Blocking a ‘Realist’ Strategy on the Mideast

Exclusive: Official Washington’s influential neocons appear back in the driver’s seat steering U.S. policy in the Middle East toward a wider conflict in Syria and away from a “realist” alternative that sought a Putin-Obama collaboration to resolve the region’s crises more peacefully, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Just last month President Barack Obama dismissed the idea of arming “moderate” rebels in Syria as a “fantasy” that was “never in the cards” as a workable strategy, but now this scheme has been dealt back into the middle of the U.S. war against the Islamic State, winning approval from solid majorities in Congress.

Perhaps the only explanation for this apparent folly is that this implausible notion retains overwhelming support among Washington’s political/pundit class because it creates the appearance of being “tough” and “doing something” allowing politicians to pretend to address a problem even if the approach might make matters much worse.

President Barack Obama talks with President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker following a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office, Sept. 18, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama talks with President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker following a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office, Sept. 18, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

There’s also the other finicky little problem that the action of arming and training rebels and unleashing them against a sovereign state like Syria is an act of aggression (if not terrorism depending on what they do), similar to what U.S. officials have piously condemned the Russians of doing in Ukraine.

But this hypocrisy is never acknowledged either by U.S. policymakers or the mainstream U.S. press, which has gone into Cold War hysterics over Moscow’s alleged support for embattled ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine on Russia’s border — while demanding that Obama expand support for Syrian rebels halfway around the world, even though many of those “moderates” have allied themselves with al-Qaeda terrorists.

In a sense, this hypocrisy is nothing new. During much of Syria’s three-year civil war, the Obama administration has been covertly supporting the rebels with light weapons and military training while other U.S. allies, such as Saudi Arabia and Persian Gulf states, have funneled huge sums of money to the cause of overthrowing President Bashar al-Assad’s relatively secular government. Assad has been a longtime “regime change” target of American neoconservatives and Israel.

Though it’s been known for quite awhile that the Syrian civil war had degenerated into a sectarian conflict with mostly Sunni rebels battling the Alawites, Shiites, Christians and other minorities who form the base of support for Assad, the fiction has been maintained in Washington that a viable and secular “moderate opposition” to Assad still exists.

The reality on the ground says otherwise. For instance, in Friday’s New York Times, an article by correspondent Ben Hubbard described the supposed Syrian “moderates” who are receiving CIA support as “a beleaguered lot, far from becoming a force that can take on the fanatical and seasoned fighters of the Islamic State.”

But the situation is arguably worse than just the weakness of these “moderates.” According to Hubbard’s reporting, some of these U.S.-backed fighters “acknowledge that battlefield necessity had put them in the trenches with the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, an issue of obvious concern for the United States.

“Lt. Col. Fares al-Bayyoush, the former aviation engineer who now heads the Fursan al-Haq Brigade, acknowledged that his men had fought alongside the Nusra Front because they needed all the help they could get.

“Sometimes, he said, that help comes in forms only a jihadi group can provide. He cited the rebel takeover of the northern town of Khan Sheikhoun, saying that the rebels were unable to take out one government position until the Nusra Front sent a suicide bomber to blow it up. In another town nearby, Nusra sent four bombers, including an American citizen.

“‘We encourage them actually,’ Mr. Bayyoush said with a laugh. ‘And if they need vehicles, we provide them’.”

An Al-Qaeda Victory?

The “moderate” rebels also don’t share President Obama’s priority of carrying the fight to the Islamic State militants, reported Hubbard, “ousting Mr. Assad remains their primary goal.”

This dilemma of the mixed allegiances of the “moderates” has been apparent for at least the past year. Last September, many of the previously hailed Syrian “moderate” rebels unveiled themselves to be Islamists who repudiated the U.S.-backed political opposition and allied themselves with al-Qaeda’s al-Nusra Front. [See’s “Syrian Rebels Embrace Al-Qaeda.”]

In other words, the just-approved congressional action opening the floodgates to hundreds of millions of dollars more in military aid to Syrian “moderates” could actually contribute to al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate gaining control of Syria, which could create a far greater threat to U.S. national security than the consolidation of the Islamic State inside territory of Syria and Iraq.

