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Trump's Actions in the Middle East Will be His Downfall
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The Middle East has a century old tradition of being the political graveyard of American and British political leaders. The list of casualties is long: Lloyd George, Anthony Eden, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Tony Blair and George W Bush. All saw their careers ended or their authority crippled by failure in the region.

Will the same thing happen to Donald Trump as he struggles with the consequences of the alleged murder of Jamal Khashoggi? I always suspected that Trump might come unstuck because of his exaggerated reliance on a weak state like Saudi Arabia rather than because of his supposed links to Russia and Vladimir Putin. Contrary to the PR company boosterism of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) and his ambitious projects, Saudi Arabia has oil and money, but is demonstrably ineffective as an independent operator.

The Middle East disasters that toppled so many Western leaders have a certain amount in common. In all cases, the strength of enemies and the feebleness of friends was miscalculated. Lloyd George was forced to resign as prime minister in 1922 because he encouraged the doomed Greek invasion of Anatolia which almost led to a renewed Turkish-British war.

George W Bush and Tony Blair never understood that the occupation of Iraq by American and British ground forces had no support inside Iraq or among its neighbours and was therefore bound to fail. A British military intelligence officer stationed in Basra told me that he could not persuade his superiors of the potentially disastrous fact that “we have no real allies anywhere in Iraq”.

The political debacle most similar to Trump’s ill-judged reliance on the Crown Prince and Saudi Arabia over the last three years was American policy towards the Shah and Iran in the years leading up to his overthrow in 1979. US humiliation was rubbed in when its diplomats were taken hostages in Tehran which torpedoed Carter’s hope of a second term in the White House.

There are striking and instructive parallels between US and British policy towards Iran in the lead up to the revolution and towards Saudi Arabia in 2015-18. In both periods, there was a self-destructive belief that an increasingly unstable hereditary monarchy was a safe bet as a regional ally as well as being a vastly profitable market for arms.

The Shah and MBS both promoted themselves as reformers, justifying their authoritarianism as necessary to drag their countries into the modern era. Foreign elites fawned on them, ignored their weaknesses, and were fixated by the mirage of fabulous profits. A British ambassador to Iran in the 1970s was said – I quote from memory – to have rebuked his embassy staff with the words: “I don’t want any more elegantly written reports about social conditions in Iranian villages. What I want is exports, exports, exports!”

Brexit has taken Britain off the world stage and it must be happy in future with whatever crumbs it can scrounge in Saudi Arabia or anywhere else. But Trump sounds very much like this long-forgotten ambassador when he justifies the US strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia by referring repeatedly to a $110bn in arms contract.

In practice, hereditary monarchies are at their most unstable during a leadership transition, attempts to reform, efforts to expand as regional powers or as initiators of war. In England, the pacific and cautious King James I was succeeded by his arrogant, arbitrary and incautious son, King Charles I, with unfortunate consequences for the monarchy.

Vulgar display was a feature of the Shah’s Iran 40 years ago as it is of Saudi Arabia today. In his case, there was the celebration of 2,500 years of the Persian Empire at Persepolis in 1971, which fed the ruling elites of the world with exotic delicacies such as 50 roast peacocks with tail feathers restored and stuffed with foie gras along quail eggs filled with caviar, which the Shah could not eat because he was allergic to caviar.

The Saudi equivalent to Persepolis is the much-publicised “Davos in the Desert” or, more prosaically, the “Future Investment Initiative” being held this week in Riyadh and from which politicians and businessmen have been very publicly dropping out as mystery over the disappearance of Khashoggi has deepened. Much of the media is treating their decision to stay at home as some sort of moral choice and never asks why these luminaries were happy to act as cheerleaders for Saudi Arabia in the same time the UN was warning that 13 million Yemenis are on the verge of starvation because of the Saudi-led military intervention.

It is no excuse for the Trump administration or the defecting guests in Riyadh to claim that they did not know about Saudi Arabia’s potential for random violence. As long ago as 2 December 2015, the German federal intelligence agency, the BND, published a memo predicting that “the current cautious diplomatic stance of senior members of the Saudi royal family will be replaced by an impulsive intervention policy.” It went on to say that the concentration of so much power in the hands of Prince Mohammed bin Salman “harbours a latent risk that …he may overreach.”

