All About Hillary

Everyone has an opinion about Hillary Clinton. Good, bad, ugly, informed, or not – the opinions run the entire gamut. What follows is a distillation of the discussions about and the analysis of her candidacy, both by professional pundits and amateurs.

For her supporters, Hillary represents all the good things about being a Democrat. This may be by association with the Clinton years, Bill Clinton being the reigning god of the Democratic pantheon (much like Reagan is for the Republicans.) Hillary’s early failures, especially on healthcare, of course, can be conveniently blamed on the Republicans and the “vast right-wing controversy.” A combination of nostalgia for the Clinton years and adoration for Bill Clinton, arguably, may be one of Hillary’s biggest assets going into the primaries. The idea of a female president is alluring to many supporters.*

Moving along from the positive end of the spectrum, there are Democrats who are lukewarm in their support for, or opposition to Hillary Clinton. In these cases, it’s often not her policies or positions, but that she doesn’t inspire them. It is fair to say that Hillary is not a natural orator in the Bill Clinton, or even the Obama mold. She comes across as being cold, rehearsed, and sometimes even wonkish. Many of those apathetic towards Hillary will, grudgingly or not, agree that she is intelligent and hardworking, but there’s no fire in the belly to motivate the voters or to prevent them from gravitating towards other Democrats.

For many conservative Democrats, men especially, it may simply be that she is a woman. Other conservatives believe that Hillary is a liberal in the same vein as Ted Kennedy, a caricature that has been reinforced time and time again by the Republicans.

For progressives, she is too conservative and hawkish. Clinton’s policy decisions whether as a presidential candidate or a senator are carefully plotted, triangulated, and for the most part geared towards the proverbial center of the political spectrum. Liberal activists criticize her centrist posturing, with some arguing that she is the most conservative Democrat running for the president. Clinton does especially poorly with some of the more liberal activists of the netroots who do not suffer DLC Democrats kindly.

This, of course, is a highly simplified description of Clinton’s audience in the Democratic primaries. The general election, if she were the eventual nominee, would bring with it many different issues. One such issue – electablitiy – is being used by both Edwards and Obama to handicap Clinton. The claim is that Clinton, as a polarizing figure, a favorite punching bag of the right, a northern liberal, a woman, or a combination of these factors, would not be electable across much of the country. While the merits of her fellow Democrats’ claims that they in turn would be more electable will be addressed at length in subsequent posts, it is indeed a concern that many Democrats share and one that Clinton will need to dispel if she wants to win the nomination.

Clinton’s first Senate campaign may be a good place to start when considering electability. New York is a reliably Democratic state and statewide office-holders can potentially afford to be not as popular in the more Republican upstate areas, but Clinton methodically and doggedly pursued skeptical voters in the upstate areas. One might even argue that she won many of them over or at least neutralized all but the most serious reservations about her candidacy.
Clinton ran strongly upstate en route to an 800,000-vote victory over GOP Rep. Rick Lazio. She did even better in 2006, carrying 58 of New York's 62 counties -- including 40 largely rural counties that Bush won -- en route to a 67 percent reelection victory. The upstate strategy is likely to be "repeated" on a nationwide scale with Clinton courting areas that have been hostile to Democrats. (Source)
In the Senate she has used the same methodical approach to neutralize some of the lingering animosity towards her. She has reached across the aisle to work with Republican senators such as John McCain, and Orin Hatch, and even her most vehement critics begrudgingly admire her work ethic in the Senate.

Clinton, a Democrat senator for New York, rarely takes a step in public or a policy initiative without being surrounded by Republicans. It is disarming her opponents and helping to polish her image as a moderate with a realistic prospect of winning the White House.

Clinton spent last week in “baked Alaska”, which has been experiencing record high temperatures, to investigate one of the left’s favourite causes, global warming. Her travelling companions were three Republican senators: John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Susan Collins.

Together they agreed, in the words of McCain, that there was “overwhelming scientific evidence” of climate change and that “human activities play a very large role”. All Clinton had to do was concur. It is as if they are “dating”, said one cynical television news anchor. (Source)
There are also polls showing that over time Clinton has managed to reduce some of the unfavorables that would have doomed her run for the White House. With the standard caveat about polls, especially ones this far out in the election season, numbers such as those included below do look favorable for Hillary.

