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November 29, 2012

Embassy Security in the NDAA
Posted by James Lamond

1306825229american-embassyIt’s that time of year again, when the amendments process for the National Defense Authorization Act is used as a vehicle to put forth new legislation. Yesterday and today have seen a flurry of amendments go to the floor. One amendment that passed through a voice vote caught my eye. It was proposed by John McCain and increases the number of Marines for security at American embassies and consulates. The amendment also asks DoD to reassess the rules of engagement for those Marines. The Hill reports:

The Senate passed an amendment to the defense bill by voice vote Wednesday that would place more Marines at U.S. consulates and embassies around the world… Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) introduced the amendment. He said the amendment was important to preventing more deaths overseas, referring to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya on Sept. 11, 2012….

McCain said his amendment, 3051, would also ask the Department of Defense to reassess the rules of engagement for Marines stationed at embassies and consulates so they could engage in combat when attacked.

According to the Marine Corps Times, the amendment results in an overall 1,000 person increase of the Marine Corp. The MCT adds:

It’s not immediately clear how this would affect the Marine Corps’ ongoing personnel drawdown. Current plans call for shedding about 5,000 Marines from active duty each year through 2016 as the service works toward a new authorized end strength of 182,100.

The questions about effects on this amendment would have on personnel structure is only one issue. What caught my eye about this amendment is the overall question about the that Marines play in diplomatic security. In advocating for this bill Sen. McCain stated, the Benghazi attack was “a stark reminder that the security environment confronting American personnel serving in U.S. embassies and consulates abroad is as dangerous as any time that I can remember.”

However, the primary mission for Marines stationed in embassies and consulates abroad is not protection of personnel. The Marines Security Guard detachments are primarily assigned with protecting -- and destroying if necessary -- classified information that is vital to U.S. national security. Protection of the embassy/consulate and its personnel is a secondary mission of the Marines. That responsibility falls primarily to the little known, but highly trained, Bureau of Diplomacy Security at the State Department.

The Bureau of Diplomatic Security is “responsible for providing a safe and secure environment for the conduct of U.S. foreign policy.” Its website adds, “[e]very diplomatic mission in the world operates under a security program designed and maintained by Diplomatic Security.” However, there was no mention of this office in McCain's amendment. In fact, there have been repeated efforts in Congress to decrease funding. “Since retaking control in 2010, House Republicans have aggressively cut spending at the State Department in general and embassy security in particular. [Reps.] Chaffetz and Issa and their colleagues voted to pay for far less security than the State Department requested in 2011 and again this year,” explains Dan Murphy of the Christian Science Monitor last month.

Just to be clear, this is not so say that the Marines do not play an important role in diplomatic security. Clearly they do both in terms of information protection and protection of dignitaries and personnel. However, it is strange that Sen. McCain would advocate so forcefully for increasing the Marines presence with no mention of the forces primarily tasked with the mission, especially since his colleagues have repeatedly decreased funding.

November 24, 2012

Speaking of Sen Marco Rubio...
Posted by David Shorr

640px-Marco_Rubio_by_Gage_SkidmoreNow that Marco Rubio has kicked off his 2016 bid by discoursing with GQ about our planet's, er, genesis and getting better acquainted with Republicans in Iowa,* this seems like a good time to look back at Sen. Rubio's big foreign policy speech at Brookings last April. I have to admit, it really is better than most of what the Republicans offered this cycle. But then, scoring a high grade on that curve is nothing to brag about; Republicans in 2012 were really low-achievers when it comes to foreign policy substance.

I was interested to see Rubio talk about President Obama's efforts to get other international players to help in addressing shared challenges. Together with Nina Hachigian, I've been highlighting this push as a significant driver of current policy. Nina and I sketched what we call the "Responsibility Doctrine" in the September issue of Foreign Service Journal (a fuller exposition will appear in the next Washington Quarterly). So Marco Rubio distinguished himself by refraining from the worst caricatures of Obama foreign policy and engaging with its real substance (sort of).

Actually, Rubio begins by setting aside his differences with Obama and drawing on Bob Kagan's World America Made for a bipartisan case for American international leadership and against turning inward. Back when Kagan's argument appeared in New Republic article form, I wrote a post here at DA saying that Bob was indeed offering the outline of a bipartisan consensus, but that more bridgebuilding was probably still needed from the Republican side. Rubio's speech showed the same blindspot: the need for America to obtain -- rather than presume or demand -- the support of other nations.

