Free Markets, Free People

Iran

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Calling Out Iran (update)

Appearing before microphones at the G-20 conference, the Presidents of the US and France along with the PM of the UK made an announcement concerning Iran:

President Obama and leaders of Britain and France accused Iran on Friday of building a secret underground plant to manufacture nuclear fuel, saying the country has hidden the covert operation from international weapons inspectors for years.

Appearing before reporters in Pittsburgh, Mr. Obama said that the Iranian nuclear program “represents a direct challenge to the basic foundation of the nonproliferation regime.” French President Nicholas Sarkozy, appearing beside Mr. Obama, said that Iran had deadline of two months to comply with international demands or face increased sanctions.

Essentially the argument is the facility is too big for the manufacture of nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes and can only exist to enable the pursuit of nuclear weapons.

American officials said that they had been tracking the covert project for years, but that Mr. Obama decided to make public the American findings after Iran discovered, in recent weeks, that Western intelligence agencies had breached the secrecy surrounding the project. On Monday, Iran wrote a brief, cryptic letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency, saying that it now had a “pilot plant” under construction, whose existence it had never before revealed.

So now Iran has been called out. That’s the easy part. Increased sanctions are promised. That’s the hard part. Russia may possibly come on board (we’ll see if the unilateral decision to remove the missile defense shield from eastern Europe), but China is an unknown (although the Chinese foreign ministry recently said it was not in favor of increased sanctions). That’s assuming the Obama administration plans on working all of this through the UN.

One of the sanctions that the US and others are considering is one which would restrict the importation of gasoline. While Iran sits on a sea of oil, it has very limited refining capacity. It must import most of what it uses. Cutting those imports would seriously effect the country. However Venezuelan strong man Hugo Chavez, during a recent visit with Iran, promised to provide the regime with gasoline. That could set up a confrontation between the US (and others) and Venezuela. Hugo Chavez might finally get the confrontation with the US he’s been claiming was coming very soon.

This is about to get complicated and nasty. December is the date in which France has demanded compliance with international demands. In the interim, both sides are going to be scrambling to line up their allies. And then there’s the wild card – Israel.

This will be an interesting couple of months. But one question I have – why wasn’t this presented to the UN before the president of Iran spoke?

UPDATE: Dale sends me a link to this article by Simon Tisdale at the Guardian in reference to this story:

…Now it seems the Iranian regime has been caught red-handed, and clean out of trumps, by the forced disclosure that it is building, if not already operating, a second, secret uranium processing plant.

The revelation will bring a triumphal roar of “told you so!” from Bush era neoconservatives in the US to hawkish rightwingers in Israel. The likes of former vice-president Dick Cheney and UN envoy John Bolton, and the current Israeli leader, Binyamin Netanyahu, have long insisted that Tehran’s word could not be trusted.

Yet the argument about who was right and who was wrong about Iran is hardly important at this juncture…

As Dale sarcastically notes:

Yes. Whatever we do, let’s not try and keep track of who was right and who was wrong about Iran. We certainly wouldn’t want to have a track record of foreign policy reliability we could consult in the future.

Because this is about, uh what was it again, oh, yeah, change!

~McQ

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Iran, Nukes and Anti-Missile Shields

The IAEA announced, almost simultaneously with the US unilateral withdrawal of its planned eastern European anti-missile shield, that Iran now has the capability and materials to build a nuclear weapon. Why did the IAEA come to that conclusion?

• The IAEA’s assessment that Iran worked on developing a chamber inside a ballistic missile capable of housing a warhead payload “that is quite likely to be nuclear.”

• That Iran engaged in “probable testing” of explosives commonly used to detonate a nuclear warhead — a method known as a “full-scale hemispherical explosively driven shock system.”

• An assessment that Iran worked on developing a system “for initiating a hemispherical high explosive charge” of the kind used to help spark a nuclear blast.

Additionally it noted, “The agency … assesses that Iran has sufficient information to be able to design and produce a workable implosion nuclear device (an atomic bomb) based on HEU (highly enriched uranium) as the fission fuel.”

And it has enriched enough uranium for fuel that it could be turned into enough weapons grade uranium for a single nuclear weapon.

