Month: February 2017

Not the President’s speech

So many people are indulging in wishful thinking about what they would like President Trump to do that I thought I would try my hand at the genre. I won’t dare to include domestic policy, as it is already absolutely clear where that is headed: toward more restrictions on voting rights, more indulgence of discrimination on the basis of alleged religious belief, less availability of health insurance, as well as tax cuts for the rich and tax increases for the lower middle class. Here is my totally unjustifiable hope for what the man says tonight about foreign policy:

My Fellow Americans,

These five weeks in office have taught me many things.

I have come to understand that America’s leadership role in the world is invaluable. It depends on our willingness to construct a rules-based international order, one that provides benchmarks for how states should behave both in relation to each other and in the treatment of their own populations.

This “liberal world order” restrains aggression, expands trade and investment, lifts people out of poverty, and ensures democracy and freedom remain goals for billions of people around the world.

This is the best! You are going to like the liberal world order. It’s great!

I’ve come to understand that putting America first requires that we make some sacrifices to sustain this global system. Our military must remain number one, but as it spends annually as much as the next seven largest military budgets on earth there is no near-term danger to our primacy.

The real need now is to build up America’s capacity to help the rest of the world resist violent extremism, autocracy, and organized crime, which will ultimately threaten our own domestic tranquility if they are permitted to grow and fester abroad. We’ve seen the damage to democracy and freedom that an autocrat like President Putin can do. We won’t allow that to continue.

The State Department and the US Agency for International Development are the vital tools for this effort. I intend to rebuild them from the ground up as a combined Foreign Office, with increased resources. You are going to love the new Foreign Office, believe me!

I will instruct this upgraded instrument of foreign policy to repair relations with the Muslim world, which my own remarks and initial travel ban have damaged. As President Bush 43 always said, we are not at war with Islam.

We are at war with extremism both at home and abroad and will use all the instruments of national power, not just the military one, to counter it. We’ll also welcome carefully vetted refugees. Who knew that we already had extreme vetting in place? Muslims are going to love me!

We will need help in this effort. I expect our many friends in Sunni Arab countries to support the fight against extremism, not only by cracking down but also by improving their governance. The voice of citizens needs to be heard and heeded even in monarchies as well as in republics.

If Russia and Iran want to cooperate in the effort against extremism they are welcome to do so. But they need to stop killing Syrian moderates and trying to establish hegemony in the Middle East. That’s going to stop, right now!

We will still expect Moscow to end its aggression against Ukraine and Tehran to observe the nuclear deal, which I’ve come to realize is far better than no deal.

China is a rising power, whether America likes it or not. We need to help ensure that its rise is peaceful. Even if Taiwan is increasingly democratic and prosperous, nothing can be gained by abandoning the long-established policy of recognizing only one China. Nor will I seek confrontation in the South China Sea, where American interests in freedom of navigation can be made compatible with solutions to the many sovereignty claims there.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I have listened attentively to climate experts and now realize that climate change is a real threat to American national security. It won’t be long before Mar-a-Lago is inundated. That isn’t going to happen, believe me!

I have also listened to the country’s economists, who warn me that the world’s trade could degenerate into tit-for-tat nickle and dime mercantilism if I persist in pursuing bilateral rather than multilateral deals.

We’re going to finish the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership my predecessor started and we’re going to revive the Trans-Pacific Partnership I abandoned. You are going to love multilateral trade deals that reduce the costs of imports and boost American exports. Believe me!

A final word about immigrants. I love immigrants! We are a nation of immigrants, many of whom fled oppression and poverty in their home countries. Let’s welcome the latest wave of immigrants, who will make America a bigger and better place well-connected to the rest of the world. That’s how to make America great again!

