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Posts For: February 6, 2011

A Footnote on Reagan and Sharansky

On this day, I wanted to add a footnote to Jason Maoz’s remembrance of Ronald Reagan and his efforts to free Natan Sharansky. Jason recounted that the Reagan administration was instrumental in Sharansky’s 1986 release, and that Sharansky later got the chance to tell Reagan in the White House what it had meant to the dissidents held prisoner in the Gulag to learn that he had called the Soviet Union an “evil empire.”

What few people knew, because Reagan had intentionally kept it secret, was that his first effort to free Sharansky had been undertaken back in 1981, when he wrote a handwritten letter to Brezhnev. He attached the script of the letter to his diary, and it was published in The Reagan Diaries after his death.

The letter began by apologizing for the delay in responding to Brezhnev’s letter to him; Reagan asked Brezhnev to excuse the “problems of settling into a routine after my hospitalization.” Then he noted that there were a number of points in Brezhnev’s letter on which there were disagreements better discussed in person. And then he wrote this:

There is one matter however which I feel I must bring to your attention. All information having to do with my govt’s practices & policies past & present is available to me now that I hold this office. I have thoroughly investigated the matter of the man Scharansky [sic] an inmate in one of your prisons. I can assure you he was never involved in any way with any agency of the U.S. govt. I have seen news stories in the Soviet press suggesting that he was engaged in espionage for our country. Let me assure you this is absolutely false.

Recently his wife called upon me. They were married and spent one day together before she emigrated to Israel assuming that he would follow shortly thereafter. I believe true justice would be done if he were released and allowed to join her.

If you could find it in your heart to do this the matter would be strictly between us which is why I’m writing this letter by hand.

It was his 101st day in office. Sharansky was ultimately released by Gorbachev in 1986, since Reagan kept up the effort for years.

On this day, I wanted to add a footnote to Jason Maoz’s remembrance of Ronald Reagan and his efforts to free Natan Sharansky. Jason recounted that the Reagan administration was instrumental in Sharansky’s 1986 release, and that Sharansky later got the chance to tell Reagan in the White House what it had meant to the dissidents held prisoner in the Gulag to learn that he had called the Soviet Union an “evil empire.”

What few people knew, because Reagan had intentionally kept it secret, was that his first effort to free Sharansky had been undertaken back in 1981, when he wrote a handwritten letter to Brezhnev. He attached the script of the letter to his diary, and it was published in The Reagan Diaries after his death.

The letter began by apologizing for the delay in responding to Brezhnev’s letter to him; Reagan asked Brezhnev to excuse the “problems of settling into a routine after my hospitalization.” Then he noted that there were a number of points in Brezhnev’s letter on which there were disagreements better discussed in person. And then he wrote this:

There is one matter however which I feel I must bring to your attention. All information having to do with my govt’s practices & policies past & present is available to me now that I hold this office. I have thoroughly investigated the matter of the man Scharansky [sic] an inmate in one of your prisons. I can assure you he was never involved in any way with any agency of the U.S. govt. I have seen news stories in the Soviet press suggesting that he was engaged in espionage for our country. Let me assure you this is absolutely false.

Recently his wife called upon me. They were married and spent one day together before she emigrated to Israel assuming that he would follow shortly thereafter. I believe true justice would be done if he were released and allowed to join her.

If you could find it in your heart to do this the matter would be strictly between us which is why I’m writing this letter by hand.

It was his 101st day in office. Sharansky was ultimately released by Gorbachev in 1986, since Reagan kept up the effort for years.

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Israeli Minister Calls on Guardian to Apologize for Pro-Terror Letter

The Guardian’s increasingly pro-Hamas editorial slant apparently hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Israeli government. Recently, the paper published a letter defending Palestinian terrorism. And in response, Yuli Edelstein, Israel’s Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs minister, is now demanding that the paper apologize:

Edelstein wrote Guardian editor Ian Black that he was amazed that his newspaper would agree to publish a letter that calls for the murder of innocent civilians. He demanded that Black print an apology and clarification stating that the newspaper did not condone terrorism in any form and did not consider it a legitimate tool in a struggle for freedom.