So we have the capacity for a nuclear weapon and apparently proof, or at least some pretty heavy indications, that Iran has been working assiduously toward developing a ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear payload as well as developing and testing an explosive trigger for such a device.

Obviously this didn’t come as a surprise to the US. Iran’s capability in both missiles and nuclear weapons technology continues to grow.

So excuse me if I don’t buy this “redefinition” of the threat the Obama administration is claiming is better addressed by its focus on short and medium range Iranian missiles. Any defense against missiles is a layered defense. That means you address all possible missile threats.

The fact remains that the only threat to Europe, for whom the Bush-era anti-missile shield was intended, is ballistic missiles. Iran (or Russia) must use them to reach that continent. Iranian short and medium range missiles are not a threat Europe.

The point, of course, is should Iran develop an ICBM, Europe would be defenseless because the systems which are designed for the short and medium range missiles aren’t designed to go after ICBMs.

Or said another way, the proper announcement would have been “the US is adding the missing two layers to the anti-missile defense system, thereby making the system complete.”

Instead we pulled the long-range system. Why?

Well that’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it? Most feel it was a capitulation in answer to Russia’s fears of the system. Russia had claimed that the small and supposed defensive system could be turned into offensive system aimed at them. Of course that would require a completely different sort of missile than would have been deployed there, and, probably, a different sort of radar system as well.

Speaking of the radar system, Russia objected to the sophisticated X-band radar saying it would be able to look in 360 degrees and would be monitoring Russian missiles much too closely. Seems a bit absurd to make that claim when Russia knows we have satellites that can read the bumper numbers off their mobile missile launchers at will.

Then there was the claim that the US and Russia had an agreement that US troops and weapons wouldn’t be stationed or deployed in the former Warsaw Pact nations. The US doesn’t seem to remember that, but Russia claims its the case. That certainly can’t be the concern since Obama has said that in the future the new anti-missile systems might be deployed in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Obama says his decision was driven by the “unanimous advice” of the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Said the man who recommended the deployment of the missile shield to President Bush three years ago:

“Those who say we are scrapping missile defence in Europe are either misinformed or misrepresenting the reality of what we are doing in Europe,” said Robert Gates, US defence secretary.

In a word: nonsense!

Someone please explain the spurious claim that the best missile defense system for Europe – which can only be hit by an Iranian ICBM – is one which targets short and medium range Iranian missiles. It makes absolutely no sense.

It makes no sense until Russia is dragged into the equation. Then it starts to become somewhat clear. This is a risky bet meant to appease Russia while at the same time hoping Iran is unable to develop a long-range nuclear capable missile before its nuclear weapons program can be stopped. It is also clearly a bow to Russia and a part of the Obama administration’s unilateral attempt to “reset” relations with that country. And it is a display of weakness.

What about our allies? How do they feel about this? Well perhaps the best way to answer that is to understand why they were so interested in the anti-missile system promised by the Bush administration:

During negotiations with the Bush administration, Warsaw pushed hard for a missile defence agreement that would reward them with a Patriot short-range air defence unit supported by US troops. In the end, Poland agreed in principle to host the US base during last year’s war between Russia and Georgia, which sparked fears about Russian intentions towards central Europe.

Eastern Europe doesn’t trust Russia as far as they can throw them (a lesson we should have learned as well). The invasion and virtual annexation of two provinces of Georgia underscored Russia intent to dominate what it calls it’s “near abroad” (or Post-Soviet Space). Russia literally thumbed its nose at the US and the rest of the world with its military incursion there. Poland and other former Warsaw pact nations took the lesson for what it was – a declaration that Russia was back and intended to play hardball.

Max Boot reminds us of the last time this sort of thing happened:

That Obama has now bowed to Putin’s demands sends a dangerous signal of irresoluteness and weakness—similar to the signal another young president sent when he met with a Russian leader in Vienna in 1961. Nikita Khrushchev emerged from his summit with John F. Kennedy convinced that the president was “very inexperienced, even immature” and that he could be rolled. We all know the result: the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Except this time we’re playing in Russia’s backyard, not our own. Again, leadership is absent in a very critical area of national security.

