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Total number of comments: 35 (since 2014-06-27 17:15:38)

Neil Thompson

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  • The Dragon Arrives: 1st Chinese overseas Military Base in Djibouti
    • Its hard to say quite where China will go as it becomes the next superpower, but you have to admire them for making it this far. Plenty of countries oppress their own people horribly or fight bush wars and border skirmishes, which China does plenty of (just read modern Human Rights Watch reports on Beijing, or look back at the late imperial era genocides carried out against Muslim and Taiping rebels).

      But not many countries could have managed to pull out of imperial collapse/foreign subjugation, state failure, fascist invasion and a spell of totalitarian rule by a paranoid power hungry madman to emerge since the 1970s as a peaceful (if authoritarian) state with rising living standards. As now-President Xi moves away from the model of collective responsibility that Deng Xiao Peng set up after Mao it will be interesting to see if CCP rule endures, and if it falls how China will cope.

      Lessons often have to be re-learnt by subsequent generations who have forgotten the reasons for them (this is not to whitewash Deng himself, who killed plenty of people on his way to the top, and who must have been surprised that the world only sat up and took notice of his methods for controlling dissent after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre).

  • Accountability: Pakistan PM Resigns After Supreme Court Corruption Ruling
    • I wouldn't pat myself too hard on the back if I were Khan. From what I hear, the judges were working hand in glove with Pakistani military intelligence.

  • Turkey: Erdogan Marks Coup anniversary with more Crackdowns
    • Proof that leaders rarely improve in their second decade in office and almost never if they stay longer. One of the things I respected about Nelson Mandela was that having overthrown the Apartheid government and steered the country clear of civil war, he knew that even if he could do a better job than the people around him, he had to give them a chance to grow. Autocratic leaders eliminate all potential successors around them, like a tall tree casting shade on all the other plants within their radius. Then, when they fall or die, there is no one to replace them.

  • Russo-US dog fights over Syria?
    • Trump's Middle Eastern policy is one of staggering stupidity (especially over that Qatar business); it was a smart move when Obama backed the Kurds, but events have continued to move on since he left office and we need someone in the White House who is less obsessed with getting Iran (the major reason the US hates the Syrian regime is that Damascus is allied with Tehran, not because the Russians back it); I was hoping that The Donald would at least not involve us in a war in Syria the way that Hilary Clinton threatened to, but amazingly, even this low expectation has been disappointed.

  • Sen Schumer parodies Trump's Fawning Cabinet Meeting
  • Obama's last Victory: Syrian Democratic Forces hold Parts of ISIL Capital
    • In the last month's of the Obama administration I went on the record as saying he would be missed as a steady hand and hadn't been given the full credit he deserved in foreign policy (moderate centre-right leadership, Obamacare and the bail-out having absorbed mot of his domestic political capital). Despite his many flaws, he did grow on me (as a foreign citizen subjected to, but not part of, the American political process) as his two terms progressed.

      The IMO Syria strategy showed Obama had learned something from his failed surge in Afghanistan and his 'leading from behind' disaster in Libya. It has worked (for now and assuming that orange haired buffoon in the White House is kept far away from it) and also likely saved Iraq from a budding dictator in the form of Nouri al-Maliki. Sadly the present incumbent does not show any of the same learning potential.

  • UK hung Parliament: Is Trumpism pushing Europe Left?
    • When May was filmed holding hands with Trump, that was a big turn-off back home. The Bush-Blair comparisons got pulled out but the Orange One eclipses even the Chimp in his unpopularity.

  • Trump's Ally: Saudi Arabia's drive for Aristocratic Hegemony in the Middle East
    • More interesting for me will be if the security establishment can get the President to keep his mouth shut long enough to mediate this crisis between it's Gulf allies.

  • Trump, Paris Accords and the End of the American Century
    • I'm almost tempted to say that this is a good thing. For years the Republican party has been blaming foreigners, multilateralism and big government for the stagnation in living standards that has affected ordinary Americans' lives since the 1970s. Finally under Trump this reactionary minority is getting full reign to go out there and test their theories. And as with healthcare ordinary Americans are finding themselves marched to the edge of the abyss and not liking what they see. Now if the Democrats can just field a semi-decent left-wing candidate in 2020 instead of the corporate-owned Hilarybot 2000 (2.0 model), they might be able to reclaim the White House. Their slogan could be "Its the government, stupid".

