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Entering a Major Regional Re-set – The Syria Outcome Will Haunt Those Who Started This War

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Written by Alastair Crooke; Originally appeared on strategic-culture.org

The Middle East is metamorphosing. New fault-lines are emerging, yet Trump’s foreign policy ‘hawks’ still try to stage ‘old movies’ in a new ‘theatre’.

The ‘old movie’ is for the US to ‘stand up’ Sunni, Arab states, and lead them towards confronting ‘bad actor’ Iran. ‘Team Bolton’ is reverting back to the old 1996 Clean Break script – as if nothing has changed. State Department officials have been briefing that Secretary Pompeo’s address in Cairo on Thursday was “ slated to tell his audience (although he may not name the former president), that Obama misled the people of the Middle East about the true source of terrorism, including what contributed to the rise of the Islamic State. Pompeo will insist that Iran, a country Obama tried to engage, is the real terrorist culprit. The speech’s drafts also have Pompeo suggesting that Iran could learn from the Saudis about human rights, and the rule of law.”

Entering a Major Regional Re-set – The Syria Outcome Will Haunt Those Who Started This War

Well, at least that speech should raise a chuckle around the region. In practice however, the regional fault-line has moved on: It is no longer so much Iran. GCC States have a new agenda, and are now far more concerned to contain Turkey, and to put a halt to Turkish influence spreading throughout the Levant. GCC states fear that President Erdogan, given the emotional and psychological wave of antipathy unleashed by the Khashoggi murder, may be mobilising newly re-energised Muslim Brotherhood, Gulf networks. The aim being to leverage present Gulf economic woes, and the general hollowing out of any broader GCC ‘vision’, in order to undercut the rigid Gulf ‘Arab system’ (tribal monarchy). The Brotherhood favours a soft Islamist reform of the Gulf monarchies – along lines, such as that once advocated by Jamal Khashoggi .

Turkey’s leadership in any case is convinced that it was the UAE (MbZ specifically) that was the author behind the Kurdish buffer being constructed, and mini-state ‘plot’ against Turkey – in conjunction with Israel and the US. Understandably, Gulf states now fear possible Turkish retribution for their weaponising of Kurdish aspirations in this way.

And Turkey is seen (by GCC States) as already working in close co-ordination with fellow Muslim Brotherhood patron and GCC member, Qatar, to divide the collapsing Council. This prefigures a new round to the MB versus Saudi Wahhabism spat for the soul of Sunni Islam.

GGC states therefore, are hoping to stand-up a ‘front’ to balance Turkey in the Levant. And to this end, they are trying to recruit President Assad back into the Arab fold (which is to say, into the Arab League), and to have him act, jointly with them, as an Arab counter to Turkey.

The point here is obvious: President Assad is closely allied to Iran – and so is Moscow and Turkey. To be fashionably Iranophobic – as Pompeo might wish the GCC to be – simply would spoil the GCC’s anti-Turkey ‘play’. Syria indeed may be (justly) skeptical of Turkey’s actions and intent in Syria, but from President Assad’s perspective, Iran and Russia are absolutely crucial to the managing of an erratic Turkey. Turkey does represent an existential Syrian concern. And trying to lever President Assad – or Lebanon or Turkey – away from Iran, would be absurd. It won’t happen. And the GCC states have enough nous to understand this now (after their stinging defeat in Syria). The Gulf anti-Iranian stance has had ‘the burner’ turned sharply down, (except when their need is to stroke US feathers).

They can see clearly that the Master of Ceremonies in the Levant – putting together the new regional ‘order’ – is not Mr Bolton, but Moscow, with Tehran (and occasionally Ankara), playing their equal part ‘from behind the curtain’.

Presumably, America’s intelligence services know, (and Gulf states certainly are aware), that in any case, Iranian forces are almost all gone from Syria (though of course Syria’s ‘Iranian connection’ remains as firm, as ever) – even as Pompeo and Israel say the precisely the opposite: that they are pushing-back hard at the ‘threatening’ Iranian military ‘footprint’ in Syria. Few in the region will believe it.

