph. Although if it was, Mao would probably win. 

As Mark quite rightly states, it is not a competition and dictators shouldn’t really be celebrated, however there is something strangely fascinating about a deranged despot. A key component of the dictator’s résumé is the development of a cult of personality; creating a heroic and respected public image to add legitimacy and justification to their method of rule. In many ways this propaganda allows the tyrant to take on the position of a deity of sorts; this puts them in a position above politics, and above the law. This creates an environment in which genocides, extreme human rights abuses and state-sponsored terrorism is almost a forgone conclusion. This “personality” which paves the way for such abuses of power, remains present long after their crimes, but in the sense of outside interest in what, how and why these leaders acted in the way that they did, and in some cases, continue to do so. This is not a competition more a gallery of some of the most evil people in history, their raving lunacy and distorted world views.

Let’s begin with…

Pol Pot

Leader of the Khmer Rouge, the communist party of Cambodia, Pol Pot envisioned a world where his native Cambodia could just start again. In what has been termed the “Year Zero” campaign, Pot managed to kill-off up to a 1/5 of his own population. The Khmer Rouge were ruthless, and there are some true horror stories of their systematic massacring. Torture, murder, and enforced famine came to represent the rule of this communist party. In trying to create an agrarian society, the regime murdered anyone who had the potential to undermine it; this included intellectuals. Now as we all know, if you wear glasses you are a genius (remember this was before Gok Wan) therefore Pol Pot’s regime became famous for seeking out the spectacle wearers in society and murdering them (so much for not hitting a guy with glasses); but surely you’d just take them off!

Kim Jong-Il

‘Supreme Leader’ of North Korea, Kim Jong-Il is a man of many talents; composer of operas and a part-time puppet movie star. Yet he is still more concerned with foreign policy and further development of nuclear weaponry than feeding his starving people. Since the famine of the 90’s North Korea rely on food aid from places such as the USA and South Korea; yet are willing to attack their southern neighbour, as demonstrated by last year’s shelling exercise off the coast of South Korea. With well into the millions dead from this state-created famine, Kim will find it difficult to pull too many strings on the international stage , regardless of his fledgling nuclear capability. Who know’s what the future holds for this playboy leader with his increasing belligerence and inability to care for his population, how long before his strings are cut?

‘Papa Doc’, François Duvalier

Despite somewhat resembling an older Carlton Banks, Duvalier is an example of a classic dictator with an exotic twist. Fluent in internal repression and murder of opposition, ‘Papa Doc’ was also responsible for bringing back the art of voodoo. Not content with simply jabbing needles into a doll-like effigy of his Haitian population or dangling it above a naked flame, he also ran a ruthless militia that murdered up to an approximate 60,000 Haitians. Him and his son, ‘Baby Doc’ (how cute…) are widely recognized as the reason behind Haiti’s vast loss of it’s academics and intellectuals who fled the country after realizing the corruption of the regime.

Slobodan Milošević

Not only guilty of having the most unattractive name (with a face to match), not only in dictatorial history, but in general, he also has the blood of thousands of Croats, Slovenes and Bosnian Muslims on his hands, after the conflicts in the Balkans over the 90s. When most the Yugoslav People’s Army refused to fight in his war, he enlisted the help of thugs, hooligans and criminals in the attempt to keep Yugoslavia together in a particularly brutish way. He essentially operated the conflict like a mafia boss. His sanctioning of genocide, war crimes and forced deportation and movement of people  in Kosovo, Bosnia and Croatia  meant he was at one stage the most wanted man in Europe.

Muʿammar al-Qaḏḏāfī 

Despotic leader of Libya who blamed the recent protests on Al Qaeda drugging his population has been a known tyrant for years. After the PANAM flight 103 came down over Lockerbie, Gaddafi became an enemy of the west for sponsoring terrorism. Yet relations improved with several trade agreements (largely weapons) during the Tony Blair premiership. The recent conflict in Libya has thrust him back into the spotlight; claiming that he can’t leave because he doesn’t have an official title, he has been bombing and shooting his way through the anti-government rebels. He is currently adding to his war crime CV after rumours that he is using rape as a weapon of war begins circulating.