~McQ

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The Iranian Answer To “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques”

Iran, as we all know, is a theocracy. That means Islamic law and thus Islamic clerics, have great influence. One of the clerics which President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad regularly consults, has recently laid out the Iranian version of “enhanced interrogation techniques”. It is rather revealing, both about the mentality of those that we’re fighting (and make no mistake, we’re engaged in a war with Iran, even if only through surrogates) and the religion they claim.

It appears, at least in the version of Shi’a Islam this cleric claims, that the use of rape, torture and drugs are perfectly permissible for use against enemies of that state – after ritual washing and proper prayers, of course.

“Can an interrogator rape the prisoner in order to obtain a confession?” was the follow-up question posed to the Islamic cleric.

Mesbah-Yazdi answered: “The necessary precaution is for the interrogator to perform a ritual washing first and say prayers while raping the prisoner. If the prisoner is female, it is permissible to rape through the vagina or anus. It is better not to have a witness present. If it is a male prisoner, then it’s acceptable for someone else to watch while the rape is committed.”

Lovely – religiously sanctioned rape and sodomy. And, of course in the case of Iran, that means state sanctioned rape.

These questions were apparently raised after allegations of rape surfaced in connection with election protesters the regime had jailed. Oh, and you’ll love this little disclaimer:

This reply, and reports of the rape of teen male prisoners in Iranian jails, may have prompted the following question: “Is the rape of men and young boys considered sodomy?”

Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi: “No, because it is not consensual. Of course, if the prisoner is aroused and enjoys the rape, then caution must be taken not to repeat the rape.”

Because we certainly wouldn’t want anyone enjoying it – no word about what they’re supposed to do if the rapist enjoys it. Rinse and repeat, I suppose.

As for women?

A related issue, in the eyes of the questioners, was the rape of virgin female prisoners. In this instance, Mesbah-Yazdi went beyond the permissibility issue and described the Allah-sanctioned rewards accorded the rapist-in-the-name-of-Islam:

“If the judgment for the [female] prisoner is execution, then rape before execution brings the interrogator a spiritual reward equivalent to making the mandated Haj pilgrimage [to Mecca], but if there is no execution decreed, then the reward would be equivalent to making a pilgrimage to [the Shi’ite holy city of] Karbala.”

What a job description – a “rapist-in-the-name-of-Islam” who, while committing what any other civilized country would consider a heinous crime punishable by life behind bars is promised “Allah sanctioned” pilgrimage equivalents, depending on the status of his helpless prisoner. Always a nice bonus to get your Haj credits while performing such a valuable service for the state.

As we rip ourselves apart debating the cruelty of blowing second-hand cigar smoke in the face of a detainee caught trying to kill Americans, consider what our adversaries gladly reveal about their own moral code. That’s not to condone or rationalize torture by our side. It is instead to provide a reality check for those who need it.

Iranians love to tell the world how they are one of the world’s oldest civilizations and will expound at length about the contributions their civilization has made to the rest of the world. While it’s true that Persia has indeed make a number of outstanding contributions over the centuries, modern Iran is a religiously warped and perverted state which apparently regularly churns out religious leaders such as this whack job. The problem is he’s not hidden away in some mental hospital jibbering only to some health care professional who shakes his head in amazement before quietly closing the door of his cell and leaving him there alone until the next session.

Instead he’s an adviser to the President of the country and what he says is being acted upon throughout the prisons and jails of Iran. What a miserable, awful place. It is hard to imagine living in a country in which religious leaders not only condone but encourage and incentivize the behavior you read about above, isn’t it?

For you lovers of the state, this is a cautionary tale – anything can be made legal, as demonstrated above. And, as a wise man once said, “the state is coercion”. The combination, unfortunately, can, and does, bring exactly what Iran now suffers.

~McQ

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Iran Ready To Build Nuclear Bomb?

That’s what the UK Times is reporting:

Iran has perfected the technology to create and detonate a nuclear warhead and is merely awaiting the word from its Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to produce its first bomb, Western intelligence sources have told The Times.

The sources said that Iran completed a research programme to create weaponised uranium in the summer of 2003 and that it could feasibly make a bomb within a year of an order from its Supreme Leader.

