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Expected ‘de-Trumping’ of US foreign policy under a Biden presidency

Photo by Adam Schultz / Biden for President

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The Trump years were marked by reckless policies and unilateral decisions. Ranging from the US’ exit from key multilateral pacts, to a series of isolationist and protectionist policies, the world stared at the prospect of an American retreat from global affairs. Now, with a new President-elect, what changes can the world expect in the US foreign policy realm.

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Ever since January 2017, when Donald Trump unexpectedly made his way into the White House, Washington has backed out from several key international treaties, agreements, and multilateral arrangements of vital importance to global peace, security, and sustainability.

Together with a series of isolationist and protectionist policies, the world stared at the dangerous prospect of an American retreat from global affairs under the Trump presidency, and the US’ image as a world superpower was severely damaged, but it’s not irreparable, as the White House waits a responsible President.

What changes can the world expect from the new President-elect, Joe Biden, when it comes to foreign policy, diplomacy, and multilateralism?

Biden comes with experience

Unlike a businessperson-turned-President Donald Trump, the new President-elect Joe Biden comes with a vast experience as a career politician and dealing with foreign policy issues, both in his capacity as Vice President in the Obama administration and as a long-time member of the Foreign Relations Committee of the US Senate. Biden also maintains close ties with a lot of international actors that still influence global affairs, which will effectively prove helpful in decision-making.

Renegotiating multilateral pacts

As Biden gets ready to assume the United States presidency on January 2021, he is expected to renegotiate many of the agreements which Donald Trump unilaterally pulled Washington from, effectively weakening America’s pre-eminent position as a world leader.

Among them include, the Paris Climate Accord, the Iran Nuclear Deal, and the key arms control treaties with Russia like the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (IRNF) Treaty and the Open Skies Treaty.

Here, I look at some of such agreements and multilateral arrangements that could possibly take a rebirth under Joe Biden.

Paris Climate Accord of 2015

As the world battles a climate crisis like never before, the Paris Accord was negotiated under the sidelines of the 2015 meeting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in Paris during Obama’s tenure. With Trump disregarding the pact as poorly negotiated, Washington was forced to withdraw from it in June 2017.

Biden, during his poll-time campaigns has vowed that he would bring the United States back to the Accord on the very first day of assuming office as President. He reassured this commitment he made on the day the withdrawal took effect on 4 November 2020. So, a Biden presidency could be good for the planet and a sustainable future.

Iran Nuclear Deal or the JCPOA, 2015

JCPOA stands for Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, popularly known as the Iran Nuclear Deal. It is a long-term deal made between a group of world powers known as the P5+1 – the US, the UK, France, China, Russia, and Germany – with the West Asian nation of Iran.

Under the pact, Iran agreed to limit its sensitive nuclear activities and allow periodic inspections as a quid pro quo for lifting of economic sanctions, thus preventing another nation going the nuclear way. Three countries positioning next to Iran – Pakistan, India and China – already possess them.

So, restricting Iran’s nuclear programme through the JCPOA was a huge diplomatic victory in 2015, when it was agreed on. But, Donald Trump pulled Washington, a key party to the deal, out of this strenuously negotiated deal under the Obama administration in May 2018.

Presumably, a much-needed tone-down in Washington’s approach towards Tehran that had dangerously escalated since the targeted killing of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, earlier this year, could also be on the cards.

INF and Open Skies Treaty

Both INF (Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces) Treaty, 1987, and Open Skies Treaty, 1992 are Cold War-era agreements with Russia aimed at limiting arms proliferation including nuclear weapons.

Trump pulled Washington out from these pacts in August 2019 and May 2020 respectively, adding up to the insecurities of its allies, particularly in Europe. The former pact was signed by Ronald Reagan and the latter one by George H.W. Bush with their respective Soviet or Russian counterparts.

As a goodwill gesture to bring America’s NATO allies closer to Washington and to win back their trusts Biden might attempt to renegotiate these agreements. The 2011-effective New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) is the only remaining treaty with Russia to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons. This was recently agreed to extend one more year.

