Category: US Foreign Policy (page 1 of 10)

Love, Loathing, and Loss: America’s COVID-19 Response and the View from Canada

This is a guest post from Jennifer Mustapha and Eric Van Rythoven. Mustapha is an Assistant Professor at Huron University College in London, Ontario and studies the politics of the War on Terror, globalization and development, and Southeast Asian regional relations. Rythoven teaches International Relations and Foreign Policy at Carleton University, Canada.  His work has been published in Security Dialogue, European Journal of International Relations, and Journal of Global Security Studies, among others. 

For many observers America’s catastrophic response to COVID-19 is a far-off spectacle rendered all the more inscrutable by the country’s power and position. For Canadians however, the experience is more akin to watching a close friend spiral into a crisis of shockingly irresponsible behaviour.  Not only is their tragic circumstance a threat to the safety of others, but we face the added grief of knowing that someone we care about has chosen such a destructive path.  

We write this because America occupies an invaluable place in the Canadian political imaginary. It is the ubiquitous ‘other’ that haunts almost every thought and conversation in Canadian politics – and it is failing in a way that has stunned the Canadian public and policymakers. But America is also our kin – a bigger “sibling state” that we live in perpetually close proximity to –and Canadians are struggling to reconcile our familial relations with its increasingly rapid descent into darkness. In this blog post we offer some preliminary thoughts on what this failure looks like from a Canadian perspective. We organize our discussion around three sentiments – love, loathing, and loss – that summarise the conflicting, and often contradictory, feelings Canadians are experiencing from this side of the border.

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Beyond the Open Skies Treaty

Guest post by Sandor Fabian is a PhD candidate at the University of Central Florida and instructor of record at the NATO Special Operations School. His research is in security studies with a focus on new concepts of conflict, U.S. foreign military aid, and counter hybrid warfare. Follow him at @SandorFabian2 and Doreen Horschig is a PhD candidate and teaching associate at the University of Central Florida. Her research is in nuclear security with a focus on public and elite opinion on nuclear weapons and norms of weapons of mass destruction. Follow her at @doreen__h

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COVID-19 is accelerating the power transition between the U.S. and China

This is a guest post from Collin Meisel and Jonathan D. Moyer.

Collin Meisel (Twitter: @collinmeisel) is a Research Associate at the Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures and a veteran of the U.S. Air Force. At Pardee, Collin works with the Diplometrics team to analyze international relations and build long-term bilateral forecasts for topics such as trade, migration, and international governmental organization membership.

Jonathan D. Moyer (Twitter: @moyerjonathan) is Assistant Professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver and Director of the Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures. For the last 15 years, Jonathan has used long-term, integrated policy analysis and forecasting methods to inform the strategic planning efforts of governments, international organizations, and corporations around the world, including sponsors such as USAID, the African Union’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development, and the UN Development Programme.

As COVID-19 disrupts life the world over, many of the pandemic’s long-term consequences remain uncertain. However, using multiple long-term forecast scenarios, one geopolitical consequence is beginning to come into focus: COVID-19 is accelerating the transition in power between the U.S. and China. Despite assertions from political scientist Barry Posen that COVID-19 “is weakening all of the great and middle powers more or less equally,” economic and mortality projections suggest that China will see material gains relative to the U.S. that could translate into broader geopolitical gains.

Quantified in terms of the distribution of relative material capabilities, China’s forecasted gains are roughly the magnitude of the current relative global capabilities of Turkey.

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Too Soon for a Coronavirus Commission

This is a guest post from Erik Dahl, an associate professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, and the author of Intelligence and Surprise Attack: Failure and Success from Pearl Harbor to 9/11 and Beyond (Georgetown, 2013). The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Naval Postgraduate School or the U.S. Department of Defense.   