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Peace picks February 27 – March 3

  1. Conflict Prevention and Resolution Forum: Negotiation Day – Negotiators’ Behavior in the End Game | Monday, February 27 | 9 – 10:30am | SAIS Johns Hopkins | Register Here | No analytical work has ever addressed the subject of How Negotiations End. We know that negotiators act differently in the endgame–when they see the end is in sight, good or bad, and they work to that end. This project addresses that situation, examining way in which the endgame ends positively or negatively, and the way in which typical behavioral patterns are encountered on the way. A path breaking study of a neglected topic. The book is now in press with Cambridge University Press, the latest study of the Process of International Negotiation (PIN) Program at Clingendael, Netherlands.
  2. Potential Negotiations in the Upcoming Year | Monday, February 27 | 11 am – 12:30 pm | SAIS Johns Hopkins | Register Here | We are faced today with an international situation filled with challenges for negotiation. These represent opportunities open for pursuit; others represent situations looking for an opportunity. In this situation, what are the prospects for pursuing and developing negotiations as a means of managing conflict and of furthering US policy goals.Speakers:Thomas Pickering, former US Ambassador to the United Nations, the Russian Federation, India, Israel, and JordanPrinceton Lyman, former US Ambassador to Nigerial and South Africa

    Galia Golan, Professor at the School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya

    Vali Nasr, Dean of Johns Hopkins SAIS

    I WIlliam Zartman, Jacob Blaustein Professor Emeritus of International Organizations and Conflict Resolution, SAIS – Moderator

    Location Kenney Herter Auditorium, 1740 Massachusetts Avenue NW

  3. Crude Strategy: Rethinking the U.S. Military Commitment to Defend Persian Gulf Oil | Monday, February 27 | 11 – 12:30pm | Cato Institute | Register Here | Should the United States continue to use its military to guarantee the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf? For more than 30 years, U.S. foreign policy has been shaped by a commitment to safeguard the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf. Yet profound changes in international oil markets, growth in domestic U.S. energy production, and dramatic shifts in the Middle Eastern balance of power suggest that it may be time to reconsider whether this commitment is still warranted. In Crude Strategy, a multidisciplinary team of political scientists, economists, and historians set out to explore the links between Persian Gulf oil and U.S. national security. Their essays explore key questions such as the potential economic cost of disruption in oil supply, whether disruptions can be blunted with nonmilitary tools, the potential for instability in Saudi Arabia, and the most effective U.S. military posture for the region. By clarifying the assumptions underlying the U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf, the authors conclude that the case for revising America’s grand strategy towards the region is far stronger than is commonly assumed.
  4. The Trump Administration and the Future of the Kurds | Monday February 27 | 2 – 3:30pm | Wilson Center | Register Here | The Kurdish issue in the Middle East is at an important juncture. The Iraqi Kurds, faced with an unsettled Iraq, are itching to declare their independence. The Syrian Kurds have managed to affiliate themselves with the United States against ISIS but face a hostile reaction from Turkey, their northern neighbor, intent on rolling back their successes. The Turkish Kurds have to contend with the effects of government attempts at suppressing their legal political representatives and the war between the Turkish state and the PKK, which are challenging the country’s stability. Our panel will discuss these and other issues pertaining to the future Kurdish political landscape.
  5. U.S. – Turkey Cooperation in Syria and the Role of the U.S. in the Middle East | Monday February 27 | 3 – 4:30pm | Turkish Heritage Organization | Register Here | The Trump administration has inherited numerous, complex challenges in the Middle East. Regional instability caused by the Syrian civil war continues to have a profound impact on one of the U.S.’s most strategic NATO allies – Turkey – and on the bilateral relationship between Washington and Ankara. As the Trump administration prepares to tackle these issues and re-shape America’s role in the region, experts will discuss the choices and challenges facing the U.S. and Turkey.
  6. The Impact of Shifting Geopolitics on MENA Energy | Tuesday February 28 | 12 – 1:30pm | Middle East Institute | Register Here | Changes in the energy market, new entrants, and conflicting economic and national security interests at the regional and global level have altered the market power of Middle Eastern oil and gas producers. Industry developments and new policies under the Trump administration are likely to lead to the expansion of U.S. shale oil and gas production and increased exports. Russia vies daily with Saudi Arabia to be the world’s largest producer, while prices remain far below levels of a few years ago. How are Middle Eastern states coping politically and economically with the challenges of a global energy market in an historic transition?
  7. Obama’s Legacy, Trump’s Inheritance in the Middle East (Annual Kuwait Chair Lecture) | Tuesday February 28 | 6:30 – 7:45pm | Elliott School of International Affairs | Register Here | Join us as Ambassador Edward “Skip” Gnehm examines the environment in the Middle East that President Trump inherits from his predecessor and explores the parameters for action by the new administration.
  8. Food for Humanity | Wednesday March 1 | 12:15 – 1:30pm | Middle East Institute | Register Here | The Middle East Institute’s Arts & Culture Program is pleased to host a conversation about the political, emotional and symbolic significance of food for displaced and diaspora communities. The panel will explore the unifying role of food, its ability to generate empathy, and its power to build community among diverse peoples through the ritual sharing of a meal. The panel will also discuss how food can serve as a source of income, a form of cultural resistance, and as a means of preserving identity and heritage for refugee communities in the face of loss.
  9. How People Become Terrorists | Wednesday March 1 | 12:15 – 1:45pm | New America | Register Here | In the years since 9/11 the scope and nature of the global neo-jihadi threat to the West has changed radically, prompting reassessments from those following the threat. In his latest book Misunderstanding Terrorism, Marc Sageman examines the current threat and articulates a new model of how people become terrorists, which has strong implications for the fight against terrorists that go against the conventional wisdom. New America welcomes Dr. Sageman for a discussion of what is driving the current generation of jihadists to become terrorists and how the U.S. should adapt to the threat. Marc Sageman is a Senior Fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute and the author of Misunderstanding Terrorism and two other critically acclaimed books: Understanding Terror Networks (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004) and Leaderless Jihad (UPP, 2007).
  10. Women of the Caliphate: Gender Dynamics in State-Building Jihadi Organizations | Thursday March 2 | 5:30 – 7pm | American University | Register Here | A Talk with Hamoon Khelghat-Doost, from the National University of Singapore. Hamoon Khelghat-Doost looks at gender dynamics within jihadi organizations by examining their standpoint on the state-building process. His talk will explore the reasons for jihadi organizations, such as ISIS, to incorporate a relatively high number of women. Khelghat-Doost has conducted fieldwork in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon and along Syrian borders in southern Turkey.
  11. Prospects for the Next Generation of Palestinian Leadership | Friday March 3 | 12 – 1:30pm | Middle East Institute | Register Here | President Trump’s backpedaling on the U.S. commitment to a two-state solution shines a spotlight on the Palestinians’ looming leadership crisis. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, now 81, has yet to cultivate a successor, and his administration faces growing concerns about its credibility twelve years after the last national elections. How should the next generation of Palestinian leaders approach such complex issues as Israeli settlement expansion, a Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, economic troubles, and engagement on the international stage?
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Run your own affairs

