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June-July 2007 Message from Dan

Greetings Readers, Friends, and Other Visitors:

It’s May as I write this and the subject of Iraq is much in the air. Of course, the subject of Iraq has been much in the air for years now, but it seems to be coming close to reaching some critical mass or tipping point. And everyone in political life or among the Trinities (NBC, ABC, CBS, NPR, PBS, etc.) agree that September is the swivel point . . . that something will have to happen by September: U.S. withdrawal beginning, the Iraqis pulling up their socks at long last and meeting some legislative and security benchmarks, some political reconciliation in Iraq or dramatic signs of military progress . . . . something. September, we are told by anyone with access to a microphone, will be the turning point toward . . . something else.

Unless you are reading this years or decades from now, I don’t have to tell you of Iraq-related developments in winter-spring of 2006-2007: the Democrats’ landslide victory in the mid-term elections and their interpretation of that as a mandate to end the war, the winter-spring “surge” of troops into Baghdad (and now into the provinces where insurgents fled from Baghdad), Speaker of the House Pelosi’s leadership in recent efforts to insert withdrawal timelines into bills to fund the war, President Bush’s veto of those timelines, the Democrats’ continuing attempt to shut off the purse strings for the war unless a withdrawal date and “benchmarks” for the Iraqi government date are set, Bush’s willingness to negotiate benchmarks but not withdrawal dates . . . .

All old news to you.

As is, I’m sure, the deadlock we have in public opinion on how and when to end the war. While a strong majority of Americans have shifted in the last three years from supporting the war to demanding an end to it, it’s possible that the reasons for their dissatisfaction are much more varied and complex than Speaker Pelosi or Harry Reid or most media pundits have suggested. I would suggest that a majority of Americans still support the global war on terrorism but have lost patience with failed strategies in Iraq, with the constant excuses for those failures, with the constant loss of American lives there, and with the Iraqi government and Iraqis themselves.

There are those, very vocal these days, who insist that Bush and Cheney (and their neocon facilitators) are Hitleresque in their lying and conniving and distorting intelligence data to Congress, an evil conspiracy committed to deceiving the American people and the world in order to get the U.S. to invade Iraq for their own private purposes which were . . . well, the motives aren’t made clear beyond citing an insane need to trade blood for oil and to enrich Halliburton.

These Moveon.org folks aren’t going to listen to any reasonable debate and will be incensed by this essay or by any other commentary that does not demonize the Bush administration and anyone who served in it. They want to find and hang war criminals in our own government, not discuss the future in any specific way. To avoid inciting them, they’re excused from this discussion.

Then there are the Dead Enders – the dwindling group of supporters of a failed policy in Iraq, the “support the troops at any price” folks who would keep the troops there until “victory” and stay the course even though there has been no clear definition of victory or of a sane course on which to stay for several years now. They don’t accept the majority opinion that on a scale of 10 to 0 with 10 being total success and 0 being a total pooch-screw, the Iraq War is at 2 and dropping. This group on the opposite end of the seesaw from Moveon.org can’t understand that a nation can win a war on tactics and lose it on strategy. Or that a nation can fight a war for decent reasons and still lose its soul in the process. This group is not lost to logic because they want victory, but because they refuse to acknowledge the blunders that the U.S. has made in Iraq or to enter into dialogue with their fellow citizens on just what could and should constitute “victory.” To spare their feelings, these folks are also excused from this discussion.

In this June-July Message I will cite some facts and questions related to the current war and then suggest several Modest Proposals for alternative ways for the U.S. to get out of Iraq. All I can guarantee (other than some, perhaps most, people will be angered by the essay) is that you won’t hear any of these proposals on the campaign trail. Nor will you ever hear them coming out of the White House. In truth, you won’t hear them anywhere but here.


The IED War:

(Note: the data behind the questions and answers listed below are drawn from Thomas E. Ricks’s FIASCO: The American Military Adventure in Iraq and from other sources.)

Question: In the early days of the IED War against American troops in Iraq, the weapon of choice for insurgents was roadside bombs. About one-third of American troops killed in 2003 (the first year of what is now seen as the U.S. occupation there) and two-thirds wounded severely enough to be evacuated from Iraq were victims of these so-called “improvised explosive devices.” During the summer of 2003, almost all of these IEDs were hardwired (attached by lines used to detonate them.) What was the U.S. military’s primary counter-tactic to these IED attacks?

Answer: See the wire, follow it back, and kill the person waiting at the other end.

Question: By the winter of 2003-2004, about half of the IED bombs were remotely controlled, triggered by car alarm transmitters, toy car controllers, cell phones, and the like. In addition, the levels of explosive had risen to include 155 mm artillery shells as well as mortar rounds and large amounts of TNT or plastic explosive. In the Sunni Triangle, the IEDs of choice were radio-controlled toy car mechanisms with their electronic innards wrapped with C-4 explosive and detonated with a blasting cap. What did Lt. Col. Steve Russell, headquartered in Tikrit, devise – and advise those who came after him to use – to avoid these radio-controlled bombs?

Answer: Mount one of the toy-car controllers on the dashboard of your Humvee and tape down the levers, detonating any such IED about a hundred meters in front of you.

Question: The insurgents would carefully choose spots for IED placement, such as traffic circles and intersections, and plant the bombs in the middle of the night. How did U.S. troops adopt a low-tech way to counter this practice?

Answer: Learn the kind of IED locations the insurgents preferred, leave behind a sniper team, and kill any Iraqi who went out into that intersection or traffic circle on foot in the middle of the night.

Question: During what some military historians are calling Second Fallujah – i.e. the second battle between Marines and insurgents in the evacuated city of Fallujah that resulted in the heaviest urban fighting in the war to date -- why did Marines use Polish snipers from the Coalition?

Answer: Rules of engagement for snipers in all branches of the U.S. military, including the Marines at Fallujah, required that a sniper’s target be carrying a weapon and show some hostile intent. Polish snipers’ rules of engagement allowed them to shoot any Iraqi man seen carrying a cell phone in that city almost emptied of civilians.

Question: Insurgents by late 2003 began leaving artillery shells and other remote-detonated explosives in the hollowed-out carcasses of dead dogs, dead donkeys, and other such carcasses that are common sights along the sides of Iraqi streets and highways. These dead animals smelled so bad and were so common that they were very difficult for American IED spotting teams to approach and investigate. How could they be countered?