The memo was hurriedly withdrawn at the insistence of the German foreign ministry, but today it sounds prophetic about the direction in which Saudi Arabia was travelling and the dangers likely to ensue.

Trump has put a little more distance between himself and the Crown Prince in the past few days, but he makes no secret of his hope that the crisis in relations with Saudi Arabia will go away. “This one has caught the imagination of the world, unfortunately,” he says though he may believe he can shrug off this affair as he has done with so many other scandals.

ORDER IT NOW

Just for once, Trump’s highly developed survival instincts may be at fault. His close alliance with Saudi Arabia and escalating confrontation with Iran is the most radical new departure in Trump’s foreign policy. He withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in defiance of the rest of the world earlier this year on the grounds that he can extract more concessions from Iran by using American power alone than Barack Obama ever did by working in concert with other states. This struggle is so important because it is not just between the US and Iran but is the crucial test case of Trump’s version of American nationalism in action.

The White House evidently calculates that if it draws out the crisis by systematic delaying tactics, it will eventually disappear from the top of the news agenda. This is not a stupid strategy, but it may not work in present circumstances because the Saudi authorities are too inept – some would say too guilty – to produce a plausible cover story. The mystery of Khashoggi’s disappearance is too compelling for the media to abandon and give up the the chase for the culprits.

Above all, the anti-Trump portion of the US media and the Democrats smell political blood and sense that the Khashoggi affair is doing the sort of serious damage to the Trump presidency that never really happened with the Russian probe.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Donald Trump, Iran, Saudi Arabia 
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  1. It was not the arrogance of the Shah that led to his downfall, it was Western betrayal of the most base sort.

    There is a sufficient number of public interviews and speeches of the Shah from the early and mid seventies to be found that plausibly explain the motives of this betrayal.

    It seems the left has never bothered to wonder why the dog did not bark, so to speak.

    https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/nukevault/ebb268/

    • Replies: @orionyx
  2. Milton says:

    Trump’s downfall will be that he failed to act on the “America First” mandate that was given to him by voters in the Blue Wall States. These are the voters whose sons and daughters have been fighting and dying in the Middle East as part of Israel and Saudi Arabia’s American Mercenary Force. These voters believed Trump’s non-interventionist rhetoric during the campaign and are the people (not Russian agents) who gave Trump the Presidency against all odds. But Trump squandered that mandate almost as soon as he received it. The first indication that something was amiss was when Trump attacked Syria with cruise missiles in April, 2017. Ever since then, it has become steadily worse. The Mueller “investigation” is a diversion and distraction from the fact that Trump was and is Deep State to the core. He was the Snake he kept talking about during the campaign. He hasn’t fired Mueller (or refused to hire swamp creatures like Haley, Bolton, Pompeo, etc.) because he has been on the same side as Mueller and the Swamp from the beginning.

  3. Realist says:
    @Milton

    But Trump squandered that mandate almost as soon as he received it. The first indication that something was amiss was when Trump attacked Syria with cruise missiles in April, 2017. Ever since then, it has become steadily worse. The Mueller “investigation” is a diversion and distraction from the fact that Trump was and is Deep State to the core. He was the Snake he kept talking about during the campaign. He hasn’t fired Mueller (or refused to hire swamp creatures like Haley, Bolton, Pompeo, etc.) because he has been on the same side as Mueller and the Swamp from the beginning.

    Correct….plus….where’s the wall???

  4. Renoman says:

    Yis were horn swaggled! Trump is just a paper tiger. He lied to us all.

  5. Miro23 says:
    @Milton

    Trump’s downfall will be that he failed to act on the “America First” mandate that was given to him by voters in the Blue Wall States.

    Something in his favor is that he put a whole line of taboo subjects in the spotlight.

    Until he came along, the MSM & Polite Society wouldn’t touch immigration, and he challenged the neo-liberal “World is Flat” dogma of free flows of capital, open frontiers, out-sourcing and the “financialization” of everything.

    If he won’t run with it then I suppose that his base will find someone who will.

    • Replies: @Herald
  6. @Milton

    “He hasn’t fired Mueller (or refused to hire swamp creatures like Haley, Bolton, Pompeo, etc.) because he has been on the same side as Mueller and the Swamp from the beginning.”