Iowa, SurveyUSA Oct. 21 2007

Clinton 48% Giuliani 43%
Clinton 56% Thompson 42%
Clinton 50% Romney 42%
Clinton 51% Huckabee 41%
Clinton 49% McCain 44%

Missouri, SurveyUSA Oct. 20 2007

Clinton 50% Giuliani 43%
Clinton 51% Thompson 42%
Clinton 50% Romney 41%
Clinton 51% Huckabee 40%
Clinton 48% McCain 45%

There are other poll numbers that suggest that Hillary would not run well in states like Oregon and Washington but the idea in using the numbers from Iowa and Missouri, both of which voted for Bush in 2004, is to question widely-accepted and treated-like-gospel analysis about her electoral vulnerability.

Clinton’s careful posturing and a well-run, disciplined campaign may be exactly what is needed to win a sure-to-be dirty campaign. Or various external factors such as Iraq, Bush’s unpopulararity, a Republican nominee that is not acceptable to social conservatives etc. may provide Clinton (or any other Democrat) all the fodder they need.

The question for Democrats voting in the primaries is whether they believe in Clinton’s incremental changes and compromise-seeking philosophy of governing or a more expansive reorganization of the government and its priorities as promised by some of her rivals. More importantly, one should consider which of those two styles is more likely to succeed in the quagmire that is Washington.

*Although (from limited anecdotal evidence) it seems that in the specific instance of Hillary Clinton, the idea of a female president is more attractive to male feminists than to many Democratic women. There are women, who usually vote for Democrats and who consider themselves liberal, that are turned off by Hillary. Some disapprove of her decision to stay with Bill Clinton after the public humiliation of the Lewinsky affair. Others dislike her personality and/or politics enough to not vote for her (in the primaries, at least), glass ceiling be damned.

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Edwards and the Blogosphere

The 2008 presidential race in the US promises to be intense and hard-fought, perhaps with a few curve balls thrown in. For the first time in many years, the race is open – the incumbent cannot run for another term and the sitting vice president is not seeking the nomination. Front-loading of the primaries presents another interesting twist. Will Iowa and New Hampshire maintain their influential role in the nomination process? This is the first in a series of posts about the fascinating world of US presidential elections.

Former Senator John Edwards seems to be the darling of liberal bloggers on sites such as MyDD and Daily Kos. His populist message resonates with the readers. His willingness to take on targets such as Fox News, which is widely reviled by liberal activists, certainly doesn’t hurt his popularity. Can Edwards harness this energy to win the nomination? Will his throwing red meat to the party’s activist base hurt him in the general election? Before any attempt to explore these questions, there is a far bigger question that needs to be answered. Is Sen. Edward’s populism a carefully crafted and marketed strategy to woo primary voters, one that is used and reused in stump speeches? Or is it real? If it is indeed real, what can he use to convince a jaded and cynical voter that these aren’t just words and campaign slogans?

The following extract from Media Matters paints Sen. Edwards as a far more conservative Democrat than his current campaign may suggest.

As Media Matters for America previously noted, although National Journal's 2003 vote ratings of senators placed Edwards fourth, that rating was based on only 40 of Edwards's Senate votes during 2003 and is not representative of his more moderate lifetime Senate voting record. In fact, as National Journal congressional reporter Richard E. Cohen pointed out in a July 9 article, Edwards's average National Journal "liberal score" during his five years in the Senate (1999-2003) is 75.7 percent, "a number that puts him in the moderate wing of his party," and is almost 20 points lower than the 2003 rating that Republicans are touting with the help of the conservative media. National Journal's Cohen also noted that in 1999, Edwards's National Journal "liberal score" placed him as the 31st most liberal senator, in 2000, Edwards ranked 19th, in 2001, he ranked 35th, and in 2002, he ranked as the 40th most liberal among all senators -- 15 to 36 spots lower than "the fourth most liberal senator" label that Republicans and the conservative media are pushing. As Cohen wrote, "From 1999 to 2002, Edwards had ranked among the more conservative Democratic senators. In 2002, only 11 of the 50 Senate Democrats voted more conservatively."