Saddam Hussein

Invasion, torture, rape, chemical weapons and non-existent nuclear weapons; Hussein’s rule had it all. Allied with the US, initially against Iran, he then proceeded to invade Kuwait, where he committed terrible war crimes and initiated the first Gulf War. Not content on just killing Kuwaitis, he began a programme of gassing Kurds within his own nation. Once the strongest power in the Middle East, Hussein saw it transform into a nation ravaged by war. He consistently went against US sanctions, which led to the spread of famine and disease leading to a vast infant mortality rate. Hussein remains the only dictator to have lived in a hole.

And now the Big Dogs…

Mao Zedong

The Chairman, whose cultural revolution and “great leap forward” removed any bourgeoisie elements in society, characterizes Mao’s ruthless human rights record.  As many as 50 million people were killed under Mao’s regime which ran from the mid 50s to the mid 70s. The People’s Republic, was ironically not a great place or time for “the people” as millions starved in the largest famine in human history and countless others disappeared. Modelling his nation industrialization on Stalin’s Russia, he also modeled his sheer disregard for human life in his own country on the despotic Russian.

Joseph Stalin

Whether it was the mass movement of ethnic minorities among Russia’s territory or the purging of his own people, Stalin is widely considered to be the most ruthless dictator in history.Anything between 20 and 60 million people were killed during his tyrannical rule of the USSR. Whether or not he killed more or less than Mao, he started the trend for Communist repression. Paranoid, Stalin would murder or detain anyone who bad-mouthed him. If opponents weren’t murdered they were sent to labour camps, slave labour in his Gulags allowed his prolific industrialization process to materialize. Rumour has it that on his death bed, those around were too scared to proclaim his death in-case he was to wake up; the cult of fear around the man, was incredible. Startling really, when you consider he looks a bit like Mario.

And last but not least…

Adolf Hitler

Although he didn’t kill as many as Stalin or Mao, he is widely considered the most evil man in history for the level of hatred present in his war crimes; in which he systematically slaughtered Slavs, Blacks, Jews, Gypsies, Homosexuals, among other minorities. Single-handedly ruining the reputation of moustache wearers everywhere, he also started World War II and ran his nation and occupied nations (in the war years) through the Gestapo which sent Jews and the like to concentration camps. Upon the failure of his Aryan race in the second world war he was pressured into finding a solution, that solution was genocide. He may not have killed the most people, but the nature, and hatred involved in his crimes make him one of the most evil men in history. Plus it’s rumoured he had a urine fetish. Dirty bastard.


There are too many maniacs in history and in the present day to list them all; take the Bahraini princes or Saudi Arabian kings who suppress women and rule their country medievally with little sight of democracy. Fascism and Communism have also thrown up their fair share including Mussolini, Franco, Castro, Tito or Kim Il-Sung. As with all these leaders, despite their horrendous crimes they remain a source of intrigue and fascination for many.

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Today is 44 years since the Six-Day War

On the 5th June 1967, Israel launched a preemptive air-strike attack on neighbouring Egypt, Syria and Jordan. In the process they acquired the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the volatile and much contested West Bank from Jordan and from Syria, Golan Heights. Israel, who to this day remain fearful of Arab encirclement and belligerence, acted in this manner due to fears for their security after increasing tension in the region characterized by military build-up and aggressive rhetoric. Egypt, in particular, had assembled a large military force in the Sinai Peninsular; due to the geographical locality to Israel this was to pose a significant security threat in the eyes of the Israelis.

The complexities of the Israeli-Arabic relations were intensified by the sponsorship of the Cold War nations, Russia and the United States. After President Nasser’s involvement in the Suez crisis in 1956 Egypt were viewed in Washington as supporters of the ‘communists’ in the USSR. Egypt, who supported Palestine, had also become aggrieved after various skirmishes between Israel and their ally Syria; their chief reason for military build up.

The acquisitions Israel made in Operation Focus (the name of the air-strike) appear quite extensive and the whole event is marred in controversy as to whether it constitutes a preemptive attack. It’s understandable that Israel felt insecure about Egyptian actions, but equally, vice versa due to Israel’s actions against Syria. Hence the security dilemma. Preemptive attacks are by nature, defensive, yet Israel took land from the enemy. That seems less like self-defense and more an act of assertive nationalism in claiming these areas of land.