  • Trump on Islam: Neo-Orientalism and anti-Shi'ism
    • The mind continues to boogle that, starting in 2011 when Syria's civil war began (a mere ten years after 9/11), the US was once again supporting Al Qaeda and it's clones/off shoots. It's the most amazing geopolitical backflip to me since Reagan sold guns to the Iranians in the 1980s.

  • Are Iran and Saudi Arabia Heading Toward War?
    • A few guns smuggled through Oman seems to be about all, plus some encouraging noises made by Tehran to bait the Saudis with.

  • Trump's Real sin in DC is not distinguishing between "Good" and "Bad" Dictators
    • “Saudi Arabia would be too easy a subject here.”

      Saudi Arabia really reminds one of the Azadian Empire from the Culture novel 'The Player of Games' by the great Scottish writer Iain M. Banks. In the book the Empire has preserved its archaic imperial social arrangements well beyond the norm for a society with such advanced technology due the fact that every six years a complex game called Azad is used to determine social rank and political status. One is reminded of the role that Wahhabism and oil have had in preserving the absolute tribal monarchy of Saudi Arabia into the twenty-first century, a social arrangement most other countries left behind in the 19th century at the latest.

      Meanwhile being a (Latin American) left-wing politician automatically means the bar for what behavior constitutes 'dictatorship' is lowered to the minimum definition setting. Communist is still an easily reached for pejorative, though right-wing coups in Honduras in 2009 or Brazil in 2016 generate far more sympathetic treatment or at the very least a 'nothing-to-see-here/man-we-can-do-business-with' response. In some cases 'bad' dictators can become 'good' or a while (though they seem to get back-stabbed quite frequently). Look at how the Bush/Blair administrations used to send Islamist suspects to Syria and Libya to have them worked over by the local secret police services.

      Other than that, I suspect a great deal of Washington criticism has to do with how openly you as a leader will allow your territory and military to serve as auxiliaries in the US global garrison state, and how cheaply you will sell your resources to Western countries as opposed to Russia/China/Iran.

  • Do Illegal Flynn Russia-Turkey Payments Implicate Trump White House?
    • And so it begins. Interestingly, I found out the other day that the first two victims of the RICO statue were President Nixon and his attorney general. One of life's ironies that. One wonders if all the Russian money that has kept the Trump empire afloat will finally begin to catch up with the White House.

  • For First Time, a US President backs a Fascist France
    • Vichy was an authoritarian puppet state full of hard-right Catholic ultra-traditionalists of the same stamp that formed the bedrock of support for quasi-Fascist leaders like General Franco in Spain and António de Oliveira Salazar in Portugal (link to bbc.co.uk). They were Fascist collaborators and (by today's standards) open white supremacists and imperialists.

      The FN was founded by a grab-bag of these ex-Vichy supporters and and some ex-pied noir settlers out for revenge after Algeria broke away from the French Republic. Like a lot of extremist movements (Al-Qaeda in Syria springs to mind) it pretends to be less monstrous than it is. But things like Le Pen denying that the French state deported Jews to the Nazis during WWII show that it hasn't changed its stripes that much. Its just that these days the target of choice in Europe is Muslims rather than Jews.

  • As Leftist Turks Protest, Trump congratulates Erdogan on Authoritarian Turn
    • I apologise in advance for the source but I couldn't find the original article. Nevertheless readers of this post may be interested to learn that evidence is now mounting of widespread vote rigging in the Turkish referendum that has just given Erdogan power of life and death in Turkey. Source: link to newsweek.com

  • Turkish Democracy in Trouble, but not Because of Presidential System
    • I disliked Erdogen from the start as a secular socialist type, but I will say his is a cautionary tale of allowing people to stay in power too long. The human psyche starts to get a bit crazy after years of having millions hang on your every decision. Erdogen started from a position of moderation for an Islamist (still believes in the One True Sky Wizard's Great Eye watching everything but he wasn't throwing gays off buildings or beheading peaceful Shia clerics like some Arab Sunni factions/regimes I could mention). Sadly he stayed long enough to see himself become the villain as that great political philosopher Batman once remarked. He should have been retired by his colleagues somewhere around 2007-11 and would have been well remembered by Turks if he had. The tragedy of political life is that there is always something left to do.