As many parts of the United States begin to slowly reopen amid the continuing coronavirus pandemic, there are increasing calls in Congress and from emergency management experts for a national commission to examine how well we were prepared for, and responded to, the global crisis. Congressional committees are beginning to hold hearings about the pandemic, including testimony expected soon from Dr. Anthony Fauci, and pressure will likely build for a more extensive investigation. Supporters argue that a commission is needed in the same way national investigations in the wake of Pearl Harbor and 9/11 helped us understand how those disasters could have happened. 

Just as with those previous cases, such an effort will be needed eventually to help the country heal from the current crisis. But history suggests it is too early now to begin that process, because early efforts to investigate national calamities tend to produce more heat than light.    

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Bridging the Gap in National Security Studies

This is a guest post from Paul Johnson, who is an operations research analyst with the US Army. His personal research ranges on topics from political violence and militias to security force loyalty and design.  The views expressed here do not represent the perspective of the US Army or Department of Defense.

Given this forum’s focus as an outlet helping bridge the gap, this post discusses ways that academics working on national security-related topics can make themselves and their work more accessible to potential end-users, as seen and experienced from the author’s perspective as a national-security practitioner.

A Wide Variety of Vital Contributions

Previous articles on this topic (e.g., see here and here) have pointed out a variety of contributions that scholars can make to applied work, including:

  • Theory, which provides an idea of how to view an emerging event or string of events, helping users “see the forest for the trees.”  From an analytical perspective, being able to point to a solid body of social-science literature backing up a framework — especially a literature with fairly settled empirical findings — increases the credibility of that framework for application to real-world problems.
  • Data, which may be quantitative or qualitative.  Publically accessible social science datasets often find their way into analytical usage in national-security settings as the best available data on a topic of interest.  Similarly, the perspective of area specialists, also known as subject matter experts (or “smees”), on a given country or set of countries can provide highly valued information.
  • Forecasts, which can be as simple as a most-likely-outcome statement.  Bonus points for willingness to take a stab at a probability point-estimate for that statement, and more points for being explicit about uncertainty.
  • Advice about what to do in a given real-world situation.  Since most empirical scholars focus on establishing ceteris-paribus relationships across a large number of cases, practicing applying that work to a specific case usually requires a bit of a mindset shift, but adopting that mindset is necessary for any applied work.
  • Analytical methodology, which finds its way into applied work through a variety of means. Some of these means include PhD students being hired into federal government, ongoing professionalization for current civil-servant analysts, and academics working as government contractors or other forms of participation on a per-project basis.
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Trump’s Coronavirus Response Shows How Much Leaders Matter

This is a guest post by Richard W. Maass, an Associate Professor at the University of Evansville. His research focuses on international security, US foreign policy, terrorism, and diplomatic history. He has a forthcoming book on how democracy and xenophobia limited US territorial expansion (Cornell UP, May 2020).

The international experience of COVID-19 will have many implications for international relations. Scholars have already begun discussing its implications for IR theories, hegemonic stability theory, and measures of state capacity. When all is said and done, I think the central lesson will be how much individual leaders matter.

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no, Realism cannot explain the international Covid-19 response

As the world rushes to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic, international relations scholars have a lot to say. We are not public health experts, or pathologists. But we can speak to the way states respond to common threats and the political process needed to formulate an effective response. One common reference is the realist idea of self-interest driving state behavior and undermining collective action. Yet, while realism as an inclination can explain what’s going on, Realism as a scholarly theory cannot.

Many scholars and general observers of international relations have reacted with frustration at state responses to Covid-19. The Trump Administration delayed testing and has provided insufficient information or help to states and communities. Britain’s Boris Johnson vacillated from doing nothing to locking down the country. China failed to be sufficiently transparent during the early stages of the pandemic.

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Deconstructing the blob

“The blob” has become a common term during the Democratic Primary. The DC foreign policy establishment, so the argument goes, has an overwhelming effect on all who engage with it, sucking them in and spitting them out as appendages to its militaristic, status quo policies. There is some truth to this idea, but it has come to encompass too much, and the term is losing its value. It may be worth deconstructing what we meant by “the blob” and having a real, direct, debate on Demcratic foreign policy.