    Remember all those JFK files Trump planned to declassify and release? He was probably shown a select few that would never have seen the light of day in any case that would make it clear at whose pleasure he was serving.

  7. user_s says:

    The media really has their finger on the pulse of the media with this one. No one else seems to care.

  8. orionyx says:
    @byrresheim

    This is the kind of idiotic excuse the South African apartheid regime used to explain political unrest: “It’s not our natives, it’s the Communist agitators stirring them up”.
    The Shah was an abomination in all respects. In his personal habits, he was a bully, a lecher, and a petty thief (as were his wives). The Iranians deserved far better than this pompous prat, grandson of a Cossack hetman, no Pahlevi whatever he said. That they got the ayatollahs instead just shows that the universe has a sense of irony.

    • Agree: Biff
  9. anon[368] • Disclaimer says:

    “Last night on i24 news, EJ Kimball, an Israel advocate at the Middle East Forum, suggested that Khashoggi deserved to die. The journalist’s “ties to al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood” raise “a whole lot of other issues” about the Saudi tradition of exporting terror, Kimball said. The much bigger picture, he said, is the new Saudi Arabia taking on Iran.

    Josh Block of the Israel Project made a similar allegation about Khashoggi two nights back. Pro-Al-Qaeda media are pushing the Khashoggi story, Block said, “because Khashoggi was a radical Islamist terrorist ally who was close to Osama Bin Ladin, ISIS, Hamas & wanted to overthrow the Saudi ruling royals, who oppose both the Sunni terrorists, sponsored by Turkey & Qatar, as well as Irans’s Shia terrorist armies & allies.”

    http://www.mondoweiss.net

    Trump is being asked to ignore Khassoghi in order to pursue the very policy a true American o
    shouldn’t .

  10. Sean says:

    https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/01/22/how-the-us-is-making-the-war-in-yemen-worse

    I don’t really see why Trump is in trouble. He has not started a war. Obama’s actions in Yemen did not hurt him, and Trump has done no more than Obama did to help the Saudi, who have been fighting in Yemen since the sixties off and on.

    Already made to look incompetent by the Yemen fiascoagainst Iranian subversion, MbS is going to sufferer a tremendous loss of prestige. Trump can save him by taking out Iran, which will please everyone.

    • Replies: @MEexpert
    , @Harold Smith
  11. Anon[538] • Disclaimer says:

    This seems more like wishful thinking by the author than any serious analysis. Comparing Bush and Blair going into Iraq to Trump half-assedly covering for MBS and the Saudis’ bad behavior–as Washington and the media no less have always done–is pretty disingenuous. In any event, of all the things that the American people care about, contrived hysterics from MSM over the Saudis murdering a journalist in Turkey is pretty far down the list. Pat Cockburn isn’t quite the journalist his brother was.

  12. “The mystery of Khashoggi’s disappearance is too compelling for the media to abandon and give up the the chase for the culprits.”

    I think the media may drop it like a hot potato if their globalist-Zionist masters tell them to.

  13. MEexpert says:
    @Sean

    Already made to look incompetent by the Yemen fiascoagainst Iranian subversion, MbS is going to sufferer a tremendous loss of prestige.

    What Iranian subversion? You can’t do independent thinking. With complete blockade of Yemen, how can Iran supply anything to Yemen? Even the verbal support to Houthis by Iran started after the US and Saudi Arabia started blaming Iran for the Yemeni war. Stop buying the MSM propaganda.

    • Replies: @Sean
  14. anon[128] • Disclaimer says:

    Trump and the Saudis can still come out of this smelling like roses. All they have to do is frame Khashoggi and the Muslim Brotherhood for 9/11 (and undo the frame of al Qaeda). Trump can spend the next two years gloating that Obama killed the wrong guy, and the Saudis can claim toughness on terror. Israel remains satisfied as long as there is a Muslim patsy.

