Cynical Synapse

Sun, 23 Oct 2011

Changing Landscapes of the Arab World

Arabian desert

Much is and has been changing in the Middle East. Syria is a holdout against the Arab Spring, but, in the first free, democratic elections in decades, Tunisians are voting today. Of course, one problem is we—the US—may not like the outcome of the election.

Second to depose its despot, former President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt has not made any substantial progress toward elections. Libya became the third Arab state to win its freedom with the killing of Muammar Gaddafi a few days ago. In a bizarre twist, Amnesty International and the United Nations Human Rights Office called for inquiries into the manner of Gaddafi’s death.

Presidents Obama and Mubarak

Despite public diplomacy in support of the Arab Spring uprisings, the US gained substantial benefits from close ties with authoritarian regimes in the Middle East. In Bahraini ports, the US has headquarters for its Fifth Fleet. Last month’s killing of Anwar al-Awlaki had Yemeni complicity, if not outright support. Despite these cozy relationships, Pres. Obama warned the oppressers their time was short:

Across the Arab world, citizens have stood up to claim their rights. Youth are delivering a powerful rebuke to dictatorship, and those leaders that try to deny their dignity will not succeed.

Yesterday, Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Sultan Abdul Aziz al Saud, 83, died at a New York hospital. Al Saud served as his country’s First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense and Aviation. He was Saudi King Abdullah’s half-brother. While Saudi Arabia will likely remain a close US ally in the region, uncertainty of Saudi succession and other key governmental changes leave the future at least somewhat unpredictable. On top of that, on Friday Pres. Obama announced all but a couple hundred US troops will leave Iraq by year’s end. Those remaining will provide security and other diplomatic-related services as US missions, a common practice around the world.

New Year’s 2012 will usher in a Middle East vastly different from what the US is accustomed to. That’s new, and unpredictable, territory for the presidential candidates.
 


 

Wed, 12 Oct 2011

Ron Paul Indulging in a Lunatic Binge

Rep. Ron Paul

Ever since the radical, jihadist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki was killed 30 September by a drone attack in Yemen, Republican presidential contender Ron Paul has been crying foul. He contends al-Awaki’s Constitutional rights, as US citizen, were violated, denying him due process guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment. ls al-Awlaki’s “assassination” a dangerous precedent. Paul stated “there has been no formal declaration of war and certainly not one against Yemen.”

What Ron Paul misses is the fact al Qaeda declared war on the United States in 1998 and we reciprocated in 2001. A state of war has existed between the US and all the branches of al Qaeda ever since. Just because Pres. Obama changed terminology to “Overseas Contingency Operations” doesn’t mean the nature of the Global War on Terror has changed in any fundamental way.

Rep. Ron Paul

Most of us (59%) believe al-Awlaki’s killing was Constitutional. Ron Paul continues his government assassination meme, however. Last week Paul spoke to the National Press Club:

Can you imagine being put on a list because you’re a threat? What’s going to happen when they come to the media? What if the media becomes a threat?

But, Paul’s fearmongering is not new, having reared its ugly head in the last presidential campaign. Today, Paul cites Timothy McVeigh and Nidal Hasan as terrorists whose right to due process was not abridged in contrast to al-Awaki. The difference, Mr. Paul, is they were not part of al Qaeda. The difference is al-Awlaki joined Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and actively aided and abetted the terrorist organization. Al-Awlaki was an enemy combatant and AQAP confirmed his importance, calling him the “mujahid heroic sheikh”.
 


 

Sat, 01 Oct 2011

Hey, Due Processers: Here’s the Smoking Underwear Bomb

remnants of underwear bomb

Almost before the smoke cleared after Friday’s Predator drone attack on US-Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, there’s been a popular uprising questioning the legality of killing the jihadist cleric. Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul blasted Obama for violating al-Awlaki’s Constitutional right to due process. With just 8% support in a recent Florida poll, Paul was joined by 1%-er Gary Johnson in crying fowl in “assassinating” al-Awlaki. Gag me with a spoon. Al-Awlaki was an enemy combatant, pure and simple. Citizenship is not part of the equation.

