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Obama’s Libyan Quandary

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Posted on Mar 18, 2011
White House / Pete Souza

President Obama throws down the gauntlet, kind of, in his speech about Libya on Friday at the White House.

By Stanley Kutler

Onward ride the old familiar horses of colonialism. France and Britain have enthusiastically endorsed the U.N. resolution calling for a “no-fly zone” over Libya. Within hours of the vote both countries announced that their planes were at the ready. British Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament that Britain had deployed warplanes, along with aerial refueling and surveillance aircraft. “To pass a resolution like this and they just stand back and hope someone in the region would enforce it is wrong,” Cameron said (emphasis added).

The United States, a relative newcomer to Western imperialism, seemed more hesitant, more reluctant, but nevertheless endorsed the resolution. The U.S. indicated its support for the air operations and offered the usual complement of 400 Marines offshore. Perhaps the Pentagon is eager to give new life to the Marines’ hymn and have the Marines return to “the shores of Tripoli.” Italy, the old colonial master of Libya, has been strangely silent, undoubtedly because Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is preoccupied with other things.

U.N. intervention has come when Libyan rebels apparently are on the verge of collapse. Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi had threatened to invade Benghazi, “closet by closet” to find and kill the rebels. But shortly after the U.N. vote the Libyan foreign minister declared “an immediate cease-fire” in “all military operations” against the rebels—an announcement which Prime Minister Cameron scornfully dismissed. Why are these Western nations so determined to impose their hand and footprints on Libya? Could the prize be the all-too-familiar one of oil?

The Libyan rebellion, part of a general Arab uprising against despotic regimes, naturally should be welcomed, particularly by the United States and its “democratic, anti-colonial” tradition. But Gadhafi’s regime has enormous power and resources to quash the disparate, poorly armed rebels, and it is unlikely that a no-fly resolution will succeed in stopping him from brutalizing his own people.

The heavy patrolling and bombing over Bosnia and Serbia in the 1990s did nothing to prevent the massacre at Srebenica and other places. Even more significant, and strangely absent from commentary now, is the destruction the U.S. and its allies visited upon Iraq, also in the 1990s, in a futile attempt to bring down Saddam Hussein. What we destroyed instead was much of the professional and middle classes in Iraq. That nation’s medical delivery system,  arguably the best in the Arab region, was destroyed and denied to the Iraqi people by coalition attack. The military tactics combined with heavily enforced sanctions shattered the Iraqi infrastructure and economy, and the invasion in 2003 only visited further disaster on what was a shell of a nation.


Square, Site wide
Recent events raised the possibility of an alternative, although probably not to the liking of David Cameron. On March 14, the Arab League called for imposing a no-fly zone over Libya. What welcome, but largely overlooked, news. Remembering the political adage “watch their feet, not their mouths,” we know there is no substance to the Arab League position. What the Arabs really were asking is that the United States, now the world’s foremost mercenary, do something about their despised Arab colleague, and perhaps incidentally aid the Libyan rebels. 

The Arab League behaved as a mouthpiece for the seemingly discredited Paul Wolfowitz and his band of merry neocons (the Arab League and Wolfowitz—there is irony for you!), now anxious to wade into Libya with guns blazing and with what available troops, ordinance and airplanes can be mustered. For them, the march for empire is inevitable, inexorable and withal indubitably beneficial to us and the world. Wolfowitz defies F. Scott Fitzgerald’s dictum, as unfortunately there are bad second acts in American life.

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Robert's avatar

By Robert, March 19, 2011 at 5:12 pm Link to this comment

First it was Saddam. Then Gaddafi.

Now there’s a vacancy for the West’s favourite crackpot tyrant

Gaddafi is completely bonkers, a crackpot on the level of Ahmadinejad and Lieberman

By Robert Fisk

“March 19, 2011 “The Independent” - -So we are going to take “all necessary measures” to protect the civilians of Libya, are we? Pity we didn’t think of that 42 years ago. Or 41 years ago. Or… well, you know the rest. And let’s not be fooled by what the UN resolution really means. Yet again, it’s going to be regime-change. And just as in Iraq – to use one of Tom Friedman’s only memorable phrases of the time – when the latest dictator goes, who knows what kind of bats will come flying out of the box?

And after Tunisia, after Egypt, it’s got to be Libya, hasn’t it? The Arabs of North Africa are demanding freedom, democracy, liberation from oppression. Yes, that’s what they have in common. But what these nations also have in common is that it was us, the West, that nurtured their dictatorships decade after decade after decade. The French cuddled up to Ben Ali, the Americans stroked Mubarak, while the Italians groomed Gaddafi until our own glorious leader went to resurrect him from the political dead.