Zana Popovska-Bozinovska of the website asked questions. I answered:

Q: What is your position about Platform of Albanian political parties, does it exceed The Ohrid Framework agreement?

A: Yes, as I read it, it exceeds the Ohrid Framework agreement, but there is nothing wrong with that. Ohrid is more than ten years old. Going beyond it is well within the realm of political reason. The Albanian parties may not get all they are asking for, but they are entitled to ask.

That said, I am puzzled by some things in the Platform, in particular on the use of Albanian at all levels in the government. This seems to me impractical at present, but I’ll leave that to the citizens of Macedonia to decide.

Q: Why has nobody from international community reacted, since USA and EU were guarantor and signatories of the Agreement?

A: I think the Americans and Europeans are trying to get Macedonia’s citizens and politicians to take care of their own business. The notion that anyone in Brussels or Washington should dictate where Albanian is spoken in Macedonia is ridiculous.

Q: Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama was some kind of mentor, alongside Kosovo President Hashim Thaci. Is this interfering in the internal matters of Macedonia, as many critics in the country used to say it?

A: There is nothing wrong with a unified platform. But I understand why some Macedonians have reacted negatively to the external role. I also think Prime Minister Rama and President Thaci have problems of their own to deal with.

But at the same time you can expect other countries to have interests that they will pursue, including by pushing for unification of their co-nationals inside a neighboring country. We see Serbia doing the same kind of thing in Kosovo. Those who don’t want it there should think twice before doing it somewhere else.

