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  • February 23, 2022 12:05 PM | Kyle Stafford (Administrator)

    During the latter half of January 2022, a group of hacktivists (an activist using hacking to advocate for their beliefs) were able to compromise the Belarusian railroad management system. Taking in note the broader context of the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian crisis, this coordinated effort was conducted by a Belarusian opposition group’s desire to slow down a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine as the Russian military was believed to be transporting troops by train to the Ukrainian border. While the Belarusian Railway did not confirm a cyber-attack on its systems, it has publicly acknowledged several systems having technical difficulties. This attack is among one of the first of its kind, a non-state actor using cyber warfare as a means of action. While most Americans would seemingly support this action, it serves as a dangerous precedent for future conflicts.

    The concept of using a country’s complete resources (military and civilian) to assist in armed conflict most notably, known as total war, started during the American Civil War. During the Savannah campaign, General Sherman created a “scorched earth policy” where his troops would seek to destroy anything assisting the Confederacy. Telegram lines, bridges, and other critical infrastructure were destroyed. This method of warfare gradually became commonplace and was utilized during the Second World War. World War Two became the most destructive war in human history. The United State’s response was a nearly $13 billion recovery plan, roughly $144 billion dollars adjusted to inflation, that did not fully support reconstruction efforts. Total war is a destructive policy that the international community has largely abandoned.

    Cyber warfare offers a new format of warfare that can be even more destructive than traditional warfare. The world at large has increased its reliance on digital infrastructure. Hackers would be able to affect the lives of millions of Americans by forcing internet service providers offline, Comcast and Charter hold 60 million of the roughly 75 million internet subscribers. More calculated attacks however could be equally effective, as seen in the Colonial Pipeline hack. Power plants could be forced offline during peak demand, Google/Amazon/Microsoft servers that power most websites could shut down disrupting the way we communicate with each other, and electronic banking could be frozen making commerce slow dramatically. If multiple of these attacks occurred roughly at the same time, an entire region of the world would effectively be forced to shut down.

    These drastic attacks have practical uses for nearly every country. North Korea currently has a cyber-attack group and could order an attack on the United States and South Korea during a missile launch. The People’s Republic of China could attack communications with Taiwan to secure the island. Ongoing civil wars would disrupt a country given further as essential services are shut down. Wars of attrition could once again become commonplace as the wealthiest countries would be the only countries able to invest in cyber security and plan retaliatory attacks as a deterrence. Major world powers and the international community at large has a vested interest in condemning these types of attacks and creating an international framework to prevent them.

  • September 19, 2021 2:24 PM | Danielle Dougall

    Policy Implications: Assessing American Withdrawal from Afghanistan

    On August 30, President Biden followed through on his promise to end twenty years of American occupation in Afghanistan. Media coverage of Kabul’s quick fall and frightened Afghans clinging to departing planes at Kabul International Airport left the world, Americans scrambling to assess the situation and blame the incumbent administration. It is easy to forget that the seeds of the Afghanistan crisis were planted decades ago. Stasis or a resolute victory were unrealistic outcomes at this stage in the conflict. The United States only had two clear options - continue the withdrawal from Afghanistan that the Trump administration had started or hope to stave off a resurgent Taliban. 

    One question scholars debate is whether the withdrawal could have been handled better? The answer is clear. What was intended to be a slow and deliberate withdrawal of American presence quickly escalated into an emergency evacuation of more than 120,000 people in one of the biggest airlifts in American history. Nearly three weeks after the evacuation, 100 American citizens are still trapped in a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, as well as thousands of Afghans who worked or cooperated with the United States for the past two decades. 

    The Afghanistan episode is one of many failed American attempts at regime change in the twentieth century. A few weeks into the war, the Taliban requested to make a deal with the U.S. However, the Bush administration refused to negotiate with them. Instead, they pushed for a complete military victory to install democratic leaders in Afghanistan’s government. Twenty years later, the Biden administration faced a crumbling Afghani infrastructure, deep government corruption, and growing hostility from underground Taliban networks to the American presence. Nearly 250,000 Afghan lives have been lost in the conflict, 6,000 American lives were taken, and the war cost the U.S. $2 trillion.

    A strong argument for U.S. withdrawal was that it would free up American resources. However, the hasty exit may have increased burdens on our allies and military. The ability to address terrorism without boots on the ground places undue stress on flight and bomber fleets. It leaves the Biden administration in a difficult position to try and retain influence in the region. 

    Over the lengthy U.S. occupation, the American government trained approximately 300,000 Afghan military forces. But when American troops withdrew from Kabul and the Taliban poured in, the Afghani government did not fight. Afghanistan’s crumbling government Adding to the confusion, many citizens of war-torn villages in rural Afghanistan welcomed the Taliban’s reappearance as a broker of new peace. Afghanistan’s government faced problems of internal corruption and a refusal of leaders to unite politically. The Biden administration asked officials to meet with the Taliban and negotiate a diplomatic settlement during U.S. withdrawal, and they refused. 

    The hasty American exit demonstrates an alarming approach to U.S. foreign policy making due to great power competition. The spillover of the crisis has broader implications for stability for Afghanistan’s Middle Eastern and Asian neighbors. Geopolitically, Afghanistan sits on the hinge between the Middle East and South Asia. Perhaps the most apparent impact of the Taliban takeover is its effect on Pakistan. The Taliban has a long history of ties with Pakistani military intelligence (ISI). Some foreign policy analysts suspect that the swiftness of the Taliban takeover indicates the ISI may have helped coordinate and fund it. Pakistan has its own Taliban problem dedicated to overthrowing the government, and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan is in poor relations with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Scholars anticipate a net gain for Pakistan and a corresponding loss for India. 

    Looking West, the primary question is how the U.S. withdrawal and Taliban success will impact the Persian Gulf tension among Iran and Saudi Arabia and its allies. During the 1990s, the Saudi government and some Arab Gulf States were associated with the Taliban, and Iran was its enemy. Today, relations are even more challenging to decipher. The U.S. disengagement signals Russia’s longstanding claim as a peacemaker in the region may receive more attention and agreement from parts of the international community. Russian talks with the Taliban trace back to 2007 and Putin’s narrative of fighting terrorism abroad, particularly in Syria. Putin has a zero-sum outlook on foreign policy; any American loss is fundamentally Russia’s gain.