Could this be, I wonder, why we have not heard from Lord Blair of Isfahan recently? Surely he should be up there, clapping his hands with glee at another humanitarian intervention. Perhaps he is just resting between parts. Or maybe, like the dragons in Spenser’s Faerie Queen, he is quietly vomiting forth Catholic tracts with all the enthusiasm of a Gaddafi in full flow.

So let’s twitch the curtain just a bit and look at the darkness behind it. Yes, Gaddafi is completely bonkers, flaky, a crackpot on the level of Ahmadinejad of Iran and Lieberman of Israel – who once, by the way, drivelled on about how Mubarak could “go to hell” yet quaked with fear when Mubarak was indeed hurtled in that direction. And there is a racist element in all this.”

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Go Right Young Man's avatar

By Go Right Young Man, March 19, 2011 at 4:19 pm Link to this comment

We’ll all find numerous stories and interviews such as these from the Huffington Post and Daily Kos.

Some here will claim to be liberal humanitarians while simultaneously condemning any and all U.S. involvement after every Arab nation on earth has pleaded for help in saving lives. We will be told, again, that everything we’re seeing, every plead for help, every Arab League request, every United Nations resolution, every United Nations action is the result of “the US simply trying to find the next puppet to rule that oil.”

The people making such claims are those whose interests aren’t at stake at the moment.


Libyan Rebels Plead For No-Fly Zone In Interview

Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, the head of the opposition’s interim governing council, also expressed disappointment over the failure to act by the United States…

“If there is no no-fly zone imposed on Gadhafi’s regime, and if his ships are not checked then we will have a catastrophe in Libya,” Abdul-Jalil told The Associated Press…

Abdul-Jalil’s comments came as the Arab League held an emergency meeting to discuss the possibility of imposing no-fly zone over Libya to protect the civilian population from the Gadhafi regime’s fighter jets….


Mon Mar 07, 2011 at 10:40 AM EST
ACTION - Libyans Ask, We Step Up - What You Can Do to Help

The Libyan Transitional National Council, a thirty member group formed to represent Libyans throughout the country who are fighting to remove the Gaddafi regime, has publicly requested international aid in the form of a no-fly zone and airstrikes.

Ask them to stand strong and protect the Libyan people by supporting UN sanctioned no-fly zones and air strikes and to formally recognize the Libyan national council as the legitmate representatives of the country.

In a statement faxed to Al Jazeera on the 6th, the Libyan national council asked the international community to “protect the Libyan people from any further genocide and crimes against humanity without any direct military intervention on Libyan soil.”  The specifics of this request are outlined below. 

Lifting from a comment by peraspera citing a report by the French intellectual, philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, who is on the ground in Libya and attended the March 5th meeting of the council, the consensus of the council included the following points:

1.  All of them request the institution of a no-fly zone that would prevent Tripoli’s Mirages and MIGs from coming to try to bomb the terminals at Braydah, a hundred kilometres from Benghazi, in hopes of provoking this viva la muerte of oil the author of the Green Book dreams of. It would also prevent Gaddafi’s aircraft from committing a crime unprecedented in the history of contemporary counter-revolutions, that of making strafing runs against the crowds of civilians demonstrating peacefully in the streets of Tripoli or elsewhere.

2.  If that is not possible, they request surgical air strikes on the main military airfield planes take off from at the airport of Sirte, 500 kms to the east of the capital, and other strikes on another military airport located at Sebah, in the south of the country, near the Chadian border. The latter serves as a beach head for the shuttling of mercenaries, such as those of Alabrag, whom Gaddafi recruits for a small fortune, having never trusted his army and, more than ever, having no choice but to pay the dogs of war. And last, they request strikes on the infamous Bab El-Azizia at Tripoli, the guide’s command center and bunker as well as, no doubt, a house of torture like the one the people of Benghazi besieged and set fire to—their own storming of the Bastille!

3.  Failing that, again, they request the destruction or in any case the long-distance jamming of transmission systems that alone, as in all modern warfare, make it possible for the Libyan military to operate, even if it’s falling to pieces….

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By bogi666, March 19, 2011 at 3:41 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Why Libya? It purpose is to deflect attention from the protests in Bahrain which provides anchor for the U.S. fleet and is next to Saudi Arabia. The dictator of Bahrain is being protected by Saudi troops which are killing the protesters.The USG/MIC will not give up its cozy relationship there, bribing, being bribed. Rest assured the USG/MIC approved, arranged and coordinated the injection of Saudi troops to protect the Bahrain dictator.Their will be no regime change there.