“I expect you to make clear to your readers that you believe that terrorism is a violent and despicable act, directed mainly toward innocent civilians with the intent to strike fear and anxiety in a society,” Edelstein wrote. “Certainly this was the goal of those who employed terrorism in the London bombing of July 2005.”

Edelstein has also called on the Government Press Office to “urgently summon” the Guardian’s Israel correspondent Harriet Sherwood so that they can discuss the issue in person.

But while it’s great to see the Israeli government acknowledge the Guardian’s aggressively anti-Israel slant, it’s hard to believe that any changes will come of it. The paper seems to take pride in its regular attacks on the Jewish state, so it honestly wouldn’t be a surprise if it found Edelstein’s criticism somewhat flattering.

CiF Watch, which provides some of the most comprehensive coverage of the Guardian’s anti-Israel bias, is also skeptical that this will prompt the paper to make any reforms. “While we’re heartened to see that more and more people, from across the political spectrum, are beginning to realize how morally reprehensible the Guardian’s commentary on Israel truly is, there is no sign at this point that their correspondents, editors, or management are any closer to engaging in any serious reflection on the issue.”

There is little that the Israeli government can do to bring about changes at the Guardian. A better way to push for reforms would be if influential groups within the Jewish community started a campaign against the paper’s obsessively anti-Israel (and at times anti-Semitic) news coverage. Criticizing Israel government policies is one thing; publishing pro-terrorism letters and cartoons of Palestinian leaders dressed as Orthodox Jews is another. Jewish leaders should firmly and publicly condemn the endorsements of violence and outright bigotry that are becoming staples in the Guardian.

The Guardian’s increasingly pro-Hamas editorial slant apparently hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Israeli government. Recently, the paper published a letter defending Palestinian terrorism. And in response, Yuli Edelstein, Israel’s Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs minister, is now demanding that the paper apologize:

Edelstein wrote Guardian editor Ian Black that he was amazed that his newspaper would agree to publish a letter that calls for the murder of innocent civilians. He demanded that Black print an apology and clarification stating that the newspaper did not condone terrorism in any form and did not consider it a legitimate tool in a struggle for freedom.

“I expect you to make clear to your readers that you believe that terrorism is a violent and despicable act, directed mainly toward innocent civilians with the intent to strike fear and anxiety in a society,” Edelstein wrote. “Certainly this was the goal of those who employed terrorism in the London bombing of July 2005.”

Edelstein has also called on the Government Press Office to “urgently summon” the Guardian’s Israel correspondent Harriet Sherwood so that they can discuss the issue in person.

But while it’s great to see the Israeli government acknowledge the Guardian’s aggressively anti-Israel slant, it’s hard to believe that any changes will come of it. The paper seems to take pride in its regular attacks on the Jewish state, so it honestly wouldn’t be a surprise if it found Edelstein’s criticism somewhat flattering.

CiF Watch, which provides some of the most comprehensive coverage of the Guardian’s anti-Israel bias, is also skeptical that this will prompt the paper to make any reforms. “While we’re heartened to see that more and more people, from across the political spectrum, are beginning to realize how morally reprehensible the Guardian’s commentary on Israel truly is, there is no sign at this point that their correspondents, editors, or management are any closer to engaging in any serious reflection on the issue.”

There is little that the Israeli government can do to bring about changes at the Guardian. A better way to push for reforms would be if influential groups within the Jewish community started a campaign against the paper’s obsessively anti-Israel (and at times anti-Semitic) news coverage. Criticizing Israel government policies is one thing; publishing pro-terrorism letters and cartoons of Palestinian leaders dressed as Orthodox Jews is another. Jewish leaders should firmly and publicly condemn the endorsements of violence and outright bigotry that are becoming staples in the Guardian.

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Muslim Group on King Hearings: ‘We Need to Answer the Questions Americans Are Asking’

Some Islamic groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Muslim Public Affairs Council have come out strongly against Rep. Pete King’s hearings on homegrown radicalism. But the Ahmadiyya Muslim community is arguing that American Muslims have a responsibility to answer the questions that Rep. King and others have about Islamic extremism.

