Republicans have been a minority party for all but twelve of the years since the Second World War, as voters have preferred Democratic promoters of the welfare state over Republican proponents of fiscal restraint. But the same electorate has reversed itself when it came to protecting the American homeland. They have regularly crossed party lines to support Republicans in every presidential election where national security was an issue.
Thus while voters made Democrats the majority party in the people’s House for 38 of the 42 years of America’s Cold War with the Soviet Union, in the majority of those years (28 of 42), they elected a Republican to be their commander-in-chief. Moreover, three of the four Democrats who did make it to the White House – Truman, Kennedy and Johnson – were militant anti-Communists and military hawks, holding views indistinguishable from Republicans on national security. The fourth, Jimmy Carter, was a former naval officer and beneficiary of the Watergate scandal. He was also a foreign policy disaster, who served only one term before being defeated by Ronald Reagan. In the entire post-war period from 1945 to the present, the only Republican presidential victory in which national security was not a major issue was the 2000 election of George W. Bush, and in that election Bush lost the popular vote.
To sum up: When Republicans win national elections, it is because the American people trust them with the nation’s security, and don’t trust their Democratic opponents. Another important aspect to this Republican electoral dominance on national security is that the Republican Party is a diverse coalition and its factions are capable of sitting out elections if the issues that divide them come to the fore. But concern for the nation’s safety has historically proven to be a powerful force pulling together the disparate elements of the Republican coalition and unifying its constituencies. When the security of the country is a major issue in national campaigns, it pushes other divisive issues into the background.
The conventional wisdom holds that “It’s the economy stupid!” (a Democrat is the one who said that). But the lesson of postwar electoral history is clear. Republicans win national elections when they put national security issues at the center of their campaigns.
Accomplishing this should not be difficult in a post 9/11 world in which Americans have been attacked on American soil, in which the number of states openly supporting Islamist terror has steadily grown, and in which the most dangerous Islamist regime – Iran – is about to acquire nuclear weapons. The present global outlook, with governments falling to Islamist parties in the Middle East and violent conflicts proliferating, should make national security a priority issue for both parties. Indeed, today’s world provides eerie parallels to the early Cold War conflicts, and with implications equally dire.
Yet in the 2012 campaign for the White House Republicans failed to make these threats a political issue, while Democrats were only too happy to pretend they were under control.
The Republicans’ “October Surprise”
To fully appreciate the current disorientation of the Republican Party, one need only consider how central these issues could have been in the fall of 2012 as the election approached:
In the four years since Obama’s first inauguration almost three times as many Americans died in Afghanistan as in the eight years that Bush conducted the war, and with still no prospect of victory in sight. Under Obama’s failed leadership, there were more than 8,000 Islamic terrorist attacks on “infidels” across the globe, a twenty-five percent rise over the years in which the fighting in Iraq was at its height. In the face of this bloody Islamist offensive, Obama was claiming that the war against al-Qaeda had been essentially “won” and the terrorist threat was subsiding. The Obama administration had officially dropped the term “Global War On Terror” in favor of an Orwellian euphemism, describing terrorist hostilities as “overseas contingency operations.” This was a practical implementation of its policy of denying the religious nature of the Islamic war against the West, and minimizing the Islamist threat.
Denial was evident in Obama’s foreign policy towards the Middle East’s most dangerous actor, Iran, the chief world sponsor of terror, responsible for supplying jihadists with the IEDs that caused most of the American fatalities in Iraq. Because Obama was eager for rapprochement with Iran’s Islamist regime, his administration dragged its feet on sanctions designed to halt Iran’s nuclear program. And Obama was silent when hundreds of thousands of Iranians poured into the streets of the capital to call for an end to the dictatorship, thus passing up a crucial opportunity to end the regime.
An egregious domestic example of administration policy was its response to the massacre of 13 unarmed soldiers at Fort Hood by an Islamic fanatic (who three years later has still not been brought to trial). The Fort Hood terrorist had successfully infiltrated the America military and despite open expressions of hatred against the West had been promoted to U.S. Army Major. Not only was the Obama administration unconcerned with the infiltration of its military by an avowed enemy, it classified the Fort Hood massacre as an incident of “workplace violence,” a Kafkaesque expression of its policy of denial. Neither the troubling signals set off by these official cover-ups nor the facts about the growing Islamist threats were featured in the Republican presidential campaign.