As a rhetorical device, Rubio runs through the arguments he's had repeatedly with those who think America should step back, for a change, and let others deal with the world's problems. After explaining that there isn't a candidate to take our place as a global leader, Rubio addresses the idea of greater sharing of responsibility, which is worth quoting at length:

Finally, I'll be asked, if we still have to lead, can’t we at least be equal partners with someone else? In fact, shouldn’t we rely on other nations to carry more of the burden? After all, we all know that they resent us telling them what to do, right?

In this new century, more than ever before, America should work with our capable allies in finding solutions to global problems. Not because America has gotten weaker, but because our partners have grown stronger.  It's worth pointing out, by the way that is not a new idea for us. Our greatest successes have always occurred in partnership with other like-minded nations. America has acted unilaterally in the past - and I believe it should continue to do so in the future -- when necessity requires.  But our preferred option since the U.S. became a global leader has been to work with others to achieve our goals.

So yes, global problems do require international coalitions. On that point this administration is correct. But effective international coalitions don't form themselves. They need to be instigated and led, and more often than not, they can only be instigated and led by us. And that is what this administration doesn't understand. Yes, there are more countries able and willing to join efforts to meet the global challenges of our time. But experience has proven that American leadership is almost always indispensable to its success.

By my reading, the speech is simply a more sophisticated version of the same lame critique Republicans have tried to make for the last four years. There is an entire genre of statements about "what this administration (or president) doesn't understand" that in fact describe the administration's exact approach. Heck, sometimes Obama's critics have cribbed fully detailed policy prescriptions from what he was already doing. This administration is well aware that most coalitions need to be instigated and/or led by the United States. One of President Obama's most impressive successes, as Nina and I argue, has been to spread responsibility for that leadership -- or at least contributions to the common effort -- more widely. 

So let me paraphrase. This is what Sen. Rubio doesn't understand. The real challenge for foreign policy is to somehow induce countries to join efforts when they are less than willing. It isn't only America's allies or the like-minded whose help we need. Economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure on Iran would be impossible without the support of China and Russia (and oh by the way, American allies like Japan and Korea are too dependent on Iranian energy imports to halt them completely).

From what we hear, Republicans are busy these days taking stock of the rethinking they need in order to regain credibility. I offer the above thoughts for that agenda.

*As a patriotic former Iowa caucus-goer, I would never suggest that it's too early for presidential apirants to start working retail in Iowa. In fact, there's no such thing as "too early."

Photo: Gage Skidmore

November 20, 2012

The Day after Tomorrow
Posted by The Editors

This guest post is written by Erica Mandell.

Anyone who has ever written anything about Israel or Palestine will know that there is
no such thing as a single defining moment, at least not one that exists in the absolute.  Time stretches forward and backward and more so in times of crisis. The current situation in Israel and Gaza is no exception. 

For example, if asked what led to the current escalation, many would point to last
week’s targeted killing of Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari.  Others would point to 2008’s Operation Cast Lead, or better yet the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, or perhaps the 2006 election of Hamas.  If we really want to get to the root of things, maybe we should go back farther.  The establishment of the state of Israel in 1948?  The Arab revolts of 1936?  The ill-fated Balfour Declaration of 1917?  Long and lamented story short, all of it is relevant, and all of it continues to play out today in clear, historical narratives.

This is no more apparent than on my Facebook newsfeed, where I watch my Jewish and
Arab friends exchange equally compelling arguments for why their side (be it Israel or Gaza) is more besieged.  Indeed, the situation involves so many considerations that leaving this page blank may be more effective than an attempt to hash out the causations and reactions to what we currently see unfolding.  Instead, let us consider options for where things could stand after, God willing, there is a resolution to this sickeningly tragic impasse.