Of course, what we don’t know about Iran’s capability could fill a book. We’ve seen it variously reported that they a year away to ten years away – a good indicator that for the most part intelligence agencies haven’t a clue in reality.

However, as we know, nuclear bombs are old technology. The genie has been out of the bottle way too long to believe that Iran can’t build a bomb if it dedicates the time and resources to do so. And it certainly seems to have done both.

So now what?

That’s the salient question now. Let’s assume Iran has a bomb by this time next year – then what?

Well here’s the apparent game plan:

If Iran’s leader does decide to build a bomb, he will have two choices, intelligence sources said. One would be to take the high-risk approach of kicking out the international inspectors and making a sprint to complete Iran’s first bomb, as the country weathered international sanctions or possible air strikes in the ensuing crisis. The other would be to covertly develop the materials needed for an arsenal in secret desert facilities.

Last week, during a series of high-level US visits to Israel, officials outlined Washington’s plans to step up sanctions on Iran, should Tehran fail to agree on talks. Robert Gates, the Defence Secretary, and General James Jones, the National Security Adviser, said that Iran had until the end of next month, when the UN General Assembly is to meet, to make a positive move towards engagement.

If Tehran fails to respond, Washington aims to build a tough international coalition to impose harsh sanctions focusing on petroleum products — an area where Iran is particularly vulnerable because it sends almost all of its crude abroad for refinement.

The feeling, of course, is if these sorts of sanctions can be imposed, it will hurt the regime even further by adding more unrest among a population already not happy with the election outcome. And, per the Times, hit directly at the Revolutionary Guards Council, which is the main exporter of terrorism through its surrogates in various parts of the world.

Of course what isn’t mentioned by the Times is the one big fly in the ointment of getting this done – China. No China, no sanctions. And China has developed a pretty close relationship with Iran based on petroleum trade. In 2004 it signed two huge oil and gas deals with Iran. Presently 45% of China’s crude imports come from the Middle East and that’s expected to rise to 70% by 2015. In 2008, China finalized a $70 billion deal to develop Iran’s Yadavaran oil field in exchange for the supply of liquefied natural gas. And much, much more.

So China is not going to be keen to cripple a nation which it has invested so much time and money in developing a relationship with – especially if it wants to maintain its own economy (and keep its own internal unrest to a simmer) during recessionary times.

Bottom line? My guess is a lot of tough talk and fist shaking at Iran, but in the end, nothing much happens and Iran ends up with its nuke. The play will be made in the UN where China has a seat on the Security Council and I’d almost bet the house that nothing comes out of that organization with any teeth whatsoever or China won’t vote for it.

Bottom bottom line – Israel, who we seem bound and determined to have worse relations with, is probably going to have to find a way to destroy the capability on their own. Militarily they’ve been quietly developing the strike capability for some time. And Saudi Arabia, which is very worried about an Iranian nuke and what it would do to the balance of power in the region, has given Israel a subtle nod that it would turn its back should the Israelis fly over their territory to strike Iran – unprecedented in the history of the region and an indication of the depth of fear the Saudis harbor.

But reliance on the UN and “sanctions”? I just don’t see that happening.

~McQ

All Quiet On The Western Front

In Iran, the “pro-democracy” element remains under threat of government violence:

Seeking to pre-empt a revival of street protests in Tehran after days of apparent quiescence, Iranian authorities told opponents that a planned demonstration Thursday would be met with a “crushing response” and was illegal.

Protesters had planned to rally on Thursday on the 10th anniversary of violent confrontations when protesting students were beaten and jailed. The protests could rekindle the demonstrations that followed the disputed June 12 elections, provoking a sweeping official crackdown.

Iranian officials said Wednesday that they had released 2,000 people who were arrested for participating in the demonstrations, but continued holding l 500 prisoners who would be put on trial, according to the state-run Press TV news service.

Meanwhile in Italy, the G8 managed this “crushing response” to the Iranian government’s violence, killings and arrests:

G8 foreign ministers have managed to find common ground on the situation in Iran. The joint statement says the G8 regrets the actions by Iranian authorities after the presidential election, which killed civilians.

Wow.