Answer: Blow up every carcass from a distance.

Question: By the Battle of Second Fallujah, how had the dead-dog strategy been further adapted by the insurgents?

Answer: The Iraqi and foreign insurgents, who had flocked to Fallujah by the thousands, began booby-trapping the corpses of their own dead and even their wounded left behind.

Question: How did the Marines respond to this new tactic?

Answer: They “killed fallen Iraqis twice,” and in some cases – but not most – delayed in giving medical aid to wounded insurgents.

Question: As the insurgents watched U.S. troops become more sophisticated in dealing with IEDs, they and their civilian supporters observed that the convoys and troops would stop about two hundred meters short of the bomb. They then began planting more obvious bombs about two hundred meters in front of the actual IED killing zone to blow up the U.S. vehicles and troopers where they stopped. What could U.S. forces do after many such successful attacks?

Answer: Drive like hell. Get on the sidewalk and keep going. Drive over any civilians who get in the way.

Question: The insurgent IED bomber cells became much more sophisticated by 2004. Each cell often contained six to eight people, one of whose job it was to video-record the IED attack for propaganda, training, and recruiting purposes. Other IED team members might include the financier who paid for the operation, the emplacer, who would plant a bomb by pretending to fix a flat tire or by lowering it through a hole cut in the floor of the car, the triggerman who detonated the device, and one or two spotters. How did the military deal with this ratcheting up in insurgent IED teams’ sophistication?

Answer: They attempted to improve intelligence, but as that failed, they up-armored soft-skinned Humvees and every other vehicle they took into harm’s way so that they had a better chance of surviving the explosion.

Question: By winter of 2003, the suicide bomber in a moving vehicle became a popular IED delivery method. How did U.S. troops counter this measure?

Answer: The insurgents tended to use cheap, old cars for their suicide car bombings. U.S. troops began to look for old jalopies that sat low on their springs because of the heavy weight of munitions. Another sign was fresh tires on such an old car. “This is a one-way trip, driver wants no flats,” explained a 2004 briefing.

Question: By the winter of 2004-2005, insurgents began concealing IEDs among overhanging branches and leaves in the lush areas around Baghdad or hanging them from light poles. The purpose of this was to move the bomb blast above armored doors to direct the blast through windows while killing and maiming the U.S. soldiers manning weapons atop armored vehicles. How did American forces respond to this tactic?

Answer: By using more sophisticated jamming devices, by using heavily armored vehicles and IED dispersal teams to scout the roads and disarm or explode the bombs, and by “buttoning up” and accelerating when coming to areas with lots of overhanging branches and posts.

Question: Between 2005 and 2007, U.S. military sources alleged that Iranian commando forces that were part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard allied with President Ahmadinejad were importing into Iraq – and training the insurgents there in the use of – sophisticated remote-control detonating devices (which could defeat both the Warlock Red and Warlock Green electronic jamming devices currently in use by Coalition forces) as well as introducing advanced plasma and “heavy slug” kinetic roadside explosives.

This new type of IED was often buried within the roadbed or set alongside the road and consists of a “shaped charge” and a cone of copper creating a hollow space in front of and along the axis of the charge.

When this explosive is detonated, the copper transforms into a forceful jetstream of molten metal known as “plasma.” This plasma jet contacts a surface at a velocity of 8,000 meters per second and cuts through unprotected steel armor like the proverbial hot knife through butter. These more advanced plasma IEDs are credited with destroying a growing number of American armored vehicles, including M1 Abrams tanks, Bradley armored vehicles, Stryker APCs, and up-armored Humvees, even though these vehicles had recently been protected by various types of add-on armor.

If the plasma jet does not strike a target within a few meters, it solidifies into a high-velocity kinetic slug which is less effective against heavy armor but which is still devastating against softer targets. Both the plasma jet aspect of the Iranian weapon and the kinetic slug are effective at igniting ammunition stores within the tank or vehicle, causing secondary explosions and killing the crews in a fireball that not only burns the American troops to death but asphyxiates them by consuming all oxygen within the armored vehicle.

(It should be noted that as late as May of 2007, left-wing blogs, editorials, and newspaper columnists in Europe, the UK, and in the United States denied either the existence of these weapons in Iraq or, if they existed, any definitive proof that Iran was behind their import and use there. When the U.S. Army presented Iranian manufacturing numbers and other evidence, including interrogation notes of Iranian commandos apprehended in Iraq who admitted to training Iraqi insurgents on the use of copper-plasma IEDs, critics suggested that this was more U.S. disinformation in preparation for a Bush Administration attack on Iran.)

Assuming the copper plasma-kinetic slug IEDs are a real threat, what can Coalition forces in Iraq do to counter them?

Answer: There’s no known countermeasure for such plasma armor-piercing weapons. As for the new anti-jamming detonators introduced by Iran, the U.S. military is currently undergoing field tests on the new Joint Improvised Explosive Device Neutralizer (JIN), which uses controlled directed energy to jam sophisticated remote-controlled activators, as well as the Scorpion II Demonstration System, a transportable high-powered microwave system capable of disabling a wide variety of IED triggering devices. (It should be noted that insurgents have already shifted to using infrared laser command links in areas where American electronic jammers have been effective.)

As a response for what the U.S. military claims is a growing problem of Iranian special forces arming and training both Shiite and (surprisingly) Sunni insurgent forces in Iraq, many members of Congress, primarily Democrats, have called for negotiations with the Iranians.

How to Get Out of Iraq

Modest Proposal # 1


Let’s call a spade a spade. No more mealy-mouthed euphemisms such as “redeployment” or “deploying over the horizon” . . . the fastest way out of Iraq for the United States is to set a surrender date, haul down the U.S. flag (or the few U.S. flags that are allowed to fly within American bases there out of sight of Iraqis so as to spare their feelings), and to get out.