This reminder is particularly relevant due to Barack Obama’s recent talks in the region stating that he believes a peace-settlement can be reached between Palestine and Israel, on the basis that Israel accept their pre-1967 borders in order to improve relations. Israeli president Benjamin Netanyahu however has refused to even consider conceding said borders, even though some of the worst violence in Arab-Israeli relations has been over acquired areas such as the West Bank. Even today in the Golan Heights area Israeli troops fired on and killed as many as 14 Palestinian protesters. These areas remain incredibly volatile and a continued source of tensions between the Israeli and Arabic world. Can anything be done however if the two sides remain as stubborn and aggressive and as unwilling to negotiate, concede and work towards peace?

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Bahrain, Too Soon…

This seasons Formula One Grand Prix in Bahrain was postponed earlier this year due to the uprisings against King  Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. Bahrain’s uprising was particularly violent with troops firing quite relentlessly on the demonstrators, who are rising up against the autocratic and monarchical system within the country. With a wave of rebellion spreading across the Middle East, Bahrain too sought out some form of democratization through political and constitutional concession. In February, demonstrators gathered at the Pearl Roundabout, calling for the end of the monarchy. The response from King Hamad however, was to use the royal army to massacre the protesters.

King Hamad has yet to concede power and the issues are unresolved. Problems are still quite apparent in Bahrain and rioting still prevalent, yet Bernie Ecclestone, President of Formula One Management, has today declared that the Bahrain Grand Prix will go ahead in October. Bernie must be hoping his crystal ball is on top form as belligerence between the army and the demonstrators shows little sign of relenting. With the Middle East and parts of North Africa seeming rather volatile at present, it seems a strange decision to take the risk in holding a Grand Prix in a state that has openly slaughtered innocents. However the FIA and the Formula One teams, especially Ferrari, face losing revenue to the sum of millions if they were to cancel. Ecclestone has strongly rejected claims that this rescheduling is about money.

With the riotous situation in Bahrain it seems rather a risky venture for Formula One. Touring sport has faced problems before within troubled nations. Most notably, England’s cricket team have refused to play in Zimbabwe due to a fear for the teams safety in the failed state under the Mugabe regime. Unless the trouble in Bahrain is resolved before October, then the Grand Prix could potentially put the drivers, mechanics,  journalists, and fans at risk. It will be interesting to see how the teams respond to this news and whether they go ahead with the race.

Potentially, the Grand Prix could create a unifying event to soothe tensions in the nation. But the merciless approach of King Hamad provide ample enough reason to not go ahead with the race. However, this move by the FIA could also potentially be viewed as one that endorses the actions of Bahrain’s monarchy. Bahrain in it’s current state, is not suitable to host a Grand Prix. It must be hoped that the FIA consider the severity of the situation, re-assess closer to October and are not just pressured into the decision to reschedule out of a fear of losing money.

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Figureheads of repression and murder should be tried and dealt justice regardless of their health

Saturating the news at present are tales of endemic revolution in the Middle East and neighboring North Africa. Originating in Tunisia and spreading to the likes of Yemen, Egypt, Libya,  Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Syria, this wildfire has spread at significant cost and caught the attention of the worlds media. Successful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt have led to increased violence from leaders in nearby countries, out of fear, that they too, could succumb to the will of the citizens of the Arab world. Varying in severity, pro-governmental soldiers have employed any tactic necessary in order to deter protesters, leaving thousands dead. Yet in most cases, “the people” seem willing to risk bullets, truncheons and shrapnel, in their bid to free the Arab world from the bonds of repression, so many of these leaders have come to represent.

During the 2011 uprisings in Egypt that saw the end of Mubarak, over eight hundred people were killed. Upon his abdication, after significant external pressure, he went to stay in Sharm el-Sheikh. Mubarak, within days went from repressive autocrat to resident of the Red Sea Riviera (truly a deterring prospect for any Arab leader). Yet his health apparently deteriorated during his interrogation. If he is to be found guilty of authorizing violence towards anti-government protesters, he may face the death penalty. If Mubarak was healthy enough to authorize merciless slaughter of non-violent protesters then he should be trialled, regardless of his health. Preventing Mubarak from standing trial, which could result in execution, because of his poor health seems rather a kick-in-the-teeth for the families and friends of those he unashamedly murdered. Is this not just undermining the whole concept of justice?