“We think it’s an issue that needs to be discussed openly. We need to answer the questions Americans are asking and we need to do it repeatedly,” the Ahmadiyya national spokesman Waseed Sayed told me today.

“Wherever they may be asked, we will go, unapologetically, and we will answer the questions.”

Sayed also added that simply complaining about media perceptions of Islam is unhelpful. He called on American Muslims to take responsibility for changing negative views of the religion by actively promoting peace and opposing extremism. “We try to focus on what the Muslims living in America need to do to improve their own situation. We don’t want to focus on us complaining,” he said.

“Certainly there are issues Muslims have to worry about and defend themselves about. But that’s not where the work begins. This is not the time for Muslims to ask what this country can do for us; it’s the time for Muslims to ask what we can do for this great country.”

The Ahmadiyya community has launched a campaign that seeks to combat extremist rhetoric from figures like Anwar Al-Awlaki and highlight the importance of American Muslim patriotism and loyalty to the U.S.

By calling on Muslims to openly address issues of extremism, the group may find itself at odds with other Islamic organizations that have publicly alleged that Rep. King’s hearings will “stoke anti-Muslim sentiment.”

“These hearings will almost certainly increase widespread suspicion and mistrust of the American Muslim community and stoke anti-Muslim sentiment. During 2010, we saw an increase in anti-Muslim hatred in public discourse, as well as hate crimes and violence targeting American Muslims,” more than 50 organizations stated in a press release last week that objected to the focus of the congressional hearings.

Some Islamic groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Muslim Public Affairs Council have come out strongly against Rep. Pete King’s hearings on homegrown radicalism. But the Ahmadiyya Muslim community is arguing that American Muslims have a responsibility to answer the questions that Rep. King and others have about Islamic extremism.

“We think it’s an issue that needs to be discussed openly. We need to answer the questions Americans are asking and we need to do it repeatedly,” the Ahmadiyya national spokesman Waseed Sayed told me today.

“Wherever they may be asked, we will go, unapologetically, and we will answer the questions.”

Sayed also added that simply complaining about media perceptions of Islam is unhelpful. He called on American Muslims to take responsibility for changing negative views of the religion by actively promoting peace and opposing extremism. “We try to focus on what the Muslims living in America need to do to improve their own situation. We don’t want to focus on us complaining,” he said.

“Certainly there are issues Muslims have to worry about and defend themselves about. But that’s not where the work begins. This is not the time for Muslims to ask what this country can do for us; it’s the time for Muslims to ask what we can do for this great country.”

The Ahmadiyya community has launched a campaign that seeks to combat extremist rhetoric from figures like Anwar Al-Awlaki and highlight the importance of American Muslim patriotism and loyalty to the U.S.

By calling on Muslims to openly address issues of extremism, the group may find itself at odds with other Islamic organizations that have publicly alleged that Rep. King’s hearings will “stoke anti-Muslim sentiment.”

“These hearings will almost certainly increase widespread suspicion and mistrust of the American Muslim community and stoke anti-Muslim sentiment. During 2010, we saw an increase in anti-Muslim hatred in public discourse, as well as hate crimes and violence targeting American Muslims,” more than 50 organizations stated in a press release last week that objected to the focus of the congressional hearings.

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Bush Cancels Swiss Charity Trip Amid Arrest Fears

President Bush was forced to cancel a visit to Switzerland, where he was slated to be the keynote speaker at a Jewish Zionist charity gala next week, because he risked getting arrested for torture, Reuters is reporting:

Human rights groups said they had intended to submit a 2,500-page case against Bush in the Swiss city on Monday for alleged mistreatment of suspected militants at Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. naval base in Cuba where captives from Afghanistan, Iraq and other fronts in the so-called War on Terror were interned.

Leftist groups had also called for a protest on the day of his visit next Saturday, leading Keren Hayesod’s organizers to announce that they were cancelling Bush’s participation on security grounds — not because of the criminal complaints.

And it isn’t just foreign NGOs involved in this. Human Rights Watch reportedly helped draft the criminal complaint, which claims that Bush is guilty of war crimes because he admitted to ordering the waterboarding of terrorists at Guantanamo Bay.