Only in this particular surrender and defeat, the U.S. will have to avoid the rationalizations and psychological evasions we employed after Vietnam. We will have to admit – the government will have to admit, the military will have to admit, and the American people will have to admit – that a “Coalition of the Willing” of insurgents in Iraq, made up of former Baathists, former Fedayeen Saddam commandos, Iraqi criminals and kidnappers and mercenaries in it for the money, al Qaida Mesopotamia terrorists, and jihadists from the region (including the thousands of suicide bombers both Iraqi and foreigners), all backed by Syria and Iran – beat us. They created an insurgency that we could not quell. Their mercilessness – slaughtering innocents by the tens of thousands, beheading prisoners in front of video cameras, sending an endless supply of suicide bombers out to kill civilians, deliberately triggering the most violent sort of sectarian civil war – simply could not be matched by modern American military tactics if the U.S. was to retain any vestige of morality.

So we name a date to surrender, surrender on that date, and have the current 150,000+ American troops in Iraq out within a month after that surrender date.

Since the world will know any forced withdrawal from Iraq will be a defeat and surrender on our part – and Arab nations and Muslim countries and Iran will trumpet it and celebrate it everywhere around the globe via their satellite news services and mosques -- we have to acknowledge it to ourselves. No victory parades. In fact, there should be an official Week of Mourning for the Surrender in Iraq, during which all shops and government offices will be closed, all sports events and major public events cancelled. The day of the surrender should be noted on American calendars as Surrender in Iraq Day for all time to come.

Some will say that the thousands of American troops slain will have “died in vain.” We will be honest enough not to dispute that claim. A nation that wages an unwise war –or at least wages it unwisely – and which fails to gain its objectives and is forced to surrender on the battlefied to a victorious enemy has had its soldiers die (and be wounded and crippled) in vain.

Germany and Japan had to face that reality in the 20th Century. After Surrender Day in Iraq, the United States will have to accept that reality in the 21st Century.


Private Military Contractors in Iraq and Fallujahs I and II:

There are, as I write this in May of 2007, somewhere around 120,000 – 150,000 private military and security people carrying (and using) weapons in Iraq. (Some sources suggest that the number is closer to 200,000.) The United States government alone employs up to 120,000 of these private (mercenary) contractors. All the major media outlets hire such private security people to protect their people. U.S. government officials and visiting VIPs in the so-called Green Zone depend upon such private military contractors for protection. Private corporations involved in supply missions within Iraq or reconstruction efforts in that country hire private soldiers and security by the thousands for their convoys and to protect their top personnel.

The “first battle of Fallujah” – one of the greatest defeats in the history of the U.S. Marines – began with the premeditated murder of some PMC’s (private military contractors) by Iraqi insurgents and civilians.

The 82nd Airborne handed over responsibility for the western Iraq city of Fallujah to the U.S. Marine Corps on 24 March, 2004. Under the control and protection of the 82nd, Fallujah had been relatively quiet. According to the Marine commanders coming into the city, it seemed quiet but the appearance was an illusion.

“Fallujah looked good,” said Col John Toolan, commander of the 1st Marines that took up their posts in a base just outside of Fallujah. “It had a mayor, a police chief, all the trimmings. But it had termites. You always tread lightly, talking about the guys before you (the 82nd Airborne). But they weren’t out enough to do the termite inspection.”

The Marines did frequent patrols. As Thomas E. Ricks writes –“The Marines were looking to engage both the people and the enemy – the first with friendship, the second with guns.”

“You want the fuckers to have a safe haven?” asked Col. Clarke Lethin, the chief of operations for the 1st Marine Division.

It may have been a rhetorical question for the Marines, but not for the insurgents within Fallujah, who had enjoyed a safe haven there and who had every intention of continuing to do so. Insurgents in the city had prepared huge stockpiles of weapons and explosives, established elaborate ambush points, were setting up roadblocks and barricades of parked cars, and warned local shops to close. The Marines continued their patrols, unaware of the extent of the insurgents’ preparations.

On 31 March, 2004, two SUVs carrying four civilian contractors from the security company Blackwater USA bypassed a Marine checkpoint and drove into Fallujah. The reasons for the Blackwater people going into the city along that route at that time are not completely clear to this day – the best guess is that the men were checking out the route that their supply contractor Kellogg Brown & Root’s logistics convoy would take the next day. Informed sources and a later investigation suggest that the Blackwater people had been lured into the city via that route by members of the Iraqi security forces working for the insurgents.

What happened next is clear. The Blackwater SUVs ran into an expertly prepared insurgent ambush that had been set up more than 24 hours earlier. All of the nearby shops were closed and roadblocks were in place to prevent the contractors from escaping once the trap was sprung. The insurgents had stashed cans of gasoline in a nearby alley.

The four American contractors were attacked near the center of town, struck by fire from AK-47’s and RPGs, dragged still alive from the cars, beaten, and dismembered.

Two of the dismembered torsos were dragged westward through crowds of cheering Iraqis – the images were broadcast around the Arab world via video – and hung from the girders of a bridge over the Euphrates. The crowd then pulled down the bodies and tossed them on a pile of burning tires while larger crowds of Fallujah residents, including many young boys, cheered and crowed.

Because the atrocities were televised, those high in the councils of the Bush Administration were not sure how to react. Above all, they wanted to avoid the impression that this was another October, 1993, in Mogadishu, with Muslim mobs dragging and burning American bodies and the U.S. military “redeploying” – leaving – as a consequence. No one wanted another “Black Hawk down” scenario.

In the end, the order came down to the Marine commanders to “go in and clobber people.”

On 5 April, 2004, the Marines launched Operation Vigilant Resolve. First to go into the city of Fallujah were teams of special operators to capture “high-value targets” if possible. Then came a full-scale assault carried out by about 2,5000 Marines from three battalions backed up by tanks and other armored vehicles. As fighting intensified in the narrow streets of Fallujah, heavier rounds of air strikes into the city as well as support by C-130 gunships and Cobra helicopter gunships added firepower to the struggle.

The insurgents – totaling an estimated 1,200 fighters -- were well dug in, well-armed and provisioned, and supported by the civilians in Fallujah.

Maj. General James Mattis, in command of the 1st Marines, asked for more troops. Washington turned down the request. Mattis stripped out troops from other areas of the Southwestern sector under Marine supervision – turning over control of some areas to the Army – in order to concentrate forces on Fallujah.

The fighting ground on and spread to nearby cities such as Ramadi.

It was during this time that the violent Shiite cleric Moqtadr al-Sadr incited his militas and followers to attack American forces in the Sadr City part of Baghdad and in nearby southern towns such as Kufa and Najaf.