UNESCO and UNHRC

Donald Trump had no hesitation to openly express his disregard for the United Nations and its affiliated bodies. This was exemplified in his move to pull the US out of the Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 2017 and the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in 2018.

A Biden presidency will definitely reassure United States’ commitment to multilateralism and support for international organisations. He could begin by rejoining these two bodies. The same goes with reassuring US share of funding for the World Health Organisation (WHO), which Trump has threatened to cut short, recently.

Trans-Pacific Partnership

The Trans-Pacific Partnership or the TPP was a huge 12-nation regional trade deal aimed to counter Beijing’s economic muscle involving the key Pacific littoral states, including the United States. But, Trump considered the TPP as unfair to American workers and the agreement was never officially adopted by US Congress, as well.

TPP was the first agreement from which the Trump administration withdraw in the very first month of assuming the office in January 2017. The remaining 11 nations have carried on without Washington and negotiated a new trade agreement called Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which incorporates most of the provisions of the erstwhile TPP and which entered into force in December 2018.

As a counterweight against Beijing’s growing economic clout across the globe, Biden might possibly attempt to strike an agreement with the CPTPP in the foreseeable future.

Reassuring NATO

The 30-memberNorth Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) has been the cornerstone of US-led security architecture for Europe that has been in existence for almost seven decades now.

Donald Trump in the White House was perceived as the biggest nightmare for a potential break-up of this security system for the leaders in Berlin, Brussels, Paris, among similar fears from other European capitals.

Trump has been demanding more defence spending and payments from allies in Europe particularly from Germany where Trump recently cut the number of troops stationed for protection.

By bridging stronger and resilient ties across the Atlantic, Biden has to reassure the American commitment towards collective security and defence against any external aggression faced by any ally, a link that has been severely damaged under the Trump presidency.

Resurrecting American humanitarian commitment

Unlike Trump’s transactional approach to diplomacy, Biden is expected to uphold the US’ humanitarian commitment to conflicts as well, particularly where Washington is involved like Afghanistan or Syria.

Biden is also expected to restart dialogue with Palestine, very much unlike Trump’s heavily Israel-biased policies intended to appease his religiously-inclined supporters at home. Biden will try to bring all parties and actors involved to the negotiating table without turning a blind-eye on the concerns of any.

During his tenure, Trump has elevated Washington’s ties with Riyadh to an all-time high. Notably, the latter remained a silent onlooker of the US-led Abraham Accords to normalize diplomatic relationship between Israel and the Arab states of the region, without protesting it.

Biden is expected to rethink this relationship in lines with Washington’s old humanitarian commitment that was blatantly disregarded during the Trump years. In his campaign, Biden has pledged to reassess ties with the Arab kingdom and wants more accountability for the state-sanctioned killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi Arabian columnist of the Washington Post, two years back, often exemplified as state-sanctioned killing of dissidents. He could also end U.S. support for the war in Yemen.

China and Russia policies are here to stay

But, if there is one aspect that is expected to remain almost the same is the US policy towards Beijing, the single-most challenger to America’s dominance in the world as an economic and military power.

Even though Biden might attempt to build new bridges of dialogue, the basic underlying outlook towards China is poised to remain the same, which is, a threat to be contained.

With a resurgent Russia that took advantage of Trump’s follies, a series of time-tested confidence-building measures will continue. This can also be combined with an extension of the validity period of existing arms control treaties and a potential renegotiation of the INF and Open Skies treaties or else make new arrangements to serve its intended purpose.

New Hope

While dealing with three big challenges at home, namely, systemic racism pervading the whole of American society, a mismanaged Covid-19 pandemic, and rising unemployment rates, Biden is expected to bring in new hope, both for the people of the United States, and for the people around the globe who seek the ‘American dream’. Meanwhile, the ongoing fight against an outlived ‘Trumpism’, influencing minds has to be intensified, re-framing the past ‘America First’ policies in an open and inclusive way.