Since that’s clearly not sufficient for the “due processers”, consider Ibrahim al-Asiri was also killed in the Predator airstrike. Al-Asiri, then, was in the same motorcade with al-Awlaki, so there is a definite connection. And the FBI pulled al-Asiri’s fingerprint of the underwear bomb remnants. How can there be any question about al-Awlaki’s active engagement in jihad against the US, which clearly makes him an enemy combatant?

al-Asiri's cargo bomb threat

The killing of al-Awlaki, Samir Khan (also a US citizen), and al-Asiri, all members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), is both lawful and justified. They were enemy combatants engaged in the fight against our way of life.

Kudos to Republican candidate Rick Perry’s praise for Pres. Obama’s commitment to hunting down terrorists. That’s a radical, and welcome, departure from Paul, Johnson, and those who thought Obama would be soft on terrorism.
 

After seeing the video, I hope the disconnect between Paul’s call for due process in al-Awladi’s case, but no need for same for 9/11 accused becomes apparent. And, forgive me, but every time I hear of Ron Paul, I can’t help but think of Ru Paul.

Update:

03 Oct 2011

It almost seemed too good to be true when I first heard al-Asiri was killed in the Predator strike on al-Awlaki and Khan. Alas, it seems it was more than we should hope for. Yemeni officials said AQAP bombmaker al-Asiri was not killed with al-Awlaki in Friday’s aerial targeting of the terrorist cleric’s motorcade. While there may no longer be a smoking underwear link, the fact remains al-Awlaki served AQAP and was at war with his native country.

Al-Awlaki’s value to AQAP was his knowledge of US culture and his ability at radicalizing, enabling, and recruiting to the jihadist cause homegrown extremists like MAJ Nidal Hassan and the Times Square bomber. Ironically, if he’d stayed in the US, he’d be a criminal (can you say conspiracy?), but since he moved in with AQAP in Yemen, he was an enemy combatant.
 

Wed, 21 Sep 2011

Two-Faced, Schizophrenic Nature of US Foreign Policy

Filed under: Allies, Arab states, Diplomacy, Hypocrits, Israel, Libyan War, Middle East, Oil, Palestine, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 1:50 am

schizophrenic

No wonder allies and enemies alike are confused by US foreign policy. We talk a good game, but we often fail to follow through. It seems we’re not very good at walking the talk; we don’t do as we say. Sometimes, in our arrogance, US motives are misperceived.

Consider the similarities and differences between Libya, where the US supported intervention, and Syria, where the US simply huffed and puffed, doing nothing. Syria is largely Arabic and Muslim; Libya is even more so. Syria is in the Middle East while Libya is in Africa. France and England have considerable interests in Libyan oil, but not in Syria. When the rebellion began in Libya, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)—mostly France and Britain—decided civilians needed protection from the regime’s heavy-handed response to the uprising. I wonder at what point did Libya cease being a sovereign state so such foreign military intervention became legitimate. Not that I’m a Qaddafi supporter, but the rule and application of law is not supposed to be just a matter of convenience.

Syrian police beat protestors

With Syria, the regime also responded with military force against rebelling civilians. The result has been at least 2,700 Syrians killed and probably double that as refugees. From NATO? Sanctions and finger-wagging.

The US praised the Arab Spring, the regime change it brought in Egypt and Libya, and the freedom and democracy it harkens. Why doesn’t this apply to the Palestinians? The US has long supported a two state solution between Israel and Palestine. I’m a slow learner, but recently it dawned on me, why do the Palestinians need Israel’s permission to become a sovereign state? Maybe the Palestinians realized the same thing and that’s why they’re going to the United Nations (UN) General Assembly and Security Council.

West Bank settlements

As for Israel’s opposition to Palestine’s bid for statehood, it should be obvious. A sovereign Palestinian state means Israel can’t invade at any whim or fancy, it can’t build settlements wherever, and it the Israeli state has to treat a Palestinian state as an equal. Even if Palestinian statehood is in Israel’s long term interests, it is happy being the dominant party in the ongoing feud.

If When they make their case before the UN Security Council, the Obama Administration intends to veto Palestinian statehood. While Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talks about a two-state solution, I have to agree the US official position is on a collision course for disaster.