With major and simultaneous uprisings from both Sunni insurgents and radical Shiite militias, the American commanders decided to put the newly constituted Iraqi Army to the test by throwing them into the Fallujah fight. As it turned out, the entire 620-man Iraqi 2nd Battalion, newly trained, uniformed, armed, and outfitted, refused to join the battle. When the unit was being convoyed out of Baghdad to Fallujah, a Shiite mob opened fire on the convoy and the Iraqi soldiers refused to continue on. U.S. military commanders rushed to arrange helicopter transport of the Iraqi troops to Fallujah – they were under pressure from Washington to show that our “allies” the Iraqi forces were in the fight – but out of 695 Iraqi soldiers available, 106 deserted on the spot and 104 refused to go.

“We did not sign up to fight Iraqis,” one of the deserting Iraqi soldiers explained.

Meanwhile, the fighting in Fallujah was fierce. By 9 April, the first anniversary of the fall of Baghdad, 39 Marines had died and hundreds had been wounded, but General Mattis believed that he had the enemy on the ropes. The Marines had thrown up an effective cordon around the city and supplies and ammunition were running out for the remaining insurgents, who lacked actual bunkers and were vulnerable to artillery, air strikes, and door-to-door Marine attacks.

Then word came from the top for the Marines to stand down. General Mattis was furious. “If you’re going to take Vienna, take fucking Vienna!” he shouted at one point, paraphrasing Napolean. But it was an election year in the United States. Neither civilian nor military leaders in Washington wanted the fight to get out of hand.

The Marines stood by for two weeks, expecting to be sent back into the city. But finally they received unofficial word that the White House thought that more fighting – much less more desertion by the new Iraqi soldiers – might “shatter the coalition.” The Marines were told to stand down even though the insurgents were still in charge of Fallujah and the murderers of the U.S. contractors were not apprehended as promised by the U.S. government and by the Marines themselves. Baathists and al-Qaida in Iraq as well as Arab news media everywhere trumpeted the first battle for Fallujah as a major victory for the anti-American forces.

“Most of Fallujah is returning to normal,” said President Bush on 28 April, 2004. The Marines on the ground thought otherwise; not a single one of their objectives in Fallujah had been achieved. The government and military then announced that they had turned the restoration of law and order in the city over to a newly created “Fallujah Brigade,” a group cobbled together by the CIA and some Marine officers.

The Iraqi officer hastily chosen to lead the brigade turned out to be a proud Republican Guard Saddamist who entered the city wearing the green uniform and red beret he’d worn as a major general fighting U.S. forces during the invasion. The “Fallujah Brigade” itself turned out to be made up largely of insurgents.

“We turned the city over to the Fallujah Brigade – which was made up of people we’d been fighting against,” said a disgusted Col. Toolan.

“My opinion, that was hiring the inmates to run the asylum,” said Col. Lethin.

Like the “peace” that ended WWI, the ceasefire in Fallujah was merely the beginning of a period of repositioning and resupply before Round Two, which would explode in the Battle of Second Fallujah in November of 2004.

How to Get Out of Iraq

Modest Proposal # 2


Turn the whole fight over to private security contractors. Our side of it at least.

As noted above, there are currently between 120,000 to 150,000 private mercenary soldiers, security personnel, and “PMC’s”, private military contractors, in Iraq already, as compared to about 150,000 U.S. Army and Marine troops.

Continue the war by other means. Bring home the Army and Marines, send in the PMCs.

There are dozens of private military companies currently engaged in Iraq. Besides more than two dozen American companies, there are many from the UK (including “Gurkha Security Guards” registered in Guernsey), more from South Africa, some from Germany, the Omega Company from Norway, Levdan from Israel, and even Diamond Works from Canada. There are even operatives there from the OMEGA SERVICES from Russia, made up from former Russian commandos, special forces, and Marines.

It should be relatively simple to double the number of PMC fighters in Iraq within only a few months. Recruitment should not be a problem. Some observers have argued in the past two years that there is already an exodus to such private military corporations from national military organizations, most specifically from the UK Special Air Service, the United States Army Special Forces, and the Canadian Army’s Joint Task Force 2 – some of the elite of the elite in international special forces.

(A recent U.S. GAO report has repudiated this conventional wisdom about special forces leaving for private work in large numbers, at least in its review of U.S. special forces reinlistment rates.)

Nonetheless, entry level positions in such private military companies tend to start at around $100,000 a year and those working in Iraq can expect US $1,000 a day or more, depending upon their experience and expertise. Most are deployed in Iraq for a year and a half, which parses out to an income of more than half a million dollars for an 18-month service period. The $100,000 minimum tends to be 2-3 times more than what an average U.S. special forces soldier is paid.

The major advantages to the United States in such a subcontracting of the Iraq War to private sources are obvious:

  1. PMCs will not be bound by current American military rules of engagement or – for that matter – by the Geneva Convention.
  2. Redeployment, rebuilding, and upsizing of the regular U.S. military could take place while the PMCs carry on the fight in Iraq over the next decade or more
  3. Greater use of Private Military Contractors will finally “internationalize the Iraq War” in a real rather than rhetorical sense. Hundreds of European, Asian, North American, Middle Eastern, South African, Russian, and Israeli companies will be involved.
  4. PMCs can concentrate on killing insurgents in ways and to degrees that the U. S. military – with its muddled and multiple roles of nation-building, reconstruction, and security in Iraq now – never could.
  5. Instead of leaving billions of dollars worth of U.S. Army Reserve and regular army equipment – trucks, tanks, fighting vehicles, artillery, weapons, munitions – behind for the Iraqi Army to hand over to the insurgents or their local militias when we leave (or to be used for genocide of Sunnis by the Shiite government), we can arrange a “lend lease” to the PMCs designated to carry on the fight against the insurgents and to provide security within the nation.

The privatization of the Iraq War could be President Bush’s “Third Path,” somewhere between the unthinkable course of surrender-withdrawal and the equally unthinkable “stay the course.” It could be the way he meets Democrats’ demands – setting a withdrawal date, avoiding any more shedding of American military blood, rebuilding and redeploying U.S. forces in the ongoing war on terrorism – without abandoning all of the United States’ strategic goals in Iraq and the region.