Yes, this is the kind of nonsense human-rights groups are wasting their time on. President Bush can’t attend a Swiss charity event, but Hamas leaders can fly to Switzerland for meetings with government officials without fear.

President Bush was forced to cancel a visit to Switzerland, where he was slated to be the keynote speaker at a Jewish Zionist charity gala next week, because he risked getting arrested for torture, Reuters is reporting:

Human rights groups said they had intended to submit a 2,500-page case against Bush in the Swiss city on Monday for alleged mistreatment of suspected militants at Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. naval base in Cuba where captives from Afghanistan, Iraq and other fronts in the so-called War on Terror were interned.

Leftist groups had also called for a protest on the day of his visit next Saturday, leading Keren Hayesod’s organizers to announce that they were cancelling Bush’s participation on security grounds — not because of the criminal complaints.

And it isn’t just foreign NGOs involved in this. Human Rights Watch reportedly helped draft the criminal complaint, which claims that Bush is guilty of war crimes because he admitted to ordering the waterboarding of terrorists at Guantanamo Bay.

Yes, this is the kind of nonsense human-rights groups are wasting their time on. President Bush can’t attend a Swiss charity event, but Hamas leaders can fly to Switzerland for meetings with government officials without fear.

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The Brotherhood Makes Its Move, the U.S. Looks on

Things could be taking a dangerous turn in Egypt. The Washington Post reports that the Muslim Brotherhood has new interest in participating in talks on the transition of leadership. “The Brotherhood had refused to join talks Saturday, insisting that Mubarak leave first. But leaders of the movement changed their minds Sunday, saying they wanted to play a role in shaping a transition of power and organizing free elections.”

The American response has been less than inspiring. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told National Public Radio: “Today we learned the Muslim Brotherhood decided to participate, which suggests they at least are now involved in the dialogue that we have encouraged.” Yes, participation does suggest involvement, doesn’t it? “We’re going to wait and see how this develops,” she said, “but we’ve been very clear about what we expect.”

The only party that has actually been clear about what it expects is the Muslim Brotherhood — and it expects to rule. That’s an unacceptable outcome for Americans and democrats in and outside of Egypt. The administration needs to indicate that future American aid — which contributes to vital wheat subsidies for millions of Egyptians — will be assessed with consideration to the nature and goals of Egypt’s next government.

We’ve seen that the Obama administration is not incapable of reaching the right decision. The problem is it takes so long getting there that its stalling inevitably creates new situations for which it is not prepared. In offering no more than color commentary as Islamists negotiate their leadership role in Egypt, Hillary Clinton is letting a new and depressing chapter of this saga slip out of America’s reach.

Things could be taking a dangerous turn in Egypt. The Washington Post reports that the Muslim Brotherhood has new interest in participating in talks on the transition of leadership. “The Brotherhood had refused to join talks Saturday, insisting that Mubarak leave first. But leaders of the movement changed their minds Sunday, saying they wanted to play a role in shaping a transition of power and organizing free elections.”

The American response has been less than inspiring. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told National Public Radio: “Today we learned the Muslim Brotherhood decided to participate, which suggests they at least are now involved in the dialogue that we have encouraged.” Yes, participation does suggest involvement, doesn’t it? “We’re going to wait and see how this develops,” she said, “but we’ve been very clear about what we expect.”

The only party that has actually been clear about what it expects is the Muslim Brotherhood — and it expects to rule. That’s an unacceptable outcome for Americans and democrats in and outside of Egypt. The administration needs to indicate that future American aid — which contributes to vital wheat subsidies for millions of Egyptians — will be assessed with consideration to the nature and goals of Egypt’s next government.

We’ve seen that the Obama administration is not incapable of reaching the right decision. The problem is it takes so long getting there that its stalling inevitably creates new situations for which it is not prepared. In offering no more than color commentary as Islamists negotiate their leadership role in Egypt, Hillary Clinton is letting a new and depressing chapter of this saga slip out of America’s reach.

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Ronald Reagan at 100

In the 1985 movie Back to the Future, the main character, played by Michael J. Fox, accidentally goes back to 1955. When Doc (Christopher Lloyd) finds out he’s from 1985, he asks who’s president then. Fox replies simply, “Ronald Reagan.”