In 2012 Republicans were handed an “October surprise” that provided them with a golden opportunity to address the issue. On the anniversary of 9/11, Islamic jihadists staged demonstrations and launched attacks against the American embassies in Egypt and other countries. In Libya, al-Qaeda terrorists overran an American consular compound and murdered the American ambassador and three brave staffers. The attack took place in a country that had been recently destabilized by administration policies. As a senator, Obama had denounced a military intervention in Iraq authorized by both houses of Congress and a unanimous U.N. Security Council resolution. As president, he invoked the principle of non-intervention to justify his passivity in the face of governmental atrocities in Syria and Iran. But in Libya he authorized an invasion in a country that posed no threat to the United States, failing to even notify Congress or the U.N. Obama’s unilateral invasion destabilized the country and led directly to the rise of the local al-Qaeda, which planted its flag atop the same American Embassy it later destroyed.
Before his overthrow, the dictator Moammar Gaddafi warned that his demise would unleash the forces of the Islamic jihad not only in his own country but throughout North Africa – a prophecy quickly realized. In the aftermath of Obama’s aggression, al-Qaeda was able to take control in Mali of an area twice the size of Germany. In Tunisia and Egypt jihadist parties emerged as the ruling parties, doing so with the acquiescence and even assistance of the Obama Administration. In Syria, a savage civil war erupted, killing tens of thousands and pitting a fascist regime allied to Iran against rebel forces aligned with al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood.
As these disasters unfolded, the White House not only did not oppose the Islamists but armed and enabled them – in the case of Egypt with hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid and F-16 bomber jets. Obama had intervened in Egypt, the largest and most important country in the Middle East, to force the removal of its pro-American leader. It then promoted the Muslim Brotherhood’s ascension to power by portraying it as a “moderate” actor in the democratic process. Throughout the deteriorating Middle East situation, the chief beneficiary of America’s financial, diplomatic and military support was this same Muslim Brotherhood, the driving force behind the Islamist surge, the creator of Hamas, and the spawner of al-Qaeda.
To allay concerns about the emergence of the Brotherhood, Obama’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued the following justification for its acceptance by the White House: "We believe that it is in the interests of the United States to engage with all parties that are peaceful, and committed to non-violence, that intend to compete for the parliament and the presidency." In these words, she was referring to an organization whose spiritual leader, Yusef al-Qaradawi, had recently called for a second Holocaust of the Jews, “Allah willing, at the hands of the believers,” and a party that was calling for the establishment of a Muslim caliphate in Jerusalem and the destruction of the Jewish state.
Soon after Clinton’s endorsement, the Muslim Brotherhood’s presidential candidate, Mohamed Morsi, was elected Egypt’s new leader. Secure in the American administration’s support, he wasted no time in abolishing the constitution and instituting a dictatorship with no serious protest from the United States. Only months before this burial of what was left of Egypt’s democracy, the new dictator had been visited by then Senator John Kerry – now Clinton’s successor. Kerry assured the world that the new Muslim Brotherhood regime was “committed to protecting fundamental freedoms.”
Just as Obama misread Egypt and Libya, so he misread Syria. Both Clinton and Kerry had promoted the ruthless dictator Assad as a political reformer and friend of democracy. They did so just as he was preparing to launch a war against his own people. Meeting with Assad, Kerry called Syria “an essential player in bringing peace and stability to the region.” Shortly thereafter the dictator began a series of massacres of his own population, which resulted in tens of thousands of fatalities and international calls for a humanitarian intervention – which Obama simply ignored.
In Libya, an American ambassador and three American heroes had been murdered by al-Qaeda on the anniversary of 9/11, with no American response. The battle over the embassy had lasted seven hours. President Obama had learned about the attack within an hour. The embattled Americans inside the compound begged for help from U.S. military assets, which were stationed only an hour away. But in one of the most shameful acts in the history of the American presidency, help was denied, and the Administration went into cover-up mode, pretending for weeks afterwards that the attack was the result of a spontaneous demonstration over an anti-Mohammed Internet video, whose director they put in jail.