The Rise of THE BLOB

One of the more popular phrases flung around in the Democratic Primary (at least on the foreign policy side) is “The Blob.” The phrase was coined by Ben Rhodes, a speechwriter turned top national security aide in the Obama Administration. The blob is the “foreign policy establishment.” This includes “Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates and other Iraq-war promoters from both parties.” Basically, the blob represents the Washington foreign policy consensus pushing for a robust military presence around the world. Kind of a less refined version of Bacevich’s “Washington Rules.”

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Are the liberal internationalists wrong? On “being nice” and US foreign policy

I got an alert from the Foreign Policy app on my phone the other day: Tunisia had fired its UN ambassador after he opposed Trump’s Israel-Palestine “peace plan.” Tunisian foreign policy doesn’t usually make waves, but this caught my attention. It’s a sign that, while Arab states aren’t enthused about this plan, they are unlikely to push back strongly. It got me thinking about a bigger question: whether Trump will face any costs as the result of his unilateral and aggressive foreign policy, as liberal internationalists might expect. The answer seems to be no, and that has big implications for US foreign policy.

Anyone who was around during the Bush-Obama transition remembers the debate. Liberal internationalists argue the United States has an interest in compromising with other states and working through multilateral institutions like the UN. It’s not just “being nice,” it actually advances US interests better than unilateral actions. We increase our influence with other states, making it more likely they’ll cooperate with us in the future. And we decrease backlash against and anxiety over US power. So, the argument went, the neocon policy of George W. Bush will actually undermine US interests by making it harder to get things done internationally.

The Obama years seemed to validate this argument. Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize just being Barack Obama. America signed a ground-breaking nuclear arms treaty with Russia, the New START. The United States negotiated a nuclear deal with Iran, and was part of the historic Paris Agreement on climate change.

Then Trump came. He withdrew from the JCPOA and the Paris Agreement. There are signs New START is going to fall apart. Trump was skeptical of other international commitments, withdrawing from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty and signalling he may withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty. The United States left the UN Human Rights Council. Trump was openly disparaging of NATO. And he was generally not nice in his foreign policy, bullying Canada and China over trade agreements, demanding South Korea provide more money for US troops based there.

Based on the logic of liberal internationalism, US influence should be waning. States will tire of Trump’s aggression and stop following US directions. America will find it harder to get anything done.

But…that’s not happening.

There are some signs of waning US influence. The UN General Assembly famously laughed at Trump during a speech, and NATO leaders mocked him behind his back. China seems to be increasing its sway over the UN.

But that doesn’t seem to extend to substantive complications in US foreign policy. Canada still went through with the new US trade deal despite irritation with Trump’s tactics. South Korea has been scrambling to keep Trump happy, even as they’re frustrated with his pressure. And as we saw, Trump’s unilateral and imbalanced Israel-Palestine deal isn’t provoking much anger among Arab leaders.

So what does this mean for liberal internationalism?

One could argue that America is just so powerful it can get away with behavior like this. But that would be an important caveat for liberal internationalism, which often argues that it’s in America’s interest to be nice.

One could also argue Trump is doing long-term damage to America’s influence. Basically, wait for it. This sounds uncomfortably similar to realist defenses of their predictions that the world will balance against a unipolar America, though. With two of three 21st century US Presidents pursuing aggressive unilateral policies, we should be seeing definite signs of strain by now.

But I think it is very possible that liberal internationalists are just wrong. It is not in a states’ interest to be nice in their foreign policy, especially when that states has the resources to be mean. And maybe, as the neocons argued, it is even necessary to be tough when dealing with other states if you want to maintain your influence.

So where does that leave everyone who opposes Trump’s foreign policy?