Israel’s political right is emboldened

We all know what it is like to rally around the flag.  Depending on how the situation plays out, this phenomenon is likely to occur in Israel, just in time for the January 22 elections.  Should Israel manage to halt the rocket fire before any major loss of Israeli life, Netanyahu is likely to be strengthened. His was a gamble however, because should, God forbid, a rocket successfully hit a target in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, Netanyahu’s decision to go after Jabari (who was taken out in a targeted killing) would cause a significant fall from grace. A ground operation would also likely complicate matters, and would possibly delay the elections.

However, let us assume that Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu win the election and Netanyahu’s
position is assured once again. What happens when things calm down and the status quo prevails? Even before Operation Pillar of Defense began, all in the region felt the status quo was unsustainable. Sadly however, while Netanyahu and his government place priority in guaranteeing Israel’s daily security, they do little to help Israel in the long-term.  Settlements would likely expand and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority would continue to be marginalized. Adding to Israel’s concerns would be the rise of Mohamed Morsi of Egypt (though he seems willing to reason with Hamas on their behalf) and Iran’s progressing nuclear program.

 It would be business as usual, to the detriment of both sides.

Hamas is emboldened

Now let us assume that Hamas is further endeared to both its constituents and to
its Arab supporters.  It is likely then that Hamas would be encouraged in its quest to compete with Fatah as spokesparty for the Palestinians, thus drawing out any potential end to the conflict.  Indeed, we have already witnessed enthusiasm from the West Bank for Hamas’ efforts in Gaza.  Hamas might also feel confident enough to venture suicide attacks or continue to push Israel’s red lines. An emboldened Hamas would undoubtedly cause Israel to abandon any would-be long-term security efforts in favor of locking down moment-to-moment security. Israel’s security is bifurcated. They focus on current security (i.e. weather forecasts that include rocket fire) and basic security (the continued existence of the state) but rarely at the same time. Arguably, many threats overlap between the two categories, but if current security is threatened, long-term efforts go out the window.

No matter who is in power in Israel, this would effectively mean a step backwards
in security for both sides and a major step backward for Palestinian statehood

Moderate forces prevail

Luckily there is a Goldilocks option, however unlikely. Either Israelis elect a Kadima or Labor-led government or Netanyahu suddenly sees the West Bank and its leadership in a new light.  Just as crises cause Israel to revert to the agenda of the besieged, perhaps a reprieve in violence would inspire Israel to own its role in the conflict and start laying groundwork for final status agreements. Let us not deceive ourselves, a solution is a long way off, but concrete steps can be taken immediately to drastically improve the situation and foster hope. This would include fostering institutions that would serve as the building blocks for a future Palestinian state, start reducing Israeli presence and control in the West Bank, and focus on logistical progress over rhetoric-heavy final status agreements. 

Short-term quiet would give way to concrete progress. 

But lest we forget, this is a two-party conflict. While I continue to argue that Israel has the upper hand in taking effective action toward peace, Palestinians must also act with their long-term interests in mind. Unfortunately, the recent conflict has confirmed Palestinian support for Hamas and has only further alienated Mahmoud Abbas, whose commitment to the plight of Palestine was publicly questioned just weeks ago. For the Palestinians, the key to a moderate way forward is to unify behind moderate leadership. At this point, even if Netanyahu or any other coalition leader were to sit down at the negotiating table, they would be talking with someone who does not represent both territories and therefore cannot speak on behalf of a unified potential state. Rallies and cheers at the sound of rockets falling near Jerusalem may swell spirits in the short term, but they undermine realistic shots at a two-state solution.

As of now, rumors of an imminent ceasefire swell. If it is successful, this would be a good opportunity to analyze the role of Egypt in upcoming peace efforts, and push for American-backed but regionally led frameworks. If a ceasefire remains elusive, and Israel goes forward with a ground incursion, then things will get worse before they get better. Israeli presence in Gaza would no doubt be prolonged and moderation would fall by the wayside for both Palestinians and Israelis.

My preference for option #3 is no secret. While both sides have legitimate claims to fear, resolve, and bereavement, it is time for leaders to abandon the status quo and take
responsibility in acting in their own self-interest to establish peace. I am looking to both sides for this.

While pinpointing single moments in the conflict as stand-alone events is near
impossible, wasting opportunities to resolve long-term security issues seems to
be the rule.  Let us hope that what
happens next is the exception.

