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anupam maheshwari maheshwari_anupam at rediffmail.com
Tue Nov 4 16:55:38 IST 2003

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The Real Reasons for the War With Iraq:

This essay is a Macroeconomic and Geostrategic Analysis of the Unspoken Truth written in an effort to inform and stimulate debate on the crucial but true issues surrounding the Iraq war. 

By Anupam Maheshwari

The answer to the Iraq enigma is simple yet shocking -- it is an oil currency war. The real reason for this war is this administration’s goal of preventing further Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) momentum towards the euro as an oil transaction currency standard. However, in order to pre-empt OPEC, they need to gain geo-strategic control of Iraq along with its 2nd largest proven oil reserves. This essay will discuss the macroeconomics of the ‘petro-dollar’ and the unpublicized but real threat to U.S. economic hegemony from the euro as an alternative oil transaction currency. 

As US government prepared to go to war with Iraq, the country was unable to
answer even the most basic questions about this conflict. First, why is there almost no international support to topple Saddam? If Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program truly possessed the threat level that President Bush has repeatedly purported, why are their historic allies not joining a coalition to militarily disarm Saddam? Secondly, despite over 350 unfettered U.N inspections, there has been no evidence reported that Iraq has reconstituted its WMD program. Indeed, the Bush administration’s claims about Iraq’s WMD capability appear demonstrably false. Third, and despite President Bush’s rhetoric, the CIA has not found any links between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. To the contrary, some intelligence analysts believe it is far more likely Al Qaeda might acquire an unsecured former Soviet Union Weapon(s) of Mass Destruction, or potentially from sympathizers within a destabilized Pakistan.

Moreover, immediately following Congress’s vote on the Iraq Resolution, we suddenly
became aware of North Korea’s nuclear program violations. Kim Jong Il is processing
uranium in order to produce nuclear weapons this year. President Bush has not provided a
rationale answer as to why Saddam’s seemingly dormant WMD program possesses a more imminent threat than North Korea’s active nuclear weapons program. Strangely, Donald Rumsfeld suggested that if Saddam were ‘exiled’ we could avoid an Iraq war. Confused yet? Well, I’m going to give their game away -- the core driver for toppling Saddam is actually the euro currency.

The war in Iraq is mostly about how the ruling class at Langley and the Bush/Cheney administration view hydrocarbons at the geo-strategic level, and the overarching macroeconomic threats to the U.S. dollar from the euro. The Federal Reserve’s greatest nightmare is that OPEC will switch its international transactions from a dollar standard to a euro standard. Iraq actually made this switch in Nov. 2000 (when the euro was worth around 82 cents), and has actually made off like a bandit considering the dollar’s steady depreciation against the euro. (Note: the dollar declined 17% against the euro in 2002.). The real reason the Bush administration wants a puppet government in Iraq -- or more importantly, the reason why the corporate-military-industrial network conglomerate wants a puppet government in Iraq -- is so that it will revert back to a dollar standard and stay that way. While also hoping to veto any wider OPEC momentum towards the euro, especially from Iran -- the 2nd largest OPEC producer who is actively discussing a switch to euros for its oil exports.

Furthermore, despite Saudi Arabia being US’s ‘client state,’ the Saudi regime appears
increasingly weak/threatened from massive civil unrest. Some analysts believe a ‘Saudi
Revolution’ might be plausible in the aftermath of an unpopular U.S. invasion and
occupation of Iraq. Undoubtedly, the Bush administration is acutely aware of these risks. Hence, the neo-conservative framework entails a large and permanent military presence in the Persian Gulf region in a post-Saddam era, just in case US needs to surround and control Saudi’s Ghawar oil fields in the event of a coup by an anti-western group. But first back to Iraq. "Saddam sealed his fate when he decided to switch to the euro in late 2000 (and later converted his $10 billion reserve fund at the U.N. to euros) -- at that point, another manufactured Gulf War became inevitable under Bush II. Only the most extreme circumstances could have possibly stop that now and I strongly doubt anything could -- short of Saddam getting replaced with a pliant regime.

