Obama’s Strategy and The Summits

Written by AboKevin on . Posted in Barack Obama, Geopolitics, Uncategorized, United States

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This article courtesy of Stratfor. Published on April 6, 2009.


Graphic for Geopolitical Intelligence Report

By George Friedman

Related Special Topic Page

· A World Redefined: The Global Summits

The weeklong extravaganza of G-20, NATO, EU, U.S. and Turkey meetings has almost ended. The spin emerging from the meetings, echoed in most of the media, sought to portray the meetings as a success and as reflecting a re-emergence of trans-Atlantic unity.

The reality, however, is that the meetings ended in apparent unity because the United States accepted European unwillingness to compromise on key issues. U.S. President Barack Obama wanted the week to appear successful, and therefore backed off on key issues; the Europeans did the same. Moreover, Obama appears to have set a process in motion that bypasses Europe to focus on his last stop: Turkey.

Berlin, Washington and the G-20

Let’s begin with the G-20 meeting, which focused on the global financial crisis. As we said last year, there were many European positions, but the United States was reacting to Germany’s. Not only is Germany the largest economy in Europe, it is the largest exporter in the world. Any agreement that did not include Germany would be useless, whereas an agreement excluding the rest of Europe but including Germany would still be useful.

Two fundamental issues divided the United States and Germany. The first was whether Germany would match or come close to the U.S. stimulus package. The United States wanted Germany to stimulate its own domestic demand. Obama feared that if the United States put a stimulus plan into place, Germany would use increased demand in the U.S. market to expand its exports. The United States would wind up with massive deficits while the Germans took advantage of U.S. spending, thus letting Berlin enjoy the best of both worlds. Washington felt it had to stimulate its economy, and that this would inevitably benefit the rest of the world. But Washington wanted burden sharing. Berlin, quite rationally, did not. Even before the meetings, the United States dropped the demand — Germany was not going to cooperate.

The second issue was the financing of the bailout of the Central European banking system, heavily controlled by eurozone banks and part of the EU financial system. The Germans did not want an EU effort to bail out the banks. They wanted the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to bail out a substantial part of the EU financial system instead. The reason was simple: The IMF receives loans from the United States, as well as China and Japan, meaning the Europeans would be joined by others in underwriting the bailout. The United States has signaled it would be willing to contribute $100 billion to the IMF, of which a substantial portion would go to Central Europe. (Of the current loans given by the IMF, roughly 80 percent have gone to the struggling economies in Central Europe.) The United States therefore essentially has agreed to the German position.

Later at the NATO meeting, the Europeans — including Germany — declined to send substantial forces to Afghanistan. Instead, they designated a token force of 5,000, most of whom are scheduled to be in Afghanistan only until the August elections there, and few of whom actually would be engaged in combat operations. This is far below what Obama had been hoping for when he began his presidency.

Agreement was reached on collaboration in detecting international tax fraud and on further collaboration in managing the international crisis, however. But what that means remains extremely vague — as it was meant to be, since there was no consensus on what was to be done. In fact, the actual guidelines will still have to be hashed out at the G-20 finance ministers’ meeting in Scotland in November. Intriguingly, after insisting on the creation of a global regulatory regime — and with the vague U.S. assent — the European Union failed to agree on European regulations. In a meeting in Prague on April 4, the United Kingdom rejected the regulatory regime being proposed by Germany and France, saying it would leave the British banking system at a disadvantage.

Overall, the G-20 and the NATO meetings did not produce significant breakthroughs. Rather than pushing hard on issues or trading concessions — such as accepting Germany’s unwillingness to increase its stimulus package in return for more troops in Afghanistan — the United States failed to press or bargain. It preferred to appear as part of a consensus rather than appear isolated. The United States systematically avoided any appearance of disagreement.

The reason there was no bargaining was fairly simple: The Germans were not prepared to bargain. They came to the meetings with prepared positions, and the United States had no levers with which to move them. The only option was to withhold funding for the IMF, and that would have been a political disaster (not to mention economically rather unwise). The United States would have been seen as unwilling to participate in multilateral solutions rather than Germany being seen as trying to foist its economic problems on others. Obama has positioned himself as a multilateralist and can’t afford the political consequences of deviating from this perception. Contributing to the IMF, in these days of trillion-dollar bailouts, was the lower-cost alternative. Thus, the Germans have the U.S. boxed in.