  • The Hundred Days From Hell
    • Eh, people knew what they were getting when they voted for Trump and half the country still pulled the lever for him. I don't judge Americans, we did the same thing in the UK over the Brexit referendum (which was triggered irrevocably just at the end of March). I think the UK and the US right now are kind of like criminals who want to get caught and are just taking more and more risks until everything falls apart.

  • Why do GOP Presidents get to go Hard Right, and Dems are just GOP Lite?
    • You should ask for the organised left to be ruthless Juan. I for one will always regard the 2008 crisis as a missed opportunity to stamp down good and hard on the neck of the global banking system. Instead we got Timothy Geithner (who is a German American, so no 'allusions' intended) via Kissinger Associates, the IMF and (nearly) Citigroup and what has changed after two Democratic terms? Nothing.

      In fairness to Obama he turned out to be a pretty good moderate centre right president compared to the alternatives of John 'Bomb bomb bomb Iran' McCain and the oligarch Mitt Romney. Certainly his foreign policy was better than Clinton's was (but then he was also spared the evangelizing presence of Tony Blair), especially in his second term. He learned the mistakes of Libya and letting H/C set foreign policy priorities.

      But alas domestically he never had the guts to really take on the finance lobby when he had the chance, and two years later it was all over. Oh well, I expect Trump will drive the US so far into the ditch that the next leader won't be able to take half measures.

  • Is Lt.-Gen. Flynn Right that Islam is not a Religion?
    • "You only hope that all these crackpots Trump is elevating to the highest offices in the land have been shining us on all these years with their lunatic theories and that once in power they’ll start acting like responsible adults."

      I wouldn't bet on it.

  • Why the White Working Class Rebelled: Neoliberalism is Killing Them (Literally)
    • Amen Juan, strong analysis.

      Something similar happened here in the UK with New Labour (essentially our centrist version of Clinton Democrats) losing office and then Brexit. It turns out that when you treat people like dirt and neglect their core interests, that in a democracy you get punished for it at the ballot box. Who knew?

      What's really funny is going to be watching the Republicans in Congress and Trump be handed the power to work together in a normally divided political system, and watch them fuck it all up spectacularly. This time they will have no one else to hide behind and blame, like they did Obama, who was in the end, a pretty decent domestic president and (rare for a US leader) had one or two foreign policy moments abroad I liked as well.

      As for the Democrats they should have picked Bernie Sanders and he should have picked a female VP to run as the natural Dem candidate at the next election. Clinton was always a giant liability for the base, because she's so widely seen as a corrupt sellout. She tried to make it about Trump's character, but in the end he made it about her's.

  • The Plague of Karimov's Rule in Uzbekistan
    • There's an (ethnic) Russian woman who works in my office whose parents live in Uzbekistan. Her family moved there when Khrushchev tried to open up Central Asia in his 50s/60s Virgin Lands Campaign; now the daughter's moved to London and works as an events manager; useful reminder that the past is never as far away as you think and still casts a long shadow.

      For myself I say good riddance to him; former communist leaders like him too often just recreated the old USSR's bureaucratic and authoritarian political system of governance and added a slice of crony capitalism into the bargain. Its a system that can be transmitted down generations despite the Soviet Union's demise - just look at Azerbaijan or I suppose Russia to a certain extent.

      If its one thing which I took from the Middle East's Arab Spring its that republican police states which freeze into this kind of social stasis are even less stable than monarchies like Jordan or Saudi Arabia. We should hope that the gradual passing of Karimov's generation of ex-Soviet autocrats starts a gradual thaw in their heirs (though my hopes are not high after neighbouring Turkmenistan's transition).

  • Monsters to Destroy: Top 7 Reasons the US could not have forestalled Syrian Civil War
    • Yes, this pretty much summarises my thoughts on the issue, barring of course the behaviour of the Turks and the tragedy of Syria's civil war restarting Turkey's. Of course one can always point to the domestic factors as well in places like Turkey or Iraq for how their civil wars merged with Syria's, but the original sin remains the overthrow of the regime of Saddam Hussein by the US/UK in 2003.