Libya and Syria has seen some of the worst fighting and violence in response to these protests. Bashar al-Assad and Muammar Gaddafi have quite openly endorsed the murder of peaceful protesters; in Libya this has, of course, escalated to civil war and NATO intervention. Both leaders already have blood on their hands and are both quite open about supporting and sponsoring terrorism. To think that these men will not be brought to justice, for any reason (even health problems), must be quite sickening to any anti-government supporter. These leaders must be tried for their crimes, even on their death bed, to uphold any sense of justice.

Ratko Mladic, responsible for the Bosnian genocide, was captured last week and faces a trial at the Hague for war crimes. Yet, his lawyer is hoping to avoid such proceedings on account of Mladic’s declining health. At the time of writing, Mladic had been taken to the Hague, which is promising news. A man capable of such hatred and violence needs to be faced with what he has done and receive what he deserves. Saddam Hussein received a penalty befitting of the murder and persecution he had committed; even if it is not with his life, Mladic has to pay for what he has done.

Mubarak and Mladic still have supporters within their respective countries. Justice needs to be carried out, if for no-other reason than to demonstrate to these people their crimes and how they are viewed as punishable on the international stage in order to alter their opinion. Leaders who abuse power to serve their own ends and persecute their people should be tried, and suitably punished regardless of their medical status. Even if they are unable to stand or speak, their crimes still stand and are more than capable of doing the talking.

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Wounds Still Healing

Remembering the Rwandan and Bosnian Genocides

Two of the major flashpoints in the history of UN sponsored humanitarian intervention, occurred within a year of each other. The Rwandan genocide which began in 1994, lasted 100 days and saw an estimated 500,000 – 1,000,000 people die, or approximately 20% of the population massacred mercilessly on an unprecedented scale. This was a targeted campaign against ethnic Tutsi’s and moderate Hutu’s, which involved the most abhorrent violence, sexual abuse, and torture.  The Bosnian genocide of 1995 saw Bosnian-Serbs undertake a campaign of ethnic cleansing, in the attempt to eradicate the Bosnian-Muslim population. Most famously was the massacre at Srebrenica; despite being declared a safe enclave by the UNPROFOR (United Nations Protection Force) the peace-keepers were unable to sufficiently protect the town, leading to the towns capture and then the targeted killings.

On the 26th May 2011, somewhat paralleling the closeness of the aforementioned events, two of the leaders responsible for these genocides were captured. Ratko Mladic, former leader of the Bosnian-Serb army and Bernard Munyagishari, a militia leader, accused of inciting and masterminding the massacre. The latter did not receive as much media attention as Mladic who has long been viewed as the most wanted man in Europe and will now potentially face a trial for war crimes at the Hague; providing his health does not deteriorate too badly. As far as closure, or comfort, is concerned the two leaders will hopefully be brought to justice 16 years after their crimes.

The wounds and scars left by the events of 1994/5 are certainly still in the process of healing. Many Serbs don’t consider Mladic a war criminal; the BBC (  make note of one Serbian resident who claimed, ‘”I feel sorry for Mladic, he was a real Serb.”‘ On the surface, the capture of Mladic anaethsetises the pain, but the underlying wound is still very much felt when people are unwilling to accept the man as a modern-day monster. The ethnic and racial tensions appear very much present in modern day Serbia, if that resident’s statement is anything to go by.

In terms of Rwanda, the BBC (, again claims that one of the suspects equal, in terms of their involvement, to Munyagishari, is thought to be in Kenya, protected by their government. The effects of the 1994 massacre are huge; proliferation of HIV, children of the rape victims having to grow up in broken families, even other African nations have been affected by fleeing perpetrators, most noticably the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Economist presented a startling statistic for the DRC itself, that every minute, 48 women/girls are raped; hiding Rwandan war criminals do not help the vulnerable state, already plagued by its own problems. Even though Munyagishari has been captured many still havn’t been brought to justice, leaving Rwandan memories still somewhat vivid.