  15. Sean says:
    @MEexpert

    https://www.foxnews.com/world/fleet-of-iranian-ships-heading-to-yemen-turns-around-after-being-tracked-by-us-warships

    The trouble in Yemen is all the work of the Houthy of the north who practice Shia Zaidism and traditionally dominated the army and police. They are no longer the majority, but to continue dominating the state they have resorted to force, and Iran is helping or trying to help them. Iran is just bringing its destruction forward by fomenting trouble and strife in an apparent attempt to Lebanonise the Middle East. All these problems can be solved by crushing Iran, and it will be a tremendous help for Trump domestically against the Jewish basis of the pro immigration lobby too. No one will be sorry to see Iran go, least of all Saudi Arabia.

  16. There were a few stories in the foreign press that the real “collusion” of the Trump government was a meeting in Lebanon well before the election between representatives of the Trump campaign with representatives of Netanyahu and MBS. And after the election, Trump has been incredibly fawning over those two powers. It would be an irony worthy of a Greek playwrite if Trump now fell due to his being two close to these people due to a pre-election deal trading support for his campaign with promises to do the bidding of the likes of MBS once in power.

  17. @Sean

    “I don’t really see why Trump is in trouble. He has not started a war.”

    That’s a red herring. The problem is that rather than pursue a non-interventionist foreign policy as per his campaign promises and pre-election intimations, he’s escalating the wars and continuing the aggressive “foreign policy” of his predecessors.

    Candidate Trump said: “I’d like to talk today about how to develop a new foreign policy direction for our country, one that replaces randomness with purpose, ideology with strategy, and chaos with peace.”

    Do you see Trump replacing “chaos” with “peace” anywhere? I don’t; I see see just the opposite.

    “It’s time to shake the rust off America’s foreign policy. It’s time to invite new voices and new visions into the fold, something we have to do. The direction I will outline today will also return us to a timeless principle. My foreign policy will always put the interests of the American people and American security above all else. It has to be first. Has to be.”

    Yet he surrounds himself with the likes of Haley, Bolton and Pompeo? Seriously? Is there anything more threatening to American security than risking planetary extinction for the sake of the immoral, illegal and unconstitutional pursuit of the jewish-supremacist agenda in the Mideast?

    “We desire to live peacefully and in friendship with Russia and China. We have serious differences with these two nations, and must regard them with open eyes, but we are not bound to be adversaries. We should seek common ground based on shared interests.”

    Yet from almost the day he was inaugurated he’s done nothing but make threats and needlessly provoke Russia and China.

    “Our goal is peace and prosperity, not war and destruction. The best way to achieve those goals is through a disciplined, deliberate and consistent foreign policy.”

    So he escalates in Afghanistan rather than withdraw; he increases the illegal, immoral and unconstitutional U.S. military footprint in Syria, committing war crimes there; he arms the Saudis and the rogue government in Ukraine, etc.

    “We want the world to be — we want to bring peace to the world. Too much destruction out there, too many destructive weapons. The power of weaponry is the single biggest problem that we have today in the world.”

    So he demands increases in military spending, continues the planned deployment of MK-41 missile launchers in Poland, refuses to sit down and negotiate in good faith the issue of intermediate range missiles with Russia, instead promising to withdraw from the INF treaty, etc.

    “Obama’s actions in Yemen did not hurt him, and Trump has done no more than Obama did to help the Saudi, who have been fighting in Yemen since the sixties off and on.”

    You can’t see that Trump is leading the world to WW3?

    • Replies: @George F. Held
  18. @Harold Smith

    Yes, we have many reasons to be disappointed in Trump and in democracy…

  19. Ahoy says:

    @ Harold Smith
    You are correct in stating Tramp’s pre-election goals. Also the signs are that he is walking a path away from promises made. If that is his mission to deceive the PATRIOT AMERICANS who beleive in a true Republic, then we are faced with the dire fact that he is another phony President and Deep State himself and we are screwed, caput and out as the saying goes. In the video he gives it to us explicitly.

    On the other hand things may not be as they seem. Tramp could be acting like this because he wants to avoid to be thrown under the bus like Kennedy. True the Boltons and Pompeos follow a policy of “My way or no way” and lets push the button and send the planet to hell. The only thing is, that this kind of order has to go through some very high Army guys and I hope there will be someone there with sane mind to show them the middle fingure and save AMERICA and the whole world.

  20. “Tramp could be acting like this because he wants to avoid to be thrown under the bus like Kennedy.”