Bejoy Sebastian is an independent journalist based in India who regularly writes, tweets, and blogs on issues relating to international affairs and geopolitics, particularly of the Asia-Pacific region. He also has an added interest in documentary photography. Previously, his bylines have appeared in The Diplomat, The Kochi Post, and Delhi Post.

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Americas

Fakhrizadeh’s Assassination Could Endangers Biden’s Diplomacy

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Image source: Wikipedia

The international political situation heats up, especially in the Middle East, after the killing of Iran’s leading nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. Apart from Mohsen, several other Iranian nuclear scientists have also been killed in the past decade.

Mohsen was attacked in eastern Tehran on Friday (27/11). He was ambushed by an armed group and the target of a Nissan car explosion before a gun battle broke out. He was rushed to the hospital, but his life could not be helped.

Iranian political and military officials have blamed Israel and US as the masterminds behind Mohsen’s assassination and attack. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called for retaliation for Mohsen’s death. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also said he would retaliate and appoint Israel as the mastermind behind the attack.

Iran and Hezbollah are currently said to be targeting Israelis and Jews around the world. Places owned by Israel and Jews will be the main targets of their retaliation for Mohsen’s death. Israel is also raising its guard. The Israeli government is reportedly on standby and is tightening the security of its embassies around the world. Jewish communities around the world are also asked to be on high alert. The Israeli military has also increased its vigilance along the country’s borders.

What is interesting is that the US secretly deployed the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier to the Arabian Gulf region last Wednesday. Although US Navy Fifth Fleet Spokesperson, Rebecca Rebarich, denied the movement of the fleet was unrelated to Mohsen’s assassination, the international public interpreted the aircraft carrier in order to anticipate the escalation of threats that might arise after the murder case.

There is not much information about Mohsen. Mohsen is the head of the research and innovation organization at the Iranian Ministry of Defense. He’s the main figure behind Iran’s secret nuclear development.

In April 2018, PM Netanyahu mentioned Mohsen’s name when uncovering a nuclear file which he said had been smuggled by Israeli agents from Iran. He named Mohsen as the head of a secret nuclear project called the Amad Project.

In its 2011 report, the UN nuclear weapons watchdog also identified Mohsen as the mastermind behind Iran’s nuclear technology. He was considered to have the ability to do so and at that time it was suspected that he still had an important role in these activities.

Mohsen’s assassination is certain to provoke a new confrontation between Iran and its enemies, including the United States and Israel, in the final weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency.

Mohsen’s assassination is considered as the culmination of the US and Israel’s strategic plan to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program. In fact, various parties consider Mohsen’s killing to be the culmination of Israel’s long-term plan.

Mohsen has long been the target of several Israeli prime ministers as well as several directors of the Mossad spy agency. This murder was also predicted to aim at uprooting Iran as a country of nuclear knowledge.

However, some international observers have speculated that the main purpose of the assassination was actually to obstruct the US administration in the era of President-elect Joe Biden who will dialogue to find a diplomatic solution to end the conflict with Iran.

What’s more, President Biden has expressed his intention to re-enter the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran, which has been largely devastated since President Donald Trump left the deal in 2018.

Statement from Amos Yadlin, former head of Israel’s military intelligence and head of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS). Amos said whoever makes the decision to assassinate Mohsen should know that there are still 55 days left in which the White House has someone who sees the Iranian threat as they do. In fact, Amos says Biden is a different story. Amos’ statement certainly points to President Trump who is still in power in the White House.

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Biden’s victory: An Opportunity for Transatlantic Reconciliation after Trump and Brexit?

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Joe Biden’s victory Last November came at a critical point during the Brexit negotiations between The European Union and the United Kingdom. There has been a lot of speculation as to whether a change in the American presidency will substantially affect the talks between Europe and Britain. Realistically speaking, the effect the Democrats’ victory in the US will have, at least on Brexit talks before the end of this year, will be minimal.