While the Islamic State brandishes its brutality as a gruesome tactic for driving Western interests out of the Middle East, it has shown no particular interest in taking its battle into the West. By contrast, al-Qaeda follows a conscious strategy of inflicting terrorist attacks on the West as part of a long-term plan to wreck the economies of the United States and Europe.

Thus, Obama’s hastily approved strategy for investing more in Syrian “moderates” if it allows a continued spillover of U.S. military equipment to al-Nusra could increase the chances of creating a base for international terrorism in Damascus at the heart of the Middle East. That would surely prompt demands for a reintroduction of U.S. ground troops into the region.

There are also obvious alternatives to following such a self-destructive course, although they would require Obama and much of Official Washington to climb down from their collective high horses and deal with such demonized leaders as Syria’s Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin, not to mention Iran.

A “realist” strategy would seek out a realistic political solution to the Syrian conflict, which would mean accepting the continuation of Assad’s rule, at least for the near term, as part of a coalition government that would offer stronger Sunni representation. This unity government could then focus on eliminating remaining pockets of al-Qaeda and Islamic State resistance before holding new elections across as much of the country as possible.

As part of this strategy to weaken these Islamic extremists, the United States and the European Union would have to crack down on the militants’ funding sources in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf, as touchy as that can be with the Saudis holding such influence over the U.S. economy. But Obama could start the process of facing down Saudi blackmail by declassifying the secret section of the 9/11 Report which reportedly describes Saudi financing of al-Qaeda before the 9/11 attacks.

I’m told that U.S. intelligence now has a clear picture of which Saudi princes are providing money to Islamist terrorists. So, instead of simply sending drones and warplanes after youthful jihadist warriors, the Obama administration might find it more useful to shut down these funders, perhaps nominating these princes as candidates for the U.S. “capture or kill list.”

Getting Russian Help

To get Assad fully onboard for the necessary concessions to his Sunni opponents, the Russians could prove extremely valuable. According to a source briefed on recent developments, Russian intelligence already has served as a go-between for U.S. intelligence to secure Assad’s acceptance of Obama’s plan to send warplanes into parts of Syrian territory to attack Islamic State targets.

The Russians also proved helpful a year ago in getting Assad to surrender his chemical weapons arsenal to defuse a U.S. threat to begin bombing Assad’s military in retaliation for a Sarin gas attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013. Although Assad denied involvement and subsequent evidence pointed more toward a provocation by rebel extremists Putin’s intervention gave Obama a major foreign policy success without a U.S. military strike.

That intervention, however, infuriated Syrian rebels who had planned to time a military offensive with the U.S. bombing campaign, hoping to topple Assad’s government and take power in Damascus. America’s influential neoconservatives and their “liberal interventionist” allies along with Israeli officials were also livid, all eager for another U.S.-backed “regime change” in the Middle East.

Putin thus made himself an inviting neocon target. By the end of last September, American neocons were taking aim at Ukraine as a key vulnerability for Putin. A leading neocon, Carl Gershman, president of the U.S.-government-funded National Endowment for Democracy, took to the op-ed pages of the neocon Washington Post to identify Ukraine as “the biggest prize” and explain how its targeting could undermine Putin’s political standing inside Russia.

“Ukraine’s choice to join Europe will accelerate the demise of the ideology of Russian imperialism that Putin represents,” Gershman wrote. “Russians, too, face a choice, and Putin may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.” At the time, Gershman’s NED was funding scores of political and media projects inside Ukraine.

What followed in Ukraine had all the earmarks of a U.S. destabilization campaign against Putin’s ally, the elected President Viktor Yanukovych. Behind the scenes was U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, a neocon holdover who had been an adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney and who is married to prominent neocon Robert Kagan. Nuland was caught in an intercepted phone conversation with U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt handpicking the leaders of the new regime, which took power after Yanukovych was overthrown in a Feb. 22 coup.