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Go Right Young Man's avatar

By Go Right Young Man, March 19, 2011 at 3:15 pm Link to this comment


Wait and watch which nations the U.N. choose to implement these recently passed measures.

The United Nations will likely choose the United States, Britain and Italy to take the lead, with various Arab nations aiding with logistics.

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PatrickHenry's avatar

By PatrickHenry, March 19, 2011 at 2:48 pm Link to this comment


More of your delusion setting in.

Libyan and the Arab League asked the UN security council for assistance, not the U.S. although our rabid MIC is more than eager to jump in.

Yes, other nations are just as capable to enforce this as the U.S. as well as Libyas neighbors and the Arab league themselves.

I don’t hate that every arab nation has asked this of the U.S. because they haven’t.

Show your information besides spewing your disinformation and falsehoods.

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Go Right Young Man's avatar

By Go Right Young Man, March 19, 2011 at 2:38 pm Link to this comment


While you seem to hate the idea, requesting the U.N. undertake a No Fly Zone over Libya is asking the the United States to lead a No Fly Zone over Libya. There is, literally, no nation on earth who can successfully undertake such an endeavor at this time without the United States.

Let us, at the very least, deal with reality when discussing these matters. The Arab League knew exactly what they were requesting.


You hate that every Arab Muslim nation has asked this of the United States when, really, they should condemn the U.S. as you do.

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Go Right Young Man's avatar

By Go Right Young Man, March 19, 2011 at 2:27 pm Link to this comment


Yes.  You sure do go out of your way, and expend a good deal of time, to highlight anti-American protests while ignoring those who are dying on the ground in Libya asking for help. How very liberal and compassionate you prove yourself to be.

I’d be willing to bet you could find and highlight protests of every nation on the planet somewhere. I’ll go even further by betting you could find dozens of examples of Libyans protesting Qaddafi and asking for help.

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PatrickHenry's avatar

By PatrickHenry, March 19, 2011 at 2:25 pm Link to this comment


the Arab League, representing every Arab Muslim nation on the planet, requesting that the United States

Another misrepresentation of what was actually requested.

The U.N. was asked, not the United States.

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Go Right Young Man's avatar

By Go Right Young Man, March 19, 2011 at 2:17 pm Link to this comment


While I can’t agree that just anyone could conduct an effective “No Fly Zone” over Libya, the rest of what you write is spot on. Particularly noting the dichotomous Progressive belief in demanding an evil United States government having control of nearly every aspect of American lives. - Many liberals claim to love swimming but then incessantly complain about getting wet.

“A liberal is a person whose interests aren’t at stake at the moment.”

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PatrickHenry's avatar

By PatrickHenry, March 19, 2011 at 2:13 pm Link to this comment

More cheering masses for US involvement.

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By purplewolf, March 19, 2011 at 2:05 pm Link to this comment

Great. Just what we need another fucking war. As for saying we will not put boots on the ground. That was said for Iraq also and that lasted about 3 months.

If we can afford another war, then we certainly have more than enough money to keep all of the safety nets like Social Security and other programs at the current funding levels. We also have enough money to rebuild the crumbling infrastructure in America before it fails into more disrepair and would end up costing us more money to repair it later. Our students are falling behind those in countries worst off than the PTB claim we are. Rather than go across the world and continue our path of destruction, we should mind our own business and let the people in those countries solve their own problems.

As long as America feels it is their duty or right to interfere with the runnings of other countries, like squabbling children being supervised by a parent, these countries will never learn to take care of themselves and fix their own problems. And whatever happened to that thing in the Constitution that all these presidents claim to uphold about interfering with the wars and governmental runnings of other countries? Did they forget that part?

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By Go Right Young Man, March 19, 2011 at 1:57 pm Link to this comment

PHenry - “The US is simply trying to find the next puppet to rule that oil.”


Your narrative works well if we all ignore that the United States has been openly reluctant to involve itself in Libya, that Libyan rebels have requested the No Fly Zone, that it was the Arab League, representing every Arab Muslim nation on the planet, requesting that the United States and others intervening to stop a slaughter in an African Muslim nation which happens to have oil under its feet.

No matter the event, you will nearly always point to the U.S. and Israel as the evil that inhabits the planet.