Q: Situation in the country is tense after failure of Mr.Nikola Gruevski to form new Government. Now there is some progress in negotiations between DUI and SDSM and probably they will form the new Government. But VMRO-DPMNE doesn’t accept this combination. Is there any danger for ethnic tensions, return of nationalism, or maybe unrests?

A: Yes, there are risks of nationalist revival and unrest, which could entail also ethnic tensions. But the question of who governs should be decided by who has a majority in parliament, not in the streets. VMRO-DPMNE held power for a long time and will be an excellent counterbalance in opposition to SDSM if the latter is able to form a government.

Q: Generally, what is wrong with the country, it seems that nothing functions, there are always criticisms that reforms are blocked, no implementation, no progress toward EU and NATO. What is your opinion?

A: Democracy is not an easy system to make function well. Macedonia is still in transition and lacks experience in dealing with the contestation that is a part of any democratic system. On top of that, you’ve got ethnic/language differences that make governance particularly difficult. I’d like to see reform and progress towards the EU and NATO, but I’m not surprised it is difficult.

Q: Even if four political parties agreed with forming of Special Public Prosecutor office, according Przino Agreement, now VMRO-DPMNE denies prolonging of its mandate. There are always burdens in its functioning and investigations about wire-tapping scandal. What is your comment on it, should SPP continue its work after actual mandate, even judiciary has very selective, even negative approach regarding SPP?

A: I think the Special Public Prosecutor is necessary at this juncture and I would like to see the mandate extended. But that is up to the Macedonian parliament, not me or any other international.

Q: What do you think about role of Russia in the Balkans, including Macedonia, since last public opinion indicated that Russia is on the second place as desirable strategic partner, after EU, but in front of US. Is it some wider trend or result of delayed NATO membership?

A: The delay in NATO membership is an important factor, one that I enormously regret. All Macedonia’s problems would be more manageable if the country were firmly ensconced inside the Alliance. But there are of course broader trends, including the election of an ethnic nationalist as President in the US and Moscow’s aggressive efforts to undermine America and its friends in the Balkans (as well as elsewhere).

However, Russia in my view is declining regional power with little to offer anyone in the Balkans other than a model of how not to run a country. I have no doubt but that NATO and EU membership are the better choice for Macedonia, but it is Macedonia’s citizens who have to make that choice. The US and EU did not do all they’ve done in the Balkans so that people in Washington and Brussels could make decisions for people in Skopje. Sovereignty and independence mean you run your own affairs, even if you don’t always run them well.

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Syria peace talks worthy of the name

My Syrian friends at the Center for Civil Society and Democracy sent these Principles for Successful Intra-Syrian Talks, targeted at the UN-convened talks that started today in Geneva: 

February 17, 2017

Syrians anxiously await the Intra-Syrian talks that are due to take place in Geneva in the coming weeks (Geneva IV), and fervently hope these talks reach a political solution that will stop the cycle of violence and put an end to the tragedies they have lived through on a daily basis for six years.

The cycle of violence, which increases and extends at the expense of Syrians’ lives, property and their children’s future, obligates all Syrian parties to live up to their ethical and national responsibilities to find an inclusive political solution for the Syrian situation. It also charges the regional and international parties to live up to their responsibility to be an effective force for peace and political transition in accordance with the resolutions of the United Nations and Security Council, particularly UNSC Resolution 2254. The United Nations must be accountable for achieving the peace process and guaranteeing the political transition.

Accordingly, and as a result of the recent developments on the ground politically, militarily, locally, regionally and internationally, as well as due to the complexity of the situation and the various conflicting parties, we, the members of the Center for Civil Society and Democracy, express our fears that the Intra-Syrian talks may lead to a political settlement that would lay the foundations for power sharing without taking into account the demands and needs of Syrians. This would only lead to continuing the cycle of violence. Herein, we affirm the general guiding principles that should structure and underpin the political process in order to help it succeed in establishing a democratic and pluralistic society, given that there is an absence of neutral parties to ensure respect for these principles.