We are set to squander whatever remaining goodwill we have in the region at a crucial time, while demonstrating at the same time that we are incapable of being even-handed mediators in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As one European diplomat put it the other day “it’s almost as though the U.S. wants to be seen as being isolated with Israel.”

Israeli security check

When you consider Israeli raids, security checks, and property usurpation, it seems to me Israel took its lessons from Nazi Germany. Only paranoid states take national security to totalitarian and arbitrary extremes. And, we wonder why Muslims distrust us.

Previously on Israel and Palestine:

Fri, 16 Sep 2011

Mission Distraction Redux: Train the Libyans

Filed under: Africa, Allies, Arab states, Budget, Global War on Terror, Government, Libyan War, Middle East, Oil, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 9:07 am

Libyan rebels capture another city

I don’t know what the real deal is with Libya, but I’ll tell you “we” (the US/NATO) had no business there from the beginning of the uprising. Say what you want, but intervene not; until everyone looked the other way, Libya was a sovereign state. As for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), they said preventing civilian casualties was their primary purpose. So, why not NATO (or even United Nations) action regarding the thousands of casualties in Syria? A little huffing and puffing by the international community has accomplished nothing.

On the surface, Syria and Libya seem like very similar “Arab Spring” situations. There are distinct differences, however. Key US allies, in particular France and Britain, have substantial stakes in Libyan oil interests while none of the western countries have appreciable involvement in Syrian resources. Ugly as it is, that’s the simple reality of it.

volunteers receive military training in Tripoli

Since the French, especially, and British are the key stakeholders, I say let them train the Libyans in security and defense matters. Except the Brits and French want no part of supporting a new Libyan regime. Unfortunately, because we always have to have our fingers into the pie, US State Department officials are offering US assistance to Libya. From my perspective: what part of Iraq do you not realize was a distraction from the Global War on Terror? Why would you not think Libya is also a distraction?

In the Global War on Terror, which political correctness now calls “Overseas Contingency Operations” (OCO), the Taliban, especially in Afghanistan, has always been the enemy of concern. I believe the war in Iraq distracted us—the US—from the key fight against terrorism and allowed the Taliban to build the insurgency we are now battling. We are paying a price—in lives, dollars, and public support—for failing to keep the focus where it needed to be.

Despite such recent history, my concern is we’re about to repeat the same mistake regarding operations in Afghanistan as we did in 2003. It doesn’t matter if it’s as big as Operation Iraqi Freedom or as small as training teams for Libya. In the likely future of constrained resources, we can’t afford anything taking our eye off the ball. And in my mind, we cannot permit the Taliban, who aided and abetted the 9/11 terrorists, any appreciable powerbase in Afghanistan.
 

Previously on Libya:

Mon, 30 May 2011

Remembering Our Fallen Heroes

Placing US flags at the tombstones of the fallen

There are 5000 reasons to remember Memorial Day as we mark 9-1/2 years in fight against evil we used to call the Global War on Terror. For Michigan, 197 service members died in this conflict, defending our freedoms and way of life. In recent years, Dearborn’s parade honors its fallen veterans without resources or family for their own burials.

I appreciate Gov. Rick Snyder (R) carrying on the tradition started by his predecessor, Jennifer Granholm (D), of lowering US flags to half-staff for Michigan’s military personnel killed in action. I understand he also calls the families. While we can never know what this means to them, I suspect it helps in some small way. There is formal recognition for the sacrifice of their loved one.

As a Michigan Army National Guardsman, I have 12 fallen comrades. Last Thursday, we held a memorial service for them. It moved me to post a note on Facebook, which I repost here as my 2011 tribute to those who gave their lives in our defense.

For several years now, the Michigan National Guard has held an annual memorial service to honor our comrades-in-arms who gave their lives in the Global War on Terror. These have taken place during the two-week Annual Training period on the day of the Memorial Parade and Pass-in-Review. There is a monument to the fallen heroes, along with a plaque bearing each of their names, outside the Camp Grayling chapel.