Is Sen. Edwards’ senate record more conservative because he represented North Carolina? Now that he is not representing a conservative state, is this the real John Edwards? One could certainly be conservative and populist at the same time, but if that’s the case, Sen. Edwards’ popularity among self-professed liberals is surprising.

Update: See JRE's Journey: Edwards Goes Left for detailed analysis of some of the issues raised by my post.

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Belarus: Straight from the Horse's Mouth

Belarus has received extensive coverage in the media with the recent elections and the opposition protests that followed the elections. I had a chance to chat with a Belarusian cab driver living in Boston. His perspective, which I’ve transcribed below, is interesting if only because Lukashenko supporters tend not to receive much attention in the mainstream media.

What do you think of the recent elections in Belarus?
You mean, about Lukashenko? I like Lukashenko. I think what the opposition is doing is wrong. They don’t have much support in Belarus. The Americans and Russians don’t like Lukaschenko but he’s good for Belarus. In Russia and other countries, people are not getting pensions and salaries. In Belarus, we get both on time. Also in Russia, there are a few rich people but most people are having a hard time.

What about some of the countries in Eastern Europe? Like Czech Republic or Hungary? They are doing pretty well, right?
I was in Prague for a few years. I drove a cab there as well. It’s not like it used to be during the Soviet times. Now some people have lots of money, there are shops full of goods. But most people don’t have anything. It’s hard to afford anything. In Belarus, everyone is equal and life is good. No crime. Everyone gets their check on time. That is why people support Lukashenko. He thinks about Belarus first. That’s why the Russians and the Americans don’t like him.

How long have you lived in the US?
I’ve lived in the US for 16 years. But even the US is not what it used to be. Bush has given it all away. $3 for gas! Three dollars!!! Same thing in Russia, and Yugoslavia. Things were better before. I’ve been to Yugoslavia. The best in Europe. Wide roads, clean everything, everything worked…And then it all collapsed. It is nothing now.

You know, I worked under Lukashenko, a long time back. He was the president of the village and I worked as a carpenter for him. He is a decent man. He thinks of Belarus. He’s good for Belarus.

Related Links:
Poland Revives Cold-War Tactic: Democracy Via Radio

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India: The New Darling of Conservatives

India has received increased attention from the US in recent years, especially under George W Bush. "Bush has been good for India," says C. Rajamohan, a political scientist at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. "More has happened between India and the US in the last four years than in the last 40." President Clinton made great efforts to improve relations with India and he remains wildly popular there. However, the State Department under Clinton regularly chided India about its nuclear program. The US also kept a wary eye on Indian efforts to fight separatist movements in Kashmir and the northeastern states, urging the Indian government to respect civil rights and such. Under Bush, many of these policies have been ignored and last month India was offered civilian nuclear technology, albeit subject to approval by the US Congress.

Historically, Indo-US relations have been affected by India's affinity to the non-aligned bloc and to the erstwhile Soviet Union, and by close relations between the US and India's arch rival Pakistan. Their oftentimes-frosty relationship started changing for the better with the end of the cold war; the liberalization of the Indian economy in the early nineties; and with the shift in Indian foreign policy from the Nehru-inspired doctrines that focussed heavily on the eastern-bloc and the developing world to a more national-interest based policy.

The Americans see in India a potential ally, an ally in the fight against terrorism, a genuine democracy in a rough neighborhood, and a counterweight to China. There are conservatives in Washington who believe that events in New York, Madrid, London, Beslan, West Bank, and Delhi are all connected, a part of the same struggle against Islamic terrorism, a struggle against Islam. India is a secular democracy, a country with its own struggles against Islamic extremism - and this makes it a natural ally for conservatives with an anti-Muslim bias. India’s democratic traditions and as of yet non-threatening economic power appeal to Sinophobes. "China clearly plays a big role in this. This deal (to supply nuclear technology) was basically put together by a small number of officials. Some of those officials are the neoconservatives who see China as a looming threat. For them, the problem isn't that India has nuclear weapons; it's that they don't have enough nuclear weapons. They want to encourage (India) as a nuclear ally against China," says Joseph Cirincione of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