In the election fall of 2012, Obama’s policies were imploding all over the Middle East; his campaign claim that he had defeated al-Qaeda was brutally exposed as so much window-dressing for his campaign; his administration was supporting a totalitarian force that was the self-declared enemy of America and the West and with his help had taken over the largest nation in the Middle East. Yet the Republican presidential campaign was all but silent in the face of these debacles and their ominous implications for America’s future.
The Problem Is Greater Than Any Individual or Party Faction
Democrats who were apoplectic over Bush’s war in Iraq for its interventionist agendas and alleged unilateral approaches, were silent over Obama’s unauthorized and disastrous interventions in the Middle East. Less explicably, Republicans were silent as well. At the Party’s convention in Tampa, its nominee Mitt Romney failed to mention the Muslim Middle East and devoted only one sentence to the observation that in order to appease America’s enemies, Obama had thrown America’s only real ally in the region, Israel, “under the bus.” Romney did not mention Obama’s role as enabler of the Muslim Brotherhood or the millions of dollars his administration had given to the Palestinian jihadists on the West bank and in Gaza whose official goal was the destruction of the Jewish state. He did not mention the calls by the Islamist leaders of Egypt and Iran for the destruction of the Jewish state and the completion of the job that Hitler started.
Romney addressed exactly two sentences to Obama’s appeasement of the Russians and abandonment of America’s East European allies in reneging on America’s commitments to their missile. The rest of his remarks about national security (approximately 160 words in their entirety) were these:
I will begin my presidency with a jobs tour. President Obama began with an apology tour. America, he said, had dictated to other nations. No Mr. President, America has freed other nations from dictators. Every American was relieved the day President Obama gave the order, and Seal Team Six took out Osama bin Laden. But on another front, every American is less secure today because he has failed to slow Iran's nuclear threat.
It was the wrong tone, to begin with; it didn’t convey the crisis nature of the international situation, the mounting threats to America, the danger posed by Obama’s ongoing appeasement of America’s jihadist enemies. But the substantive details were even deficient. There was no mention of Obama’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood or the front-page disasters of his policies in Libya and Syria – and this during the last weeks of a campaign to elect the nation’s next commander-in-chief.
It would be a serious mistake to regard this election debacle as exclusively -- or even mainly -- the fault of the Republican candidate and his campaign, or what their critics have referred to as “the Republican establishment.” The silence over these matters was hardly Romney’s problem alone. It was a problem of the party as a whole. Super Pacs, forbidden by law to communicate with the campaign, but wielding hundreds of millions of dollars to shape the anti-Obama message also failed to focus on the national threats that Obama’s policies were encouraging.
One of these Super Pacs, Crossroads, was headed by Karl Rove who could fairly be linked to a Republican establishment, but the other, Americans for Prosperity, was outside the party apparatus and culture, and represented an independent conservative viewpoint. Neither of these Super Pacs created the focus on the Obama foreign policy disasters that was necessary for the Republican candidate to win the election. They agreed with the general consensus that the economy would be the decisive issue in the campaign. The conventional wisdom was wrong, as is often the case. One poignant instance with particular resonance was the campaign of 1980. Jimmy Carter who presided over a basket case economy was leading Ronald Reagan by seven points in the last months of that race until the Iran-hostage crisis blew up in his face.
It is true that Romney made the situation measurably worse by his strategic decision to hug Obama on the issues in their foreign policy debate. But it is far from certain that any of the other potential nominees for president would have conducted their campaigns differently. At one time or another there were a dozen Republican candidates for the nomination that Romney won and they participated in 19 public debates. There were candidates for social conservatism, candidates for fiscal responsibility and job creation, for libertarian principles and moderate values. But there was not one Republican candidate for an aggressive assault on Obama’s disastrous national security decisions.
The failure of Republicans to grasp the one issue – national security – that had won them virtually all their presidential victories since 1952 was a problem that had its origins in the Bush administration’s failure to defend the Iraq War in the face of the Democrats’ attacks (a subject I will return to in a moment). When the Iraq War became a bad war, Republicans lost the national security narrative.