Well, we could point out that his approach is effective in advancing his Administration’s interests, but those are not necessarily America’s best interests. For example, Trump may succeed in getting NATO to “pay more” for America’s support, but that doesn’t actually help America much. The benefit of multilateralism and cooperation, then, is not that it advances America’s interests; the process of working with other states helps us better understand what those interests are.

Or it may provide further support for the growing restraint crowd. Maybe the only way to lead the world is to be mean. And if we want to be cooperative and helpful, we’ll have to sacrifice some of our expansive interests. So…we sacrifice those expansive interests. If the only way to lead the world is to act like Trump (or George W. Bush), then we must be satisfied with a more restrained foreign policy.

I’m happy to be proved wrong; please feel free to provide evidence of Trump facing real substantive challenges in foreign policy due to his approach.

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Restraint for what purpose?

Restraint in US foreign policy is having a moment. That’s a good thing. But I worry it’s unclear whether restraint is a means or an end, and what that end would be. Without resolving this–preferably in favor of re-imagining a continued US leadership role in the world–current calls for restraint may do more harm than good.

The popularity of restraint in US foreign policy should be making me happy. I went to college in the Bush years, and marched against the Iraq war. After graduating, I joined a group in DC trying to formulate a smart, progressive foreign policy vision. A few years later I resigned in frustration that they accepted the troubling aspects of Obama’s foreign policy–like his expanded drone strikes–and focused mainly on helping Democrats sound tough on foreign policy. I cheered the pushback on US support for the Saudis in Yemen, beginning under Obama and continuing under Trump.

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An American died in an Egyptian jail. Why didn’t this well-connected human rights community speak out?

Earlier this week, Mustafa Kassem, an American held in Egypt, died. The Trump Administration did little to help him. That wasn’t surprising. What was surprising was that the international religious freedom movement (IRF), a community that has gained close access to this Administration, seemed to have done little as well. The reason behind this should make this movement think seriously about its approach to the human rights.

Let me tell you two stories.

In October 2016, Andrew Brunson–a US pastor who had worked for a long time in Turkey–was arrested for alleged connections to the coup attempt against Turkish President Erdogan. His cause became a priority for the international religious freedom movement, who repeatedly pressed the Trump Administration to act. And it did. US Ambassador at large for International Religious Freedom (IRF) Sam Brownback pressed Turkey for Brunson’s release. Vice President Pence spoke out. The United States imposed sanctions against Turkey and raised tariffs. Eventually, Turkey gave in and released Brunson.

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The sneaky rise of “common wisdom” in Middle East studies

We’ve all spent the weekend processing the killing of Iranian official Qassim Suleimani by a US airstrike. While this is obviously very important, we should think about a secondary implication of this act–how this undermined the apparent Middle East analyst consensus that America was pulling back from tensions with Iran, and how this consensus even emerged in the first place.

A few months ago I noticed something interesting. Saudi Arabia, after adopting a hostile foreign policy on Qatar and Yemen–motivated by its fears of Iran–seemed to be getting nervous. They’d issue warning signs about the impact of a war, and their UAE allies actually seemed to be trying to calm things down. I noted this on Twitter (I’m not going to look up my tweets, but you can find them), and thought I was onto something.

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The biggest losers from the Suleimani strike may be America’s Gulf allies

Depending on your Twitter addiction, you either went to sleep or woke up with the news that America had assassinated Qassim Suleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds force. Suleimani was one of the most powerful men in Iran, and the driver of its activities in the Middle East, so this is a big deal. People are debating whether this was just and necessary, and what happens next. But I wanted to raise a different point: what this means for America’s Persian Gulf allies.

Many would suspect these states–particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)–to be the biggest winners in this strike. Both states have a history of antagonism with Iran. Both were also the victim of strikes against their oil industry likely orchestrated by Iran (likely by Suleimani himself). And both have been fighting a proxy war in Yemen against Iran. So removing him from the region would be a good thing for them.