The second notable emerging regional fault line then, evidently is the one that is opening between Turkey and the US and Israel. Turkey ‘gets it’: Erdogan ‘gets it’ very clearly: that Washington now deeply distrusts him, suspects that Turkey is accelerating into Moscow and Beijing’s orbit, and that DC would be happy to see him gone – and a more NATO-friendly leader installed in his stead.

And it must be clear to Washington too ‘why’ Turkey would be heading ‘East’. Erdogan precisely needs Russia and Iran to act as MCs to moderate his difficult relations with Damascus for the future. Erdogan needs Russia and Iran even more, to broker a suitable political solution to the Kurds in Syria. He needs China too, to support his economy.

And Erdogan is fully aware that Israel (more than Gulf States) still hankers after the old Ben Gurion ideal of an ethnic Kurdish state – allied with Israel, and sitting atop major oil resources – to be inserted at the very pivot to south-west and central Asia: And at Turkey’s vulnerable underbelly.

The Israeli’s articulated their support for a Kurdish state quite plainly at the time of Barzani’s failed independence initiative in Iraq. But Erdogan simply, unmistakably, has said to this ‘never’ (to Bolton, this week). Nonetheless, Ankara still needs Russian and Iranian collaboration to allow Bolton to ‘climb down his tree’ of a Kurdish mini-state in Syria. He needs Russia to broker a Syrian-led buffer, vice an American-Kurdish tourniquet, strapped around his southern border.

It is unlikely however, that despite the real threat that America’s arming of the Kurds poses to Turkey, that Erdogan really wants to invade Syria – though he threatens it – and though John Bolton’s ‘conditions’ may end by leaving Turkey no option, but to do it. Since, for sure, Erdogan understands that a messy Turkish invasion of Syria would send the delicately balanced Turkish Lire into free-fall.

Still … Turkey, Syria, Iran and Russia now all want America gone from Syria. And for a moment, it seemed it might proceed smoothly after Trump had acquiesced to Erdogan’s arguments, during their celebrated telephone call. But then – Senator Lindsay Graham demurred (against the backdrop of massed howls of anguish issuing from the Beltway foreign policy think-tanks). Bolton did the walk-back, by making US withdrawal from Syria contingent on conditions (ones seemingly designed not to be met) and not tied any specific timeline. President Erdogan was not amused.

It should be obvious now that we are entering a major regional re-set: The US is leaving Syria. Bolton’s attempted withdrawal-reversal has been rebuffed. And the US, in any event, forfeited the confidence of the Kurds in consequence to the original Trump statement. The Kurds now are orientated toward Damascus and Russia is mediating a settlement.

It may take a while, but the US is going. Kurdish forces (other than those linked with the PKK) are likely to be assimilated into the Syrian army, and the ‘buffer’ will not be directed against Turkey, but will be a mix of Syrian army and Kurdish elements – under Syrian command – but whose overall conduct towards Turkey will be invigilated by Russia. And the Syrian army will, in due time, clear Idlib from a resurgent al-Qaida (HTS).

The Arab states are returning to their embassies in Damascus – partly out of fear that the whipsaw of American policy, its radical polarisation, and its proclivity to be wholly or partially ‘walked-back’ by the Deep State – might leave the Gulf unexpectedly ‘orphaned’ at any time. In effect, the GCC states are ‘hedging’ against this risk by trying to reconnect a bifurcated Arab sphere, and to give it a new ‘purpose’ and credibility – as a balance against Turkey, Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood (Syria’s old nemesis).

And yet – there remains still another layer to this calculus, as described by veteran Middle East journalist, Elijah Magnier:

“Indeed the Levant is returning to the centre of Middle East and world attention in a stronger position than in 2011. Syria has advanced precision missiles that can hit any building in Israel. Assad also has an air defence system he would have never dreamed of before 2011 – thanks to Israel’s continuous violation of its airspace, and its defiance of Russian authority. Hezbollah has constructed bases for its long and medium range precision missiles in the mountains and has created a bond with Syria that it could never have established – if not for the war. Iran has established a strategic brotherhood with Syria, thanks to its role in defeating the regime change plan.