Is enough being done? One cannot be sure. If the operation to find these criminals and bring them to justice mirror the efficiency to which the UN dealt with the war crimes, then sadly no. The Bosnian and Rwandan genocide will always be remembered more for what the UN didn’t do, rather than what they did. They reduced numbers of peacekeepers in Rwanda days prior to the massacre despite the planning of it being almost common knowledge and were essentialy held at ransom by Russian and Chinese veto over what to in Bosnia; it was only after NATO acted independently that anything was done. It is both important and great news that these murderous criminals have been caught, but it does serve to provide a poignant reminder of past mistakes and oversights in the UN, and problems and tensions that are in many ways still present now within Serbia and Rwanda, as well as all the surrounding countries that have been affected.

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Some, more serious, thoughts on Pakistan

How symbolic success has simply illuminated the cavernous differences between the states 

Ryan Cordell & Danny Janes

Outside the White House and in sports stadiums as ‘Americas Game’ played out the reaction to the news that Osama Bin Laden, the world’s number one terrorist and all round figurehead for Islamist extremism, had been killed was that of chants of, ‘USA, USA’ and the more viral, ‘America, Fuck Yeah!’ For many this looked like a true World Police moment but was it anything more than a symbolic victory and has it only served to strain the already circumspect relationship between the US and its ally in the campaign against the Taliban, Al Qaeda and associated extremist groups.

The most disturbing aspects of this new chapter in America’s battle is the reliability of and the posture towards extremist groups, most notably the Haqqani network, of the ISI (Inter-services Intelligence). With fears already present in America over the internal reliability of the organization as well as the security behind military and nuclear establishments in Pakistan the Bin Laden killing as well as the Kirachi attacks have only compounded these fears. The sheer number of insurgent groups in some of Pakistan’s tribal regions, who in many cases share an address, with major nuclear establishments is startling even more so with the ISI’s ‘pick and choose’ approach to combatting them. Fears that the ISI were sympathetic towards Al Qaeda’s leader were certainly intensified when he was found, just outside the Pakistani equivalent of Sandhurst in a military-style compound fitted with nothing short of eighteen foot fences, barbed wire, few outwards-facing windows and no telephone or internet access. With the raid occurring without the knowledge of Pakistan intelligence, they feel violated in terms of state sovereignty, alienated and embarrassed, yet critical of American actions and Obama’s decision to act without the approval or input of the U.S. ally. The real dilemma is however, in deciding whether Pakistan can credibly justify a complaint against the U.S. actions in Attatobad, considering the circumstances.

It serves to demonstrate how, many people in these volatile areas such as Afghanistan and Pakistan support the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and most worryingly their cause – jihad against the west. Pakistan may present themselves as an ally against terrorism, but they are fundamentally a state divided between insurgent sympathizers and allies of the West – unfortunately the ISI are divided even further, making co-operation increasingly difficult. The level to which the insurgents are based and operational in Pakistan is demonstrated by the 22nd May 2011 attacks on the military base in the port of Karachi. Ominously this is outside the most common base of operations for Pakistani insurgents, in the tribal regions bordering Afghanistan. Pakistani insurgents are willing to attack their own state in order to avenge Pakistan’s position in the fight against terror and for failing to prevent the death of Osama Bin Laden. This puts Prime Minister, Makhdoom Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani, in an awkward position; already Pakistan’s commitment and reliability is doubted by the American government, yet if they are seen to be acting positively against terrorism than he is effectively jeopardizing his own people and nation.

Barack Obama’s decision to act without informing Pakistani intelligence or leadership and then to openly admit concerns about their reliability has both embarrassed and offended Pakistan. However their relationship is mutually dependent; Pakistan rely on U.S. financial aid and the U.S. rely on Pakistan for a logistical base and shared intelligence. Although, in the aftermath of the Abbottabad raid, Pakistan have sought to strengthen their links with China, their other major ally. In fact the base in Kirachi had both US and Chinese personnel working at it. America cannot afford to let Pakistan swing too far to the East as despite improving relations with China, there are still obvious differences between the two states. A strengthening relationship between the two nuclear powers, China and Pakistan, would only intensify tensions with India; potentially sparking another nuclear stand-off. If Pakistan and the U.S. were to drift apart, the Americans would have far less scope to diffuse any potential nuclear crisis between the arch rivals. Stability is what is needed in Pakistan and for that to occur America and Pakistan need to work even more closely; unfortunately it seems relations with Pakistan will simply continue to perpetuate the war on terror and crises in Asia and the Middle East.

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