The services were started to honor the service of those who paid the ultimate price, as a means for their families to cherish the memories of their loved ones, and as proof to the families the Michigan National Guard will never forget them. When I was assigned to Joint Force Headquarters staff, I didn’t attend the memorial services out of respect for the families. As a Battalion Commander, I was invited to the 2010 service, and rightfully so. I never knew SPC Richard Goward or SGT Matthew Soper and both gave their lives before I assumed command of the Battalion of which their units are now part. But they are my Soldiers. And I particularly remember SPC Goward—he was the Michigan Guard’s first casualty in the Global War on Terror.

Michigan has decentralized how it conducts Annual Training, so the memorial service was moved to Lansing and conducted today, fittingly, right before the Memorial Day weekend. Since I work full-time for the Guard in Lansing, I was able to attend. While I wanted to be there, I did not expect the service to be as amazing as it was. You usually expect these to be solemn events at which you pay tribute and your respects. We did that today, but, for me, it was bigger than that.

Michigan gold star license plate

I don’t, personally, know any of our fallen heroes. Yes, two were from my Battalion and one lived where I live. That gives their paying the ultimate price a degree more connectedness, though all the other fallen since 9/11 are no less heroes. Today, my friend LTC Randy Brummette spoke about SFC Michael Hilton, who was killed in action while serving in Afghanistan in 2008. LTC Brummette commanded a small team, of which SFC Hilton was part, that also consisted of a Soldier I went to basic training with and another who was one of my company commanders when I took command of the 246th Transportation Battalion. LTC Brummette’s words were personable and emotional. And SFC Hilton is real to me even though I never knew him. I am truly fortunate for such an opportunity that most will never know.

Here are the Michigan Army National Guard Citizen-Soldiers who gave their lives in the service of their country and in response to the heinous, cowardly attacks of 9/11/2001:

  • SPC Richard A Goward, 32—14 April 2003
  • SPC Craig S Frank, 24—17 July 2004
  • SSG Ricky A Kieffer, 36—15 March 2005
  • SPC Timothy D Brown, 23—04 November 2005
  • PFC John W Dearing, 21—21 November 2005
  • SGT Spencer C Akers, 35—08 December 2005
  • SPC Dane O Carver, 20—26 December 2005
  • SGT Joshua V Youmans, 26—01 March 2006
  • SGT Matthew A Webber, 23—27 April 2006
  • SGT Duane J Dresky, 31—10 July 2006
  • SGT Matthew J Soper, 25—06 June 2007
  • SFC Matthew L Hilton, 37—26 June 2008

As the names of these brave Warriors were read today, I reflected on their contributions and the debt we all owe them, as well as all service men and women. But I also realized we have more fallen heroes than we typically consider.

In addition to SPC Goward, SGT Soper, and SFC Hilton, I also thought of SGT Anthony Burch. SGT Burch is an unsung fallen hero who committed suicide just 2 days into my command of the 246 Transportation Battalion. I never knew him, but he was an amazing person, by all accounts.

As a society, I suspect we take for granted and do not truly understand the value and worth our service members truly give and bring to the Global War on Terror. I’m sure it’s not callousness or lack of empathy. But for me, this has been personal since the beginning. I hope this helps you understand why.

SGT Burch is an unsung hero because his death is not attributed to combat. As an Iraq veteran, however, his family knows Tony Burch is no less a hero than those who died in direct combat.

Previously on Memorial Day:

Mon, 02 May 2011

Karma Exacts Justice on Osama Bin Laden

Filed under: Global War on Terror, History, Justice, Middle East, National security, Politics, President — cynicalsynapse @ 9:11 pm

Deceased Osama Bin Laden

We will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail.

—George W. Bush
   20 September 2001

Millions of people around the world do not mourn the death of Osama Bin Laden, long considered Public Enemy Number One. To be honest, many are celebrating the terrorist’s death at the hands of US Navy SEALs. For a not insignificant number, such emotions are conflicting, since it’s not a very Christian viewpoint.

Taliban fighters

As I see it, Bin Laden’s death is a good thing. Still, we must steel ourselves against those who might argue against the belief the War on Terror is not over. I’ve already seen a lot of people questioning when troops will come home from Afghanistan and Iraq simply because Bin Laden is dead.