  • Inclusive and comprehensive process: It must be guaranteed that the political process is inclusive and 1) addresses the fundamental humanitarian issues (e.g., stopping the violence, breaking the siege, releasing detainees, revealing the fate of forcibly disappeared people and returning forcibly displaced people to their homes), 2) as well as political issues (e.g., a meaningful democratic political transition that guarantees the participation of all parties and establishes meaningful governing institutions based on the principles of good governance and human rights).
  • Human rights: The political process must guarantee human rights. Human rights conventions must be the basis on which the political transition is built. Human rights must be included in all the stages of the political process, and must be specifically stated by all parties participating in the negotiations, as well as in the documents they issue.
  • Minority rights: The rights of all of Syria’s diverse religious and ethnic communities must be guaranteed. Guarantee of the rights of Syrian minorities must include recognizing them in the constitution, preserving their history and traditions, and guaranteeing their right to practice their civic and political rights. All Syrian communities must be included in every stage of the political process as well as in all bodies formed during the political process in order to ensure their meaningful and effective participation in the political transition process and in the future of Syria.
  • Women’s rights: Women’s rights must be guaranteed. When addressing women’s rights, it is unacceptable to limit the percentage of their participation disproportionately. Rather, the political process must include women’s rights explicitly and clearly in all of its stages in order to eliminate the injustices imposed on them, to ensure that women have full opportunity to access any given roles and to participate fully in decision making to make sure that women’s perspectives help to shape Syria’s future. This is closely tied to democracy and human rights, taking into account that women comprise more than 65% of the Syrian people.
  • Basic freedoms: Rights to free speech and expression, access to information, and form political parties without restrictions should be inevitable outcomes of any political agreement. There must be firm guarantees for separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary.
  • Combating terrorism: We believe it is essential to reach a Syrian definition of terrorism agreed to by all Syrian parties, as well as setting clear and explicit criteria to be adopted as a basis for classifying the groups that participate in the Intra-Syria talks so that the door can be shut on all parties that wish to gain geopolitical benefits on the ground. All non-Syrian armed groups of all parties must be included in this definition. We also emphasize the necessity of differentiating between individuals and groups when terrorist groups are classified, and differentiating between individuals and leaders when discussing accountability, due to the complexity of the conflict map on the ground.
  • Transitional justice: Justice is fundamental to achieving deep and sustainable peace; this must be the overarching principle for any sustainable peace process. In consideration of the vast number of violations in the Syrian situation, a transitional justice process must be the basis upon which any peace process is built, to include mechanisms to bridge the gaps between Syrians as individuals and groups, and focus particularly on the principles of accountability, reparations and institution building.
  • Role of civil society: Civil society must be guaranteed an effective role in consultation, monitoring and participation in different issues in all stages of the political process. Civil society is the sector most privy to people’s concerns, needs and demands on the ground, most able to express their demands and the most capable of working flexibly on the ground to achieve what Syrians aspire to.
  • Refugees and displaced people: All peace talks must take the case of refugees and displaced people into account. Firm commitments must be given to work on clear plans to facilitate their return home, improve their life conditions and guarantee their participation in any political process.

Finally, when international parties relentlessly push military groups forward at the expense of political groups this divests the revolution of its political content. As a result, the political process is in danger of appearing as talks between insurgents and a legitimate government seeking to prioritize security at the expense of Syrian demands for human rights, freedom, justice and democracy. We, in the Center for Civil Society and Democracy, emphasize that any negotiations must be led by a meaningful and inclusive political leadership.

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Trying to hem him in

The appointment of H.R. McMaster as National Security Adviser is one more step in trying to hem in President Trump on national security policy. He remains in charge of immigration, health care, trade and many other subjects, but the Washington establishment (aka “the blob”) is trying to reassert control of some important foreign policy issues:

  • Vice President Pence has been in Europe reassuring the NATO allies of the Administration’s wholehearted commitment to the Alliance and openness to partnership with the European Union, despite the President’s often expressed skepticism of both.
  • Defense Secretary Mattis has done likewise with NATO and also visited Baghdad, in part to reassure the Iraqis that we are not, as the President has suggested we would, going to “keep” their oil (whatever that means).
  • H.R. is well-known for his book criticizing the generals for not objecting to escalation of the Vietnam War–he isn’t likely to stand by idly if Trump pursues courses of action that can’t be justified or sustained. Nor is he likely to ignore or denigrate the intelligence community.
  • Secretary of State Tillerson has been reassuring Ukraine of America’s support, including on Crimea, and calling out the Russians for failure to implement the Minsk 2 agreement.
  • Republican Senator McCain has trashed Trump’s affection for Vladimir Putin, with Senator Lindsey Graham and other Republicans cheering him on amidst growing pressure for serious investigations of the White House’s Russian connections.