Iran in the Ascendent:

From The New York Times, May 15, 2007 –

Inspectors Cite Big Gain by Iran on Nuclear Fuel

Published: May 15, 2007

VIENNA, May 14 — Inspectors for the International Atomic Energy Agency have concluded that Iran appears to have solved most of its technological problems and is now beginning to enrich uranium on a far larger scale than before, according to the agency’s top officials.

The findings may change the calculus of diplomacy in Europe and in Washington, which has aimed to force a suspension of Iran’s enrichment activities in large part to prevent it from learning how to produce weapons-grade material.

In a short-notice inspection of Iran’s main nuclear facility at Natanz on Sunday, conducted in advance of a report to the United Nations Security Council due early next week, the inspectors found that Iranian engineers were already using roughly 1,300 centrifuges and were producing fuel suitable for nuclear reactors, according to diplomats and nuclear experts here. Until recently, the Iranians were having difficulty keeping the delicate centrifuges spinning at the tremendous speeds necessary to make nuclear fuel, and often were running them empty, or not at all.

Now, those roadblocks appear to have been surmounted. “We believe they pretty much have the knowledge about how to enrich,” said Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the energy agency, who clashed with the Bush administration four years ago when he declared that there was no evidence that Iraq had resumed its nuclear program. “From now on, it is simply a question of perfecting that knowledge. People will not like to hear it, but that’s a fact.”

It is unclear whether Iran can sustain its recent progress. Major setbacks are common in uranium enrichment, and experts say it is entirely possible that miscalculation, equipment failures or sabotage could prevent the Iranian government from reaching its goal of producing fuel on what President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad boasts is “an industrial scale.”

The material produced so far would have to undergo further enrichment before it could be transformed into bomb-grade material, and to accomplish that Iran would probably have to evict the I.A.E.A. inspectors, as North Korea did four years ago.

Even then it is unclear whether the Iranians would have the technology to produce a weapon small enough to fit atop their missiles, a significant engineering challenge.

Iran says its nuclear program is intended to produce energy, not weapons.

While the United Nations Security Council has passed a resolution demanding that Iran suspend all of its nuclear activities, and twice imposed sanctions for its refusal to do so, some European nations, and particularly Russia, have questioned whether the demand for suspension still makes sense.

The logic of demanding suspension was that it would delay the day that Iran gained the knowledge to produce its own nuclear fuel, what the Israelis used to refer to as “the point of no return.” Those favoring unconditional engagement with Iran have argued that the current strategy was creating a stalemate that the Iranians are exploiting, allowing them to make technological leaps while the Security Council steps up sanctions.

The Bush administration, in contrast, has argued that it will never negotiate while the Iranians speed ever closer to nuclear-weapons capacity, saying there has to be a standstill as long as talks proceed. In a telephone interview, R. Nicholas Burns, the undersecretary of state for policy, who is carrying out the Iran strategy, said that while he had not heard about the I.A.E.A.’s newest findings they would not affect American policy.

“We’re proceeding under the assumption that there is still time for diplomacy to work,” he said, though he added that if the Iranians did not agree to suspend production by the time the leaders of the largest industrial nations meet next month, “we will move ahead toward a third set of sanctions.”

Dr. ElBaradei has always been skeptical of that strategy, telling European foreign ministers that he doubted the Iranians would fully suspend their nuclear activities, and that a face-saving way must be found to resolve the impasse.

“Quite clearly suspension is a requirement by the Security Council, and I would hope the Iranians would listen to the world community,” he said. “But from a proliferation perspective, the fact of the matter is that one of the purposes of suspension — keeping them from getting the knowledge — has been overtaken by events. The focus now should be to stop them from going to industrial scale production, to allow us to do a full-court-press inspection and to be sure they remain inside the treaty.”

The report to the Security Council next week is expected to say that since February 2006, when the Iranians stopped complying with an agreement on broad inspections around the country by the agency, the I.A.E.A.’s understanding of “the scope and content” of Iran’s nuclear activities has deteriorated.

Inspectors are concerned that Iran has declined to answer a series of questions, posed more than a year ago, about information Iran probably received from Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani nuclear engineer. Of particular interest is a document that shows how to make uranium into spheres, a shape suitable for use in a weapon.

The inspection conducted on Sunday took place on two hours’ notice, a period so short that it appears unlikely that the Iranians could have turned on their centrifuges to impress the inspectors. According to diplomats familiar with the inspectors’ report, in addition to 1,300 working centrifuges, 300 more were being tested and appeared ready to be fed raw nuclear fuel as soon as late this week, the diplomats said. Another 300 were reported to be under construction.
The I.A.E.A. reported more than a week ago that approximately 1,300 centrifuges were in place, but nuclear experts here said that what struck them now was that all the centrifuges appeared to be enriching uranium and running smoothly.

“They are at the stage where they are doing one cascade a week,” said one diplomat familiar with the analysis of Iran’s activities, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the information. A cascade has 164 centrifuges, and experts say that at this pace, Iran could have 3,000 centrifuges operating by June — enough, if the uranium were enriched further, to make one bomb’s worth of nuclear material every year. Tehran may, the diplomat said, be able to build an additional 5,000 centrifuges by the end of the year, for a total of 8,000.

The inspectors have tested the output and concluded that Iran is producing reactor-grade uranium, enriched to a little less than 5 percent purity. But that still worries American officials and I.A.E.A. experts. If Iran stores the uranium and later runs it through centrifuges for four or five more months, it can raise the enrichment to 90 percent, the level needed for a nuclear weapon.

Some Bush administration officials and some nuclear experts here at the I.A.E.A. and elsewhere suspect that the Iranians may not be driving for a weapon but the ability to have sufficient stockpiles of low-enriched uranium that they could produce a bomb within months of evicting inspectors, as North Korea did in 2003. That capacity alone could serve as a nuclear deterrent.

One senior European diplomat, who declined to speak for attribution, said that Washington would now have to confront the question of whether it wants to keep Iran from producing any nuclear material, or whether it wants to keep it from gaining the ability to build a weapon on short notice.

Continued stalemate, the diplomat said, allows Iran to move toward that ability.

But hawks in the administration say that the only position President Bush can take now, without appearing to back down, is to stick to the administration’s past argument that “not one centrifuge spins” in Iran. They argue for escalating sanctions and the threat that, if diplomacy fails, the United States could destroy the nuclear facilities.

But even inside the administration, many officials, particularly in the State Department and the Pentagon, argue that military action would create greater chaos in the Middle East and Iranian retribution against American forces in Iraq, and possibly elsewhere.