November 07, 2012

Lame Duck Opening Moves: GOP Leadership Agrees DoD is on the Table?
Posted by Bill R. French


Speaker of the House John A. Boehner (R - OH) has just delivered the opening statement in what is sure to be a difficult lame duck debate within Congress over avoiding the fiscal cliff. If lawmakers fail to act, the combination of expiring tax cuts and arbitrary spending reductions will be automatically triggered in two months time. The consequences for the American economy could be disastrous, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Of those reductions, those affecting the Pentagon have received disproportionate attention. What role the Pentagon budget should play in avoiding the fiscal cliff has been hotly debated,  with many – but by no means all – conservatives calling for a deal to exempt the DoD from cuts. Some, most notably Buck Mckeon (R-CA), have even called to reverse the cuts already in place, even though those "cuts" are from projected budgetary increases and the Pentagon budget is still on course to rise slightly over the next decade.

But Boehner may have just signaled a significant softening of the GOP position.  In his speech, he dedicated only one sentence to Pentagon spending to oppose “slashing” the DoD budget. Crucially, this is not objecting to reductions in Pentagon spending as such – a rhetorical fact which is likely indicative of GOP intentions when uttered in such a calibrated address. This interpretation would seem to be corroborated by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's (R-VA) statements today when he similarly indicated merely opposing  “massive defense cuts.”

In looking forward to near-term the work required to avoid the fiscal cliff, it seems that the GOP leadership now tacitly agrees that Pentagon spending should remain on the table.

National Security Politics-Winners and Losers
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Islamophobes: Rep Bill Pascrell, who faced Islamophobic attacks in his primary, won in NJ. A sharia-fearing Senate candidate lost in FL. Romney adviers' efforts to subtly channel Islamophobia don't seem to have helped.

Pentagon spending scare-mongers:  The McCain-Graham-Lieberman-Ayotte sequester tours, and the misleading Romney rhetoric about the source and likelihood and severity of the Pentagon's share of sequestration don't seem to have hurt downticket candidates in Virginia, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine. Someone's leak today of a dialogue between the UAW and legislators in Ohio about M-1 tank production which the Army doesn't want didn't do the trick in Ohio.

Those tempted to play the Israel card: Obama's Jewish vote, it seems, stayed the same or declined about the same proportion the overall vote did. It didn't turn the tide in Pennsylvania (Florida still hangs in the balance as I write). Certainly the effort to use Iran-Israel as a surrogate for leadership to counter Obama's record on terrorism failed. The Perhaps one could argue that Romney's Israel-Iran rhetoric helped fire up the Christian Zionists and kept him close... but I haven't seen anyone arguing that yet. So, what will that next conversation between Obama and Netanyahu be like?


The national security establishment: Obama hugged the Pentagon, the homeland security community, the intelligence community, hard. They have hugged him back. They will get in return a President who is solicitous and centrist on their concerns.

Democrats: it's official -- Obama has now exploded the security gap that bedeviled Democratic politicians for 40 years. What are you going to do with that strength, Democrats?

Military families: they get an Administration that funds the VA and doesn't engage in adventurism. and doesn't tolerate prejudice against servicemembers who are immigrants, or gay... or others who are, for that matter



November 05, 2012

The Cedar Retribution: The Long Struggle for the Levant, from Hariri to Hassan
Posted by The Editors

21lebanon-span-articleLargeThis post is by Anthony Elghossain, an attorney at a global law firm based in Washington, D.C. He blogs at Page Lebanon

On October 19, a bomb tore through Achrafieh, a predominantly Christian neighborhood and upscale gathering place in Beirut. Initially, many Lebanese believed the bomb was a scare tactic or a senseless consequence of a long-anticipated Syrian “spillover.” But investigators soon announced that Brigadier General Wissam al-Hassan was among the dead. He’d been the target; Achrafieh was merely the price.

And then Lebanon exploded. Angry youths took to the streets. At Hassan’s funeral in downtown Beirut, ardent members of the March 14 coalition attempted a quixotic coup. Meanwhile, armed bands performed another of their almost ritual bloodlettings. Although the state has since quelled major fighting, Beirut and other flashpoints across the country remain tense.