India’s appeal is not confined to a few elite neocon policy wonks in the Bush White House. Visitors to conservative Web sites tend to be fascinated by India as well. A comment at one such Web site reads, "India and the US will be great and mighty allies against Islamic terrorism, Chinese Communism, and leftist multiculturalism. The beginning of this new era starts now." Another visitor finds comfort in India’s pro-American stance (as evidenced by a recent survey conducted using somewhat dubious methods) and uses this chance to vent against the anti-American, and therefore ungrateful, Europeans. "One of the primary reasons for anti-Americanism is the resentment of a dependent group on their provider. Europe depends on America for military protection, without which they would have to provide for their own military. They can't do this without giving up their socialized medicine, so the resentment builds."

"That was back when Europeans were never asked to do or contribute anything to deserve continued US protection. Years of American paternalism allowed Western Europe to believe it could afford the socialist welfare state without needing to sacrifice anything for its own defense (let alone that of others). The EU has over 130 million more people than the US, yet all of Europe contributes only 6000 troops in Afghanistan compared to America's 18,000. Socialism, made possible by 60 years of US protection courtesy of the US taxpayer, has spoiled Europeans with a sense of entitlement that has bred indolence and cowardice," writes another reader.

A well-armed India, according to the conservatives, would defend itself without any help from the United States (unlike the Europeans), and it would play an important role in containing the threat from the twin evils of Red China and Islamic extremism. John Hillen, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, said sharing technology and information was particularly vital as Washington sought to build stronger military ties to India. "You cannot underestimate the strategic importance of what the president was trying to do in India. It shifts the geopolitical plates of the world in the most fundamental way since Nixon went to China," said Hillen. A defense industry executive, who also asked not to be named, underscored strong U.S. corporate interests in expanding trade with New Delhi, saying he had visited India three times in the past 90 days and would soon return.

India, especially under the BJP, has supported the US positions and policies on numerous occasions. Ashley Tellis of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace lists some of 'US-friendly' Indian actions, including enthusiastic support for Bush's Ballistic Missile Defence ('Star Wars') plans; silence over the abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, India's offer of military bases for the war in Afghanistan after 9/11; endorsement of the US position on climate change, including its latest avatar, the 'Asia-Pacific Partnership'; and of course, the September and February votes against Iran. To this list, Tellis, adds 30 India-US military exercises involving all three services, 50 high-level military conferences; $990 million worth of American arms imports; and India's budding relations with Israel.

Of course, the conservatives are far from being a monolithic when it comes to foreign policy. Isolationists, for example, are not very keen on cooperation with India or any other country for that matter. Economic protectionists seethe at the growth of outsourcing to India. But in general, India finds a favorable audience among conservatives. "It would be worthwhile to mention that the current goodwill towards India is not out of any sudden love for India, but the result of the perception of the "neocons" of the Bush administration that see alliance with India as a key to maintaining balance in this region, and also for checking the undesirable moves of Iran and China in the long run. The intolerance of any emerging power bloc capable of challenging the United States' interests and power in any region of the world has also encouraged the United States to develop good relations with India. The United States has not abandoned its policy of searching for such allies which could be helpful in promoting its interests," says Annapurna Nautiyal.

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Next Stop: Tehran?

Just in from the New Yorker:

The Iran Plans

The Bush Administration, while publicly advocating diplomacy in order to stop Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon, has increased clandestine activities inside Iran and intensified planning for a possible major air attack. Current and former American military and intelligence officials said that Air Force planning groups are drawing up lists of targets, and teams of American combat troops have been ordered into Iran, under cover, to collect targeting data and to establish contact with anti-government ethnic-minority groups. The officials say that President Bush is determined to deny the Iranian regime the opportunity to begin a pilot program, planned for this spring, to enrich uranium...

See also: Iran in a Nutshell.

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Iran in a Nutshell

Iran successfully tested its second new torpedo recently, the latest weapon to be unveiled during war games in the Gulf, that the military said are aimed at preparing the country's defenses against the United States.

Iran's latest tests are a warning to the US and the world. Iran can defend itself. Iran will not give up easily. Any military action against Iran will lead to many, many casualties. This is the message behind the tests, the military games, and the speeches.