    Building partner capacity programs (BPCs) is often used as a tactic for the U.S. to curtail its military presence in extended wars. BPCs are particularly common in scenarios where the U.S. has engaged military forces but now faces itself with little incentives to stay and finite resources. Often, the American government has fallen back on the strategy of training and equipping host forces - in this case, Afghanistan’s government and military - as they prepare to withdraw. The American mentality is that foreign governments and local parties must be prepared to take over once American presence is removed. However, this mindset overlooks the misapplication of American military intervention as a tool to combat threats instead of intervention for democracy building. 

    What are the long-term policy implications and consequences for America’s relationship with Afghanistan? Scholars are currently describing the Trump and Biden administration’s decision to withdraw as part of a larger process of strategic re-prioritization. The past decade has reshaped American interest from a preoccupation with fighting terrorism to containment as China becomes a top priority in U.S. foreign policy. While Afghanistan seems to be one element of a larger pivot in America's international engagement, the crisis demonstrates the need for a revised approach to our international engagement and the problems interventionism often leaves in its wake. 

  • August 30, 2021 8:00 AM | Kyle Stafford (Administrator)

    The Foundation of the SDGs

    Sixty-seven years ago, at UC Berkeley’s convocation, the Second Secretary-General of the United Nations Dag Hammarskjöld stated that “[…] the United Nations was not created in order to bring us to heaven, but in order to save us from hell” (UN Press Release SG/382, 1954). This concluding remark is often regarded as the most straightforward objective that the United Nations aims to achieve. 

    Following the conclusion of the Cold War, many countries across the world envisioned a renewed focus of the international community on promoting human rights. After several years of lobbying, Secretary-General Kofi Annan created the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) after core principles in the Millennium Declaration (2000). The MDGs were the first time such a large international organization developed clear goals; these goals ranged from eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, reducing child and maternal mortality, and combating infectious diseases. The General Assembly required annual reports to measure the UN’s progress before the MDGs’ self-imposed 2015 deadline. Beginning the final MDGs report, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted, “The global mobilization behind the Millennium Development Goals has produced the most successful anti-poverty movement in history.” He then stated, “Yet for all the remarkable gains, I am keenly aware that inequalities persist and that progress has been uneven.” He noted extreme poverty dropped from forty-seven percent globally in 1990 to fourteen percent in 2015, while childhood morality reduced more than half in the same time. The goals were viewed as an adequate measure of the United Nations’ efforts and sought to be improved.

    Starting in 2012, the Post-2015 Development Agenda pursued different methods of pursuing international sustainable development for all countries. After the MDGs’ timeline concluded, negotiations quickly began for another fifteen-year plan. In late September 2015, the United Nations passed the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These goals expanded beyond the eight MDGs into 17 new goals with more targets to achieve each goal with specific definitions/indicators. Focus has increased on addressing inequalities (goal 10), climate action (goal 13), and developing strong institutions to ensure peace and justice (goal 16) that the MDGs did not bring. The SDGs have allowed the organization to be actively criticized and praised for meeting objectives it has set for itself. 

    The current progress of the SDGs has been significantly affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. According to the original 2015 agreement, twenty-one targets reached maturity, and roughly only five were confirmed to be fully reached by June 2020. Additionally, 2030 targets have become more challenging to achieve, with seventy-one million people entering extreme poverty last year, defined as living on less than $1.25 US dollars a day. Billions lack access to proper sanitized water and sewer systems, over 700 million lack electricity, and one hundred civilians were killed daily on average. 

    Historically the United States has led international dialogue across countless international issues. With the Biden administration’s pledge for the country to return to the international arena in a proactive leadership role, the country (federal and state) should incorporate the SDGs into policy objectives.

  • July 28, 2021 12:54 PM | Danielle Dougall

    A Snapshot of Biden’s Foreign Policy Agenda: Democracy in an Age of Great Power Competition

    The Biden administration entered the White House on January 20, 2021,  with the mantra to “build back better.” In a post-Trump presidency, the United States faces a series of unprecedented global challenges. At the forefront of Biden’s goals is to re-establish relationships with allies in the wake of great power competition. Three key themes of the Biden administration’s foreign policy agenda include:

    • Repairing America’s global reputation.

    • Reestablishing America’s foreign commitments and place of power.

    • Reconnecting our foreign policy agenda to clear domestic benefits for American workers. 

    Repairing America’s Global Reputation

    How does America begin to repair its brand? Reassert our commitment to human rights and the rule of law. American political polarization has been noticeably growing since the Reagan administration. However, in the past four years, Trump’s indifference to American democratic norms and institutional integrity resulted in a severely fractured global reputation of American values. 

    A thirteen-country survey of U.S. allies conducted by the Pew Foundation revealed America’s global public image is at an all-time low. Of those countries surveyed, only one-third indicated a positive perception of America. The transnational problems the Biden administration faces are a contest of systems. The U.S. faces a persisting pandemic, internal decay of democracy, and rising antidemocratic sentiments and dissatisfaction with our representative government. 

    However, other administrations have successfully boosted our global morale after suffering crises. After the Vietnam War, the Carter administration campaigned based on a call for solid morality. After George Bush’s wars in the Middle East damaged America’s global perception, Obama campaigned for the White House through hope and change, rallying for a return to multilateralism. The Biden administration must strengthen the bonds with our global democratic community. We see these efforts in strides to repair alliances, resolve diplomatic and trade disputes with Europe to create a more robust front against Russia and China, the protection of Taiwan from CCP aggression, global vaccination efforts through the Quad Vaccine Partnership and G7, and the growing digital alliance with South Korea.  

    Biden stacked his cabinet with seasoned intelligence officials with a strong history of championing human rights. White House readouts of Biden’s speeches and phone calls with Xi Jinping and Putin demonstrate a commitment to human rights by pressing foreign governments on human rights issues, restoring the U.S. refugee program, and imposing sanctions on Myanmar after its coup. While the Biden administration has not demonstrated a perfect consistency on human rights policies, its overall efforts will be a strategic asset for America and a sharp turn from Trump’s tone. 