  • Top Five Ways to tell if a Terrorist is still al-Qaeda despite name Change
    • Here in the UK we have long had a chuckle (well, not if they can hear us...) at the endless re-branding exercises of the various local and global terrorist groups that have come and gone since the 60s. The endless splinter groups in Ireland from Republican gangs eventually led to the label 'I can't Believe It's Not the IRA' (after, I believe, a the tagline of brand of margarine at the time). Good to see the Arab world following in a grand terrorist tradition.

  • Rep. Steve King, White People and 'Civilization'
    • I've always read the tale of the 'short twentieth century' as the culmination of several centuries of trends which made the world safe for Europeans to slaughter each other on an unprecedented scale, much as the Romans did once they had conquered the known world in their own time. That period of history has ended decisively and is now behind us as we enter a new phase with robotic, genetic and information technologies set to transform our civilisations, and with Asian states reformed and reasserting their historically important positions in the world.

      People like Rep King look back on this period with a nostalgic gloss that overlooks its atrocities and (more importantly) blinds them to the new realities around us. 'Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall' as his holy book says. Their failure to adapt reminds me of the clinging to out of date rituals in Confucian courts during the 19th century in East Asia. If they continue to do so they will be swept aside; I might add the traditional strength of the British elite has been knowing when to bend, which is why we still have influential families hear with roots going back to the Conquest. King could learn a thing or two about eating humble pie whilst cashing the cheques.

      I don't hold Western (code for white) civilisation as being uniquely evil during its period of expansion nor of having to carry the burden of my ancestors' deeds. The Arab, Chinese and Mongol worlds all celebrate the memory of their own periods of power and pomp (and arguable skate over the nasty bits more), and we can too. We just shouldn't think of it as the enduring and dominant thing some people think it was; it was only a phase of a story which is still being written.

  • H. Clinton and Ed Snowden: Some Animals are more Equal than others
    • I have to admit to mixed feelings about this, as once again the Clintons skate away from yet another brush with a questionable ethics violation that would send a lesser person to jail or at the very least wreck their careers. In a way they seem to me to be American versions of Berlusconi and share his ability to stay one step ahead of the law and prosper (at least till the EU forced the Italian to resign, albeit in a questionably way for a democratic society). On the other hand the alternative is the Trump so...

  • After Trump bashed Brown Immigrants all Year, it's the British White Guy who tries to Kill Him
    • Of course as a non-citizen he wouldn't be entitled to buy firearms (I'm assuming?), potentially saving a lot of Trump fans' lives. Proving once again if you make it difficult to get guns, you catch or deter a lot more attackers.

  • British Trumpism? Anti-Immigrant "Britain First" White Terrorist kills Member of Parliament
    • Britain has a history of petty fascist and Neo-Nazi groups on the fringes of the right here, from the National Front in the 1970s to the British National Party in the 1990s and 00s. They come together and then decay - Britain First was formed by former BNP members for example. Groups like the English Defence League have taken on an anti-Muslim hue in recent years in preference to an anti-Jewish one (partly because they admire how Israel treats its minorities and the Palestinians in the OT).

      Far right terrorism here is rare - though it happens far more often then any terrorist violence from the far left in the UK, unlike other European countries like Italy or Greece. The London Nail Bomber was arrested back in 1999 for killing three people and leaving 139 injured. Pavlo Lapshyn, a Ukrainian fascist, is currently a life sentence for murdering an elderly Muslim man in the street and nearly causing a massacre at a mosque during a bombing camp - it was foiled because he got the time the mosque would be occupied wrong. There have been other white supremacist loners who never make it that far before they are stopped - Mark Colborne or Robert Cottage for example.

      I think people associate terrorism with an organised group here in the UK, or at least an overseas connection. The public imagination hasn't made the leap from the al-Qadia/IRA/Combat 18 cells/gangs of the 1990s/00s to the self-radicalized loners who often strike after being inspired by what they found on the internet. As to whether or not Thomas Mair is a terrorist, regardless of his mental health issues, he clearly is. He shot and stabbed a public official, after building himself a handgun and acquiring ammunition for it somehow (in a country with extremely strict gun laws this required forward planning to say the least). While carrying out his attack he shouted far right slogans and has subscribed to pro-Apartheid and US white supremacists literature for decades. He is a terrorist, just like Roshonara Choudhry, who tried to kill former minister Stephen Timms at his surgery in 2010 for his support of the invasion of Iraq. In my mind there is no difference between him and the Orlando club shooter except their choice of extremist ideologies - both had the same methods.