It is widely believed that Iran's nuclear program is not entirely meant for peaceful purposes. The options, as far as attempting to stop Iran's dangerous nuclear dabbling, are outlined below.

One option is to do nothing. Another option involves economic sanctions. Then there's multilateral diplomacy with or without military action. Military intervention itself can be limited to air strikes on strategic targets or it can be a full-scale invasion.

Doing nothing is an option, but one that is most easily dismissed given Iran's penchant for supporting anti-Israeli militant groups, and it's ability to influence events in Iraq and the surrounding region.

Diplomacy, while preferable to the use of military force, may not work, as Britain, France, and Germany have found to their dismay. Diplomatic efforts under the auspices of the UN face opposition from Russia and China.

Military action would most likely lead to disruption in oil supplies and send oil prices skyrocketing. Supplies are tight and production is at or near capacity. Also, the US forces are stretched by operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and domestic opinion is generally against military involvement in Iran, especially if it leads to heavy casualties and additional financial burden. Any sort of military intervention then is likely to need military and financial support from the Europeans and the rest of the world.

An attack on Iran, it can be argued, will be painted as an attack on Islam, creating more tensions and inflaming anti-western hatred in the Middle East. There is a distinct possibility that any western involvement in military action against Iran will make the participating countries more vulnerable to terror attacks.

The issue is complex, the situation tense, and the repercussions of any action (or inaction) are likely to be grave. Ideally, the first step in dealing with Iran would be unanimous censure from the Security Council. Failure to act could lead to a disastrous nuclear confrontation in the Middle East, a situation that most nations would not want to be responsible for. This point made through a combination of public and private maneuvering may just convince Russia and China to support a censure motion. The GCC and OIC must condemn Iran – a nuclear Iran can and might just be tempted to destabilize the entire region and the hostilities might not be reserved for Israel alone.

Economic sanctions are not usually very effective as the evidence in Iraq has shown but sanctions might be preferable to military action. As a last resort, bombing of strategic facilities should be considered. (See Osirak.)

(Of course, it would help if Washington didn’t promise nuclear technology to India or any other nation, while trying to prevent others from obtaining or developing similar capabilities.)


Bolton Hints at Other Options for Iran.

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The Other Side

The ports controversy has been a godsend for the Democrats. They have managed to put President Bush and the Republicans on the defensive on the one issue where they’ve consistently lead the Democrats – national security. It has allowed Senator Clinton to sound hawkish, perhaps, for an eventual presidential run. The controversy has allowed newly appointed Sen. Menendez (D-NJ) to win greater name recognition and to establish a small lead over his likely challenger in November – Thomas Kean Jr. The ports issue allows Democrats to appeal to multiple constituencies, disparate constituencies ranging from security moms to protectionists in the labor movement to Islam-bashing conservatives, all under the purportedly well-intentioned garb of national security. In turn the Republicans jumped on the bandwagon, and the bipartisan cacophony sank the DP deal.

I won’t beat a dead horse – plenty has been written, the details scrutinized, the angles analyzed. Instead I was curious about the reaction in UAE, something that had received very little coverage in the US. Here are some excerpts from UAE-based news and media outlets:

No Ports or Nukes for Muslims - BY ERIC S. MARGOLIS
THIS is not a good time to be a Muslim. Today, in the Western world, openly expressed hatred and contempt for Islam and Arabs has become the only socially acceptable prejudice.

The collapse of the Dubai ports deal is the latest striking example. The highly professional port operator, DP World, was forced to give up a deal to manage East Coast US harbours after an enormous political uproar in America. At the heart of the uproar was the fact that DP World was owned by the Arabs.

…A bi-partisan coalition of Islam-hating conservatives, evangelical Christians, publicity-seeking Democrats and the mighty Israeli lobby, forced President George Bush to back down on the port plan. UAE, a staunch US friend and ally, was slapped in the face. But it had the good sense and good taste to withdraw from the no-win battle.

Opinion, Khaleej Times, Bill O’Brien and Matein Khalid
...Yes indeed, thanks Bill and Hill. Oh by the way, where was the ‘maximum control’ and opposition to ‘foreign government’ approach when the Clintons allowed the Chinese Government-controlled companies to get control of terminals on the US West Coast? When reporters queried the Clinton Administration’s Press Office in the late 90s about a Chinese firm getting control of the Panama Canal operations, the reply was the administration viewed the fury over port control as ‘silly stuff’...