The extent of the Republican problem regarding national security can be seen in an incident that took place four months before the election when Representative Michele Bachmann and four other Republican House members sent a letter to the Justice Department’s Inspector General asking him to look into the possibility of Islamist influence in the Obama Administration. The letter expressed concern about State Department policies that “appear to be a result of influence operations conducted by individuals and organizations associated with the Muslim Brotherhood.” The letter then listed five specific ways in which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had actively assisted the Muslim Brotherhood’s ascent to power in Egypt, producing a decisive shift in the Middle East towards the jihadist element.
The letter specifically asked for an inquiry into the activities of Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton’s deputy chief of staff and principal adviser on Muslim affairs. Abedin’s family – her mother, late father, and brother were all identifiable leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. For twelve years prior to being hired by the State Department, Abedin herself had worked for an organization founded by a major Muslim Brotherhood figure, Abdullah Omar Naseef, one of the three principal financiers of Osama bin Laden. The organization, run by her mother, was dedicated to promoting Islamic supremacist doctrines and Muslim majorities in non-Muslim countries. Another Muslim Brotherhood figure occupying a high place in the Obama Administration was Rashad Hussain, Deputy Associate White Counsel with responsibilities in the areas of national security and Muslim affairs, and there were others.
The fact that the Obama Administration had entered a tacit alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood, furthering its agendas in Egypt and the Middle East was concern enough; that there were identifiable Islamists such as Huma Abedin and Rashad Hussain occupying high level positions of influence on matters regarding national security and Muslim affairs provided reasonable grounds for an inquiry.
The reaction to the Bachmann letter was quite different, however. When the letter surfaced, she and her colleagues were raked over the coals and savagely attacked as McCarthyites and “Islamophobes,” generally beneath contempt. These attacks came not only from The Washington Post, leading Democrats, and such well-known apologists for Islamists as Georgetown’s John Esposito, but also from Republicans John McCain and John Boehner. Without bothering to address the facts the Bachmann letter presented, McCain said: “When anyone, not least a member of Congress, launches vicious and degrading attacks against fellow Americans on the basis of nothing more than fear of who they are, in ignorance of what they stand for, it defames the spirit of our nation, and we all grow poor because of it.” Said Boehner, “I don’t know Huma, but from everything that I do know of her she has a sterling character. Accusations like this being thrown around are pretty dangerous.”
The terms “McCarthyite,” “Islamophobe” and their equivalents are bludgeons wielded to shut down inquiry into subversive behaviors that overstep the bounds of legitimate criticism and dissent. The same concern about reckless accusations doesn’t seem to apply, on the other hand, to leftists themselves. They can get away with baseless claims, for example, that a Republican president “betrayed us” in Iraq (Al Gore), conducted a war that was “a fraud” (Ted Kennedy) or “lied while people died” (Democrats generally).
The success of Democratic attacks on that war have created a situation in which Republicans find themselves at a loss for words when it comes to holding Democrats to account over a wide range of national security issues. Consider how Romney was unable to confront Obama over his surrender of Iraq during the presidential debate. The issue was Obama’s failure to negotiate an American military presence following the enormous sacrifices that had been made – 35,000 casualties and 3 trillion U.S. dollars -- to keep Iraq free of terrorists and independent of Iran. The Joint Chiefs of Staff had requested an American military base with 20,000 troops to prevent this from happening. Here is how Romney attempted to raise the issue and was backed down by Obama:
Romney: …Number two, with regards to Iraq, you and I agreed, I believe, that there should have been a status of forces agreement. Did you —
Obama: That's not true.
Romney: Oh, you didn't — you didn't want a status of forces agreement?
Obama: No, but what I — what I would not have done is left 10,000 troops in Iraq that would tie us down. That certainly would not help us in the Middle East….
Romney: That was your posture. That was my posture as well. I thought it should have been 5,000 troops…. The answer was, we got no troops whatsoever.
Obama: This is just a few weeks ago that you indicated that we should still have troops in Iraq.
Romney: No, I didn't. I'm sorry, that's —
In other words Romney backed down from even his minimalist suggestion of 5,000 troops, and failed to confront Obama on his betrayal of all the Americans who had given their lives to keep Iraq independent and free. He did so, because he did not want to be seen as a “war monger” for insisting that America should have a military presence in a country strategically situated between Iran and the Arabian peninsula, which thousands of Americans had died to keep free. But Romney was not alone in this failure to hold Obama to account. When the betrayal took place earlier in the election year, not a single Republican said that it had.