    Re-establishing Foreign Commitments and Our Place of Power

    What parts of the world are most important to American security? Two things are already clear about America’s strategic priorities in 2021. Biden placed a clear emphasis on the Eurasian heartland:

    1. Biden created a new task force to review military policy toward China.

    2. Biden’s call with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi revealed America’s renewed partnership with Australia and Japan.

    3. The administration’s announcement to defend Taiwanese security in the face of Chinese assertions and the decision to expand the National Security Council Indo-Pacific Directorate are strong signals of Biden’s intent.

    These global posture reviews are part of a larger American effort to ensure our military footprint aligns with foreign policy priorities.

    Reconnecting Foreign Policy Agenda to Benefits for American Workers

    The first significant foreign policy change Biden introduced is a whole new team of foreign policy advisors, signaling a return of the same type of Washington policy experts Trump ran against in 2016. Trump’s victory against Hilary Clinton signaled an evident public dissatisfaction with the status quo, an elite-public disconnect, and increasing American political polarization of the dominant two-party system. Moving forward, there is likely to be a high degree of overlap between how Republicans and Democrats approach foreign policy initiatives. The key difference will be seen in domestic policy. 


    For Biden, U.S.-Chinese rivalry demonstrates the global trend of whether democracies will successfully compete against and withstand rising autocracies. Future historians, Biden predicted, will write their “doctoral theses on the issue of who has succeeded: democracy or autocracy?” Across parties, there is a near-unanimous agreement for Chinese economic and military containment efforts. The difference between Trump’s heavy-handed approach to China and Biden’s approach lies in the Biden administration’s respect of Asian allies. However, the economic war the United States wages against China will continue. 


    When it comes to allies, the Biden administration is packed with transatlanticism. European allies are critical in the age of rising China. The U.S. rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, the World Health Organization, and position on NATO highlight how the next four years will look in the U.S.-European relations. While Europe may not assist American goals militarily, the EU is a solid economic ally. 


    The Biden plan is favorable towards Israel. The Trump administration made several imprudent policy moves that changed the shape of American-Israeli relations - moving the American embassy to Jerusalem and giving Netanyahu the green light on the West Bank. It is doubtful that Biden will roll back any of these Trump-era policy changes. Furthermore, the United States has a powerful, deep-rooted Israel lobby that makes it nearly impossible for any sitting American president to make substantial policy changes towards Israel. If the Biden administration makes any significant changes in American relations with Israel, it may discourage Israel from creating more settlements on the West Bank. 


    Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran Nuclear Deal, could be one of the greatest mistakes of his administration. Quickly after the withdrawal, Iran began enriching uranium beyond the capacity agreed upon in the JCPOA. A May report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director, General Rafael Rossi, revealed Iran had enriched uranium to the highest purity on record. At this point, American-Iranian relations are far too damaged for the U.S. to rejoin the agreement (at least on the same terms), and the Israel lobby will likely prevent Biden from moving forward on rejoining. However, if America fails to rejoin, Iran will continue to enrich uranium and reach the capacity to build its first nuclear warhead. At this point, Biden would be pressured to launch a military attack against Iran. 


    The most significant policy changes we see from Trump to Biden are how the U.S. deals with allies. The question to ask is how can America reestablish relations around the world after the damage the Trump administration invoked? Can this damage be undone by a Biden administration abroad and amidst domestic political polarization? The Biden administration’s foreign policy strategy is premised on the idea that the United States can best check the power and competition posed by growing global authoritarianism through renewed alliances and commitment to liberal democracy. 

    However, a practical approach to foreign policymaking is far from perfect. Biden will likely have to cooperate with undemocratic regimes to reign in Chinese and Russian power (i.e., cooperation with Poland, Turkey, Vietnam, and the Philippines). Choosing alliances based on how countries align with Western democratic values risks alienating potential allies and lends to inconsistency in U.S. foreign policymaking. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to coalition building. 

    Works Cited

    Brands, Hal. 2021. “The Emerging Biden Doctrine.” June 29, 2021.

    Diamond, Larry. 2021. “A World without American Democracy?” July 9, 2021.

    Feffer, John. 2021. “Why Is Biden’s Foreign Policy So…Conventional? - FPIF.” Foreign Policy in Focus. Institute for Policy Studies. June 30, 2021.

    IIEA. 2020. “Prof John Mearsheimer - US Foreign Policy under President Biden.” YouTube Video. YouTube.

    Miller, Aaron David, and Richard Sokolsky. 2021. “Perspective | Biden Has to Work with Autocrats. He Should Just Admit It.” Washington Post, July 15, 2021.

    Nepal Institute for International Cooperation and Engagement. 2021. “US Foreign Policy under Biden - Prof. Peter Trubowitz.” February 6, 2021.

    Staff, F. P. 2021. “The Biden 100-Day Progress Report.” Foreign Policy. April 23, 2021.

  • June 23, 2021 8:00 AM | Danielle Dougall

    Is Democracy Suffering a Global Decline?

    The past decade has been marked by the global rise of authoritarianism and populism. While the two political approaches are not always connected, linkages are traced in happenings spanning from Southeast Asia to Eastern Europe, where charismatic politicians leverage the concerns of ordinary people, nationalist sentiment, and anti-elite rhetoric to take power. While in office, they systematically dismantle institutions and safeguards meant to check executive authority, particularly the judiciary, legislature, and the free press. 

    Populism thrives on party division, rooting itself in opposition to the establishment - intellectuals, the academy, political leaders, and the traditional media. Fundamental facets of populist discourse include an appeal to an ethnic-kin alliance and a focus on in-group versus out-group dynamics, feelings of economic or social disenfranchisement, opposition to social change, and a desire to adhere to traditional social orders. These rapidly-changing political movements have spurred global trends in anti-immigrant rhetoric, xenophobia, and in some cases, terrifying incidents of targeted violence encouraged by politicians.

    Freedom House, an independent, non-governmental organization, has been ranking countries’ democratic performance for more than seventy years on a scale from “free,” “partly free,” and “not free.” In 2020, established Western democracies faced a torrent of unprecedented events in the form of COVID-19, rising global violence, and threats to economic and physical security. In a recent analysis, Freedom House reported the fifteenth consecutive year of a global decline in democratic freedom as measured by the rule of law, protection of minority rights, and the presence of fair and free political elections. The countries undergoing democratic deterioration marked the greatest backsliding since 2006 - 112 countries experienced democratic declines, and only 62 countries made democratic gains. Among those countries, Hungary, Poland, Russia, and Egypt became markedly more authoritarian, and Turkey shifted into the “not free” category as the Erdogan administration enforced more oppressive policies. 