Then, with U.S. officialdom and the mainstream U.S. press engaging in an orgy of Cold War-style propaganda, Putin was demonized as a new Hitler expanding territory by force. Anyone who knew the facts recognized that Putin had actually been trying to maintain the status quo, i.e., sustain the Yanukovych government until the next election, and it was the West that had thrown the first punch. But Washington’s new “group think” was that Putin instigated the Ukraine crisis so he could reclaim lost territory of the Russian empire.

President Obama seemed caught off-guard by the Ukraine crisis, but was soon swept up in the West’s Putin/Russia bashing. He joined in the hysteria despite the damage that the Ukraine confrontation was inflicting on Obama’s own hopes of working with Putin to resolve other Middle East problems.

Thus, the initial victory went to the neocons who had astutely recognized that the emerging Putin-Obama collaboration represented a serious threat to their continued plans for “regime change” across the Middle East. Not only had Putin helped Obama head off the military strike on Syria, but Putin assisted in getting Iran to agree to limits on its nuclear program.

That meant the neocon desire for more “shock and awe” bombing in Syria and Iran had to be further postponed. The Putin-Obama cooperation might have presented an even greater threat to neocon plans if the two leaders could have teamed up to pressure Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to finally reach a reasonable agreement with the Palestinians.

At the center of the neocons’ strategy at least since the mid-1990s has been the idea that “regime change” in Middle East governments hostile to Israel would eventually starve Israel’s close-in enemies, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Palestine’s Hamas, of support and free Israel’s hand to do what it wanted with the Palestinians. [See’s “The Mysterious Why of the Iraq War.”]

The Putin-Obama collaboration if allowed to mature could have derailed that core neocon strategy and denied Israel the unilateral power to decide the Palestinians’ fate. But the Ukraine crisis and now the plan to pour a half-billion dollars into the Syrian rebels fighting Assad have put the neocon strategy back on track.

The next question is whether Obama and whatever “realists” remain in Official Washington have the will and the determination to reclaim control of the Middle East policy train and take it in a different direction.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.


9 comments for “Blocking a ‘Realist’ Strategy on the Mideast

  1. John
    September 19, 2014 at 6:55 pm

    Powerful nations should engage in foreign affairs only with extensive study and diplomatic interaction of all parties and regional powers, but the US prefers to blunder in ignorance. Never is a practical desired end state studied carefully, or realistically pursued. We have had nothing but bully logic since WWII, and nothing but disasters have resulted. It is vain to hope for truth or justice in US foreign policy, while economic concentrations control elections and mass media.

  2. Abe
    September 19, 2014 at 8:21 pm

    Obama’s ‘stupid stuff’ turned upside down
    By Pepe Escobar

    Obama has already sent 475 extra military “advisers” to Baghdad and Iraqi Kurdistan. There are at least 1,600 US military already on the ground in Iraq. That’s how Vietnam started. The CIA, supported by unmatched ground intel, swears there are exactly 31.785 jihadis fighting for The Caliph. Well, roughly. Two-thirds of these are supposed to be in Syria. So the new war, in fact, is all across “Syraq”. Or what The Caliph calls IS, Islamic State, his own private emirate.

    The no less meticulous Dempsey, for his part, is sure it will take up to five months to train and weaponize a new bunch of “moderate” rebels to fight the Caliph. Wait a minute; foolish global public opinion was supposed to believe the previous “moderate” rebels – supported by Qatar – would one day fulfill the “Assad must go” Obama mandate. Well, they didn’t.

    “Our” bastards at the petrodollar racket known as GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) have duly promised to help Obama’s new war, alongside Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. Turkey will only get involved in the “humanitarian” front – while allowing smuggled oil sold by The Caliph’s goons into its territory.

    The members of the wretched Arab League have solemnly promised to be “determined” in cutting off the flux of weapons and cash to The Caliph show. Yet they would never have the balls of the Kurdish peshmerga, who have just killed the Mosul chief of IS. This kind of ground intel, plus following the money, as in the oil smuggling routes, would finish off the Caliphate in no time. But that’s not what endless GWOT is all about.