Baghdad’s switch from the dollar to the euro for oil trading is intended to rebuke Washington’s hard-line on sanctions and encourage Europeans to challenge it. But the political message will cost Iraq millions in lost revenue. At the time of the switch many analysts were surprised that Saddam was willing to give up millions in oil revenue for what appeared to be a political statement. However, the steady depreciation of the dollar
versus the euro since late 2001 means that Iraq has profited handsomely from the switch in their reserve and transaction currencies. Indeed, The Observer surprisingly divulged these facts in a recent article entitled: ‘Iraq nets handsome profit by dumping dollar for euro,’(February 16, 2003).

This Observer article illustrates that the euro has gained almost 25% against
the dollar since late 2001. This also applies to the $10 billion in Iraq’s U.N. ‘oil for food’
reserve fund that was previously held in dollars -- it has also gained that same percent value since the switch. According to macroeconomists, the following scenario would occur if OPEC made a sudden (collective) switch to euros, as opposed to a gradual transition:
"Otherwise, the effect of an OPEC switch to the euro would be that oil-consuming nations would
have to flush dollars out of their (central bank) reserve funds and replace these with euros. The
dollar would crash anywhere from 20-40% in value and the consequences would be those one
could expect from any currency collapse and massive inflation (think Argentina currency crisis,
for example). You’d have foreign funds stream out of the U.S. stock markets and dollar
denominated assets, there’d surely be a run on the banks much like the 1930s, the current account
deficit would become unserviceable, the budget deficit would go into default, and so on. 
"The United States economy is intimately tied to the dollar’s role as reserve currency. This
doesn’t mean that the U.S. couldn’t function otherwise, but that the transition would have to be gradual to avoid such dislocations (and the ultimate result of this would probably be the U.S. and
the E.U. switching roles in the global economy)."

Although the above scenario is unlikely, and most assuredly undesirable, under certain
economic conditions it is plausible. In the aftermath of toppling Saddam it is clear the U.S. will keep a large and permanent military force in the Persian Gulf. Indeed, there is no ‘exit strategy,’ as the military will be needed to protect the newly installed regime, and to send a message to other OPEC producers that they might receive ‘regime change’ if they convert their oil payments to euros.

An interesting story in Observer was published related to another OPEC ‘Axis of Evil’ country, Iran, who is vacillating on the euro issue:
"Politics is still likely to be a factor in any decision, they said, as Iran uses the opportunity to
hit back at the U.S. government, which recently labeled it part of an ‘axis of evil.‘
"More than half of the country’s assets in the Forex Reserve Fund have been converted to euro, a
member of the Parliament Development Commission, Mohammad Abasspour announced. He
noted that higher parity rate of euro against the US dollar will give the Asian countries,
particularly oil exporters, a chance to usher in a new chapter in ties with European Union’s
member countries. He said that the United States dominates other countries through its currency, noting that given the superiority of the dollar against other hard currencies, the US monopolizes global trade. The
lawmaker expressed hope that the competition between euro and dollar would eliminate the
monopoly in global trade."

After toppling Saddam, this administration may decide that Iran’s disloyalty to the dollar
qualifies them as the next target in the ‘war on terror.’ Iran’s interest in switching to the euro as their currency for oil exports is well documented. 

Aside from these political risks regarding Saudi Arabia and Iran, another risk factor is
actually Japan. Perhaps the biggest gamble in a protracted Iraq war may be Japan’s weak
economy. If the war creates prolonged oil high prices ($45 per barrel over several
months), or a short but massive oil price spike ($80 to $100 per barrel), some analysts
believe Japan’s fragile economy would collapse. Japan is quite hypersensitive to oil prices, and if its banks default, the collapse of the second largest economy would set in motion a sequence of events that could prove quite devastating to the U.S. economy. Indeed, Japan’s fall in an Iraq war could create the economic dislocations and quickly spread to Europe and Russia. Unlike the U.S. and U.K., the Russian government
lacks the controls to thwart a disorderly run on the dollar, and such an event could ultimately force an OPEC switch to euros.