On a positive note, now that Donald Trump has been defeated, this leaves very little room for the UK to use the threat of a quicker and better deal with the US to try to subdue the EU and make them accept a more pro British agenda. The UK has no longer the US is an alternative to fall back onto if no deal is the result of the negotiations by December 31st.

Since the 2016 British referendum, the decision to leave the EU was enthusiastically greeted by Donald Trump. In very simplistic terms, Trump saw The British “Yes” vote as an act that vaguely resembled his campaign slogan “Let’s Make America Great Again.” The long standing, more loyal foreign policy ally of the US in Europe, was slowly showing signs to move away from the multilateralism Donald Trump greatly despised.

Ever since the outcome of the Brexit referendum became official, Donald Trump voiced his strong support for the UK to pursue a hard Brexit, and even enticed the British government with the prospect of a robust trade deal between the US and the UK, to convince the UK to drop out of the EU without a deal. In reality, none of those big American promises ever materialised. From 2016 to 2020, Donald Trump did absolutely nothing to support the UK. Biden’s victory last November, makes any past promises made by Trump impossible to fulfil.

Biden will, in principle, follow a diametrically opposed foreign policy to Trump’s. He sees the EU, and not the UK, ask the key actor that will help him advance American interests in the European continent. While there have been mutual expressions of willingness to strengthen the relationship between the Americans and the British, Joe Biden has always been skeptical of Brexit, and has made it clear from the start that one of his priorities in foreign policy will be to rebuild the relationship with the EU rather than pursuing a trade deal with the UK.

Ideally, should the UK try to have some sort of leverage to negotiate with the incoming American administration, they need to aim to strike a workable deal between with the EU before the end of this year. That, however, seems unlikely to happen. From an American perspective, it is highly probable that the Biden’s administration will not prioritise any UK-US trade deal in the foreseeable future. There is a strong possibility that Joe Biden will focus on domestic and close neighbours (Canada and Mexico) Issues during his first year in the presidency.

While this is understandable, considering the legacy of the Trump, Biden also has to be careful enough to avoid the temptation to play hardball with the UK because of Brexit. If he does, this could prove to be a fatal mistake with long lasting consequences, specially in a moment when the West is struggling with its own internal weaknesses and the rise of external threats to its unity.

One aspect that both Europe and the US have to acknowledge is that the importance of the UK goes beyond striking a trade deal with the EU. Looking at the rise of more geographically widespread authoritarian and antidemocratic pressures from central, Eastern Europe, China and Russia, the UK is still plays an important role on the continent’s security. Talks on further cooperation on how the EU and the UK will cooperate on foreign and security policy once the transition period ends on 31st of December 2020 have not yet been held. The UK, unfortunately, is likely to remain a crucial partner on such topics especially due to its role as a prominent and active member of NATO, and therefore, talks on this issues should not be left unaddressed.

The UK is aware of its importance militarily, and this explains the £24.1 billion investment announced by the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, this year. This is the largest investment since the end of the Cold War and it aims to modernise the armed forces, as well as to expand the Royal Navy to turn it into the largest fleet in Europe.

This move will enhance the UK’s status as Europe’s leading military power. The UK has also been among the first respondents to recent security crisis in Ukraine and Belarus. Not engaging with the UK altogether in security and foreign policy issues may prove to be detrimental in the long run for the security in the EU, especially considering the rising tensions and instability in the Ring of Fire, from Belarus to Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and Nagorno-Karabakh.

The EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) and the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) allow for intergovernmental cooperation, this means that  states can pursue their own policies and coordinate them only when they align with the EU’s. The CSDP also allows EU member states to intervene when NATO as an alliance chooses not to. To date, there are 17 of such interventions, in all of these, the UK has been the biggest contributor.

Security is an area of opportunity for Europe and the US, Biden could potentially push for the Europeans to grant the UK an observer role in the Political and Security Committee, or the Foreign Policy Council to advance a common security and foreign policy for the region that wouldn’t only benefit Europe, but also the US interests in the wider European area.