  3. F. G. Sanford
    September 19, 2014 at 11:34 pm

    Oh. My. God. Would you just look at that picture? Susan Rice and Victoria Nuland appear to be in the background, beyond the depth of field. And there’s Penny Pritzger, beaming with pride. I don’t know if that’s her stock public relations grin, but she sure looks enthralled. Penny has a reputation for mediocre financial aptitude, but her family are wealthy bankers and she was a high-roller campaign contribution bundler. So, to pay her off, they made her – what else – Commerce Secretary! Looking at the picture, I couldn’t help wondering what Myron Cohen, that old Borscht Belt comedian from the fifties and sixties would say. His trademark was a Yiddish accent. “Oy Vey, und vat’s mit da Jush goyle, smiling even, at da Nazi? Hmmm? Vats da woyld kommen to nowadays?” This goes beyond theater of the absurd. This goes right to the level of the Grand Guignol. The famous Paris theater of gratuitous horror had its heyday between the World Wars, but closed in 1962. Its last director, Charles Nonon, lamented, “We could never equal Buchenwald”. Maybe there’s hope for a revival starring Porky Piggoshenko and his cast of goons and ghouls. Penny could use a few free tickets to the front row, just to round out the education she apparently never got. They’ve packaged this like a diplomatic milestone, but historians will marvel at the absurdity for a hundred years. And to think that Neocons have the gall to invoke Neville Chamberlain? It’s pathetic. Nazis in the White House? Oy vey! What would FDR have to say?

  4. Abe
    September 20, 2014 at 12:04 am

    It’s official. (CUE APPLAUSE):

    During his first official visit to Canada on 17 September, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko addressed the Canadian parliament. Citing no evidence, he accused Russia of terrorism and responsibility for the downing the Malaysian airliner over eastern Ukraine in July:

    “arming rebels with advanced antiaircraft systems, providing them with operators, intelligence and flight data. Those who were equipped, trained and financed by Russia executed a terrorist attack shooting down the civilian MH-17 flight killing 298 innocent lives of the Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia, many others nations including the Canadian citizen, Andrei Anghel. And I think that war in the east of Ukraine is a war against the terror.”

    On 18 September, Poroshenko bloviated before a joint session of the US Congress ahead of a private meeting with President Barack Obama, He expanded his litany of accusations against Russia to include invasion and torture, and his accusations about Russian responsibility for MH-17 were greeted with several round of enthusiastic applause:

    “The free world must stand its ground. And with America’s help – it will!”


    “Yes, we live in a world that is mutually reliant and interconnected. In this world, the aggression on one democratic nation is aggression against all of us. We fully understand this.”


    “If anyone had doubts about this, if anyone was hoping “to sit it out” while Ukrainians and Russians continue killing each other – this ended on July 18th, when a Russian missile launched by a Russian mercenary shot down the civilian Boeing-777, the Malaysian Flight MH-17.

    “298 innocent, peaceful people, many of whom were flying on their vacations in the South, met their ultimate demise in the steppes of Ukraine.

    “Their cold-blooded killing – just like the barbaric treatment of their remains afterwards – showed that whoever floods Europe with uncontrolled weapons puts millions of lives at risk, for years and decades to come.”


    “This was an indisputable brutal act of terror. Unfortunately, it was this tragedy that gave a wake up call to many in the world about the situation in Ukraine.

    “Long after wars end – the fear and hate linger on. How many more deaths will be caused by the handguns handed out, with absolutely no controls or accountability, in those regions? How many innocent children will step on land mines so massively utilized by separatists? How many lives will be ruined and souls poisoned by the propaganda machine?

    “The act of pumping the region full of uncontrolled arms represents a policy of state-funded terrorism – and it needs to stop now!”


    “The cynical downing of the Malaysian Boeing revealed one more important thing: we are now at the forefront of the fight against terrorism.”

    There were no accusations uttered during the White House meeting between Poroshenko and Obama. Obama got to play his assigned ‘realist’ role of ‘good cop”.

    And the Mighty Wurlitzer plays on.