Additionally, other risks might arise if the Iraq war goes poorly or becomes prolonged. It is possible that civil unrest may unfold in Kuwait or other OPEC members including
Venezuela, as the latter has indicated they may switch to euros just as Saddam did in
November 2000. This would foster the very situation this administration is trying to prevent: another OPEC member switching to euros as their oil transaction currency.
Incidently, the CIA estimates that North Korea could produce 4-6 nuclear weapons by the end of 2003. Ironically, this crisis over North Korea’s nuclear program further confirms the fraudulent premise for which this war with Saddam has been contrived.
Unfortunately, neo-conservatives such as George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld,
Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle fail to grasp that Newton’s Law applies equally to both
physics and the geo-political sphere as well: "For every action there is an equal but opposite reaction."

During the 1990s the world viewed the U.S. as a rather self-absorbed but essentially
benevolent superpower. Military actions in Iraq (1990-91 & 1998), Serbia and Kosovo
(1999) were undertaken with both U.N. and NATO cooperation and thus afforded
international legitimacy. President Clinton also worked to reduce tensions in Northern
Ireland and attempted to negotiate a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. US as a
superpower status was viewed as benign. However, in both the pre and post 9/11 intervals, the ‘America first’ policies of the Bush administration, with its unwillingness to honor International Treaties, along with their aggressive militarisation of foreign policy, has significantly damaged their reputation. Following 9/11, it appears that President Bush’s ‘warmongering rhetoric’ has created global tensions -- as US is now viewed as a belligerent superpower willing to apply unilateral military force without U.N. approval. Moreover, this administration’s failure to actively engage in negotiations regarding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is unfortunate. Lamentably, the tremendous amount of international sympathy that we witnessed in the immediate aftermath of the September 11th tragedy has been replaced with fear and anger at every government. This administration’s bellicosity has changed the worldview, and ‘anti-Americanism’ is proliferating even among their closest allies.

Even more alarming are significant monetary shifts in the reserve funds of foreign governments away from the dollar with movements towards the euro. It appears that the world community lacks faith in the Bush administration’s economic policies, and along with OPEC, seems poised to respond with economic retribution if the U.S. government is regarded as an uncontrollable and dangerous superpower. 

The U.S. economy has acquired significant structural imbalances, including record-high trade account deficit (now almost 5% of GDP) and the recent return to annual budget deficits in the hundreds of billions. These factors would devalue the currency of any nation under the ‘old rules.’ Why is the dollar still predominant despite these structural imbalances? While many Americans assume the strength of the U.S. dollar merely rests on economic output (i.e. GDP), the ruling elites understand that the dollar’s strength is based on two fundamentally unique advantages relative to all other hard currencies.
The reality is that the strength of the U.S. dollar since 1945 rests on its being the
international reserve currency. Thus it assumes the role of fiat currency for global oil
transactions (ie. ‘petro-dollar’). The U.S. prints hundreds of billions of these fiat
petro-dollars, which are then used by nation states to purchase oil/energy from OPEC
producers (except Iraq, to some degree Venezuela, and perhaps Iran in the near future).
These petro-dollars are then re-cycled from OPEC back into the U.S. via Treasury Bills or other dollar-denominated assets such as U.S. stocks, real estate, etc. In essence, global oil consumption provides a subsidy to the U.S. economy. Hence, the Europeans created the euro to compete with the dollar as an alternative international reserve currency. Obviously the E.U. would like oil priced in euros as well.

The following excerpts from an Asia Times article discusses the virtues of fiat oil
currency and dollar hegemony (or vices from the perspective of developing nations, whose debt is denominated in dollars).
"Ever since 1971, when US president Richard Nixon took the dollar off the gold standard (at $35
per ounce) that had been agreed to at the Bretton Woods Conference at the end of World War II,
the dollar has been a global monetary instrument that the United States, and only the United
States, can produce by fiat. The dollar, now a fiat currency, is at a 16-year trade-weighted high
despite record US current-account deficits and the status of the US as the leading debtor nation.
The US national debt as of April 4 was $6.021 trillion against a gross domestic product (GDP) of
$9 trillion. World trade is now a game in which the US produces dollars and the rest of the world produces
things that dollars can buy. The world’s interlinked economies no longer trade to capture a
comparative advantage; they compete in exports to capture needed dollars to service
dollar-denominated foreign debts and to accumulate dollar reserves to sustain the exchange value
of their domestic currencies. To prevent speculative and manipulative attacks on their currencies,
the world’s central banks must acquire and hold dollar reserves in corresponding amounts to their
currencies in circulation. The higher the market pressure to devalue a particular currency, the
more dollar reserves its central bank must hold. This creates a built-in support for a strong dollar that in turn forces the world’s central banks to acquire and hold more dollar reserves, making it
stronger. This phenomenon is known as dollar hegemony, which is created by the geopolitically
constructed peculiarity that critical commodities, most notably oil, are denominated in dollars.
Everyone accepts dollars because dollars can buy oil. The recycling of petro-dollars is the price
the US has extracted from oil-producing countries for US tolerance of the oil-exporting cartel
since 1973. By definition, dollar reserves must be invested in US assets, creating a capital-accounts surplus
for the US economy. Even after a year of sharp correction, US stock valuation is still at a 25-year
high and trading at a 56 percent premium compared with emerging markets.
". . . The US capital-account surplus in turn finances the US trade deficit. Moreover, any asset,
regardless of location, that is denominated in dollars is a US asset in essence. When oil is
denominated in dollars through US state action and the dollar is a fiat currency, the US essentially
owns the world’s oil for free. And the more the US prints greenbacks, the higher the price of US
assets will rise. Thus a strong-dollar policy gives the US a double win."