    Lots of people seem to have that idea (or at least claim to have it); i.e., Trump’s a good man with good intentions who ran a sincere campaign openly defiant of the “deep state” – but who subsequently came to the stark realization that if he doesn’t become “Obama on steroids” and risk planetary extinction for the sake of the jewish-supremacist agenda, they’ll deploy a “lone nut” against him.

    Yet Mr. Trump sure seemed fearless during the campaign, didn’t he? Even with Alex Jones, Paul Craig Roberts et al. telling the whole world that his life was in danger, the man didn’t so much as flinch. He didn’t hesitate to speak truth to power. It seems odd to me that he didn’t become such a sniveling coward until after the election.

    And I have to wonder: Why didn’t the “deep state” take him out before the election? It seems they took quite a risk letting an avowed, determined, apparently fearless enemy be sworn into the highest political office in the land, right? They didn’t let RFK get anywhere near the office of president. They scared Ross Perot away. How did the “deep state” know in advance that he would turn out to be such an easily manipulable coward? How did they know he wouldn’t threaten them with investigations into TWA Flt. 800, 9/11, anthrax affair, Sandy Hook, Boston marathon bombing, etc., etc., etc.? How did they know he wouldn’t quickly pull out of Syria or make peace with Russia, or appeal to the people, etc.?

    Failing everything else why wouldn’t he simply resign rather than become an instrumentality of everything he campaigned against?

    Finally I have trouble with the implication that Mr. Trump is only afraid of what the “deep state” might do to him, and not what nuclear war would do to him (and his family and his assets).

    In light of everything, I have to dismiss the latent coward theory. The only plausible explanation, IMO, is that Mr. Trump’s a “deep state” agent whose whole campaign was a calculated bait-and-switch fraud from the beginning.

  21. Anonymous[799] • Disclaimer says:

    Trump Derangement Syndrome from a snowflake Democrat-voting NPC, again. “Orange man bad.” lol

    • Replies: @Harold Smith
  22. Franz says:

    The only plausible explanation, IMO, is that Mr. Trump’s a “deep state” agent whose whole campaign was a calculated bait-and-switch fraud from the beginning.

    You got it.

    Also, Linh Dinh got it on September 24, 2016 right here at Unz.com:

    “…More personable Bernie Sanders was nixed by the deep state since it had another jester in mind…Come November, though, Trump will be installed because his constituency needs to be temporarily pacified. The deep state knows that white people are pissed.”

    I’m impressed with precognition, of course. But I must admit that it didn’t take all that much.

    The USA was ripe for another Hollywood President, and that’s what we got. (Gordon Duff goes Linh Dihn one further, and says Trump did it all because he’s flat broke… interesting if true.)

    • Replies: @Harold Smith
  23. @Franz

    I think the political ascendancy of Mr. Trump reflects pure “deep state” desperation. He’s their last gasp; their last shot at world domination and control, IMO. I believe it’s Mr. Trump’s mission to present ultimata to Russia and China on behalf of his jewish-supremacist masters.

    I believe that the move of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is very important symbolism; sort of a formal “coming out” ceremony, intended to unambiguously show the world just who it is that’s running the U.S. “government’ and making the demands.

    I hope I’m wrong but I believe that Mr. Trump will start WW3 for his masters.

  24. @Anonymous

    “Trump Derangement Syndrome from a snowflake Democrat-voting NPC, again. ‘Orange man bad.’ lol”

    I appreciate your candor, but this sounds like a subject more appropriately broached at your next visit with your mental health care provider, rather than on a public internet forum.

  25. Bianca says:

    Yes, but thise that sought Trump’s downfalll in collusion story with Russia are the same ones that need Saudi Arabia the most. So, going seriously after Trump may be short term tempting, but the loss of Saudi Arabia to Israel is catastrophic. With not even a fig leaf of an ally against Iran — or anyone else in the region, things can look bleek.