    Pepe Escobar, certainly no ‘realist’ a la Obama, offers a realistic view of what’s coming down the pipeline for Europe:

    the Big Picture in the long run spells out Moscow expanding its Pipelineistan nodes throughout Eastern Europe all the way to Western Europe, thus enlarging, commercially, its “soft” zone of influence. No “invasion” required.

    On Ukraine, the Big Picture spells out the European Union mired in a horrendous crisis, under a third recession in five years, obviously without the cash, not to mention the will, to pay Ukraine’s humongous bills. Sooner – with negotiations starting this Saturday in Berlin – or later the EU will have to find an accommodation with Moscow to guarantee its precious gas supplies.

    That leaves warmongering NATO – as in the EU under the Pentagon’s thumb. All rhetoric about that puny “rapid reaction force” aside, the fact is that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization won’t have the balls to confront Russia, via troops deployed in Ukraine. And there will be no Obama “Stupid Stuff” aerial bombing of federalists in Donbass – as if Russophones in Ukraine defending their land and their language against a form of slow motion ethnic cleansing could be compared to The Caliph’s multinational goons in “Syraq”. US public opinion very well knows – well, maybe not – that people in Donbass are not threatening to cross into El Paso tomorrow.

    So much hard work to pivot from GWOT to the Big Boys in Eurasia. So little time – and competence. The Caliph’s goons have announced on the record they would go for beheading Putin. If only the Pentagon would subcontract the job.

    • Brian
      September 20, 2014 at 1:14 am

      I guess Washington figured with repeated visits and speeches from one violent psychopath(Netanyahoo)might as well bring in another. A nazi no less. Another proud day for murka.

    • Abe
      September 20, 2014 at 4:45 pm

      Before launching into his cavalcade of accusations against Russia, Poroshenko insisted that Ukraine was like Israel (presumably meaning that it’s no less entitled to massive military and economic subsidies from the US).

      The comparison statement was greeted with immediate applause from the US Congress:

      “Just like Israel, Ukraine has the right to defend her territory. And it will do so, with all the courage of her heart and dedication of her soul!”


      “I urge America to help us and to rise and be equal to its natural and manifest role. I urge America to lead the way!”


      “Ukraine has always had a special bond with the United States. Today, Ukraine is taking shape as America’s natural and consequential partner in the region. This partnership is not circumstantial. It has not come about because we find ourselves “in the same boat”. It came about because, in the moment of existential crisis, Ukraine’s choice was the same as America’s. Very simple: freedom, democracy, and the rule of law.”


  5. Joe Tedesky
    September 20, 2014 at 2:11 am

    A couple of days ago Mr Parry’s article, ‘Reported US-Syrian Accord on Air Strikes
    September 17, 2014’ gave us a glimmer of Hope. Now, only 2 days later we find there’s not that much hope, any longer. I picture there is really quit a battle going on within our US government. If you had watched any of the Senate and House ‘ISIS combat’ hearings you would have seen that devision no matter how ever so slight. More congress people when questioning either Hagel, Demspy, or Kerry, showed a bigger concern for the FSA rebels that of destroying ISIS. You do know Assad needs to go, right?

    The more talk I hear about bombing ISIS, the more I see a Trojan Horse. So, when this turns into a US bombing of the sovereign state of Syria will ISIS suddenly disappear? Will ISIS vanish, as the FSA just got fat? I could see only the top ISIS leaders getting killed, but what about that ISIS army? Would all the ISIS weapons end up in the FSA’s arsenal. Something going on here, but what?

    I trust this site to give us all the best honest reporting it can provide. The rest of the American media will of course leave out, add in, and give us so much spin you will be dizzy.

  6. Abe
    September 20, 2014 at 11:56 am

    Is the CIA’s ISIS Cult Already Collapsing in Iraq?
    By F. William Engdahl

    The origins of the ISIS go directly back to the CIA-created Al-Qaeda and their role in the savage toppling of Libya’s Muhammar Qaddafi in 2012. The leader of the Libyan rebels later admitted that his fighters included Al-Qaeda linked jihadists who had fought against US and UK troops in Iraq. Those Iraqi Jihadists came from Al-Qaeda in Iraq, the name of ISIS before it was rebranded by the CIA. With the assistance of US and NATO intelligence and air support, the Libyan Al Qaeda rebels captured Gaddafi and summarily executed him in the street, all the while enthusiastically chanting “Allah Akbar,” of course in very democratic tones.