With those holes plugged, the main thrust of White House thinking about foreign and national security policy still has two major outlets: Iran and North Korea.

The nuclear deal with Iran is safe because the Europeans have made it clear they will not reimpose sanctions if Trump undermines it and the Israelis have told Trump they prefer the current restraints to none at all. But Tehran’s support for Bashar al Assad in Syria, the Houthis in Yemen, and Shiite militias in Iraq gives people in Washington heartburn. Despite the nuclear deal, Tehran has few friends in DC because it has been far so aggressive in pursuing its regional interests.

The May 19 Iranian presidential election is already raising the political temperature in Tehran. The Revolutionary Guard is doing military exercises and shooting off missiles, though it is not clear whether any of them since General Flynn’s “notice” violate UN Security Council resolution 1929:

Iran is prohibited from undertaking any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons and States…

President Rouhani is feeling the heat, both from the Iranian right wing and from the Americans. Reformists have no one else to vote for, so he will likely to tilt towards the hawks in an effort to improve his prospects, which are good but by no means unassailable. He is also trying to improve relations with the Gulf Arabs, which would solidify his claim to restoring Iran’s influence and prestige in the region.

North Korea is the far easier and more worthy target. Let’s not even consider North Korea’s assassinations, human rights abuses against its own population, and oppression. Kim Jong-un is well on his way to getting missiles that can reach US bases in the Pacific and eventually the US West coast. The Chinese appear to be at their wits’ end with him. The problem is this: no one knows what, if anything, will bring the North Koreans to heel. If we were to try and fail, Pyongyang can retaliate with massive artillery barrages against Seoul. He could even use a few of his nuclear weapons.

If the establishment professionals succeed in their effort to hem Trump in with respect to Russia, Ukraine, NATO, and Iraq’s oil, he still has the opportunity to make a giant hash of things. The President is in charge. Getting Iran and North Korea right will not be easy, especially if the President decides he is better off listening to Steve Bannon than H.R. McMaster. Bad judgment is Trump’s consistent vice. He can get the United States into a lot of trouble.

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Who killed these people?

I received this note this morning from the Humanitarian Law Center in Belgrade:

Approximately 1,400 civilians were killed in the area of responsibility of the 37th Brigade of the Yugoslav Army in Kosovo in 1999. The mortal remains of a number of victims were discovered in mass graves in Serbia. The present Chief of General Staff of the Serbian Army, Ljubiša Diković, was the Commander of the Brigade at this time. Neither he nor any members of his unit have been held accountable for these crimes.

The evidence showing the presence and the role of the Yugoslav Army in the mass killings of civilians in Izbica, Čirez, Savarine, Rezala and other villages in the Drenica region is presented in the film titled “Ljubiša Diković and the 37th Brigade in Kosovo”, made by the Humanitarian Law Center. This evidence has already been presented in the “Ljubiša Diković” and “Rudnica” Dossiers.

A number of TV services in Serbia, including the public broadcasters Radio and Television of Serbia and Radio and Television of Vojvodina, have refused or have not responded to the request that they screen the film.

So here is the film, which apart from the spooky music seems to me worthy of the attention of anyone concerned with justice in the Balkans:

I hasten to add that there are of course Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks and others about whom the same question could be asked. It is to the credit of the Humanitarian Law Center that it has been concerned about all the individuals killed in the 1990s Balkan wars.

Injustice does not justify injustice. The failure to assign responsibility in one case does not excuse the failure to assign responsibility in others. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia had limited capacities and is now closed to new cases. The governments of the region owe it to each other and to themselves to assign responsibility, even to their highest officials if that is where the evidence points.

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