The assassination wasn’t surprising. Hassan’s relationships, politics, communal affiliation, and security endeavors made him a prime target. A Sunni with close ties to the Hariri family, Hassan headed the Internal Security Forces’ (ISF) information branch. While transforming the information branch into an effective operation, Hassan cooperated with the U.S., France, and Arab states in Lebanon and beyond.

Of course, immediate causes are evident. Hassan had recently uncovered an alleged Syrian plot to destabilize Lebanon. Furthermore, in recent months, Hassan had reportedly joined international efforts—not all of them public—to bolster Syrian rebels.

But this killing means more.

At its heart, Hassan’s assassination was another salvo in the long struggle for the Levant. For more than a decade, rival factions—each aligning Lebanese and Syrian actors alongside foreign sponsors—have sought to control Beirut. Lebanon’s capital has long been an open arena; with the onset the Syrian conflict, these rivals are competing for Damascus too.

The scenes have included Beirut, foreign capitals, the media war, licit and illicit business, and Lebanon’s far-flung diaspora. The Assad regime and allies like Hezbollah have routinely used violence to silence opponents, eliminate liabilities, deplete pools of knowledge, and create political space. They probably killed Hassan because, in the complicated tapestry of the Levant, he tied many threads together:

Continue reading "The Cedar Retribution: The Long Struggle for the Levant, from Hariri to Hassan " »

November 04, 2012

The Closing Arguments of Foreign Policy 2012
Posted by David Shorr


The Des Moines Register has been kind enough, this election year, to publish a series of my op-eds on foreign policy issues in the campaign. Below is the final pre-election column (also reprinted in today's Iowa City Press-Citizen)...

It is now election crunch time; everything is over except for final swing voter decisions, turnout and tallying the results.

That makes it a good time to look back at the debates between President Obama and Gov. Romney and take stock of the hot foreign policy topics of 2012.

The bulk of attention has fallen on the Middle Eastern nations of Iran and Libya as well as China. It is questionable whether the election-year foreign policy debate has kept the issues and regions in the right proportion to America’s stakes.

For exmaple, there are still 68,000 American troops fighting in Afghanistan. Both presidential candidates support the same timeline to draw down this combat force, after Romney dropped his previous strong objections to setting a withdrawal date. Still, the candidates’ discussion of the three highest profile countries offers a good basis to compare their approaches.

Overall, Romney has shown a strong impulse for confrontation and general disregard for international sentiment. He has contrasted himself with the more measured approach of Obama, who has worked to build international support for U.S. positions and keep the world’s sole superpower from being viewed as heavy-handed.

The Obama administration, for instance, has used the World Trade Organization as a referee of our disputes with China and just in the last few days won a big case on steel production. There has been important progress on China’s artificially weak currency too. The administration has combined America’s voice with others and pressured China into letting its currency strengthen by 11 percent in four years — which helps lower the price of American exports. In the eight years of the Bush administration, the Chinese currency exchange rate didn’t budge.

Watching Romney and Obama’s recent debate on foreign policy, I was particularly struck by the discussion of the extensive sanctions Obama has imposed on Iran over its nuclear program. A diplomatic resolution of the nuclear issue has been elusive for the last two administrations, but Obama has had notable success in building broad international support for pressure on Iran.

Romney tried to criticize the president by claiming to have favored tougher sanctions much earlier, but Obama exposed the flaw of this critique. Sanctions cannot work unless they are multilateral, and gaining international support is harder when the U.S. tries to hurry, instead of letting Iranian stubbornness become obvious to everyone. The tough challenge of reaching a solution remains, but Iranian leaders are under greater pressure to negotiate than ever before.

In Libya last year, the dictator Muammar Gaddafi threatened to massacre thousands of civilians rising up against him in Benghazi. It grew clear that leaders in the region and the wider world community favored intervening to prevent a bloodbath, and Obama worked with European and Arab counterparts to mount a successful air operation to support the resistance and removal of Gaddafi.

The first senior representative of the U.S. to work with rebels in Benghazi was the same Ambassador Christopher Stevens who, along with three other Americans, was killed in that city a few weeks ago.

It is safe to say that Stevens would have found the political hue and cry over his death very strange. For him, and many of his fellow U.S. diplomats, it was important not to become isolated within embassy fortresses. He was proud that the U.S. stood with the people of Libya against their oppressor.