    Western Europe and the United States are not immune to the challenges of antidemocratic threats and populist uprisings. In 2017, France faced a sharply contrasted election for its future in the candidacy of Centrist Emmanuel Macron and the far right-wing Marine Le-Pen. Across Europe, new political leaders rise to seek power through majority rule but fundamentally oppose many of the central tenets of liberal democracy. Instead, they favor exclusionary and divisive politics of heightened militarism, repression of the media and minority rights, and attack pathways to immigration with a renewed tenacity. 

    International relations scholars and other experts have voiced concern over these antidemocratic trends. Roberto Foa from the University of Cambridge and Yascha Mounk from Harvard University conducted a series of analyses of World Values Survey data spanning from 2010 to 2014. The survey has recorded participants’ beliefs and values about democracy in 100 countries for forty years. Their analysis revealed lower support for democracy among respondents in six liberal democracies than had been found in previous surveys. Furthermore, respondents aged 18 to 37 were more pessimistic about democratic prospects than older generations surveyed worldwide. Thirty-two percent of millennials agreed that it was necessary and desirable to “live in a country governed democratically” compared to seventy-two percent of Americans born before World War II. Globally, the authors found that most millennials surveyed believe it is essential to live in a democratic country.

    While sightings of democratic decline are alarming, it is essential to maintain a balanced perspective and ask, ‘how are we measuring democracy?’ Disagreements in scholarship and the public over what constitutes a legitimate democracy and its functions are another central area of concern. It is necessary to define the terms ‘liberal’ and ‘democracy’ individually to understand the significance of pairing them together. ‘Democracy’ is a Greek-derived term meaning rule by the people. The word ‘liberal’ is derived from its Latin counterpart, meaning to be free. Today, the term ‘democracy’ alone is often substituted for liberal democracy. It is correlated with expectations for countries worldwide to adopt the Western provisions of constitutional liberalism after a democratic election.

    Liberalism’s varied meaning across geographical, historical, social, economic, and political contexts brings confusion. In the United States, the term ‘liberalism’ is often used to denote a progressive Democratic or Democratic Socialist partisanship and ideology that concerns itself with promoting equality in social issues and expanding the role of government. On the other hand, across many European countries, ‘liberalism’ is associated with free-market capitalism and restricting the government’s role in citizens’ social lives. Democracy focuses on who rules. The common people must be the sovereign, electing rulers who align with the public’s majority interest. 

    Liberalism is not a method for selecting rulers. Instead, liberalism focuses on delineating and limiting the powers of rulers once they are in public office to ensure the protection of citizen’s rights and liberties. Democratic governments appointed by fair and free elections are not immune to the problems of authoritarianism. Democratically elected rulers often ignore constitutional limits on their power, sidestep the legislature and judiciary, and deprive citizens of fundamental rights and freedoms. “Democracy without constitutional liberalism is not simply inadequate, but dangerous, bringing with it the erosion of liberty, the abuse of power, ethnic divisions, and even war” (Fakaria 1997, 42-43). Constitutional liberalism is defined by the appropriate use of state power, the rule of law, and democratic accountability that seeks to protect individual autonomy against coercion (i.e., protection of a free press, speech, assembly, religion, and property). It is also critical to note that constitutional liberalism is distinct from democracy historically and theoretically (Zakaria 1997, 22). As Fareed Zakaria describes, “Democracy is flourishing. Constitutional liberalism is not” (Zakaria 1997, 23). 

    The growing global surrounding ‘democratic backsliding’ concerns the post-democratic election period. ‘Illiberal democracies’ are not monolithic; they exist along a spectrum and are thriving. The problem of democratization today is that few new and developing democracies have become liberal democracies following fair and free elections. Instead, these democracies move the other direction and settle into hybrid regimes and the non-rule of law. In these scenarios, democracy may not be backsliding. Instead, liberal democracy never grew roots, and the hybrid regimes we see mold some democratic principles into a history and structure of authoritarianism. 

    Furthermore, Western democracy (i.e., constitutional liberalism) may not be the culmination point in democratic evolution, but one possible form of democratization a country could adopt during regime change (Zakaria 1997, 23). Labeling countries as democratic if they meet minimum qualifications reduces the value of the term ‘democracy’ to a descriptive category. As Fareed Zakaria astutely described, “to have democracy mean, subjectively, a good government renders it analytically useless” (Zakaria 1997, 25). It is critical to avoid a reductionist concept of democracy if it does not fit the mold of Western constitutional liberalism. Democracies can have undesirable qualities, but that does not make them undemocratic (Zakaria 1997, 25). Democracy may not necessarily bring constitutional liberalism. 

     Not all scholars believe that democracy is in decline or that younger generations are abandoning its prospects. Christian Welzel, a German political scientist at the Leuphana University Lüneburg and Research Director of the World Values Survey Association, published an insightful analysis of the state of democracy in Foreign Policy, titled “The Data Show Democracy is Thriving.” He argues not to believe the headlines on democratic decline and points to evidence that the world’s desire for self-government is growing. After analyzing decades of global public opinion data from the World Values Survey, Welzel found that underneath the chaos of transforming political and social strata around the world, a slow but steady desire for “emancipative values.” These values were not dependent on liberal democratic government, as seen in the West. Instead, they reflected a general preference for universal choice, egalitarianism, and equality of opportunity replacing authoritarian values, citing the Middle East, Ukraine, and Brazil as promising examples. While “durability” is the hallmark of institutions - democratic or authoritarian - cultural change can often create a contradiction between a regime and culture. 

    Perhaps countries like Russia, Egypt, Hungary, and Poland have not become more authoritarian and instead did not achieve the longevity for fledgling democracy to take root in stable institutions. The countries ranked as “partly free” and “not free” by organizations like Freedom House have a deep history of authoritarianism before they experimented with democratic government. Western nations had centuries to millennia to test, develop, and maintain liberal democratic conditions.