The political aspect of this should not be underestimated. George W. Bush had extremely bad relations with the Europeans (in large part because he was prepared to confront them). This was Obama’s first major international foray, and he could not let it end in acrimony or wind up being seen as unable to move the Europeans after running a campaign based on his ability to manage the Western coalition. It was important that he come home having reached consensus with the Europeans. Backing off on key economic and military demands gave him that “consensus.”

Turkey and Obama’s Deeper Game

But it was not simply a matter of domestic politics. It is becoming clear that Obama is playing a deeper game. A couple of weeks before the meetings, when it had become obvious that the Europeans were not going to bend on the issues that concerned the United States, Obama scheduled a trip to Turkey. During the EU meetings in Prague, Obama vigorously supported the Turkish application for EU membership, which several members are blocking on grounds of concerns over human rights and the role of the military in Turkey. But the real reason is that full membership would open European borders to Turkish migration, and the Europeans do not want free Turkish migration. The United States directly confronted the Europeans on this matter.

During the NATO meeting, a key item on the agenda was the selection of a new alliance secretary-general. The favorite was former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Turkey opposed his candidacy because of his defense on grounds of free speech of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed published in a Danish magazine. NATO operates on consensus, so any one member can block just about anything. The Turks backed off the veto, but won two key positions in NATO, including that of deputy secretary-general.

So while the Germans won their way at the meetings, it was the Turks who came back with the most. Not only did they boost their standing in NATO, they got Obama to come to a vigorous defense of the Turkish application for membership in the European Union, which of course the United States does not belong to. Obama then flew to Turkey for meetings and to attend a key international meeting that will allow him to further position the United States in relation to Islam.

The Russian Dimension

Let’s diverge to another dimension of these talks, which still concerns Turkey, but also concerns the Russians. While atmospherics after the last week’s meetings might have improved, there was certainly no fundamental shift in U.S.-Russian relations. The Russians have rejected the idea of pressuring Iran over its nuclear program in return for the United States abandoning its planned ballistic missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. The United States simultaneously downplayed the importance of a Russian route to Afghanistan. Washington said there were sufficient supplies in Afghanistan and enough security on the Pakistani route such that the Russians weren’t essential for supplying Western operations in Afghanistan. At the same time, the United States reached an agreement with Ukraine for the transshipment of supplies — a mostly symbolic gesture, but one guaranteed to infuriate the Russians at both the United States and Ukraine. Moreover, the NATO communique did not abandon the idea of Ukraine and Georgia being admitted to NATO, although the German position on unspecified delays to such membership was there as well. When Obama looks at the chessboard, the key emerging challenge remains Russia.

The Germans are not going to be joining the United States in blocking Russia. Between dependence on Russia for energy supplies and little appetite for confronting a Russia that Berlin sees as no real immediate threat to Germany, the Germans are not going to address the Russian question. At the same time, the United States does not want to push the Germans toward Russia, particularly in confrontations ultimately of secondary importance and on which Germany has no give anyway. Obama is aware that the German left is viscerally anti-American, while Merkel is only pragmatically anti-American — a small distinction, but significant enough for Washington not to press Berlin.

At the same time, an extremely important event between Turkey and Armenia looks to be on the horizon. Armenians had long held Turkey responsible for the mass murder of Armenians during and after World War I, a charge the Turks have denied. The U.S. Congress for several years has threatened to pass a resolution condemning Turkish genocide against Armenians. The Turks are extraordinarily sensitive to this charge, and passage would have meant a break with the United States. Last week, they publicly began to discuss an agreement with the Armenians, including diplomatic recognition, which essentially disarms the danger from any U.S. resolution on genocide. Although an actual agreement hasn’t been signed just yet, anticipation is building on all sides.