Unfortunately, the reality is Bin Laden is not al-Qaeda’s only bad guys. And the US must be careful to not squander the political capital of Bin Laden’s death.

Mon, 14 Feb 2011

US Position on Egyptian Events Dorked Up

Filed under: Allies, Diplomacy, Government, Indecision, Middle East, National security, Politics, President — cynicalsynapse @ 7:49 pm

IHOP pancake revolution

Official US reactions to events in Egypt have been adolescent and inconsistent at best. During the campaign, I was on my way to the airport after a conference in DC. A talk show was on the radio in the cab and the remark was made Barack “Obama’s foreign policy experience comes from eating at an International House of Pancakes.” My main issue with candidate Obama was experience. He was a first term US Senator; that doesn’t make you presidential candidate material in my book. According to Niall Ferguson:

President Obama is one of the least experienced men, in terms of foreign policy, ever to occupy the White House. And, yet, he has advisors around him who are, frankly, second, if not third, rate.

On top of that, after winning the election, Obama chose the equally inexperienced Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State. As for events in Egypt, the two have not been in synch and it becomes evident the US has no clear policy or objective concerning governance in Egypt.

Praying to Mecca

Some argue Mubarek’s abdication and the Army’s sole rule for the next six months, including disolving the Parliament and suspending Egypt’s Constitution, represent submission to the will of the people. Really? Military rule means victory for democracy? At the opposite end of the spectrum, Egypt could become an Islamic state.

The US enjoyed special privileges with Egypt, including priority use of the Suez Canal. Those are all at risk now, and the implications for our national security cannot be overstated. Lack of a focused, informed, long range Middle East policy could now have significant, long-term negative consequences.

Sun, 13 Feb 2011

What’s Next for Egypt?

Filed under: Allies, Business, Diplomacy, Government, Middle East, National security, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 10:20 pm

Egyptian protests

While hundreds of thousands of Egyptians celebrated Hosni Mubarek’s ouster as president, others were more skeptical. Numbering a few hundred, they stay in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the epicenter of demonstrations that forced Mubarek’s resignation. They want a civilian-led interim government and an end to emergency laws. Amr Shalkami said:

The rest of the revolution is not complete. Since the beginning of the revolution we have trusted our army but if we leave the square our revolution will die. We must keep the revolution alive so that we get the 100% freedom we are asking for.

Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces promised democracy, saying the military will:

guarantee the peaceful transition of power in the framework of a free, democratic system which allows an elected, civilian power to govern the country to build a democratic, free state…The Arab Republic of Egypt is committed to all regional and international obligations and treaties.

Egyptian military near Tahrir Square

It’s ambiguous what the Egyptian populace wants. It becomes clear, however, the Egyptian military is pro-Western and wants to honor the Camp David Accords. A democratic Egypt that honors existing agreements is an ideal situation.

Apparently, Defense Minister and head of the military Supreme Council, Field Marshal Muhammed Hussein Tantawi, said “The army is not an alternative to the authority of the demands of the people.”

Field Marshal Muhammed Hussein Tantawi

Nonetheless, Field Marshal Tantawi leads the interim government in Egypt. The Egyptian military confirmed this in Communique 5. The document dismisses the parliament and suspends the civil government and parliament (with the Military Supreme Coucil in charge) until new elections.

Egyptian Ambassador to the US, Sameh Shoukry, said Egypt foresees maintaining close ties with the US.

These issues are driven by mutual interest, by Egyptian interest and the interest remains a close association to the United States.

Previously on Egypt:

Thu, 03 Feb 2011

Armagedden in Egypt?

Protests in Cairo

I usually prefer to post my own opinions on contemporary topics. Sometimes, however, a fellow blogger’s post is so thorough or recommendable that it bears repeating rather than just referencing. From Dewey from Detroit:

As Woody Allen put it: “More than at any time in history mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other to total extinction. Let us pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”

Egypt is like that: an enigma, wrapped in a conundrum, inside a problem. Even if you don’t subscribe to the “everything is gray” school of moral relativity, life often presents complex dilemmas with no ideal choice.