    While authoritarian tendencies and populist movements have emerged in Western Europe and the United States, they have been checked by institutions and met with fierce internal and public resistance. French voters rejected Marine Le Pen in the 2017 presidential election, and from the looks of France’s recent regional elections, the far-right party is falling short of the vote once again in 2021. Le Pen made it to the second round of France’s presidential elections in 2017 and has attempted to rebrand her party in name and tone. According to Ipsos polls, the Nationally Rally, formerly called the National Liberation Front, achieved only one victory in the South of France and holds approximately 19% of the national vote. 

    In the United States, Donald Trump’s refusal to acknowledge the Electoral College victory of President Joseph Biden and the following January 6 U.S. capitol insurrection are reminders of the strength and longevity of American institutions. Out of the sixty-two election lawsuits that Trump filed, his legal team only won one suit. While the Supreme Court is stacked with a six to three conservative majority, Trump’s court appointees have proven that their traditional values do not necessarily invoke antidemocratic tendencies. During Trump’s four-year presidential term, “ninety percent of his deregulatory actions have been stopped in the courts.” 

    Public opinions regarding preferences for authoritarianism versus democracy may be more reflective of economic and social conditions than deep political conviction. In the United States, most of the public is actively uninformed, misinformed, and often susceptible to division given deep political partisanship. Democratic distrust often grows in adverse conditions that dampen perceptions of upward mobility. These factors can negatively influence the opinions of young people on the merit of the democratic process. Many older voters, particularly in Western Europe and the United States, espouse traditional moral values, oppose social issues, perceive liberal cultural shifts, including LGBTQIA+ rights, and support smaller governments with more authoritarian tendencies. Researchers have also found that millennials tend to be more liberal and supportive of liberal political and cultural shifts and more fluid social norms in American politics. 

    While debates over social and political culture will continue, it is critical to be mindful of longstanding histories, cultural practices, and the time it may take for enduring democratic institutions to develop. Western liberal democracy is often touted as the norm, but it does not make democracy a one-size-fits-all model. Populism’s mobilization against political and intellectual elites is more than a movement; it is also a political mood (Canovan 1999, 6). It is not ordinary, routine politics. Instead, populism relies on the chaos of revivalist rhetoric and a high degree of enthusiasm and heightened emotions that draw typically apolitical citizens into the political arena. Special attention is paid to the charismatic leader who celebrates spontaneous, unorganized grassroots action and strives to create a close, personal tie with their followers (Canovan 1999, 6). The danger of populism is that it is so far removed from the concept of liberal democracy, although it claims close ties to the people’s desires for self-government. While democracy is liberal, populism is illiberal. The populist form of democracy is uninhibited by the rule of law and exudes a “crude majoritarianism” that neglects and overrides minority rights  (Canovan 1999, 6).

    In response to the rise of illiberalism and populism, contemporary politics should strive for a balance between the two faces of democracy, as the political theorist Margaret Canovan described (redemptive and pragmatic). Since populism “thrives on the tension between the two faces of democracy,” balanced policymaking is the best possible approach (Canovan 1999, 8) to addressing the shortcomings of democracies. The politics of faith stirs up a necessary enthusiasm for coercive power to accomplish its goals and places confidence in the democratic tradition of the common people to wield power. The politics of skepticism is suspicious of both power and enthusiasm and has lower expectations of what the government can achieve. Western liberal democracy is the harmony between freedom protected by the rule of law and the people’s rule. We can understand democracy and its vulnerability to illiberal democracy and “the populist challenge if we see it as a meeting point for two contrasting styles of politics” (Canovan 1999, 9). 

    Works Cited

    Amaro, Silvia. 2021. “Marine Le Pen’s Far-Right Party Falls Short in France’s Regional Elections.” CNBC. June 21, 2021.

    American Enterprise Institute. 2019. “Democracy Isn’t Declining.” American Enterprise Institute - AEI. September 4, 2019.

    Canovan, Margaret. 1999. “Trust the People! Populism and the Two Faces of Democracy.” Political Studies 47 (1): 2–16.

    Fareed Zakaria. 1997. “The Rise of Illiberal Democracy.” Foreign Affairs. Foreign Affairs Magazine. November 1997.

    “Is Democracy in Decline?” 2021. Council on Foreign Relations. March 15, 2021.

    Patrick, Stewart. 2021. “Democracy Is Down, but Not Out.” March 8, 2021.

    Repucci, Sarah, and Amy Slipowitz. 2021. “Democracy under Siege.” Freedom House. 2021.

    “The Democracy Project: Reversing a Crisis of Confidence | Bush Center.” 2018. The Democracy Project: Reversing a Crisis of Confidence | Bush Center. June 26, 2018.

    “The Generation Gap in American Politics.” 2018. Pew Research Center - U.S. Politics & Policy. March 1, 2018.

    Welzel, Christian. 2021. “The Data Show Democracy Is Thriving.” Foreign Policy. May 24, 2021.

  • July 24, 2020 11:41 AM | Margaret Hill

    Why Trump’s Approach to Making Deals with America’s
    Adversaries Has Failed
    by Dr. Mark Katz, Professor Political Science George Mason University

    July 23, 2020 by Mark N. Katz, Kennan Scholar and World Affairs Council Inland Southern California speaker in January 2020

    The recently published memoir by former National Security Advisor John Bolton (The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir, Simon & Schuster, 2020) provides an extraordinarily detailed account. In it, Bolton underscores that there have been three main features in Trump’s approach to foreign policy.  First and foremost is that while Donald Trump is both woefully ignorant about international relations and is largely uninterested in learning about the subject, he is unwilling to defer to expert advice on it.  Second is that Trump does not really value America’s traditional allies, and indeed he often sees the democratically elected ones in particular more as adversaries seeking to take advantage of the United States.  Third, while Trump is concerned about how America’s actual adversaries (including Russia) are acting to America’s detriment, he is firmly convinced that he can make mutually advantageous deals with them—and that they are all eager to do so with him.

    Bolton deplores all three of these features in Trump’s foreign policy approach.  I certainly agree with him about the first two.  Presidents need to become deeply knowledgeable about foreign affairs since so much of the job requires dealing with this set of issues.  And while presidents should not accept uncritically everything told to them by the foreign policy and intelligence community, they need to recognize and respect the depth of its expertise and have a far more serious reason for rejecting its advice than that their “gut” tells them otherwise, as Trump has all too often done.  In addition, America’s interests are not well served by treating our allies as adversaries.  The world will be a far more difficult place for the U.S. to navigate if democratic governments lose confidence in it.