The Turkish opening to Armenia has potentially significant implications for the balance of power in the Caucasus. The August 2008 Russo-Georgian war created an unstable situation in an area of vital importance to Russia. Russian troops remain deployed, and NATO has called for their withdrawal from the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. There are Russian troops in Armenia, meaning Russia has Georgia surrounded. In addition, there is talk of an alternative natural gas pipeline network from Azerbaijan to Europe.

Turkey is the key to all of this. If Ankara collaborates with Russia, Georgia’s position is precarious and Azerbaijan’s route to Europe is blocked. If it cooperates with the United States and also manages to reach a stable treaty with Armenia under U.S. auspices, the Russian position in the Caucasus is weakened and an alternative route for natural gas to Europe opens up, decreasing Russian leverage against Europe.

From the American point of view, Europe is a lost cause since internally it cannot find a common position and its heavyweights are bound by their relationship with Russia. It cannot agree on economic policy, nor do its economic interests coincide with those of the United States, at least insofar as Germany is concerned. As far as Russia is concerned, Germany and Europe are locked in by their dependence on Russian natural gas. The U.S.-European relationship thus is torn apart not by personalities, but by fundamental economic and military realities. No amount of talking will solve that problem.

The key to sustaining the U.S.-German alliance is reducing Germany’s dependence on Russian natural gas and putting Russia on the defensive rather than the offensive. The key to that now is Turkey, since it is one of the only routes energy from new sources can cross to get to Europe from the Middle East, Central Asia or the Caucasus. If Turkey — which has deep influence in the Caucasus, Central Asia, Ukraine, the Middle East and the Balkans — is prepared to ally with the United States, Russia is on the defensive and a long-term solution to Germany’s energy problem can be found. On the other hand, if Turkey decides to take a defensive position and moves to cooperate with Russia instead, Russia retains the initiative and Germany is locked into Russian-controlled energy for a generation.

Therefore, having sat through fruitless meetings with the Europeans, Obama chose not to cause a pointless confrontation with a Europe that is out of options. Instead, Obama completed his trip by going to Turkey to discuss what the treaty with Armenia means and to try to convince the Turks to play for high stakes by challenging Russia in the Caucasus, rather than playing Russia’s junior partner.

This is why Obama’s most important speech in Europe was his last one, following Turkey’s emergence as a major player in NATO’s political structure. In that speech, he sided with the Turks against Europe, and extracted some minor concessions from the Europeans on the process for considering Turkey’s accession to the European Union. Why Turkey wants to be an EU member is not always obvious to us, but they do want membership. Obama is trying to show the Turks that he can deliver for them. He reiterated — if not laid it on even more heavily — all of this in his speech in Ankara. Obama laid out the U.S. position as one that recognized the tough geopolitical position Turkey is in and the leader that Turkey is becoming, and also recognized the commonalities between Washington and Ankara. This was exactly what Turkey wanted to hear.

The Caucasus is far from the only area to discuss. Talks will be held about blocking Iran in Iraq, U.S. relations with Syria and Syrian talks with Israel, and Central Asia, where both countries have interests. But the most important message to the Europeans will be that Europe is where you go for photo opportunities, but Turkey is where you go to do the business of geopolitics. It is unlikely that the Germans and French will get it. Their sense of what is happening in the world is utterly Eurocentric. But the Central Europeans, on the frontier with Russia and feeling quite put out by the German position on their banks, certainly do get it.

Obama gave the Europeans a pass for political reasons, and because arguing with the Europeans simply won’t yield benefits. But the key to the trip is what he gets out of Turkey — and whether in his speech to the civilizations, he can draw some of the venom out of the Islamic world by showing alignment with the largest economy among Muslim states, Turkey.

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Obama Enters the Great Game

Written by AboKevin on . Posted in Barack Obama, Foreign policy, Geopolitics, United States

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George Friedman, founder of Stratfor pubslished this article on www.stratfor.com last week. Courtesy of stratfor.com I offer it up for reading on my blog. Interesting read and well worth it:

Obama Enters the Great Game

January 19, 2009 | 1942 GMT

Graphic for Geopolitical Intelligence Report

By George Friedman

Related Special Topic Page

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama will be sworn in on Tuesday as president of the United States. Candidate Obama said much about what he would do as president; now we will see what President Obama actually does. The most important issue Obama will face will be the economy, something he did not anticipate through most of his campaign. The first hundred days of his presidency thus will revolve around getting a stimulus package passed. But Obama also is now in the great game of global competition — and in that game, presidents rarely get to set the agenda.