Meanwhile our Secretary of State will be futzing around with some constitutionally deposed would-be dictator from Honduras.

~McQ

Deadly Clashes in China

I assume, since China is a totalitarian state, that the US won’t have anything to say about the violence there for at least 10 days:

The official death toll in riots in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region rose sharply Monday, with the government saying that 140 had been killed in what appears to be one of the deadliest episodes of unrest in China in decades.

Police said at least 828 other people were injured in violence that began Sunday in Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital. Witnesses said the conflicts pitted security forces against demonstrators, and members of the region’s Turkic-speaking Uighur ethnic group against members of the country’s Han Chinese majority. Many among the predominantly Muslim Uighurs have chafed at Chinese government rule.

[…]

As evening fell in Urumqi Monday, witnesses said that paramilitary troops of the People’s Armed Police, backed by armored personnel carriers, were patrolling largely calm city streets. Many businesses remained shuttered and gates of the city’s central bazaar, which was the scene of unrest Sunday night, were closed.

Police said they were still searching for dozens of people suspected of fanning the violence. Several hundred people have already been arrested in connection with the riot, police said, and the government said it was bringing “ethnic officials” from nearby areas to help with interrogations.

Of course the reason given by the Chinese government is much the same as that given by the Iranian government concerning the problems there –

The government blamed the unrest on a prominent exiled Uighur leader, Rebiya Kadeer, president of the World Uyghur Congress, an activist group. Sunday’s demonstration was “instigated and directed from abroad,” according to a government statement cited by Xinhua.

Given that statement, you can expect silence from the Obama administration as they’ll want to ensure they’re not seen as “meddling” in China’s internal affairs. And I can promise you that the Uighur dissidents being rounded up by China’s police forces will not be offered a vacation in Bermuda.

Apparently the only country in which the “no meddling” policy is waved is Honduras.

~McQ

Questions and Observations #3

For new readers, the title is what the shortened “QandO” means.

  • Whether you love her, hate her or really don’t care, it is hard too argue against the assertion that  Sarah Palin effectively ended any national aspirations she might have had by announcing her pending resignation (assuming there isn’t some extremely compelling private family reason for doing so). The first thing any political opponent is going to say is “she quit on the citizens of Alaska, will she quit on you?”
  • The story about the Washington Post selling access to the Obama administration isn’t just about the WaPo. Seems to me there had to be some a) knowledge of the plan and b) cooperation from the White House for it to have been as far along as it was. After all, the first “salon” was scheduled to be held at the publisher’s home in 2 weeks. Is anyone exploring that angle?
  • How concerned is Saudi Arabia with the probability of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons? Apparently enough to make it known they’ll turn a blind eye to any Israeli incursion which crosses the kingdom in order to strike Iran.
  • Apparently the scales have finally fallen from Colin Powell’s eyes concerning Obama and the direction he’s taking this country. Formerly Powell’s message was that American’s wanted more government and were willing to pay for it. He now says he’s concerned with the number of programs, the legislation associated with them and the cost of the additional government they’ll entail. “We can’t pay for it,” he’s now saying? Better late than never, I suppose, but this just underscores my disaffection with Powell politically.
  • Speaking of Sarah Palin, apparently the federal investigation rumors (FBI looking into irregularities concerning the sports complex in Wasilla, etc.) and pending indictment are false. An FBI spokesman in Alaska has said there is no pending indictment or ongoing investigations of her. Concerning the ongoing rumor he says, “it’s just not true”.
  • The after effects of the recent “election” in Iran continue to eat away at the foundation of the “Islamic Republic”. The Association of Researchers and Teachers of Qum split with Ayotallah Khamenei declaring both the election and the new govenrment “illegitimate”. That is a very public and unprecedented challenge to Khamenei’s power. Additionally Moussavi’s campaign has released a report that outlines the election violations in detail. These are very serious challenges to the regime’s legitimacy.
  • Speaking of Iran, it appears that while the world is ready to ratchet up the pressure on the regime in light of its brutal put down of pro-democracy protesters, the Obama administration is apparently prepared to block any sanctions agreed upon at the G8 summit. I swear I can’t figure that bunch out – support the dictator in Iran and mischaracterize a legal use of constitutional power in Honduras in support of another would-be dictator there.
  • The law of unintended consequences continues to operate unabated. Governments, desperate for revenue, have raised property taxes all across the country. Homeowners, knowing their home values have plummeted, are filing an unprecedented number of appeals. Those appeals are costing the governments huge amounts of money in refunds and attorney’s fees. However, homeowners should note that if they don’t appeal, the government will gladly screw them to the wall with an unjustified tax increase. Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, doesn’t it?