Choosing between the lesser of two evils makes us decidedly uncomfortable, especially if by so choosing we shut off access to the other option. It’s arrogant to assume that we can always determine the optimal solution in tricky situations like Cairo’s current uprising. Although generally we come down on the side of our allies, if they have disregarded our demand for reforms – first made and ignored in the Bush administration – despite the injection of huge sums of foreign aid to support their economy, it renders the relationship precarious. But throwing them overboard doesn’t exactly sent the right message to our other allies, current and potential, either.

The primary reason there is no optimal solution in this political crisis is because the entire Middle East – minus Israel – operates with its right foot planted in the 21st century and its left mired in the 13th. When the majority of your population adheres to a religion that still believes women are chattel, Jews are dogs and jihad is the directive of your supreme commander, Jeffersonian democracy is not really an option.

It’s always tricky for the U.S. when the citizens revolt against a totalitarian regime. Our moral compass tells us we should support such uprisings and do what we can to ensure their success (unless they belong to a subversive organization like the Tea Party). But when all of the governments in the region – including Iraq – are totalitarian and likely to remain that way, the question we must ask ourselves is, which form of totalitarianism do we care to support?

We’re not a fan on any form of authoritarian state, including Mubarak’s, where poverty and corruption are simply a given outcome of the power structure. Yet history tells us that Islamic Extremism loves a power vacuum, and more likely than not will be swept in to fill it in the event of the collapse of the Mubarak government. Good conscience dictates we search long and hard before facilitating that outcome.

So far it appears that our foreign policy, at least officially, is to stand and watch while the Egyptians make their own choice. That’s what we did last summer when the Green Revolution rose up against the theocracy of Iran. Unfortunately, in Tehran, the choice was far more clear cut, as they were already ruled by an Islamic fascist government that’s been in place pretty much since we allowed the last totalitarian regime of the Shah to fall in 1979. But at least we’re consistent.

It’s certainly hard not to sympathize with the Egyptians who are revolting. Their country is socially, economically and politically closer to the 13th century than the 21st, and with the advent of the internet, they now know that. The ruling class is wealthy and everyone else is poor. Poor beyond our comprehension and in ways that would simply not be tolerated in this country. That’s unlikely to improve under the control of another Islamic theocracy.

If the military government in Egypt is overthrown or co-opted by the Muslim Brotherhood, there will be a social transformation. along the same lines as the transformation that took place in Iran after the fall of the Shah and Lebanon after the fall of Beirut.

Poverty will not be eradicated, disease will not be eradicated, joblessness will not be eradicated and corruption will not be eradicated. But I can tell you for certain what will be eradicated: homosexuals. Just as they have been in Iran, as Ahmadinejad famously told his otherwise rapt audience at Columbia: “In Iran we don’t have that phenomenon.”

The Obama Administration has, by not insisting on changes in Mubarak’s government in the past 2 years, allowed itself to be placed in a catch 22 position: on one path stands our major Middle East ally with all his despair and utter hopelessness, on the other, the Muslim Brotherhood – and total extinction.

Choose wisely, weedhoppers.

Parting thoughts for your consideration from my Michigan Representative, Thaddeus McCotter:

America must stand with her ally Egypt to preserve an imperfect government capable of reform; and prevent a tyrannical government capable of harm.

For if Egypt is radicalized, all of the reforms sought by the Egyptian people and supported by the United States with them – including consensual and constitutional government; free elections; open and unbridled media; and Egyptian control of their natural resources – will be lost. Nascent democratic movements in the region will be co-opted and radicalized. The world’s free and open access to the Suez Canal’s vital commercial shipping lanes will be choked. And the Sinai Accord between Egypt and Israel – which must be protected as the foundation and principal example for Mideast peace – will be shredded.

Though many will be tempted to superficially interpret the Egyptian demonstrations as an uprising for populist democracy, they must recall how such similar initial views of the 1979 Iranian Revolution were belied by the mullahs’ radical jackbooted murderers, who remain bent upon grasping regional hegemony and nuclear weaponry…

This is not a nostalgic “anti-colonial uprising” from within, of all places, the land of Nassar. Right now, freedom’s radicalized enemies are subverting Egypt and other our allies.

I confess, if it were up to me to decide, I would have to come down on McCotter’s side.

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