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By radson, March 19, 2011 at 1:44 pm Link to this comment

First we had the Iraqi No Fly Zone which eventually lead to the slogan of WMD from the graduates of Goebbels advanced school of persuasion Dabya ,Howling Powell ,Anthony Flair and all that mixed in a big bowl of Rice.Now a new slogan is required perhaps OIL of MASS PRODUCTION this time around it actually sounds more ‘humanitarian.During the last quest to assemble the Coalition of the Willing there was a notable stand-out ,a Canadian; PM Jean Chretien who answered the press when questioned about Canada’s refusal with “a proof is a proof is a proof” which afterwards lead to the ‘softwood lumber controversy and Alberta’s
beef contracting insta Mad-Cow disease.Not this time around the Harper Govt sent the HMCS Charlottetown over a week ago and the six F-18’s were quickly dispatched yesterday ‘Friday.The major players this time around are the old Imperialistic sparring partners of Europe, England and France vying for a piece of the pie in what was once an Italian colony ;Berlusconi is rather preoccupied with domestic problems at the moment,but there is a way out Silvio ,give Bill a call he has experience in these matters.Whether the No Fly Zone reduces casualties is yet to be seen ,one thing for sure it will balance the playing field in favor of the resistance ,but the final outcome is ultimately going to be ,‘in search of the perfect Quisling ‘.

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rico, suave's avatar

By rico, suave, March 19, 2011 at 1:19 pm Link to this comment


You must understand that it’s a typical example of isolationist pacifist progressives wanting it both ways.

One the one hand, progressives complain because-

Until the Obama administration, it was a foregone conclusion that the US would be the first to intervene militarily anywhere in the world, whether they were asked, supported, condemned or ignored. The rest of the world built their security budgets and philosophies around that fact.

Kutler is right: Several Arab states have the military wherewithal to eliminate Gaddafi overnight. But having rattled their rhetorical, and cheap-to-pay-for paper swords, they sat back and waited for what had always happened in the past- US action, sooner rather than later.

Anyone in the world could have stopped Gaddafi’s planes weeks ago, but no one stepped up. Why? Because the US was missing, economically, diplomatically and militarily. The world had learned to grow accustomed to the US stepping in smartly to lead the effort. When it didn’t show, the world had no idea what to do.

On the other hand, progressives are pissed because-

Now that Obama is showing his pacifist, isolationist hand (Iraq and Afghanistan are not in his control),  Europeans and other Arabs are finally coming to the rescue. And the progressives dismiss and condemn them as mere proxies of the US and big oil.

Not a word in the article or posts about the poor bastards on the ground in Libya getting chewed up by Gaddafi’s planes and Howitzers. They also, I’m quit sure, expected the US to step in sooner rather than never, which is the case, it seems.

Who was the character in Animal House who said, “You fucked up. You trusted us.”

Well the world fucked up. It trusted us to lead, like we always have, and we let them down.

Does anybody speak Persian? I hear the Iranians have the Suez Canal booked for a month.

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rico, suave's avatar

By rico, suave, March 19, 2011 at 12:58 pm Link to this comment

Wiki Nobel:

That list of grievances puts you right in the middle of the Tea Party. Welcome.

You’re right of course, which is why I’ll never understand why progressives want government to make so many decisions for, and have so much control over everyone’s lives.

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By grumpynker, March 19, 2011 at 12:49 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Truthdig knows gott-danged well that this beige-skinned,CIA-groomed,Wall Street funded neoliberal was put in place to mask the global takeover by multinational corporations.  ANYTHING this glib bastard utters is,  vetted by his corrupt, Chicago school handlers.  As for the crocodile tears shed over Bradley Manning, could you please extend your fake empathy to other nonwhite Americans locked away in 23hour prisons. Or other local/state/federal prisons/plantations? Ex Black Panther Jamil Al Amin(H Rap Brown) comes to mind as well as Mumia Abu Jabal, or would you rather continue to protect a corrupt law enforcement system in Pennsylvania?!  Or your 401K investments?

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PatrickHenry's avatar

By PatrickHenry, March 19, 2011 at 11:14 am Link to this comment


More misinformed commentary by you.

While you pointed out the Libyans US ambassadors ‘jumped ship’ to collude with the US, they are hardly representative of the Libyans now fighting against Gadaffi since they were appointed by Gadaffi and represented Gadaffis interests.  The US is simply trying to find the next puppet to rule that oil.

In fact, up until two weeks ago the Libyans didn’t want us.  Some of the over 6 million hits on the subject.

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Go Right Young Man's avatar

By Go Right Young Man, March 19, 2011 at 10:18 am Link to this comment

For weeks the Libyan people have asked aloud; where is the international help? Where are the Americans?

The Arab League - every Arab Muslim nation on the planet - requests from the United Nations, what everyone understands would be, an American lead “No Fly Zone” over Libya.