The major challenge he faces is not Gaza; the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is not one any U.S. president intervenes in unless he wants to experience pain. As we have explained, that is an intractable conflict to which there is no real solution. Certainly, Obama will fight being drawn into mediating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during his first hundred days in office. He undoubtedly will send the obligatory Middle East envoy, who will spend time with all the parties, make suitable speeches and extract meaningless concessions from all sides. This envoy will establish some sort of process to which everyone will cynically commit, knowing it will go nowhere. Such a mission is not involvement — it is the alternative to involvement, and the reason presidents appoint Middle East envoys. Obama can avoid the Gaza crisis, and he will do so.

Obama’s Two Unavoidable Crises

The two crises that cannot be avoided are Afghanistan and Russia. First, the situation in Afghanistan is tenuous for a number of reasons, and it is not a crisis that Obama can avoid decisions on. Obama has said publicly that he will decrease his commitments in Iraq and increase them in Afghanistan. He thus will have more troops fighting in Afghanistan. The second crisis emerged from a decision by Russia to cut off natural gas to Ukraine, and the resulting decline in natural gas deliveries to Europe. This one obviously does not affect the United States directly, but even after flows are restored, it affects the Europeans greatly. Obama therefore comes into office with three interlocking issues: Afghanistan, Russia and Europe. In one sense, this is a single issue — and it is not one that will wait.

Obama clearly intends to follow Gen. David Petraeus’ lead in Afghanistan. The intention is to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan, thereby intensifying pressure on the Taliban and opening the door for negotiations with the militant group or one of its factions. Ultimately, this would see the inclusion of the Taliban or Taliban elements in a coalition government. Petraeus pursued this strategy in Iraq with Sunni insurgents, and it is the likely strategy in Afghanistan.

But the situation in Afghanistan has been complicated by the situation in Pakistan. Roughly three-quarters of U.S. and NATO supplies bound for Afghanistan are delivered to the Pakistani port of Karachi and trucked over the border to Afghanistan. Most fuel used by Western forces in Afghanistan is refined in Pakistan and delivered via the same route. There are two crossing points, one near Afghanistan’s Kandahar province at Chaman, Pakistan, and the other through the Khyber Pass. The Taliban have attacked Western supply depots and convoys, and Pakistan itself closed the routes for several days, citing government operations against radical Islamist forces.

Meanwhile, the situation in Pakistan has been complicated by tensions with India. The Indians have said that the individuals who carried out the Nov. 26 Mumbai attack were Pakistanis supported by elements in the Pakistani government. After Mumbai, India made demands of the Pakistanis. While the situation appears to have calmed, the future of Indo-Pakistani relations remains far from clear; anything from a change of policy in New Delhi to new terrorist attacks could see the situation escalate. The Pakistanis have made it clear that a heightened threat from India requires them to shift troops away from the Afghan border and toward the east; a small number of troops already has been shifted.

Apart from the direct impact this kind of Pakistani troop withdrawal would have on cross-border operations by the Taliban, such a move also would dramatically increase the vulnerability of NATO supply lines through Pakistan. Some supplies could be shipped in by aircraft, but the vast bulk of supplies — petroleum, ammunition, etc. — must come in via surface transit, either by truck, rail or ship. Western operations in Afghanistan simply cannot be supplied from the air alone. A cutoff of the supply lines across Pakistan would thus leave U.S. troops in Afghanistan in crisis. Because Washington can’t predict or control the future actions of Pakistan, of India or of terrorists, the United States must find an alternative to the routes through Pakistan.

When we look at a map, the two routes through Pakistan from Karachi are clearly the most logical to use. If those were closed — or even meaningfully degraded — the only other viable routes would be through the former Soviet Union.