Recently, the UK has been an advocate of what is called a “Global Britain” that echoes the times of the great British Empire’s prominence as a global player. How this will be achieved is still unclear. This grand strategy may fare impossible under current economic and political conditions in the UK and in the world, as well as with the uncertainty surrounding the future relationship of the UK with its neighbours after Brexit.

Anything can happen, the UK could pursue a close, special relationship with Europe where cooperation is prioritised, or there could be a more profound break between the two, where the UK sets its own agenda against the EU’s. For decades, the terms Europe and the EU have been used interchangeably. Now that one of the major European players is out of the organisation, both sides have not yet worked out how the future relationship will be. If it continues to be antagonistic this could send the whole continent into a spiral of chaos, reduced capabilities an increased volatility.

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Exit the Clowns: Post-Trump America

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Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour

As America emerges from the election in grindingly slow fashion, with the soon-to-be-ex-President constantly tweeting frivolous accusations of voter fraud and threats about legal action, it is worthwhile to take stock currently as to just where America sits and what it faces over the next two months before the official Biden inauguration (and yes, there will indeed be a Biden inauguration, have no doubt about that). The following is simply a list of points that should continue to be considered and analyzed as the United States moves away from this four-year experiment with political nihilism:

Perhaps the only thing even remotely positive to emerge from the global pandemic known as COVID-19 is the fact that it clearly allowed the United States to get over some of its traditional political institutional inertia when it comes to encouraging and motivating voter participation. While America has always had mechanisms to allow absentee voting for those overseas and regulations permitting early voting in every single state, these tools have always been extremely minor when compared to the overall voter turnout. America has by and large always been a “turn out on election day” people. This year was clearly different, where the Biden-Harris team literally emphasized early voting for two main reasons: first, to get people to stay motivated even in the face of increasingly disturbing pandemic numbers and cases of new infections all across the country; second, to countermand the varied strategies local Republican officials in the modern day have come to constantly use to depress voter turnout amongst registered Democrats on election day (like voter ID initiatives that are confusing and/or outright illegal). This strategy, in the end, will be seen as crucially important to the Biden-Harris victory as it was the counting of early voting in the wee hours of election day that turned the tide in key states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Georgia while solidifying crucial leads in places like Arizona and Nevada. Eventually, this pandemic must end. So, it will be fascinating to see if the United States treats all the ways it gave voters the chance to vote in 2020 as a one-off never to be repeated or as a new approach to democratic participation that becomes a cherished new political tradition.

In my adult lifetime, most people in America celebrated breaking the 50% barrier when it came to voter turnout. This is a depressingly low number when it represents the oldest and most stable democracy in the world. 2020 saw eligible voter turnout at about the 65% level. To be sure, this is still not earth-shattering. But it is without doubt a significant increase for a population that tends to always find reasons to not participate, rather than finding inspiration to get out and vote. The physical numbers overall – over 80 million for Biden-Harris and roughly 75 million for Trump-Pence – reveal a true divide in American society that is likely to remain long after Trump’s departure from the White House. Which is entirely appropriate when you consider the fact that there is no such thing as Trumpism. The wave of voter dissatisfaction with Washington DC, that portion of the population that is largely white and non-affluent and feeling disenfranchised by elites, this phenomenon began long before Trump ever made a decision to run for President back in 2014. What Trump did, brilliantly it must be said, was position himself to become the figurehead of this dissatisfaction, tapping into the anger and frustration and elevating his own persona as its leader. The fact that some astute political experts are now even using the term “Trumpism” is a perfect analogy to how Trump has spent most of his business career: catching the tail-end of trends and using deft PR and brand management expertise to usurp the trend entirely. This is why people on the Left of the political spectrum in America need to be vigilant about what the 2020 election truly means. It is a worthy achievement to have won the Presidency, but most current analyses show something of a slight regression in the House of Representatives (so that Democrats’ control has slightly dwindled) and the Senate is going to remain in control of Republicans. This means the classic adage of cutting the head off the snake is irrelevant: this hydra has many heads and getting rid of the symbolic alpha head is not going to reduce the passion of the other side. In fact, given the advanced age of Biden making it unlikely that he can pursue a legitimate second term in 2024, it is far more likely America will see a resurgence of radically right conservatism by  the next electoral cycle to make sure there is no President Harris taking over after one term of Biden.