This unique geo-political agreement with Saudi Arabia in 1973 has worked to US favor for the past 30 years, as this arrangement has eliminated our currency risk for oil, raised the entire asset value of all dollar denominated assets/properties, and allowed the Federal
Reserve to create a truly massive debt and credit expansion (or ‘credit bubble’ in the view of some economists). These structural imbalances in the U.S. economy are sustainable as long as:
1. nations continue to demand and purchase oil for their energy/survival needs, and
2. the fiat reserve currency for global oil transactions remain the U.S. dollar (and dollar
These underlying factors, along with the ‘safe harbor’ reputation of U.S. investments
afforded by the dollar’s reserve currency status propelled the U.S. to economic and military hegemony in the post-World War II period. However, the introduction of the euro is a significant new factor, and appears to be the primary threat to U.S. economic hegemony. Moreover, in December 2002 ten additional countries were approved for full membership into the E.U. In 2004 this will result in an aggregate GDP of $9.6 trillion and 450 million people, directly competing with the U.S. economy ($10.5 trillion GDP, 280 million people). It should be noted that since late 2002, the euro has been trading at parity or above the dollar, and analysts predict the dollar will continue its downward trending in 2003 relative to the euro. It appears the final two pivotal items that would create the OPEC transition to euros will be based on 
(1) if and when Norway’s Brent crude is denominated in euros and 
(2) when the U.K. adopts the euro. 
Regarding the later, Tony Blair is lobbying heavily for the U.K. to adopt the euro, and their adoption would seem imminent within this decade. If and when the U.K. adopts the euro currency I suspect a concerted effort will be quickly mounted to establish the euro as an international reserve currency. Finally, the maneuvers toward reducing the global dominance of the dollar are already well underway and have only reason to accelerate so far as I can see. An OPEC pricing shift would seem rather unlikely prior 2004 -- barring political motivations (ie. from anxious OPEC members) or a disorderly collapse of the dollar (ie. Japanese bank collapse due to high oil prices following a prolonged Iraq conflict) but appears quite viable to take place before the end of the decade."
In other words, around 2005/2006, from a purely economic and monetary perspective, it will become logical for several OPEC producers to transition to the euro for oil pricing. Of course that will devalue the dollar, and hurt the US economy unless it begins making
structural and monetary changes right away -- or use its massive military power to force
events upon OPEC . . .

Facing these potentialities, I hypothesize that President Bush pretends to topple Saddam in 2003 in a pre-emptive attempt to initiate massive Iraqi oil production in far excess of OPEC quotas, to reduce global oil prices, and thereby dismantle OPEC’s price controls. The end-goal of the neo-conservatives is incredibly bold yet simple in purpose, to use the ‘war on terror’ as the premise to finally dissolve OPEC’s decision-making process, thus ultimately preventing the cartel’s inevitable switch to pricing oil in euros. How would the Bush administration break-up the OPEC cartel’s price controls in a post-Saddam Iraq? 