  • One route, along which a light load of fuel is currently transported, crosses the Caspian Sea. Fuel refined in Azerbaijan is ferried across the Caspian to Turkmenistan (where a small amount of fuel is also refined), then shipped across Turkmenistan directly to Afghanistan and through a small spit of land in Uzbekistan. This route could be expanded to reach either the Black Sea through Georgia or the Mediterranean through Georgia and Turkey (though the additional use of Turkey would require a rail gauge switch). It is also not clear that transports native to the Caspian have sufficient capacity for this.
  • Another route sidesteps the issues of both transport across the Caspian and the sensitivity of Georgia by cross
    ing Russian territory above the Caspian. Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan (and likely at least a small corner of Turkmenistan) would connect the route to Afghanistan. There are options of connecting to the Black Sea or transiting to Europe through either Ukraine or Belarus.
  • Iran could provide a potential alternative, but relations between Tehran and Washington would have to improve dramatically before such discussions could even begin — and time is short.

Many of the details still need to be worked out. But they are largely variations on the two main themes of either crossing the Caspian or transiting Russian territory above it.

Though the first route is already partially established for fuel, it is not clear how much additional capacity exists. To complicate matters further, Turkmen acquiescence is unlikely without Russian authorization, and Armenia remains strongly loyal to Moscow as well. While the current Georgian government might leap at the chance, the issue is obviously an extremely sensitive one for Moscow. (And with Russian forces positioned in Armenia and the Georgian breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Moscow has troops looming over both sides of the vulnerable route across Georgia.) The second option would require crossing Russian territory itself, with a number of options — from connecting to the Black Sea to transiting either Ukraine or Belarus to Europe, or connecting to the Baltic states.

Map-Afghanistan-Logistics

(click image to enlarge)

Both routes involve countries of importance to Russia where Moscow has influence, regardless of whether those countries are friendly to it. This would give Russia ample opportunity to scuttle any such supply line at multiple points for reasons wholly unrelated to Afghanistan.

If the West were to opt for the first route, the Russians almost certainly would pressure Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan not to cooperate, and Turkey would find itself in a position it doesn’t want to be in — namely, caught between the United States and Russia. The diplomatic complexities of developing these routes not only involve the individual countries included, they also inevitably lead to the question of U.S.-Russian relations.

Even without crossing Russia, both of these two main options require Russian cooperation. The United States must develop the option of an alternative supply route to Pakistan, and in doing so, it must define its relationship with Russia. Seeking to work without Russian approval of a route crossing its “near abroad” will represent a challenge to Russia. But getting Russian approval will require a U.S. accommodation with the country.

The Russian Natural Gas Connection

One of Obama’s core arguments against the Bush administration was that it acted unilaterally rather than with allies. Specifically, Obama meant that the Bush administration alienated the Europeans, therefore failing to build a sustainable coalition for the war. By this logic, it follows that one of Obama’s first steps should be to reach out to Europe to help influence or pressure the Russians, given that NATO has troops in Afghanistan and Obama has said he intends to ask the Europeans for more help there.

The problem with this is that the Europeans are passing through a serious crisis with Russia, and that Germany in particular is involved in trying to manage that crisis. This problem relates to natural gas. Ukraine is dependent on Russia for about two-thirds of the natural gas it uses. The Russians traditionally have provided natural gas at a deep discount to former Soviet republics, primarily those countries Russia sees as allies, such as Belarus or Armenia. Ukraine had received discounted natural gas, too, until the 2004 Orange Revolution, when a pro-Western government came to power in Kiev. At that point, the Russians began demanding full payment. Given the subsequent rises in global energy prices, that left Ukraine in a terrible situation — which of course is exactly where Moscow wanted it.

The Russians cut off natural gas to Ukraine for a short period in January 2006, and for three weeks in 2009. Apart from leaving Ukraine desperate, the cutoff immediately affected the rest of Europe, because the natural gas that goes to Europe flows through Ukraine. This put the rest of Europe in a dangerous position, particularly in the face of bitterly cold weather in 2008-2009.