“Oh, sure,” his Eisenhower-era interlocutor replies, “who’s vice president, Jerry Lewis?”

It’s a funny line, of course, but what makes it funny is that the ascent of Ronald Reagan from has-been, second-tier actor to president, inconceivable in 1955, still seemed so improbable in 1985. His current status, increasingly acknowledged even by liberals, as one of a handful of great presidents was even more improbable.

His career, to be sure, was an unusual path to the White House. Most presidents were politicians effectively their entire careers. Several (Washington, Jackson, William Henry Harrison, Taylor, Grant, Garfield, and Eisenhower) were generals. A couple were engineers (Hoover and Carter — not exactly a ringing endorsement for electing engineers president). But an actor? They just give voice to other people’s words, they don’t think for themselves. As Oscar Hammerstein explained: “When the authors have me say/Words that make me wittier,/I am just as smart as they./And what’s more I’m prettier.” The liberal establishment had a field day pronouncing Reagan stupid. (Of course, to the postwar liberal establishment, all Republican presidents have been stupid except Nixon. He was evil.)

But Ronald Reagan ignored the cognoscenti, a pretty smart thing to do, and went with the people, who increasingly liked and trusted him. In 1966 he beat a popular, two-term governor to become governor of California. In 1976 he very nearly beat an incumbent for the Republican nomination for president. In 1980 he demolished an incumbent in the single debate (“Well, there he goes again”) and went on to win the White House in a landslide. In 1984 he won an even bigger landslide, coming up only a few votes short in Minnesota of carrying all 50 states.

And now, on his hundredth birthday, he is almost universally regarded as “Rushmore ready.” I sincerely hope we never add to the heads on Mt. Rushmore, but if we do, the obvious candidates are Reagan and Franklin Roosevelt.

Happy birthday, Mr. President.

In the 1985 movie Back to the Future, the main character, played by Michael J. Fox, accidentally goes back to 1955. When Doc (Christopher Lloyd) finds out he’s from 1985, he asks who’s president then. Fox replies simply, “Ronald Reagan.”

“Oh, sure,” his Eisenhower-era interlocutor replies, “who’s vice president, Jerry Lewis?”

It’s a funny line, of course, but what makes it funny is that the ascent of Ronald Reagan from has-been, second-tier actor to president, inconceivable in 1955, still seemed so improbable in 1985. His current status, increasingly acknowledged even by liberals, as one of a handful of great presidents was even more improbable.

His career, to be sure, was an unusual path to the White House. Most presidents were politicians effectively their entire careers. Several (Washington, Jackson, William Henry Harrison, Taylor, Grant, Garfield, and Eisenhower) were generals. A couple were engineers (Hoover and Carter — not exactly a ringing endorsement for electing engineers president). But an actor? They just give voice to other people’s words, they don’t think for themselves. As Oscar Hammerstein explained: “When the authors have me say/Words that make me wittier,/I am just as smart as they./And what’s more I’m prettier.” The liberal establishment had a field day pronouncing Reagan stupid. (Of course, to the postwar liberal establishment, all Republican presidents have been stupid except Nixon. He was evil.)

But Ronald Reagan ignored the cognoscenti, a pretty smart thing to do, and went with the people, who increasingly liked and trusted him. In 1966 he beat a popular, two-term governor to become governor of California. In 1976 he very nearly beat an incumbent for the Republican nomination for president. In 1980 he demolished an incumbent in the single debate (“Well, there he goes again”) and went on to win the White House in a landslide. In 1984 he won an even bigger landslide, coming up only a few votes short in Minnesota of carrying all 50 states.

And now, on his hundredth birthday, he is almost universally regarded as “Rushmore ready.” I sincerely hope we never add to the heads on Mt. Rushmore, but if we do, the obvious candidates are Reagan and Franklin Roosevelt.

Happy birthday, Mr. President.

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Silence, Speeches, and Strategy

Last year, Barack Obama said nothing as mass demonstrations against an evil regime took place in Iran. This year, he said and did nothing as Lebanon was taken over by a Syrian/Iranian proxy. He had no comment on Tunisia while events were occurring — his secretary of state announced we were not taking sides. It got a shout-out in his State of the Union address (“America stands with the people of Tunisia”) once the dictator was gone.