    However, the desire to reach mutually beneficial agreements with America’s adversaries, and convert them into partners or even friends, is not a bad thing.  Further, this is something that previous presidents have done—including Republican ones—and so Trump’s desire to make deals with adversaries is hardly outside the norm of American diplomacy.  But whether or not he should have pursued deals with these particular adversaries (and Bolton is doubtful on this score about most of them), none of Trump’s efforts in this regard have proven to be successful.

    Bolton’s account describes Trump’s efforts to “make deals” with six authoritarian adversaries:  Russia’s Vladimir Putin, China’s Xi Jinping, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, Iran’s Islamic leadership, elements of the Maduro regime in Venezuela, and the Taliban in Afghanistan.  There was variation, though, in what each of these attempted deals sought to accomplish.  The deal Trump sought with North Korea was a straightforward trade about Pyongyang’s foregoing nuclear weapons in exchange for the U.S. removing economic sanctions.  In Iran’s case, a nuclear deal had already been reached with Tehran by the Obama Administration and five other governments, but Trump withdrew from it and sought a “better deal” over the nuclear issue as well as Iran’s regional behavior in exchange for economic sanctions relief.

    The deals Trump sought in Venezuela and Afghanistan, by contrast, related to internal conflict resolution, but in opposite ways.  In Venezuela, Trump sought the negotiated departure of the anti-American president, Nicolas Maduro, through a deal with the leaders of Maduro’s security forces co-opting them to support a transfer of power to the democratic leader, Juan Guaido.  In Afghanistan, by contrast, Trump sought a deal with America’s longtime adversary, the Taliban, in which U.S. forces are reduced and ultimately withdrawn in exchange for this group behaving moderately afterward.

    The deal Trump sought with China focused mainly on trade issues, while the one with Russia appeared more a classic great power bargain involving several politico-military issues, but not trade (since there isn’t much between the U.S. and Russia).

    In each case, according to Bolton’s account, Trump convinced himself that the top adversary leader or leadership was “dying to do a deal” with him.  Trump even saw his getting tough with them through increased sanctions and other measures as increasing their desire to do so.  Trump also seemed to think that good personal relations with Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, and Kim Jong-un in particular would help make this possible.  Much to the disgust of Bolton (a longstanding Iran hawk), Trump repeatedly sought meetings with Iranian leaders, and blamed their unwillingness to meet with him on what he saw as the malign influence of former Senator John Kerry, who had helped negotiate the 2015 Iranian nuclear accord when he was Obama’s Secretary of State.  With regard to Venezuela, Bolton relates how Trump not only had a negative view of the democratic opposition leader Guaido (and of his wife) whom U.S. policy sought to support, he sometimes expressed admiration for Maduro, the authoritarian leader whose departure his administration was seeking.  Bolton also relates with disgust how Trump sought a Camp David meeting between the Taliban and Afghan government leaders whom the Trump Administration had earlier excluded, per the Taliban’s request, from the U.S.-Taliban negotiations in Doha about an American drawdown and withdrawal.

    Although he did not say so, what Bolton’s account suggests is that, despite Russian interference in support of Trump in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections and Trump’s aversion to criticizing Putin publicly, Trump has not really treated Putin differently than he has America’s other authoritarian adversaries.  Indeed, during the Trump Administration, Washington has increased economic sanctions against Moscow, sent arms to Ukraine, withdrawn from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces agreement, and so far refused to extend the New Strategic Arms Treaty (which expires February 2021)—all of which has displeased Putin.  Yet Trump still seems to think that reaching a deal with him is what Putin wants and needs.

    Indeed, this is the hallmark of Trump’s approach to authoritarian adversaries:  pile on sanctions and other negative measure, but offer to come to more moderate terms in face-to-face meetings.  Perhaps this is how Trump conducted his private business dealings before he became president, and so believes that this formula would also work for him as president.  And indeed, some authoritarian leaders (Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, and most especially Kim Jong-un) have been willing to flatter Trump as well as meet with him.  In addition, some Taliban leaders and (as Bolton relates) some of Maduro’s top security officials have either met or communicated with Trump administration officials.  The Iranian leadership is the outlier in refusing to do so.  But with the partial exception of a partial trade truce with China (which seems shaky), none of these diplomatic forays by Trump have succeeded.

    Why is this?  To begin with, personal chemistry (or Trump’s attempted pursuit of it) with authoritarian leaders may be useful in helping reach a deal, but it is not enough to induce leaders to change their long-held views of what their interests are.  Indeed, they may be bold enough to think that the more personal chemistry they build up with Trump, the more likely it is that they can change his mind about them and their countries.

    In addition, while Trump himself prioritizes trade issues, America’s authoritarian adversaries often do not.  Trump, then, may think that piling on economic sanctions should be sufficient to induce rational actors to change their policy in order to get them removed, but authoritarian leaders often have other priorities.  Indeed, for some such as Vladimir Putin and the Ayatollahs in Tehran, the prospect of increased trade and other contacts with the U.S. may actually appear more threatening than beneficial since what they really fear is that the U.S. seeks their downfall through increased societal contact which might more easily lead to “color revolution.”

    Further, America’s authoritarian adversaries may have good reason not to take Trump’s tough talk seriously after seeing how (as Bolton ruefully pointed out) when Trump was on the point of retaliating militarily against Iran for shooting down a U.S. drone, he suddenly—and with needless publicity—canceled his order to do so.  It is also difficult for them to take Trump’s tough talk seriously when he himself repeatedly raises the prospect of withdrawing U.S. troops from various allied countries in several parts of the world.  In other words, Trump’s talk of withdrawal only shows them that they may not have to make any concessions to Trump to get him to do what they want the U.S. to do anyway.

    Finally, given how rudely and disdainfully Trump treats America’s longstanding allies compared to how (relatively) solicitous and accommodating he has been toward America’s adversaries, Trump may unwittingly be giving the latter strong incentive to remain adversaries.  For Trump has given them reason to wonder whether increased cooperation with him will result in his eventually treating his new friends like he does America’s old ones.