Moreover, they have argued that Iran’s enrichment facilities are still at an early enough stage that a military strike would not set the country’s program back very far. Such a strike, they argue, would make sense only once large facilities had been built.

How to Get Out of Iraq

Modest Proposal # 3


Every non-biased observer can agree on one point concerning the Iraq War – i.e. Iran has been the big winner there to date.

The U.S. post-9-11 policy of preemptive war, especially those aimed at regime change in Muslim and Arab nations which support terrorism or destabilize the Mideast, had an initial flurry of positive (to the American interests) results –

  • General Musharraf, given a serious ultimatum through Colin Powell and the United States, agreed to cease overt support to the Taliban and dangerous proliferation of Pakistani nuclear technology and weapons’ designs. Since then, Musharraf has learned to fear his extremist Islamist enemies, within and outside of Pakistan, more than the largely de-fanged United States
  • Moammar Qaddafi unilaterally revealed and surrendered Libya’s secret nuclear weapons program in fear of following Saddam in regime-change via U.S. armored divisions.
  • Iran, horrified at the speed and power of the U.S. air power and special forces overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan, actually gave some cooperation at the time, both in terms of anti-terrorist intelligence (even though Iran is the largest state-sponsor of terrorism in the world) and in cooperating in the nation building that followed the expulsion of the Taliban from Afghanistan. Since then, of course, Iran has found renewed reason to support terrorism and to help in the destabilization of Iraq.

Iran has proclaimed its desire for a “Shiite Crescent” that sweeps down across Iraq, including the Shiite regions in the south of that country, and up along the Mediterranean coast through Lebanon and across the space that the “Zionist entity” – Israel – occupies now. Such a Shiite Crescent would be the beginning of the new caliphate that President Ahmadinejad has proclaimed as being on the verge of coming into existence.

Iranian provocations recently have only emboldened their adventurous spirit. The seizing this spring of 15 British sailors was – by any objective standards – a huge success for Iran and its most militant Ahmadinejad and Revolutionary Guard wing. The Iranians seized the sailors illegally, paraded them in front of cameras in violation of all Geneva Accord rules, televised propaganda confessions and apologies from the poorly trained Brits, and – against all international law – threatened to try them in courts where the sentence could be death.

Some of the British sailors folded like a cheap accordians. After admitting her guilt, asking the Iranian people for forgiveness, and saying on television that the UK military should “get out of Iraq,” Leading Seaman Faye Turney, said on the day of the hostages’ release -- "Apologies for our actions, but many thanks for having it in your hearts to let us go free."

Before leaving, one of the 15, Lt. Felix Carman, told Iranian television: "To the Iranian people, I can understand why you were insulted by our apparent intrusion into your waters. I'd like to say that no harm was meant to Iranian people or its territories whatsoever, and that I hope that this experience will help to build the relationship between our countries."

It will certainly change the relationship between Iran and the West. (Or at least confirm Iran’s perceptions of the UK, the EU, and the West.) What it may “build” is another question.

In his early attempts to line up support for the British position in this flagrant violation of international law, Prime Minister Tony Blair turned to the United Nations Security Council for help and leverage. Russia and China vetoed any statement of support. He then turned to the European Union which – because so many of its constituent nations, especially France, have such extensive economic ties with Iran – would not even vote for a statement of support in the crisis. The most they could muster was a mild “statement of concern” that put no opprobrium on the Iranians for their actions.

One of the few voices not to pretend that the humiliation of the UK and its captured sailors was some sort of victory of “firm but quiet diplomacy” by England was former US ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton who said President Ahmadinejad was the clear winner and had been strengthened in his pursuit of nuclear weapons.

"President Ahmadinejad comes out of this as a winner on two counts," he said. "He won by seizing British hostages and he won by unilaterally deciding to release them, having found out the answer to the question I think he was posing, which is - how strong a response will Britain make to this act of taking captive these 15 service members?

"The reaction was - not much at all. I think Ahmadinejad is actually emboldened in his pursuit of nuclear weapons, and I think that means more trouble ahead for all of us."

Since then, Iran has seized Iranian-American scholar Haleh Esfandiari and subjected her to interrogations, threats, and imprisonment.

Esfandiari, who is head of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington (and a leading proponent of improved “dialogue” between the West and Iran), had traveled to Iran in December to visit her ailing mother. On December 30, prior to her planned departure from Iran, armed and masked men stopped her taxi and seized both her Iranian and US passports. Since December, Iranian authorities failed to replace her passport and instead subjected her to repeated and protracted interrogation sessions.

On May 8, officials at the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence summoned Esfandiari for questioning, arrested her without warrant or explanation, and transferred her to Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, where Human Rights Watch has documented cases of torture and detainee abuse.

In a statement on May 10, the Wilson Center said that during interrogations, Esfandiari “was pressured to make a false confession or to falsely implicate the Wilson Center in activities in which it had no part.”

Many human rights groups interpret Esfandiari’s treatment as part of a wider internal crackdown on potential Iranian dissidents.

“President Ahmadinejad is desperately trying to discredit his government’s many critics as American pawns,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Haleh Esfandiari is a well-known advocate of dialogue between Iranian and American scholars, and the Iranian authorities are trying to coerce her into making a false confession to incriminate Iranian writers and activists.”

Entreaties by the Wilson Center and by various human rights groups and European nations have so far (as of late May, 2007) been ignored by the Iranian groups holding her. Some analysts suggest that Iraq is “sending a message” to President Bush and the West that no mention of women’s rights or curtailment of the Iranian government’s prerogatives in all areas will be allowed. The most militant Iranians are saying that they can, in other words, do what they want whenever they want and to whomever they want and there’s nothing the West can do about it.

Ahmadinejad has recently renewed his threats to create chaos in the Gulf and near the Straits of Hormuz – to “shut down shipping of the world’s oil supplies” – if Europe and the United States continue to oppose Iran’s nuclear program or if the UN were to impose stricter sanctions.

It is quite possible, perhaps probable, that Iran will begin manufacturing nuclear weapons within the next 18 months. While most experts think that it will be much longer before Iranian nuclear weaponeers can miniaturize the bombs sufficiently to fit atop that nation’s current stock of long-range missiles, Iranian-subsidized terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, not missiles, might well be the delivery system of choice.