Official Reactions, Gulf News
The UAE Central Bank Governor yesterday said the controversy surrounding the DP World deal to manage port operations in the US would not affect the free trade negotiations but could impact negatively on the business relations between the two countries.

"What happened is very bad and it is not right to mix up political issues with commercial issues," Sultan Bin Nasser Al Suwaidi said. "What the US is doing goes against the tenets of international trade, which they created in the first place."

Gulf News Headline: CNN's online readers prefer mafia over Arab company
When CNN readers online were asked who they would rather have overseeing operations at US ports an Arab-based company or the US-based mafia roughly 63 per cent of more than 30,000 voters felt the mafia was more trustworthy.

CNN's QuickVote is not a scientific poll, but the results were more than hypothetical.

We heard you loud and clear.
According to a Gulf News poll, 64 per cent of readers say the DP World affair "changed their opinion for the worst" about investing in the United States. A number of businessmen told the newspaper yesterday that Arab investors would think about other destinations. The majority agreed that DP World has been forced out of the US port operations due to "racism"...

...We don't feel that DP World lost. It in fact won the respect of the international business community when it won the bid to acquire the British P&O Company. It gained the admiration of the political community when it showed the maturity to bow out with grace.

Nevertheless, the whole affair served as a lesson for other Arab companies who may have thought of investing in what has proved to be a hostile US atmosphere. All the free trade talk proved to be just empty rhetoric. Another irony is that the Democrats, the supporters of globalisation, were the key opponents of the deal. There must have been something else behind the sudden change of heart.

It was definitely not the concern for national security, as they fully know the Bush administration had run a meticulous review of the deal, which established it was not a threat. Was it the "Israeli element" as some have suggested? Maybe. Otherwise, why would some Congress members bombard the DP World executive, during last week's hearing, with questions about the Arab boycott of Israel? Did they want to force the UAE to end the pan-Arab boycott of Israel in order approve the deal?

These questions need to be investigated. But the fact remains it was an ugly scene in Washington. Other foreign-owned companies run US ports but they were not Arab. That is the message.

And we got it.

(Gulf News, March 6, 2006)

The Ports Deal: A View from the UAE, Abdulkhaleq Abdullah
The hostility against DP World will further dent US credibility in the region, said Abdul Khaleq Abdullah, a professor of political science at UAE University.
"Dubai was forced out [of US port operations] as a result of racism and politicisation of a purely business transaction," he said…

…Swapping a sound business package, which is in the best interest of the US, for petty political gains is not what the outside world expects from champions of free trade and economic liberalisation in the US Congress.

The UAE is a moderate country and a good friend of the US in the Arab World, in itself a rare commodity. This Arab Gulf state which is referred to by the US State Department as "key partner in the war on terror" has succeeded in staying clear of Islamic fundamentalism.

Its record of fighting global terrorism is impeccable. There is no denying, however, that some of the financing for 9/11 has gone through its banking services.

But then again most of the pilot training for the 9/1 1 took place in the US and most of the elaborate planning for the tragic attack on New York and Washington took place in Hamburg, Germany.

No one has ever suggested punishing Germany or thwarting the Daimler takeover of Chrysler, a strategic US asset of similar magnitude to the DP World acquisition of US ports. The DaimlerChrysler partnership created a world class entity that strengthened trans-Atlantic business cooperation.

The ports deal has similar potentialities to strengthening Arab-American relationship. This is a fundamental American objective. The ports deal is a huge strategic asset. It comes at a time when US is investing heavily in political and economic reform in this deeply turbulent region. This is a godsend opportunity to show the seriousness of reform intentions in Washington.

Since 9/l1 the UAE government has done everything conceivable to clear its financial sector and bring it in line to world standard. However, there will always be a bad guy who will try to exploit our open economy and free society.

This however, is no reason to punish a county that adheres strictly to the principle of free trade which has been fundamental to its emergence as the second largest economy in the Arab World and eventually as a possible Arab Gulf Tiger.

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