      But while Mair is both a killer and a sad case, he is not the real threat to political life in the UK. That comes from much more organised and cleverer people like the UK Independence Party's Nigel Farage. These people aren't fascists and don't spend their time immersed in delusional conspiracy worlds of white supremacy. But I'm from northern England (north-west, not north-east where Mair was from) and casual discrimination and petty racism between the white British, white Eastern European and Asian communities (there are several) is rife up there. So is industrialization and poverty - the area has never really got back on its feet since it was left to go to the wall under Thatcherism (a neo-liberal doctrine of privatization and asset stripping similar to the Republican party's economic programme). Its proving fertile recruiting grounds for the types of populist hucksters like Trump who promise the moon but have no programme for how to deliver. These are the types who might end up knocking us out of the EU, compared with whom a figure like Mair is of much less significance. However I hold they both emerged from the same swamp, created by the purposeful decades long neglect of areas which were seen as unprofitable by our political and business establishment.

  • Omar Mateen and Rightwing Homophobia: Hate Crime or Domestic Terrorism?
    • Yes, that is exactly right; a damaged mind which took to extremist hues after failing at a normal life. The views then led to the act of terror. People like Mateen start out ill-adjusted but can slip under the radar until their personality problems manifest in repeated antisocial acts. Some stop there, while others (Dylan Roof springs to mind) go on to destroy themselves and the people around them, using a veneer of ideology to justify the process. I seriously doubt IS had heard much of Mateen before today.

    • I don't think its helpful to classify such an unbalanced gunman as a terrorist unless his motives are known. I.e. if there is a web video (or something) in which he praises IS and pledges allegiance to it that comes out over the next few days, then I might believe he had some encouragement, if not operational direction, from the group. Until then we should judge him to the same standards as the typical mass shooter, an unbalanced and (typically) white male, suffering from a combination of extreme political beliefs, mental health issues and a meaningless and unhappy life. We don't call the likes of Jared Loughner a terrorist, even though he shot a Congresswoman. To my mind the terrorist label doesn't apply in this case either.

      While I firmly dislike so-called hate crime legislation it seems pretty clear to me that from what we know so far, the shooter was motivated more by a hatred of gays than a political agenda, whatever airs he gave himself. Confirmation once again that the widespread availability of weapons makes it too easy to commit these kinds of mass shootings. But at this point nothing will move the gun lobby.

  • Can Iran sue the US for Coup & supporting Saddam in Iran-Iraq War?
    • "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone" should be a principle of lawmaking with all powerful nations when they start thinking of leveraging their control of the global financial system to punish their enemies. If the US wants to set a precedent here then it could open the floodgates to suits elsewhere by other countries, who only have to pass the requisite legislation. While in theory this would make people less likely to shoot each other, I think in practice it would lead to the fragmenting of the global financial and legal system built up after the Cold War, not a good thing, for all its inequities.

  • Winning in Losing: How Sanders pushed Clinton to the Left
    • I always say that Bill Clinton was a great Republican president (positively moderate by the standards of that party today), and he did have an aversion to US body bags. But I don't know why he joined a left wing party, mostly antiwar (since the 1970s anyway), because his record speaks for itself - Plan Colombia, the precedent-setting air attack on Serbia without a UN resolution which led to Europe's first change of borders by force since WWII, the bombing of Iraq in 1998 (to distract attention from the Lewinsky scandal IMO) and the plan to move NATO into Eastern Europe while Russia was weak. I'll give him a pass over Somalia, and in Bosnia he genuinely hesitated as long as he could. But we shouldn't give him a thumbs up just because Bush was more gung-ho and worse at PR.

    • Does anyone really believe that Hilary Clinton won't switch back to the centre right as soon as she is elected? The Clintons were hard-line warmongering, 'War on Drugs' neo-liberals last time they were in office, and I don't see anything from Hilary's time as Secretary of State to make me think that has changed. Bill Clinton trashed welfare, pushed NAFTA and let loose the orgy of mergers in the financial sector that caused the 2008 crash. I shudder at the thought of him and his wife back in the W/H again.