The non-partisan Council on Foreign Relations lists some of the terrorist groups that Iran currently sponsors and which they could use to deliver nuclear weapons to Israeli or American targets –

“Iran mostly backs Islamist groups, including the Lebanese Shiite militants of Hezbollah (which Iran helped found in the 1980s) and such Palestinian terrorist groups as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. A few months after Hamas won the Palestinian Authority (PA) elections, Iran pledged $50 million to the near-bankrupt PA. The United States, among other nations, has cut off aid to the PA because of Hamas’ terrorist ties.

“Iran is suspected of encouraging Hezbollah's July 2006 attack on Israel in order to deflect international attention from its nuclear weapons program. Iran was also reportedly involved in a Hezbollah-linked January 2002 attempt to smuggle a boatload of arms to the PA. Iran has given support to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a Kurdish separatist movement in Turkey, and to other militant groups in the Persian Gulf region, Africa, and Central Asia. Some reports also suggest that Iran’s interference in Iraq has included funding, safe transit, and arms to insurgent leaders like Muqtada al-Sadr and his forces.”


So let us give the Iranians what they want. Give them control of the Shiite south in Iraq.

This would mean, of course, that the current Iraqi government would be replaced in Baghdad by an Iranian puppet government, almost certainly headed by the Iraqi quisling Moqtadr al-Sadr, and that the new Iran-controlled Shiite government would immediately begin the organized slaughter of the millions of Sunnis in Iraq. (And also the arrest and murder of the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a relatively moderate Shiite cleric who has been a long-time opponent of al-Sadr and who has resisted total Iranian hegemony in southern Iraq. There is little doubt that an Iranian-backed al-Sadr Iraqi government would promote and pursue the slaughter of many of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s followers unless al-Sistani’s successor were to quickly subordinate that group’s policies and independence to Iran’s interests .)

But it is the almost inevitable slaughter of the Sunnis after Iranian hegemony is established in the broken remnants of Iraq that would bring in Iraq’s neighbors.

Surrounding Sunni nations such as Saudi Arabia would not allow this slaughter to continue and would send in arms, money, materiel, and fighters to help their “Sunni brethern.”

This is where American forces might join the insurgency.

When the Soviet Union threw itself into the quagmire in Afghanistan in the early 1980’s, American policy was to fund, arm, and support the muhajadin fighters. The USSR’s mistake was in “going in big and heavy and conventional” with tanks, long supply lines, and hundreds of thousands of troops, and in not finding a way to be effective against insurgents using AK-47’s, RPGs, land mines, and American-provided shoulder-launched Stinger missiles. In the face of constantly rising casualties and expenses, the Russians had to withdraw in defeat. The Soviet military never fully recovered from Afghanistan.

Now the U.S. has gone in “big and heavy and conventional” in Iraq, become the occupiers rather than liberators, and are following down the path of the Soviets.

Let us consider the logic of giving the Iranians control of that fiction called the “government of Iraq” and of American advisors then joining the insurgency. This would require leaving behind the few thousand special forces troops and CIA specialists needed to keep the Iranians in Iraq busy for the next decade as they try to fight a growing counterinsurgency supported by the United States and by rich Sunni nations just across Iraq’s porous borders.



“COIN” is the U.S. military acronym for counterinsurgency warfare.

Despite many accusations to the contrary, the U.S. military has adapted quickly to the changing tactical conditions in Iraq. General Casey – one of the U.S. commanders so blindsided in the early days of the insurgency – has, on the advice of counterinsurgency advocates under his command, helped establish the COIN Academy at the large U.S. military base at Taji, just north of Baghdad. It is now a prerequisite to commanding any U.S. military unit in Iraq that the officers attend counterinsurgency training at the COIN Academy.

Also, despite all conventional wisdom to the contrary, it is possible to win a war against indigenous insurgents. In fact, most such insurgencies – from Ireland to Bosnia to Greece through Sierre Leone and Somalia to Cambodia – are defeated by the governments in power, frequently with the help of a strong national neighbor or other regional power.

What complicates our position in Iraq – beyond the fact that the original reasons for invading, centered on the presence there of weapons of mass destruction, were invalid – is the fact that U.S. forces there are caught between a virulent insurgency and a low-level but vicious sectarian civil war. There are various scenarios by which U.S. and international forces still might prevail over the predominantly Sunni insurgency, but how can the U.S. troops avoid being pulled into the religious civil war already being fought there?

Fouad Ajami, the Lebanese-born Mideast scholar and Director of Middle East Studies Program at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of Johns Hopkins University, recently returned from Iraq and the surrounding area, has suggested a disturbing historical answer to how civil wars are resolved . . .

One side wins.

Ajami (who, I will say up front, is much despised by many leftist intellectuals, including Adam Shatz of The Nation) points out that, historically, ethnic and sectarian civil wars end when one side has prevailed by either conquering, dispersing, or slaughtering its opponent. Or by weakening it to the point that it can no longer carry on an effective war or insurgency.

Ajami’s observation of current Iraq is that the Sunni minority there, who have been in power, both under Saddam and before, for more than 80 years, appears to be very close to losing the internecine struggle, even without a major, unlimited civil war. More than 4 million Iraqis have fled their homes, most having fled Iraq, and the vast majority of these refugees are Sunni.

Perhaps more pertinent, the bulk of these 4 million Sunni refugees were the generals, officers, judges, lawyers, teachers, professors, administrators, policemen, doctors, intellectuals, writers, journalists, artists, and other professionals who made up the backbone not only of Iraqi government and life, but of the Sunni communities in Iraq.

Shiites make up more than 60% of the population in Iraq and are having more children than the Sunnis, who comprised 15-20% of the population before the current and ongoing exodus of their upper and middle-classes. In most explosions of sectarian violence, the ethnic group with the greater population prevails. In the current case of Iraq, that larger population now also controls the government in Baghdad and its army, national police, and major security forces. The Shiites also have greater numbers of armed militia.

Ajami and some other observers of the mess in Iraq do not expect a Rwanda solution – i.e. genocide – unless the Americans and various international groups in Iraq now do pull out completely, but they do suggest that the general Sunni population (as opposed to the hardcore Sunni and al-Qaida insurgents) are reaching a point where they will have to choose whether to attempt to prevail through arms and terrorism – an unlikely scenario under any circumstances – or attempt to gain more power through reconciliation with the existing government, their political demands for parity backed up by their armed militias (more or less as the IRA has come into power sharing in Ireland.)