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Chain-ganging in reverse? Gulf states and US hostility towards Iran

I had a piece in the Washington Post’s “Monkeycage” over the weekend, which you can read here. I noted that many worry Saudi Arabia and the UAE will pull America into war with Iran. But it actually looks like they’re the ones restraining us. The piece was inspired by the famous “chain-ganging” dynamic in IR scholarship, but there was little discussion of that as it was geared towards a broader audience, so I wanted to expand here.

I suspect most readers of this site had to read Christensen and Snyder’s “Chain gangs and passed bucks” at some point. In case you didn’t, the argument is basically that in multipolar systems, alliances tend towards chain-ganging (being dragged into wary by allies) or buck-passing (wars breaking out because no one wants to stand up to an aggressor). The former happens in the case of offensive-dominant systems, the latter in defensive dominant ones.

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This op-ed shows what’s wrong with US foreign policy

Today, Ryan Crocker–career foreign service officer and former Ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan–wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post criticizing its criticism of the Afghanistan war he oversaw. He pointed to progress made in Afghanistan, which is fair (and doesn’t necessarily contradict anything in the Post’s reporting), but generally did little to directly undermine worries about the war. Beyond that, as I noted in a frustrated Twitter thread earlier today, he showed off a lot of what’s wrong with US foreign policy.

I spent 11 years in Washington, DC, doing the usual young professional DC thing. I worked for a defense contractor. I joined networking groups. I attended events at think tanks. During this time I saw a lot of speeches either promising a new direction in US foreign policy or defending its current direction. Both tended to be vague and defensive even as they refused to directly engage with the very real problems in our policies. I had a flashback to that as I read Crocker’s op-ed.

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Agent. Foreign Agent

Warning! According to the law that the Russian parliament passed yesterday, this post might need to be prefaced with a disclaimer that the following text has been compiled by a foreign agent. An individual can be labeled as a “foreign agent” in Russia if they (1) distribute information, and (2) receive funds from sources outside Russia. I am ticking both boxes here, even as an academic working at a university, and the law intentionally left the “information spreading” extremely broad: you can literally post something on social media. It would be up for the Justice Ministry and the Foreign Ministry to decide who receives a “foreign agent” label. A specific procedure is yet to be established, but if an individual is deemed a foreign agent, they will have to create their own legally registered organization within a month in order to interact as a foreign agent with the Russian government. 

This iteration of the law comes as a sequel to the ‘amendments to the law on non-commercial organizations’ of 2012 that obliged Russian organizations to register as ‘foreign agents’ in case they were involved in ‘political activity’ (even through funding) and received funding from abroad. It has affected by now a large number of my colleagues, including the Sova Center for the Monitoring of Xenophobia that was forced to pay a large fine. As one of the defenders of the law stated on prime-time television and in line with the usual liberal anti-American narrative and a conspiracy theme: 

The purpose of the law is to reduce the influence of foreign countries on the policy. Thus, our law is much softer than the one in the US […]. And at the same time if you engage in politics, that means fighting for power, you must inform the Russian citizens. Those who oppose this law, do this for two reasons: the first – or they want to seize power in Russia in the interests of foreign states and against the interests of Russia, and the second – they get Western money and want to steal it.

Duma Member Sergey Markov

The law on foreign agents was passed in the same session with more restrictive legislation on public rallies undoubtedly taking the cue from Vladimir Putin who remarked during his Direct Line in December 2011 that he was sure that some of the people went to the protest ‘in a foreign country’s interest and for a foreign country’s money’. The notorious usage of the singular as opposed to the plural was telling – the country in question was not named, but it was clear for the audience that he was talking about the only country that could afford financing a protest in Russia, the USA. 

Pervyi Kanal, Russian state TV,  responded to the Direct Line with lightning speed and three days later on Sunday prime time news there was a segment on ‘the history and spread of coloured revolutions’, where it was stated that there is a special American think tank that is active in countries where the US ‘is interested in changing the regime’. One of the Pervyi Kanal’s experts emphasized that ‘there are many symbols and concepts, but the aim and the sponsor is the same – the USA’ (Pervyi Kanal, 18 December 2011). Thus, the Soviet frame about American dollars buying instability and wars was time and again re-articulated both by state officials and TV personalities.