Britain and France lead the effort in the United Nations to take action in and over Libya. - Which every nation’s leader on the planet understands will mean an American lead No Fly Zone.

The United States has displayed a genuine reluctance to endorse a U.N. mandated No Fly Zone over Libya.


In the face of these facts there remain people able to convince themselves these events are designed as an evil American plot of one sort or another.  How truly odd it is to witness.


As to the author of this article: Why does Mr. Kutler repeatedly summon the Ghost of Paul Wolfowits while facing the fact that people such as Sen. John Kerry are the most vocal supporters of military action in Libya? - This too seems truly odd.

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Mike789's avatar

By Mike789, March 19, 2011 at 9:41 am Link to this comment

Correction to my post: Gulf of Sidra incident (1981)

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By Mike789, March 19, 2011 at 8:45 am Link to this comment

Analysis, paralysis…. Consider, the naked truth, truthdiggers. It’s about hate.

Vengeance is sweet. It runs pretty deep here.
Retribution it still holds sway with Gaddafia. The human penchant for revenge relives itself again.

The history of hate between the West and Gaddafi includes:

1986 Gulf of Sidra Libyan aircraft and sinking, West Berlin nightclub bombing, Pan Am 73 Karachi highjacking, U.S. and French intervention in Libyan Chad conflict, Pan Am 103.

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kerryrose's avatar

By kerryrose, March 19, 2011 at 7:57 am Link to this comment

What?  Ask the Arabs states to declare war on Libya at the behalf of Western Imperialism?  A no fly zone is a declaration of war.

What kind of cavalier attitude is taken in this blog?  Civialian deaths?  It is a joke to believe that that is the concern of Britain and the US.  Bombing to enforce the no fly zone will kill scores of civilians.  It did in Iraq.

Imperialist nations are trying to control the outcome for the new leader of Libya.  It is apparent that Khadafi is over.  It is self-interest, of course.

Since when is American NEW to Imperialism?  Ridiculous.

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Robespierre115's avatar

By Robespierre115, March 19, 2011 at 2:51 am Link to this comment

“The United States, a relative newcomer to Western imperialism,” really? I think Cubans, Haitians, Mexicans, Nicaraguans, Dominicans, Hondurans etc. will disagree with that incredibly ignorant statement.

Meanwhile Obama proves he’s just another demented clown, pushing for war with Libya while letting the Saudis invade Bahrain.

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By Wikileaks for Nobel, March 18, 2011 at 11:34 pm Link to this comment

“...his fundamental decency and regard for some measure of human rights…”

Excuse me?  I think I have to puke.  You are referring to—correct me if I’m wrong—the very same President who shrugged off a question about the ongoing torture of U.S. serviceman Bradley Manning, being held 23 hours a day in solitary confinement, stripped naked, and forced to take drugs for a suicidal impulse that multiple examining physicians have said he does not have?  The same President who “playfully” threatened his kids with Predator drones?  The President who is the very first to arrogate to himself the power to direct that any American citizen be killed, no court review required?  The same President who has had the FBI go into private citizens’ homes, confiscate private property, give neither receipt nor reason, with no promise to return it?  The same President who has had his Attorney General defend withholding of information acknowledged to have been illegally obtained under the Bush administration? 

I could go on.  Decency?  If this is decency, give me the alternative.  Please.

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By TDoff, March 18, 2011 at 8:37 pm Link to this comment

What an opportunity we have here! Maybe we can talk Ghadafi into taking over Afghanistan and giving us Libya, as soon as he signs the oil rights over to Exxon. The Afghanis need a strong leader, and Moammar would sure fit the bill. And with all the shrink-wrapped bundles of cash we drop on Afghanistan each day, Ghadafi will see the advantages. We can then nation-build Libya. Surely there is a rebel who would love to serve as our puppet-president.

But We, the People of the US better insist on taking good care of our ‘No-Fly Zone’ coalition partners, England and France. Because when we start our revolution, we’re going to need then to come in and establish a ‘No-Fly Zone’ over the US, to keep whichever Plutocrat the dictator of the US is at the time from loosing squadrons of drones to strafe and nuke our rebels in the streets.

If we handle all this right, England and France should welcome the opportunity to re-establish their colonies here in North America, and the UK should be especially happy to put the US back under the heel of their King.

File under ‘What goes around, comes around’.

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By Anarcissie, March 18, 2011 at 8:24 pm Link to this comment

I imagine Qaddafi is seen as too loose a cannon to be allowed to go on.  I don’t think he will last long if the European ruling class wants to get rid of him.  His power depends on selling oil and buying mercenaries.  Both forms of commerce can be easily hampered by his bankers up north.

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