Should the sectarian civil war begin to ebb in violence or should American forces manage to stay out of it as one side prevails, fighting just the insurgency (consisting primarily of al-Qaida in Iraq and the most militant Baathist fedayeen fighters), quickly becomes a different proposition for the U.S. military.

Winning a counterinsurgency war in Iraq would have both military and political requirements. As is usually the case, the military requirements are more straightforward and easier to achieve.

Those would include these classic counterinsurgency objectives –

  • gain control of the population. Actual support from the population can come later, but to win in a counterinsurgency war, the government must first isolate the insurgents from the general population and provide security for that non-combatant population
  • use local troops to battle the insurgency whenever possible, limiting foreign troops to the minimum number of advisors possible
  • cut off funding and arming of the insurgents
  • create a single, clear, and unified field command for the counterinsurgency forces
  • focus on small-scale, unconventional military operations (in support of local troops) rather than large-scale conventional campaigns
  • seal all borders
  • assure that civil, not military, power is in charge of counterinsurgency efforts and that civil and military authorities cooperate relentlessly
  • apply a minimum of force to do the job so as to keep civilian casualties low
  • make force protection a major part of our continuing presence in Iraq – even to the point of setting our bases in Kurdistan and enlisting wider use of the peshmerga fighters there as part of American-led special forces teams – so that the American casualty rates drop to a level that can be tolerated by the American public for the time necessary to do the job
  • be patient; insurgencies almost always collapse from their own internal violence and confusion of strategic goals if they are not supported by the majority of the local populations

General Casey said in late 2005 –“The average counterinsurgency in the twentieth century has lasted nine years. Fighting insurgencies is a long-term proposition, and there’s no reason that we should believe that the insurgency in Iraq will take any less time to deal with.”

But will American voters give our political leaders and military that time needed to deal with the Iraqi insurgency?

If that question has to be answered now, the answer would be a resounding – perhaps deafening – “NO.” The first roar of that “NO” was heard in the 2006 elections. U.S. political and military blunders in Iraq (beginning with the invasion itself in 2003, both in terms of its rationale and execution), compounded by staggering ineptitude during the so-called Phase IV post-invasion period, have made the American public wary of any promises.

But one reality remains absolute, if not frequently enough discussed in the ongoing dialogue about what to do next in Iraq –

Iraq is not Vietnam.

As much as a few simplistic leading political leaders would like our departure from Iraq to be as simple as it was from Vietnam in 1975 – i.e. leave and let the locals suffer the consequences of our folly – it is not that simple. Even most of the leading Democratic candidates for the presidency, opposed as they are to the war itself, are responsible enough to acknowledge that simply packing up and leaving is not a real alternative.

When we bugged out of Vietnam, there was zero probability that the local insurgents (the Viet Cong) or their victorious North Vietnamese Regular Army allies would pursue American forces and interests around the world or back to the continental United States to continue the battle. There is almost 100% probability that victorious al-Qaida in Iraq and jihadists who have been fighting there for four years now – as well as their state sponsors (who are also the greatest state sponsors of jihadist terrorism in the world) Iran and Syria – will use the shattered, failed, and newly Islamist state of Iraq as a safe haven and recruiting and staging area for attacks on Americans and American interests everywhere, not excluding the continental United States.

In this very real sense, it matters not at all to Americans’ interests that we were responsible for turning Iraq into a failed state or that our bungling has made this jihadist victory and increased threat possible. History will deal with that. What has to matter to Americans’ interests is that total destabilization of the Mideast brought about by failure in Iraq not be allowed to occur, thus further jeopardizing American and Western interests and lives. Nor can we be allowed to make life worse for Iraqis, as will inevitably be the case should we abandon them to more years and decades of the current Hobbesian nightmare there.

The political steps needed to meet our objectives in a protracted counterinsurgency war in Iraq are much harder to achieve than military objectives, but they are equally as clear –

  • An American president has to be elected who can reunite the country, acknowledge the mistakes and blunders of our adventure in Iraq to this point, and who can forge a new consensus of American policy and actions there that can be supported by a majority of the American people and by the majority of our traditional allies in Europe and the Mideast
  • The current use of Iraq to promote short-term partisan, political goals has to stop. This is deadly serious business and members of both political parties have to begin behaving – if not like statesmen -- then at least as grown-ups who put America’s interests above their parties’ immediate interests and gains.
  • The American people themselves have to start educating themselves on Iraq and the larger war-on-terrorism issues. To do this, they’ll have to get smarter fast. One way is to quit getting one’s news from Leno and Letterman and Bill Maher and the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. There should be a wide, serious, and sustained dialogue among Americans on Iraq and visions of the post-Iraq world and this dialogue must go beyond politics and polls. All informed opinion should be welcomed. We are past the point where the constant deluge of uninformed opinion can be tolerated.
  • The U.S. military has learned much in Iraq. The troops who have fought there have shown not just amazing courage and incredible professionalism, but the ability to learn quickly so as to survive. U.S. soldiers, Marines, and reservists returning for their third, fourth, and fifth tours in Iraq are much wiser than the troops who went their as “liberators” in 2003 and who could not understand why people there were trying to kill them, much less how to beat them. Now it’s time for the American political establishment and the American people to learn from Iraq. The first lesson is obvious – humility. Humility in our strategic goals, humility in our assessment of our place in the world, humility in our approach to other nations in Europe, the Mideast, and elsewhere, and humility in our national and personal understanding of the limits of power.

But having acknowledged the need for such humility and having admitted to the political and military errors and hubris that have led the United States to this mess in Iraq, the fact remains that the U.S. and the West have to prevail there or suffer the consequences of rising Islamist, jihadist, and Iranian nuclear extremism that will threaten not only our children and grandchildren but the very existence of our civilizations.

The starting point for the renewed dialogue between Americans and between America and its former friends might begin by general agreement on a statement taken from a document titled “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq” released by the White House in November, 2005 – “What happens in Iraq will influence the fate of the Middle East for generations to come, with a profound impact on our own national security.”

How to Get Out of Iraq

Modest Proposal # 4


It sounds crazy, but it just might work.


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