What is strangest of all, though, is hearing Romney’s loud criticisms over the September Benghazi attack when last year he came out against forcibly removing Gaddafi.

But the real point of Libya is what happened after the death of the four Americans. There were much larger protests in appreciation of the U.S. than any of the anti-American demonstrations — ordinary Libyans wanted to express their gratitude for Obama’s intervention last year, to not let the murderous terrorists speak for them. This is just one example of how Obama has skillfully navigated the Arab Spring to preserve American influence.

Romney tries to argue that tumultuous events in the Mideast represent a foreign policy failure, as if players in the region would all fall into line for a Romney administration.

He is not only flattering himself but showing dangerous naivety about world affairs.

Photo: Voice of America

November 02, 2012

How Low Can You Go? Latino Voters Are Not Amused!
Posted by The Editors

AAAA obamachavez_0This post is by Johanna Mendelson Forman, a Scholar-in-Residence at the American University School of International Service.

With the election just days away the Romney campaign has tried again to make a last ditch effort to attract Latino voters.  In Florida, one of the biggest prizes in electoral votes, Latino voters could not be fooled by an offensive Spanish-language ad portraying President Obama as soft on dictators.  The ad, which started running yesterday on TV, tries to tar the President with connections to Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, and Cuba’s aging dictator, Fidel Castro

Fortunately, the immediate reaction from Florida’s Latino voters has been one of disbelief that Republicans would stoop this low to try to garner their support.  How could a candidate that has spoken out against immigration reform, who has supported self-deportation as the only solution for illegal aliens, and who has been against in-state tuition for the children of the undocumented be taken seriously?  Invoking smear tactics about foreign leaders cannot overcome a campaign that has been anti-immigrant from the get go and downright insensitive to the diversity of our Hispanic heritage.  Just because Romney tries to underscores his Mexican roots does not a Latino make! Ads alone cannot seal the deal in any election, and Latinos in Florida do not like what they see at the top of the Republican ticket

Obama was right when he talked about Romney’s most recent acquired ailment– “Romnesia.”  Does Romney not remember that in 2008 Obama received 67% of the Latino vote in the Sunshine State, compared with 31% for Sen. John McCain?   Did his advisors not read the most recent report of the Pew Hispanic Center that clearly showed that Latinos favored Democrats to Republicans, by a wide margin of 61 percent to 10 percent?   But can you blame a guy from trying?  Latinos represent 13.5 percent of the state’s registered voters it is highly unlikely that at this late date the Romney camp can win hearts and minds by running a Spanish TV ad that is both outrageous in its twisting of words, and offensive in bringing attention to the likes of an autocratic populist like Venezuela’s President, Hugo Chavez.

The dated concept of a president being soft on communists or coddling autocrats should be a warning sign that a vote for Romney is a throwback to an era of U.S. Latin American relations that does not reflect the growing partnership that President Obama has with our neighbors, equal partnership that has been a cornerstone of his foreign policy to the region since he first spoke of it at the April 2009 Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago:

“To move forward, we cannot let ourselves be prisoners of past disagreements... Too often, an opportunity to build a fresh partnership of the Americas has been undermined by stale debates. And we've heard all these arguments before, these debates that would have us make a false choice between rigid, state-run economies or unbridled and unregulated capitalism; between blame for right-wing paramilitaries or left-wing insurgents; between sticking to inflexible policies with regard to Cuba or denying the full human rights that are owed to the Cuban people. I didn't come here to debate the past -- I came here to deal with the future I believe, that we must learn from history, but we can't be trapped by it. As neighbors, we have a responsibility to each other and to our citizens. And by working together, we can take important steps forward to advance prosperity and security and liberty. That is the 21st century agenda that we come together to enact. That's the new direction that we can pursue.”

These are the words of President Obama who has been attacked by Chavez and by Castro. This is the leadership we need to work with our friends and our enemies in the Americas. Trying to make Obama look soft on those who challenge democracy and freedom had better think twice. Sunshine is the best disinfectant, and it sure looks like the Romney campaign could use a major cleaning job when it comes to its Spanish language advertising. This is what the Latino voters of Florida and the rest of our nation want to hear about the future, not some commie-baiting claptrap that panders to voter’s fears.

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