There are definitely voter trends that emerged new from 2020 that will be analyzed for years to come in terms of their long-term impact on future elections. First, it is clear the Republican cliché that only the extreme coasts of America are liberal and all the rest is conservative is dead. Nevada, Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Georgia all going blue prove that beyond a shadow of a doubt. Efforts made in the major urban cities of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Georgia show that ethnic minority turnout is not just becoming increasingly important, but it literally decides the fate of these given states for future elections. Not every data point, however, spelled positivity for liberals in 2020. The delivery of Florida for Trump but Arizona for Biden shows there is a sharpening divide between the political leanings of Cuban Latinx in FLA and Mexican Latinx in AZ. Also, while it was once considered a crucial part of Democrats’ presidential strategies and then became a critical “purple” state that could go either way, it seems clear that Ohio is now de facto a part of the Deep South politically, leaning solidly red with no real strategy to unhook it from Republican devotion. Finally, it will be interesting to see if the relatively unimportant states of Maine and Nebraska lead the way to a new proportional approach to electoral college votes. Both of these states actually saw a single vote out of their overall low electoral college vote counts split off and go against the overall will of the state. One EC vote in Nebraska went to Biden while the rest went to Trump. In Maine, the reverse happened: one went to Trump while the rest went to Biden. After the uproar in 2016, where Clinton defeated Trump in the popular vote by a secure margin but actually lost the electoral college handily, it would be interesting to see if Maine and Nebraska represent a new way to adapt the electoral college without actually getting rid of it.

Good-bye to the Nihilist CEO as President trend. One of the things I was most interested in seeing in the 2020 election was a reversal of the “Nihilist CEO” trend. I call it this because it basically came to be the overriding zeitgeist of the Trump presidency. Initially, Trump was interested in simply governing as a conservative President, but with a real agenda and goals. As mentioned before with the term “Trumpism,” this more traditional approach did not sit well with the radical conservatives that felt responsible for putting him in office. For them, ‘draining the swamp’ was not a process of replacing liberals with conservatives: it meant literally and figuratively razing the Washington DC establishment to the ground and salting over the earth so that nothing could ever politically grow again. This is why so many Trump appointments to the Cabinet and to major agencies were given to people who had literally spent their professional careers working against those very agencies. So, we had anti-environmentalists in charge of the EPA; an Education secretary who wanted to dismantle public education; energy appointments wedded to fossil fuels and wholly disinterested in new energy resources. The list goes on and on. In each case, what became obvious, was that those who were the most fervent for Trump were de facto anarchists about Washington, so deep-rooted was their hatred for DC. With Biden’s clear victory and his own long career in politics, it is obvious this approach will get jettisoned to the wayside. It is a return to expertise. A return to experience and traditionalism. The Trump clowns are exiting. Time will tell if they are simply replaced by Biden clowns or by true experts looking to work hard for the nation.

Ironic justice: the Electoral College Vote Count. Finally, it is deeply ironic that, in the end, the electoral college vote for Biden vs. Trump in 2020 will almost be a perfect inverse mirror of Trump vs. Clinton in 2016. Trump may have lost the popular vote in 2016, but he was always adamant that his electoral college win (304 to 227) was so “lopsided” that it meant he was sent to the White House with a decided mandate. Well, when all the votes are finally counted and verified in 2020, the electoral count will most likely be Biden 303 to Trump 228. This is why his claims of election fraud or malfeasance are so empty and ridiculous. Not only did Trump once again lose the popular vote (by a wider margin this time), he lost the electoral college vote by the same margin he claimed brought him so much political legitimacy in 2016. Ironic justice, indeed.

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