~McQ

Obama Immediately Slams Honduras

But not Iran.

Hmmm. And even saying anything about Iran could be considered “meddling” in the internal affairs of another country, per the Obama administration, but apparently working actively within Honduras to stop what it characterizes as a “military coup” isn’t meddling.

Confusing foreign policy.

An interesting aspect of the Honduran “coup”, per Fausta is:

-Tuesday last week the Honduran Congress, led by members of his own party, passed a law preventing the holding of referendums or plebiscites 180 days before or after general elections.

– The Honduran Congress, led by members of his own party, named a commission to investigate Zelaya. The Commission found (my translation: If you quote it, please credit me and link to this post)

Zelaya acted against the mandates of legal and electoral laws, the Public Ministry, the National Congress, the Attorney General, and other institutions of the State, which had declared the poll illegal.

Additionally, the court weighed in:

Indeed, Honduras’ La Prensa states that (My translation: If you use this, please credit me and link to this post)

An official statement of the Supreme Court of Justice explained that the Armed Forces acted under lawful grounds when detaining the President of the Republic, and by decommissioning the materials to be used on the illegal poll which aimed to bring forth Executive Power against a judicial order.

Other sources verified that the president of the Congress, Roberto Micheletti, will assume the presidency of the republic in a few hours.

Honduran president Manuel Zelaya was detained this morning by the military in compliance with an order of the courts of law.

I’ve also seen a report that the new president, Roberto Micheletti, is of the same party as Zelaya.

As I said this morning I’m not a Honduran Constitutional expert – but our Constitutional expert-in-chief seems to have it all figured out. I think the “why” should be obvious:

Analysts said quick criticism of the coup by Obama and Clinton on Sunday pleased Latin American countries bitter about the long history of U.S. intervention in the region.

Despite Obama’s claim that this would set a “terrible precedent”, the State Department still hasn’t yet made a determination that an actual “military coup” has actually taken place:

Despite Obama’s comments, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the administration was not formally designating the ouster as a military coup for now.

Such a designation could force the U.S. leader to cut off most aid to Honduras. Under U.S. legislation, no aid — other than for the promotion of democracy — may be provided to a country whose elected head of government has been toppled in a military coup.

“We do think that this has evolved into a coup,” Clinton told reporters, adding the administration was “withholding” that determination for now.

The stated reason is they want to leave room for negotiations with “the goal of restoring democratic order in Honduras”.

What isn’t clear, however, is whether or not what happened wasn’t a result of “democratic order” and legal. For instance:

Jason Steck, writing at Real Clear World Blog, explains

what is happening in Honduras may be an example of a coup that is not only legal, but mandatory

because, in Honduras’s case, the military has been endowed with a role in maintaining democratic governance; this time their task was to delivery Zelaya safely out of office and into the airplane to Costa Rica.

If this all ends up being constituitonally legal,  it will be interesting to see how Obama backs off his previous statements or whether, instead, he continues to characterize the arrest of Zelaya as a “coup” to play to the leftist crowd now “pleased” with his initial reaction.

Regardless, I’m less than impressed with Obama’s reaction to world events in Iran, North Korea and now Honduras.

~McQ

Obama’s Contradictory Foreign Policy

Melanie Phillips points to an interesting contradiction:

As the world watched events unfold in Iran, Obama’s double standard over Israel was illuminated in flashing neon lights. How come he’s saying it is wrong for him to tell the Iranians what to do, people asked themselves, when he is dictating to Israel its policy on settlements?

It’s an excellent question. So what is the policy of the United States qua Barack Obama – strict hands off concerning the “internal affairs” of a country, or, in the case of Israel, what can only be considered “meddling” in internal affairs?

Just wondering …

~McQ

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