First, the newly installed regime (apparently a U.S. General) will convert
Iraq back to the dollar standard. Next, with the U.S. military protecting the oil fields, the new ruling junta will undertake the necessary steps to rapidly increase production of Iraq oil -- well beyond OPEC’s 2 million barrel per day quota. An Iraq that can produce that much oil will want to do so, and will not allow OPEC to limit it to 2 million barrels per day. If Iraq busts its quota, then who in OPEC will give up 5 million barrels of production? No one could afford to, and OPEC would die. The OPEC cartel could feel threatened by the goal of the neo-conservatives to break-up OPEC’s price controls ($22-$28 per barrel). Perhaps the Bush administration’s ambitious goal of flooding the oil market with Iraqi crude may work, but I have doubts. Will OPEC simply tolerate quota-busting Iraqi oil production? Contrarily, OPEC could meet and in an act of
self-preservation re-denominate the oil currency to the euro. Such a decision would mark the end of U.S. dollar hegemony, and thus the end of US’s precarious economic superpower status. One of the dirty little secrets of today’s international order is that the rest of the globe could topple the United States from its hegemonic status whenever they so choose with a concerted abandonment of the dollar standard. This is America’s preeminent, inescapable Achilles Heel for now and the foreseeable future.

Under the guise of the perpetual ‘war on terror’ the Bush administration is manipulating the American people about the unspoken but very real macroeconomic reasons for this war with Iraq. This war in Iraq was not based on any threat from Saddam’s old WMD program, or from terrorism. This war was over the global currency of oil. A war intended to prevent oil from being priced in euros. Furthermore, Americans seem unable to address the structural weakness of their economy due to massive debt manipulation, unaffordable 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, record levels of trade deficits, unsustainable credit expansion, corporate accounting abuses, near zero personal savings, record personal indebtedness, and our reliance and over consumption of Middle Eastern oil. Paradoxically, this administration’s belligerent policies may bring about the very outcome they hope to prevent -- an OPEC currency switch to euros.

Background Information on Hydrocarbons

 Other than the core driver of the dollar versus euro currency threat, the other issue related to the war with Iraq appears related to some disappointing geological findings regarding the Caspian Sea region. Since the mid-late 1990s the Caspian Sea region of Central Asia was thought to hold approximately 200 billion barrels of untapped oil (the later would be comparable to Saudi Arabia’s reserve base)." Based on an early feasibility study by Enron, the easiest and cheapest way to bring this oil to market would be a pipeline from Kazakhstan, through Afghanistan to the Pakistan border at Malta. In 1998 then CEO of Halliburton, Dick Cheney, expressed much interest in building that pipeline. In fact, these oil reserves were a central component of Cheney’s energy plan released in May 2001. According to his report, the U.S. will import 90% of its oil by 2020. Thus tapping into the reserves in the Caspian Sea region was viewed as a strategic goal that would help meet our growing energy demand and also reduce their dependence on oil from the Middle East.

According to the French book, The Forbidden Truth, the Bush administration ignored the
U.N. sanctions that had been imposed upon the Taliban and entered into negotiations with the supposedly ‘rogue regime’ from February 2, 2001 to August 6, 2001. According to this book, the Taliban were apparently not very cooperative based on the statements of Pakistan’s former ambassador, Mr. Naik. He reports that the U.S. threatened a ‘military option’ in the summer of 2001 if the Taliban did not acquiesce to our demands. Fortuitous for the Bush administration and Cheney’s energy plan, Bin Laden delivered  9/11. The pre-positioned U.S. military, along with the CIA providing cash to the Northern Alliance leaders, led the invasion of Afghanistan and the Taliban were routed. The pro-western Karzai government was ushered in. The pipeline project was now back on track in early 2002, well, sort of . . . After three exploratory wells were built and analyzed, it was reported that the Caspian region holds only approximately 10 to 20 billion barrels of oil (although it does have a lot of natural gas). The oil is also of poor quality, with high sulfur content. Subsequently, several major companies have now dropped their plans for the pipeline citing the massive project was no longer profitable. Unfortunately, this recent realization about the Caspian Sea region has serious implications for the U.S., India, China, Asia and Europe, as the amount of available hydrocarbons for industrialized and developing nations has been decreased downward by 20%. (Global estimates reduced from 1.2 trillion to approximately 1 trillion). The Bush administration quickly turned its attention to a known quantity, Iraq, with its proven reserves totaling 11% of the world’s proven oil reserves (112 billion barrels). However, no geological surveys have been conducted in Iraq since the 1970s. Russian, French, and U.S. oil companies are eager to lease Iraq’s unexplored fields, which may contain up to 200 billion barrels. Our greatest nemesis, Bin Laden, was quickly replaced with our new public enemy #1, Saddam Hussein. 