      That being said if I were an American (which I am not) I would still vote for her, as she is better than Trump. The crook before the fascist as the French said in 2002. Oddly enough I was in the same mindset in 2004 back when McCain the Insane was running for President and I reluctantly thought Obama was the better man. He's grown on me since 2013, but though he was always better than 'W' it was a slow start. La Clinton otoh looks likely to be worse when she gets in (barring a catastrophe). I continue to believe that you could mount a corpse on a wooden post and it would have more chance than Trump of getting elected President.

  • If it's Trump versus Clinton, what does it Mean for Iran and ISIL Policy?
    • With regards to the probable Trump-Clinton run off in the upcoming Presidential elections we really need to revive that catchy old French slogan from 2002 which said (translated): "Vote for the crook, not the fascist". Back then former French president Jacques Chirac was running for re-election but was dogged by sleaze and corruption charges going back decades (specifically for diverting public funds, abuse of trust and illegal conflict of interest, all of which he was subsequently convicted in 2011 after leaving office). Voting him back in meant giving him the immunity of office against the charges for another seven years.

      But Chirac's opponent that year was deranged Front National leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, who had emerged as the second choice candidate in the first round of voting under France's complicated electoral system, knocking out the socialist candidate. It was an early version of the populist wave currently roiling Western countries. Wikipedia describes the FN membership as consisting of nostalgics of Vichy France, neo-Nazi pagans, Traditionalist Catholics, and other [hard right] reactionaries. Le Pen, whose daughter currently presides over this sweaty coalition now that dear old pa is past it, founded it with a former Vichy Nazi collaborator and an ex-OAS terrorist.

      Socialist voters and other left-wing progressives had to hold their collective noses and vote Chirac back into office (where in 2003 he surprisingly did the honourable thing and said he would veto the UK/US UN resolution on attacking Iraq, depriving the two of legal cover, unlike the Libyan situation eight years later). After the election there was even an attempt (pretty pathetically) on his life by a right wing fanatic, but one with overtones for the US this year as Trump whips his base up.

      I am no fan of the Clintons, who I see as a pair of sharp characters on the make (much like our beloved Blairs on this side of the pond). But if I had a vote in the US elections (not primaries), which I don't, I would have to say I would be reluctantly casting it for HC (I'm a Bern fan at heart). Yes, her husband helped cast me and my generation into penury with the help of his corrupt Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, whose repeal of the Glass–Steagall Act retroactively legalised the creation of time bomb Citigroup (and from which RR made tens of millions of dollars shortly afterwards by joining the 'new' firm's board - it's good to remember how these things work!). But Trump would start trade wars with half of East Asia, restart shooting wars in the ME and trample on civil liberties at home and abroad.

  • Is it the US that isn't stepping up to fight Daesh/ ISIL?
    • Obama has the same problem in Iraq that he has in Syria, namely that the only effective forces who can fight the human-rights abusing Sunni jihadist groups are human-rights abusing Shia groups aligned with US bete noir Iran. I hold the US/UK responsibly for a lot of bad things in the ME (including; directly creating al-Qaeda & IS, indirectly creating the Tehran regime, backing states which spread Wahhabism etc) but this is a real dog's breakfast for Obama. If he does nothing IS spreads and causes misery. If he backs the Shia militants in Syria or Iraq and they conduct reprisals the Sunni community will hold the US responsible. The US has managed to alienate most communities in that part of the world apart from the Kurds. It is noticeable that the effectiveness of the US anti-IS campaign dropped off as soon as the militants were driven from Kobane.

  • ISIL beheaded Dozens in Palmyra, but how Strategic is the City?
    • I agree that the fall of Palmyra is less significant than the creation and backing of the al-Qaeda infiltrated 'Conquest Army' by Saud Arabia and Turkey. Currently centered around Idlib it's been giving the regime a hammering in the north and is backed by two regional powers considerably stronger than Syria's rump state. That being said, driving Daesh back in Iraq is useless if it can seize more territory from a weak Syrian government. NATO learned this the hard way on the Af-Pak border with the Taliban. The question of what to do over Syria genuinely has me stumped. Perhaps we can offer the top Baathist leaders exile somewhere like Tehran or Russia so that someone less odious can take over the helm in Damascus? That's pretty much it as far as I can see.

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