It seemed as if Obama’s guiding principle in foreign affairs was to avoid confrontations (unless someone announced Jewish housing in Jerusalem). He ignored human-rights issues in China, reset relations with Russia, outstretched his hand to Iran, went to Cairo to issue a message of peace to the entire Muslim world, and endlessly courted Syria even as it rejected him. It was a hazardous time to be a U.S. ally: Poland, Georgia, the Czech Republic, Columbia, Honduras, South Korea, Britain, and Israel all saw their interests slighted or subordinated to Obama’s other concerns.

Obama’s initial response to the mass demonstrations in Egypt was also silence. Ironically, this might have been the appropriate strategy. Dealing with an important U.S. ally, in a tense and uncertain situation, with repercussions affecting U.S. interests throughout the Middle East, required private efforts. Calling publicly for the overthrow of a leader who had allied himself with the U.S. for decades might simply energize U.S. enemies and demoralize allies; even Jimmy Carter never publicly called for the Shah’s resignation. At 82 years old, Hosni Mubarak was likely to be leaving soon in any event; the transition to a different leader, or a different regime, called for quiet diplomacy, not a speech.

Getting rid of Mubarak and holding an election within a few months, where the only organized political group was an ally of Iran, was not necessarily the best way to promote freedom in Egypt — as the 2006 Palestinian election demonstrated. The outcome of the 1933 German election is not an argument against democracy — but having seen what happened in 1933, one might not necessarily make it a central goal in 1938 to hold an election in a neighboring country and risk transforming it into another ally of Hitler.

An important sentence in John’s important post was the one acknowledging “no strategy is applicable in every circumstance.” He acknowledged that the danger is very real that Egypt might follow the path of revolutionary Iran. If that is true, promoting regime change when regime change might produce a significantly worse regime is not self-evidently the right strategy.

Last year, Barack Obama said nothing as mass demonstrations against an evil regime took place in Iran. This year, he said and did nothing as Lebanon was taken over by a Syrian/Iranian proxy. He had no comment on Tunisia while events were occurring — his secretary of state announced we were not taking sides. It got a shout-out in his State of the Union address (“America stands with the people of Tunisia”) once the dictator was gone.

It seemed as if Obama’s guiding principle in foreign affairs was to avoid confrontations (unless someone announced Jewish housing in Jerusalem). He ignored human-rights issues in China, reset relations with Russia, outstretched his hand to Iran, went to Cairo to issue a message of peace to the entire Muslim world, and endlessly courted Syria even as it rejected him. It was a hazardous time to be a U.S. ally: Poland, Georgia, the Czech Republic, Columbia, Honduras, South Korea, Britain, and Israel all saw their interests slighted or subordinated to Obama’s other concerns.

Obama’s initial response to the mass demonstrations in Egypt was also silence. Ironically, this might have been the appropriate strategy. Dealing with an important U.S. ally, in a tense and uncertain situation, with repercussions affecting U.S. interests throughout the Middle East, required private efforts. Calling publicly for the overthrow of a leader who had allied himself with the U.S. for decades might simply energize U.S. enemies and demoralize allies; even Jimmy Carter never publicly called for the Shah’s resignation. At 82 years old, Hosni Mubarak was likely to be leaving soon in any event; the transition to a different leader, or a different regime, called for quiet diplomacy, not a speech.

Getting rid of Mubarak and holding an election within a few months, where the only organized political group was an ally of Iran, was not necessarily the best way to promote freedom in Egypt — as the 2006 Palestinian election demonstrated. The outcome of the 1933 German election is not an argument against democracy — but having seen what happened in 1933, one might not necessarily make it a central goal in 1938 to hold an election in a neighboring country and risk transforming it into another ally of Hitler.

An important sentence in John’s important post was the one acknowledging “no strategy is applicable in every circumstance.” He acknowledged that the danger is very real that Egypt might follow the path of revolutionary Iran. If that is true, promoting regime change when regime change might produce a significantly worse regime is not self-evidently the right strategy.

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