    You can look st this affair from two perspective. Either Saudi establishment did it, or the spooks linked to the ousted Crown Prince Nayaf, that many our elites still cannot get over. In the first case, Saudis wanted a rift, in order to have space and extracate themselves from sime tight spots. Iran, Yemen, oil, overreliance on US defence, China oul sales, Syria. Or if this is a sabotage of Saudi Davos, and monarchy, then Saudis will take a serious turn away from US — as the opposition to the new Crown Prince took a deadly turn. The whole story if reckless young Prince was concocted in our media, as he inherited all the problems from Nayaf — whom we lraised to heaven. Congress is joking they want end to Yemen war, when without US the war would have ended long time ago. Either scenario — the crisis will not end soon

    • Replies: @Harold Smith
  26. Bianca says:

    Which does not mean necessarily damage to Trump — some damage may be, but massive damage to Trump’s opponents who pushed Trump full neocon u-turn on all of his Mid-East election promises. Now, while he will just look like a deluded businessman, nekcins are losing potentially the lynchpin of their entire Mid-East outside-in strategy. They must be desparate to portray this as Iran’s or Putin’s fault, but Turkey saw to this that the plot to kill Kashoggi is FIRMLY planted in Saudi cosulate soil, may be litteraly.

  27. anastasia says:

    Very hard to stay behind Trump with his foreign policy. Very hard.

  28. Mr. Grey says:

    I value Patrick Coburn’s reporting on the middle east, but what President has been ruined by the Middle East, other than maybe Jimmy Carter losing his re-election by his failure to bring home the hostages? George W. Bush served 8 years, Obama let ISIS flourish, destroyed Libya, and still served two terms. Even Carter has led a very successful post-presidential life.

  29. @Bianca

    “Yes, but thise (sic) that sought Trump’s downfalll (sic) in collusion story with Russia are the same ones that need Saudi Arabia the most.”

    Nobody is seeking Trump’s “downfall.”

  30. Precious says:
    @Milton

    But Trump squandered that mandate almost as soon as he received it. The first indication that something was amiss was when Trump attacked Syria with cruise missiles in April, 2017. Ever since then, it has become steadily worse.

    The last sentence is where your argument goes off the rails. The first and last indication that something was amiss was when Trump attacked the base in Syria in April 2017. But now we understand why he did it…to establish he would be willing to use military force if necessary.

    I didn’t like it, but now we see that he isn’t a fool like Bush to get bogged down in a war he can’t win. Since then, he has shown remarkable restraint in using the military, and that is now paying off for Americans and the globe in places like Korea(formerly known as North and South).

    The rest of your argument after my citation is completely incoherent, because it doesn’t describe reality in the slightest. Mueller was a threat at one time, and now that threat has been neutralized. Trump is letting Congress expose the Deep State operations there while Trump focuses on MAGA.

  31. Herald says:
    @Miro23

    “If he won’t run with it then I suppose that his base will find someone who will.” It will be too late next time around, no one will take claims of clearing the swamp at all seriously. Trump miraculously had the mandate but blew it, and his knees appeared to buckle at the first sign of resistance from the swamp creatures. More realistically, Trump just lied his way to the presidency and he never had the slightest intention of ever leaving the swamp, where he has spent his entire life.

    • Replies: @Miro23
    , @Precious
  32. Miro23 says:
    @Herald

    “If he won’t run with it then I suppose that his base will find someone who will.”

    It will be too late next time around, no one will take claims of clearing the swamp at all seriously. Trump miraculously had the mandate but blew it, and his knees appeared to buckle at the first sign of resistance from the swamp creatures. More realistically, Trump just lied his way to the presidency and he never had the slightest intention of ever leaving the swamp, where he has spent his entire life.

    Yes, the real problem is that US Democracy doesn’t work anymore.

    Washington has been completely captured by special interests and the United States is run for their exclusive benefit. The proof is record breaking US economic inequality with a tiny 0,1% elite holding more wealth than the British or Russian aristocracies at the height of their power.

    The result will probably be Weimar style instability. The previously prosperous German middle class lost everything in the hyperinflation of the early 1920′s, and were radicalized while they watched the elite appropriate whole swathes of industry and city centre real estate.

  33. Precious says:
    @Herald

    It will be too late next time around, no one will take claims of clearing the swamp at all seriously. Trump miraculously had the mandate but blew it, and his knees appeared to buckle at the first sign of resistance from the swamp creatures.

    Short of relocating the capital of the United States to Indianapolis and just hiring locals to replace all of the bureaucracy, draining the swamp is a multi-decade process.

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