    Bolton made clear in his memoir that he disagreed with most of Trump’s efforts to make deals with America’s adversaries.  But one does not have to agree with Bolton’s much harsher policy preferences to appreciate how his description of the erratic and idiosyncratic manner in which Trump pursued his hoped for deals with adversaries was self-sabotaging.

    Diplomacy is hard enough to succeed at even for those leaders who have a thorough knowledge of international relations.  For those who do not have such knowledge and refuse to take advice from those who do, it is impossible.

  • July 03, 2020 11:00 AM | Margaret Hill

    Why is Moscow paying the Taliban to kill Americans? by Mark Katz, Kennan Institute Scholar, Wilson Center; Political Science Professor George Mason University, Atlantic Council member

    The following article was written by Dr. Mark N. Katz who spoke for a World Affairs Council Inland Southern California program that was held at University of Redlands on January 14, 2020. 

    Citing U.S. intelligence sources, numerous media outlets have been reporting with increasing certainty that a Russian military intelligence unit has been — perhaps as far back as early 2019 — paying bounties to Taliban forces to target American and British forces in Afghanistan. Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress are expressing outrage over this. The White House and the Intelligence Community (often via retired officials) are engaged in a debate about when or even whether President Trump was briefed about this matter.

    As reports about the Russian bounty payments  become increasingly definitive, how the U.S. should respond is becoming hotly debated. But in order to adequately formulate policy responses to Russian actions, another question needs to be addressed: Why would Russian intelligence go to the trouble of making bounty payments to the Taliban for attacking U.S. and coalition forces when this is something that the Taliban has long shown itself willing and able to do at its own expense? In other words, why pay someone to do something that they are already doing anyway?

    Even as the U.S. Government appears to be increasingly certain that Russian military intelligence has made these bounty payments to the Taliban, it is doubtful that we will be able to definitively determine why it has done so any time soon. But there are several possibilities that can be explored — some of which may be more emotional than rational.

    Some observers see Moscow doing this as revenge for the losses that the Kremlin-backed Wagner group (a Russian private military force) suffered in a firefight with U.S. forces in Syria in February 2018. Both the U.S. and Russia played down the incident at the time (indeed, the Kremlin disavowed that Wagner was operating at the behest of the Russian government) as neither wanted it to escalate into a broader U.S.-Russian confrontation. 

    But this event may well have enraged the Kremlin, and so it may have decided to retaliate in a way that was plausibly deniable in order to avoid the risk of direct confrontation. It is not clear, though, whether these bounty payments began before or after the February 2018 firefight in Syria.

    Another possibility is that Moscow sees its support for the Taliban as reciprocal retaliation for previous U.S. support to the Afghan mujahidin fighting Soviet occupation forces in the 1980s.  From Putin’s viewpoint, past U.S. support for Afghan jihadist forces fighting against the USSR opened the door for present Russian support for their Taliban successors fighting against the U.S.

    But as powerful as the Kremlin’s desire to “do unto Washington what Washington did unto Moscow” may be, it may not explain why Russian intelligence would go to the trouble of paying the Taliban to do something that it was already doing anyway. Moreover, while we still don’t know the full timeline of when these payments began, why start now? The U.S. has been in Afghanistan for nearly two decades. It appears more probable that immediate Russian policy concerns may have motivated this.

    One may be a Russian desire to curry favor with the Taliban. If the U.S. and its allies are going to leave Afghanistan anyway, then Russian support for the Taliban now may be seen in Moscow as laying the basis for establishing good working relations if the Taliban comes to power throughout Afghanistan soon thereafter. Establishing good relations now can help Moscow persuade the Taliban once it establishes control in Afghanistan not to act against Russian interests in Central Asia or elsewhere.

    Another possibility is that Moscow fears U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad’s talks with the Taliban about an Afghan peace settlement will be so successful that something of a détente may emerge. A Taliban regime no longer fighting against the U.S. could then focus is attention on harming Russian interests. 

    This scenario may seem outlandish, but permanently impairing U.S.-Taliban relations (whether the U.S. stays or leaves Afghanistan) by egging on Taliban attacks against U.S. and coalition forces may seem like a reasonable way to prevent it from turning against Russia. In addition, if Russian-backed Taliban attacks on U.S. forces lead to the breakdown of U.S.-led Afghan peace initiatives, Moscow may hope that this will open the door to a Russian-led one.

    It’s even possible that Moscow has been encouraging Taliban attacks against U.S. and coalition forces not to hasten their withdrawal, but to motivate them to stay and fight. For so long as U.S. and coalition forces remain in Afghanistan, their presence actually serves to lessen the Taliban’s capacity for supporting groups similar to it in Central Asia — as they did prior to 9/11 when the Taliban played host not just to al-Qaida, but to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (which actually launched raids from Afghanistan into neighboring Central Asian republics). If the U.S. and its allies leave Afghanistan, Moscow would have to confront this problem directly itself should it arise.

    In short, Russian intelligence may have paid bounties to the Taliban to target U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan not just in response to Putin’s hostility toward the U.S. or his differences with the U.S. in Syria, but to further specific Russian aims in Afghanistan and Central Asia. But whatever the U.S. response is, it’s important we know what has motivated Putin to act, otherwise the U.S. risks another self-inflicted counterproductive foreign policy initiative that harms American interests.  

    This article originally appeared in Responsible Statecraft a publication of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft on June 30, 2020.

  • November 12, 2019 3:46 PM | Anonymous

    “It's A Secret…We’ll Definitely Intervene…Don’t Tell Anyone”.…said Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin when asked by NBC News’ Keir Simmons, at a policy forum in Moscow on 1 October 2019, if Russia would interfere in the November 2020 US elections. There was much laughter from the Russian audience attending the forum, and the atmosphere was one of levity. Mr. Putin’s cyber and disinformation campaigns directed against the United States, according to American intelligence agencies, reflect much more than only his apparent anger at American sanctions imposed after Russian seizure of Crimea in 2014 and the ongoing Russian backed military incursion in eastern Ukraine. Russians resent being relegated as a ‘regional power’ by the West, especially the United States. For the last half of the 20th Century up to 1991, the Russian-directed Soviet Union was co-equal to the United States as a super power. Russians including Mr. Putin cheer the ‘resurgence’ of Russia on the world scene since 2014 in particular. But as Russians view their history and experiences over the long term, this ‘resurgence’ is really only a first step in securing the defense and protection of Russian society. In all probability, Russian leaders who follow Mr. Putin will continue and possibly expand on the current anti-American campaigns. Why do Russians think they have to defend themselves against what they call an aggressive America? Attempts to interfere in American presidential elections are not new but never as intense.