    After Qaddafi’s overthrow by the US, hiding behind the skirts of France and the UK, after Gaddafi was overthrown, Libyan armories were looted, and massive quantities of weapons were sent by the Libyan rebels to Syria, including anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, smuggled into Syria through Turkey, a NATO ally where US Ambassador, Francis Riccardione, sits, the man Erdogan last year threatened to make persona non grata. The times Libyan arms arrived on September 14th, 2012, just three days after Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed by the attack on the US Embassy in Benghazi. At that same time Jihadist fighters from Libya began flooding into Syria as well, including experienced commanders who had fought in multiple theaters. The US and its allies, especially Saudi Arabia and Qatar and to an extent Turkey, were now focused on taking down Assad’s government in Syria. As in Libya this regime change was to be framed in terms of human rights. It failed miserably.

    And the horror YouTube purporting to show a lone, masked, black-clad ISIS psychopath on a hill savagely beheading US journalist James Foley, according to a British media analysis, was faked. A British scientific video analysis shows the knife ostensibly cutting the throat of Foley and not a drop of blood spurts out, nor does Foley make any frantic effort to free himself.

    The video as well as the remarkably similar video of the purported beheading of journalist Steven Sotloff both show the same fully-black-masked executioner, dubbed in the British media as ‘Jihadi John’ as he suspiciously has a strong British accent. The perpetrators of that faked video are no doubt known to John Brenan, CIA Director and NSC advisor, Susan Rice and the Washington neo-conservatives determined to push President Obama into a full-scale war against Iraq and Syria, using their ISIS as the pretext. The operation seems to be falling apart on all fronts.

  7. Abe
    September 20, 2014 at 12:06 pm

    Rogue Networks Behind Wars Usurped Sovereignty
    By Christof Lehmann

    The jus belli or right to wage war, which implies potentially catastrophic consequences for the people, has been utterly eroded in Western democracies. Sovereignty and one of its highest expressions has been usurped by rogue networks.

    Some of the primary architects of the anarchio-oligarchical system are Madeleine Albright, Zbigniev Brzezinski, Henry Kissinger, Frederick Kempe, and George Soros. The system could not function without the direct and indirect support of Europe’s and the U.S. leading families. In many cases the elected governments of EU or NATO member states are merely responding to policy that is being implemented via these networks.

    Simplifications like “NATO’s war in Ukraine” are helpful in some regard. Limiting the discourse to that level of analysis is the sovereigns’ greatest fallacy. Control over media plays the greatest role in keeping the discourse at a level that does not allow for intervention by the sovereign, people are misled.

    The consequence is that a wider Middle East war has been ongoing for years; a war has been launched in Ukraine; most elected officials are being held in the dark about the actual dynamics. Populations are kept blindfolded and are being led like lambs to the slaughterhouse.

    Considering the already ongoing economic and military wars; Considering the risk of a large-scale military confrontation, whether wanted or unwanted or because events begin to run out of control, the people in NATO member States would be well served by confronting themselves with a set of questions.

    Will we surrender to parasitic rogue networks or anarchio-oligarchs? Will we let ourselves be driven into wars by rogue networks of anarchio-oligarchs? Will I surrender or will I demand that my elected representatives take back our sovereignty? Is there a way to reestablish lawfulness and sovereignty by peaceful means? Or has the time come where I have to begin organizing mass citizens arrests and a revolution? Do I know the names and addresses I need to know so I can retake sovereignty? Do I have allies among power-brokers? Who is my ally, and who is not? The facts that stealth and propaganda enabled rogue networks to usurp sovereignty and the fact that one has to begin considering revolt and resistance in “the free world” are staggering but not paralyzing.

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