Why pass this new foreign agent law now, one might ask? After all, who doesn’t like that goofball Donald and who is afraid of that barely competent State Department that can’t even fact check a TIME magazine cover? According to a Russian MP, it’s because of Maria Butina’s case:

Very recently, Maria Butina returned to Russia. She was sentenced to a year and a half under a similar law that’s in place within the United States of America because she failed to register as an individual ‘foreign agent.’ […] We’re talking about protection from direct foreign influence on the media market […]. Unfortunately, political forces in our country use tactics like these quite often in order to bring often unreliable and compromised facts forward for discussion.

Duma’s Vice Speaker Pyotr Tolstoy (United Russia party)

For starters, of course the American law is not that similar. Individual foreign agents in the US are supposed to be taking action in the interest of a foreign government or lobbying politicians. You know, like the convicted Michael Flynn or Paul Manafort. But lobbying effort is completely absent from the Russian law. While Butina was portrayed as another victim of “deep state” elite battles that ravage the American establishment, with the impeachment hearings kicking into high gear, who knows who will be the next President in the US and what kind of cookies the next State Department is going to distribute in Russia? In the meantime, “sovereign internet” is coming along and the laws are ready. 

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What do new Turkish university campuses have to do with Trump’s Syria decision?

So by this point we all know the big news on Syria. Overnight, Trump announced that–after consulting with Turkish President Erdogan–the US would be pulling troops out of north Syria, giving Turkey freedom to operate. This would likely involve military actions against Kurdish forces there, which Turkey fears are coordinating with Kurdish insurgents in Turkey. This is concerning for two reasons. First, the United States had worked with these Kurdish forces to fight ISIS, so we’re basically abandoning them. Second, this will basically leave ISIS detention camps unguarded, possibly letting this terrorist organization regroup.

A lot has been said on Twitter and elsewhere. This will hurt US credibility. We shouldn’t have open-ended commitments in the Middle East, but this isn’t the way to stop them. This is no way to treat our allies. I encourage you to read others’ takes, and I’m not going to pretend these insights are original to me (but you could read my thread if you want).

But I did start thinking about what Turkey is hoping to accomplish. They’re framing this as a security issue; they want to uproot forces supporting insurgents in their territory. That is understandable, even if we don’t like abandoning Syria’s Kurds. But there are indications this is part of a broader push to increase Turkey’s regional influence.

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Even More Assholery: Is Seeking Payment for Protection New?

This is a guest post from Paul Poast, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago.

Earlier this spring, Poast wrote a post about the Asshole Theory of US Foreign Policy and the structural conditions that may facilitate the United States playing the role of a jerk on the international stage. In part 2, we embedded Poast’s thread on President Trump’s gauche offer to buy Greenland from Denmark.

In part 3, Poast reflects on President Trump’s talk about extracting payment from Saudi Arabia for protection in light of previous burden-sharing episodes such as the first Gulf War. This is another embedded thread so you may have to click on the image to read the whole thread.

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Further Reflections on Assholery: How Important is Denmark to NATO?

This is a guest post from Paul Poast, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago.

Earlier this spring, Poast wrote a post about the Asshole Theory of US Foreign Policy and the structural conditions that may facilitate the United States playing the role of a jerk on the international stage.

In light of President Trump’s overtures to buy Greenland from Denmark, Poast wrote a thread on Twitter about Denmark’s importance to NATO, suggesting why President Trump’s suggestion might be considered an asshole move.

What follows is an embedded thread using ThreaderApp. This is part II in the occasional #AssholeUSFP series. [Note: If full thread isn’t visible to you, click on the first thread and it will open in a new window. Full thread should be visible if you have a Threaderapp account. We’ll experiment with embedding features…]

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