Recapturing the National Security Narrative
It is possible to pinpoint the moment when Republicans lost the national security narrative – and specifically their role as defenders of the homeland. The Democrats, once the party of “cold war liberalism” lost this narrative long ago with the McGovern campaign and its self-flagellating theme, “America Come Home.” Obama has attempted to recapture it with drone attacks on suspected terrorists, a half-hearted commitment to the war in Afghanistan, and a counter-productive intervention in Libya. But these gestures pale by comparison to the support he has given to the Muslim Brotherhood, along with his failures to back the democratic movements in Egypt and Iran.
The moment when Republicans lost their hold on the national security issue was June 2003, just three months into the Iraq War and six weeks after the regime had fallen. In that month, the Democratic Party launched a national campaign against the White House, claiming that Bush had lied to the American people to lure them into a war that was “unnecessary,” “immoral” and “illegal.”
Until that moment, the conflict had been supported by both parties and was regarded by both as a strategic necessity in a larger war that Islamic terrorists operating from safe harbors in a rogue state had launched. Following the attacks of 9/11, President Bush declared that America would regard as enemies, any regimes providing support for terrorists. Even before that, removing the Saddam regime had become a specific U.S. policy in October 1998 when a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, signed the Iraq Liberation Act.
Saddam had launched two aggressive wars, had murdered 300,000 Iraqis, had used chemical weapons on his own citizens and had put in place an active nuclear weapons program, thwarted only by his defeat in the first Gulf War. As of 2002, his regime had defied 16 UN Security Council resolutions designed to enforce the Gulf War truce and stop Iraq from pursuing its ambition to possess weapons of mass destruction. In September 2002, the UN Security Council added a 17th resolution, which gave the regime until December 17 to comply with its terms or face consequences. When Iraq failed to comply, Bush made the only decision compatible with the preservation of international law and the security of the United States by launching a pre-emptive invasion to remove the regime. The Iraqi dictator was provided the option of leaving the country and averting war. He rejected the offer and the United States-led coalition entered the country on March 19, 2003.
The use of force in Iraq had been authorized by both houses of Congress, including a majority of Democrats in the Senate. It was supported with eloquent speeches by John Kerry, John Edwards, Al Gore and other Democratic leaders. But in June 2003, just three months into the war, they turned against an action that they had authorized, and began a five-year campaign to delegitimize the war, casting America as its villain. This was an unprecedented betrayal of their country’s national interest, and its troops on the battlefield.
With the support and protection of Democratic legislators, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the major TV networks, conducted a relentless five-year propaganda campaign against the war, taking minor incidents like the misbehaviors of guards at the Abu Ghraib prison and blowing them out of proportion so that they became international scandals damaging their country’s prestige and weakening its morale. Left-leaning news media leaked classified national security secrets, destroying three major national security programs designed to protect Americans from terrorist attacks. Every day of the war without exception, media provided front-page coverage of America’s body counts in Iraq and Afghanistan fueling a massive “anti-war” movement, which attacked America’s fundamental purposes along with its conduct of the war. The goal of these campaigns was to indict America and its leaders as war criminals who posed a threat to the international community. It was a fundamental break with the post-war bi-partisan foreign policy, made even more unpalatable by the fact that the war was one they had authorized and supported.
An equally important fact about this development was that the Democrats’ decision to oppose the war had nothing to do with the conflict itself. No change on the battlefield had taken place to precipitate the 180-degree turns of John Kerry and John Edwards, who eventually became the Democratic Party’s standard bearers in the 2004 presidential election. The reason Kerry and Edwards abandoned America’s troops in the field was to win a Democratic primary campaign in which an anti-war candidate, Howard Dean, was leaving them far behind. Dean’s campaign was propelled by the anti-American, “anti-war” left that had also opposed America’s war in Vietnam, and every American military action since then. A poll taken in the pivotal month of June 2003 showed Dean with 44% of the primary poll, anti-war leftist Dennis Kucinich with 24%, and Kerry trailing with 6%. By reversing his stand on the war, and attacking his own country as an immoral aggressor, Kerry was able to overtake Dean and eventually to win the Iowa primary and the Democratic nomination.