    Russian society developed first in what is now Ukraine and later the principality of Moscow. Centered on a vast flat plain, surrounded by neither mountains nor oceans, Russia was easily invaded. From Teutonic Knight and later Polish attacks from the West to the Mongol conquest from the East, Russians have seen themselves as a perennial target. Invasions are successful when Russia has internal political division; national security demands strong central government. Over time, Russian experience shows that the best defense of the Russian ‘Motherland’ is by having protective 'buffer' areas outside of Russia; better to fight invasion on someone else's real estate than in Russia itself if possible. Events of the last century reinforce the point, and the 21st century continues in the same mold. The world wars and the Western, especially American, hostility toward the Soviet Union and its determination to enact a buffer zone after 1945 are additional proof. American and Soviet/Russian historians view the post 1945 period differently.

    During the Soviet/Bolshevik/Communist period (1917 to 1991) Soviet historians viewed the West in general and the United States in particular as their main enemy because of the Bolshevik revolution. Western nations including the United States sent troops into Russia in 1918, even before the end of the first world war, joining and supporting the anti-Bolshevik armies that ultimately lost in the civil war that followed the 1917 revolutions. While American historians view the post-World War II Cold War as having started in 1945, Soviet and many current Russian historians view the Cold War starting in 1918 and becoming generally more intense after 1945. The end of the Soviet Union in 1991 effectively ended the Cold War…thought the Russians. This did not last.

    After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Soviet and American leaders agreed verbally that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) originally founded in 1949 to protect the West against possible Soviet attack would not expand into Eastern Europe. The Soviets on their part would not object to the reunification of Germany. When in the mid 1990’s Eastern European countries that had been members of the Warsaw Pact (the Soviet answer to NATO) joined NATO Russia shouted ‘betrayal!’ The shouting grew much louder when former Soviet republics joined NATO soon after. The United States, so it appeared to Russians, was re-starting the Cold War. After Russia seized the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, and soon after sent military forces into portions of eastern Ukraine, the West including the United States responded with protests and economic sanctions. Russians saw this as an attempt to prevent Russia from re-establishing its great power status. The Cold War was back.

    In May 2019, a symposium at the Russian Institute of USA and Canada in Moscow (, the premier Russian 'think tank' analyzing America, titled ‘US-Russia and the problems of a polycentric world’ had as its plenary session a panel on 'How Long will the New Cold War Last?’. An earlier paper by the Institute Director Valerii Garbuzov speculated that

    “…the desire of today’s Russia…to determine its role in the world…[is]perceived by the United States as a threat…to their global domination…[which] led to a long-term course to contain Russia by all available means…” <>. [accessed 24 September 2019]

    Facing a superpower with almost unlimited military capability, Russian resistance options were and are limited but certainly clever. Creating a ‘dis’-United States that would be less able to maintain its foreign policy aims became a new focus. Current Russian leaders relied on considerable experience in creating what is called disinformation going back well into Tsarist times and updated with the latest technology, Russia launched a number of disinformation campaigns, hacking of American political institutions, attempting to break into American voting systems, all ways to undermine and thereby block the growing threat from the United States

    To what extent the articles and conferences held by these Russian institutes on foreign policy reflect the thinking of President Putin can only be surmised. The recently created (2011) Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC); , chartered personally by Putin in 2011, no doubt serves that purpose. That the RIAC website operates in English as well as Russian suggests it is a vehicle for communicating Putin’s thinking to the West and in particular to the United States. The much older and apparently more independent ISKRAN at the least does not disagree with Putin; articles and presentations make the same points as the RIAC however. American resistance to the emergence of Russia as a world power is a major topic of conversation there too.

    A few recent articles posted on both RIAC and ISKRAN show a changing analysis of US-Russian relations. These look at the ongoing expansionist drive of the United States as having started much earlier than 1918. The United States has been a growing expansionist nation since early American colonial times. America, they argue, is and always has been working to establish global hegemony (the US is often described in Russian academic articles as 'the great hegemon') and the Cold War was simply a phase in that American drive for global mastery. These scholars argue the Cold War did not end with the collapse of Soviet Union in 1991. Current US policy toward Russia is a phase in American expansionism. This interpretation does not seem to be the view of most Russian analysts at this time.

    Russians see a (mostly) unfriendly world out there. The current main challenge to Russian society, they think, comes from America, viewed a ‘hegemonic’ power, seeking to be the only global super power. The probability is that as long as Russians feel threatened, their attacks on the United States will continue, well after current leaders pass from the scene. Americans should expect much more, and more sophisticated, disinformation campaigns, including conspiracy theories that are targeted to specific audiences, especially focusing on how this or that group in the United States has unfair advantages, using up to date cyber technology. and indirect and direct election ‘meddling’ including attempted hacking of voting systems, into the future. These campaigns will continue at least until Russians feel ‘accepted’ again as a ‘Great Power’ which could only happen if the US removes its sanctions and stops objecting to Russian policy in Crimea and Ukraine. Disinformation campaigns could continue longer if the idea that the US has always been an expansionist power gains wide acceptance in the Russian foreign policy analyst community.

    Why Russians think their disinformation campaigns will work and how they design them the way they--and also some predictions about what to expect in the future--comes from the unique history and culture of Russia. This will be the subject of my next blog post.

    Jim Hill completed graduate work at UC Riverside and Claremont Graduate University, majoring in modern European history, within that focusing on Russian/Soviet history and thought. A former high school and university instructor, he continues to present regularly about Russian views of the Cold War. He was interviewed by the then US representative of Pravda and whose work has been discussed by David Shipler, formerly of the New York Times. Most recently Jim presented at a National Endowment for the Humanities national two week institute about the Cold War held on the USS Midway in San Diego. His presentations are well received and unusual.

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