 ‘The Real Reasons for the War With Iraq’
"Oil, Currency, and the War on Iraq":
One of the stated economic objectives, and perhaps the primary objective, when setting up the
euro was to turn it into a reserve currency to challenge the dollar so that Europe too could get
something for nothing. This however would be a disaster for the US. Not only would they lose a large part of their annual subsidy of effectively free goods and services, but countries switching to euro reserves
from dollar reserves would bring down the value of the US currency. Imports would start to cost
Americans a lot more and as increasing numbers of those holding dollars began to spend them,
the US would have to start paying its debts by supplying in goods and services to foreign
countries, thus reducing American living standards. As countries and businesses converted their
dollar assets into euro assets, the US property and stock market bubbles would, without doubt,
burst. The Federal Reserve would no longer be able to print more money to reflate the bubble, as
it is currently openly considering doing, because, without lots of eager foreigners prepared to
mop them up, a serious inflation would result which, in turn, would make foreigners even more
reluctant to hold the US currency and thus heighten the crisis. 
There is though one major obstacle to this happening: oil. Oil is not just by far the most
important commodity traded internationally, it is the lifeblood of all modern industrialised
economies. If you don’t have oil, you have to buy it. And if you want to buy oil in the
international markets, you usually have to have dollars. Until recently all OPEC countries agreed
to sell their oil for dollars only. So long as this remained the case, the euro was unlikely to
become the major reserve currency: there is not a lot of point in stockpiling euros if every time
you need to buy oil you have to change them into dollars. This arrangement also meant that the
US effectively part-controlled the entire world oil market: you could only buy oil if you had
dollars, and only one country had the right to print dollars -- the US.
If on the other hand OPEC were to decide to accept euros only for its oil (assuming for a
moment it were allowed to make this decision), then American economic dominance would be
over. Not only would Europe not need as many dollars anymore, but Japan which imports over
80% of its oil from the Middle East would think it wise to convert a large portion of its dollar
assets to euro assets (Japan is the major subsidizer of the US because it holds so many dollar
investments). The US on the other hand, being the world’s largest oil importer would have, to run
a trade surplus to acquire euros. The conversion from trade deficit to trade surplus would have to
be achieved at a time when its property and stock market prices were in doldrums and its domestic
supplies of oil and gas were contracting. It would be a very painful conversion. The purely economic arguments for OPEC converting to the euro, at least for a while, seem very strong. The Euro-zone does not run a huge trade deficit nor is it heavily indebted to the rest of the world like the US and interest rates in the Euro-zone are also significantly higher. The Euro-zone has a larger share of world trade than the US and is the Middle East’s main trading partner. And nearly everything you can buy for dollars you can also buy for euros -- apart, of course, from oil.. . .
All of this is bad news for the US economy and the dollar. The fear for Washington will be that
not only will the future price of oil not be right, but the currency might not be right either. Which
perhaps helps explain why the US is increasingly turning to its second major tool for dominating
world affairs: the military force, first one being the economic force.

Considering the economic challenges that each nation faces, I advocate
that the global monetary system be reformed without delay. This would include the dollar
and euro designated as equal international reserve currencies and placed within an exchange band along with a dual-OPEC oil transaction currency standard. Additionally, the G-8 nations should also explore a third reserve currency option regarding a yen/yuan bloc for East Asia. These reforms may lower US’s standard of living slightly, but would create a far more equitable global monetary system, and thus hopefully mitigate future armed or economic warfare over the currency of oil. Tragically, President Bush and his administration do not appear willing to initiate the arduous structural changes that their economy must undertake if they are to adapt and compete with the euro as a second international reserve currency. Instead, they intend to enforce U.S. dollar hegemony for oil transactions via the application of superior U.S. military force. This essay illustrates this dangerous, military-centric strategy could ultimately result in failure, as monetary maneuvers against the U.S. dollar by the international community.

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