The principal theme of the Democrats’ campaign against the Iraq War was that “Bush lied” in order to persuade them to support an invasion that was unnecessary, illegal and immoral. The claim had nothing to do with the war or the truth. It was the only way Democrats could explain the otherwise inexplicable (and unconscionable) fact that they had turned against a war they had supported in order to further their partisan ambitions – first to gain the support of their leftwing primary base, and then to gain a political edge over a sitting president who also happened to be the commander-in-chief in a frustrating conflict.
The truth was that Bush could not have lied to John Kerry or the congressional Democrats about the cause of the war – specifically about Saddam’s possession of nuclear weapons -- because Kerry and other Democrats sat on the Senate and House Intelligence committees and had access to the same intelligence data that Bush relied on to make his case for the war. When the Democrats authorized and supported the war, they knew everything that Bush knew. The claim that he lied to get their support was in fact the biggest lie of the war. Its only purpose was to discredit the President and turn the country against him.
Still, Republicans didn’t lose control of the national security narrative because Democrats betrayed a war they had authorized. They lost it because they never held the Democrats to account for their betrayal. They never suggested that the Democrats’ attacks on the war were deceitful and unpatriotic. They failed to answer the Democrat attacks by exposing the lie, or by describing their reckless accusations about the immoral and unnecessary nature of the war as the disloyal propaganda it was. The Bush Justice Department failed to indict those who leaked the classified information that destroyed three national security programs, though they were clearly violating the Espionage Act. It was considered too politically risky to do so. The words “betrayal” and “sabotage” – the appropriate terms for Democrat attacks on the motives of the war were never used. No one accused Democrats of conducting a campaign to demoralize America’s troops in the field, even when Kerry during a presidential debate called it “the wrong war, in the wrong place at the wrong time.” (How would that sound to a 19-year-old Marine facing down Islamic terrorists in Fallujah?)
The result of this failure of Republicans to defend the war and more particularly to put Democrats on the defensive turned a good war into a bad war. It turned a disloyal opposition into a patriotic movement. If the war against a dictator who had launched two wars, defied 17 UN Security Council resolutions, and murdered 300,000 of his own people was an illegitimate war, then American resistance to any rogue state could be portrayed as a reckless and unjustifiable aggression. In losing the political war over Iraq, Republicans also lost the national security narrative. And that is why they are tongue tied today when it comes to issues of war and peace. Call it “the Iraq War Syndrome.”
Although the Joint Chiefs had suggested that a military presence in Iraq was necessary to keep it free of Iran’s control, the demand for such a presence was now problematic. When 2008 presidential candidate John McCain suggested that maintaining troops in a postwar Iraq was a prudent measure, candidate Obama attacked him as a warmonger. “You know,” Obama said, “John McCain wants to continue a war in Iraq perhaps as long as 100 years.” This refrain became a constant theme of the winning Obama campaign – Republicans are warmongers.
That is why three years later, when Obama surrendered Iraq to Iran no Republican accused him of betraying the Americans who gave their lives to make Iraq independent and free, although he had. That is why Romney was unable to make that case in the presidential debate, even though Iraq had by then fallen under the sway of Iran and was providing a land conduit for Iranian weapons headed for Syria.
In his first speech after 9/11, President Bush had said America would regard as enemies any states that provided safe harbors for terrorists. There are now nearly a dozen such harbors including Lebanon, Turkey, Syria, Mali, Iran, Egypt and Palestine. Far from considering them hostile, the White House is currently providing several with economic and even military aid. We are not only losing the war with enemies whose stated goal is our destruction, but we are led by an appeasement party that is making our situation worse by the day. The only way to reverse this trend is to mount a campaign to educate the electorate about the threat posed by Islamic supremacists, and about the Obama administration’s perilous role in furthering their evil ambitions.
 “Conspiracy of Brothers”, Frank Gaffney, January 7, 2013, http://frontpagemag.com/2013/dgreenfield/conspiracy-of-brothers/.
The Muslim Brotherhood in the Obama Administration, Frank Gaffney, 2012, http://www.frontpagemag.com/upload/pamphlets/mb-in-wh.pdf
 This history is recounted in David Horowitz, Unholy Alliance, 1994
 See David Horowitz & Ben Johnson, Party of Defeat, 2008; Dougals Feith, War and Decision, 2009
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