The Russians achieved several goals with this. First, they pressured Ukraine directly. Second, they forced many European states to deal with Moscow directly rather than through the European Union. Third, they created a situation in which European countries had to choose between supporting Ukraine and heating their own homes. And last, they drew Berlin in particular — since Germany is the most dependent of the major European states on Russian natural gas — into the position of working with the Russians to get Ukraine to agree to their terms. (Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin visited Germany last week to discuss this directly with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.)

The Germans already have made clear their opposition to expanding NATO to Ukraine and Georgia. Given their dependency on the Russians, the Germans are not going to be supporting the United States if Washington decides to challenge Russia over the supply route issue. In fact, the Germans — and many of the Europeans — are in no position to challenge Russia on anything, least of all on Afghanistan. Overall, the Europeans see themselves as having limited interests in the Afghan war, and many already are planning to reduce or withdraw troops for budgetary reasons.

It is therefore very difficult to see Obama recruiting the Europeans in any useful manner for a confrontation with Russia over access for American supplies to Afghanistan. Yet this is an issue he will have to address immediately.

The Price of Russian Cooperation

The Russians are prepared to help the Americans, however — and it is clear what they will want in return.

At minimum, Moscow will want a declaration that Washington will not press for the expansion of NATO to Georgia or Ukraine, or for the deployment of military forces in non-NATO states on the Russian periphery — specifically, Ukraine and Georgia. At this point, such a declaration would be symbolic, since Germany and other European countries would block expansion anyway.

The Russians might also demand some sort of guarantee that NATO and the United States not place any large military formations or build any major military facilities in the former Soviet republics (now NATO member states) of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. (A small rotating squadron of NATO fighters already patrols the skies over the Baltic states.) Given that there were intense anti-government riots in Latvia and Lithuania last week, the stability of these countries is in question. The Russians would certainly want to topple the pro-Western Baltic governments. And anything appr
oaching a formal agreement between Russia and the United States on the matter could quickly destabilize the Baltics, in addition to very much weakening the NATO alliance.

Another demand the Russians probably will make — because they have in the past — is that the United States guarantee eventual withdrawal from any bases in Central Asia in return for Russian support for using those bases for the current Afghan campaign. (At present, the United States runs air logistics operations out of Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan.) The Russians do not want to see Central Asia become a U.S. sphere of influence as the result of an American military presence.

Other demands might relate to the proposed U.S. ballistic missile defense installations in the Czech Republic and Poland.

We expect the Russians to make variations on all these demands in exchange for cooperation in creating a supply line to Afghanistan. Simply put, the Russians will demand that the United States acknowledge a Russian sphere of influence in the former Soviet Union. The Americans will not want to concede this — or at least will want to make it implicit rather than explicit. But the Russians will want this explicit, because an explicit guarantee will create a crisis of confidence over U.S. guarantees in the countries that emerged from the Soviet Union, serving as a lever to draw these countries into the Russian orbit. U.S. acquiescence on the point potentially would have ripple effects in the rest of Europe, too.

Therefore, regardless of the global financial crisis, Obama has an immediate problem on his hands in Afghanistan. He has troops fighting there, and they must be supplied. The Pakistani supply line is no longer a sure thing. The only other options either directly challenge Russia (and ineffectively at that) or require Russian help. Russia’s price will be high, particularly because Washington’s European allies will not back a challenge to Russia in Georgia, and all options require Russian cooperation anyway. Obama’s plan to recruit the Europeans on behalf of American initiatives won’t work in this case. Obama does not want to start his administration with making a massive concession to Russia, but he cannot afford to leave U.S. forces in Afghanistan without supplies. He can hope that nothing happens in Pakistan, but that is up to the Taliban and other Islamist groups more than anyone else — and betting on their goodwill is not a good idea.

Whatever Obama is planning to do, he will have to deal with this problem fast, before Afghanistan becomes a crisis. And there are no good solutions. But unlike with the Israelis and Palestinians, Obama can’t solve this by sending a special envoy who appears to be doing something. He will have to make a very tough decision. Between the economy and this crisis, we will find out what kind of president Obama is.

And we will find out very soon.

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