NATO’s support for the growth of ISIS has created a bond between Syria and Iraq that no Muslim or Baathist link could ever have created: Iraq has a “carte blanche” to bomb ISIS locations in Syria without the consent of the Syrian leadership, and the Iraqi security forces can walk into Syria anytime they see fit to fight ISIS. The anti-Israel axis has never been stronger than it is today. That is the result of 2011-2018 war imposed on Syria”.

Yes. This is the third of the newly emergent fault-lines: that of Israel on the one hand, and the emerging reality in the Syrian north, on the other – a shadow that has returned to haunt the original instigators of the ‘war’ to undermine Syria. PM Netanyahu since has put all the Israeli eggs into the Trump family ‘basket’. It was Netanyahu’s relationship with Trump which was presented in Israel as being the true ‘Deal of the Century’ (and not the Palestinian one). Yet when Bibi complained forcefully about US withdrawal from Syria (leaving Syria vulnerable, Netanyahu asserts, to an Iranian insertion of smart missiles), Trump nonchalantly replied that the US gives Israel $ 4.5 billion per year – “You’ll be all right”, Trump riposted.

It was seen in Israel as an extraordinary slap to the PM’s face. But Israelis cannot avoid, but to acknowledge, some responsibility for creating precisely the circumstances of which they now loudly complain.

Bottom line: Things have not gone according to plan: America is not shaping the new Levantine ‘order’ – Moscow is. And Israel’s continual, blatant disregard of Russia’s own interests in the Levant, firstly infuriated, and finally has provoked the Russian high command into declaring the northern Middle East a putative no-fly zone for Israel. This represents a major strategic reversal for Netanyahu (and the US).

And finally, it is this repeating pattern of statements being made by the US President on foreign policy that are then almost casually contradicted, or ‘conditioned’, by some or other part of the US bureaucracy, that poses to the region (and beyond) the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question. The pattern clearly is one of an isolated President, with officials emptying his statements of executive authority (until subsequently endorsed, or denied, by the US bureaucracy). It is making Trump almost irrelevant (in terms of the setting of foreign policy).

Is this then a stealth process – knowingly contrived – incrementally to remove Trump from power? A hollowing out of his Presidential prerogatives (leaving him only as a disruptive Twitterer) – achieved, without all the disruption and mess, of formally removing him from office? We shall see.

And what next? Well, as Simon Henderson observes, no one is sure – everyone is left wondering:

“What’s up with Secretary Pompeo’s extended tour of the Middle East? The short answer is that he is trying to sell/explain President Trump’s “we are leaving Syria” policy to America’s friends … Amman, Jordan; Cairo, Egypt; Manama, Bahrain; Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE); Doha, Qatar; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Muscat, Oman; Kuwait City, Kuwait. Wow, even with his own jet and no immigration hassles, that’s an exhausting itinerary … The fact that there now are eight stops in eight days, probably reflects the amount of explaining that needs to be done.”

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  • verner

    yep like the more than moronic states of a but since they re all on prozac, nothing much will worry their night sleep.

  • Sinbad2

    Greed, Moses tried to explain that greed was bad, but his Jews would not listen.
    Jews were thrown out of Israel because of their greed, thrown out of England and Spain because greed, and of course we all know that Hitler told them to hand back the money they had taken from Germans and get out.
    And here we go again, they have bled America dry and keep trying to steal more land around Israel.
    Eventually the American people will rise up and claim their country back and the Jews will move on to the next victim.
    You would think that after thousands of years they would learn that their greed brings them undone, but no.

    • Tommy Jensen

      No one could argue with the Jews for wanting to throw off Roman rule.

      Since Rome occupied Israel in 63 B.C.E., their rule growed more and more onerous. Judea
      was ruled by Roman procurators, whose chief responsibility was to collect and deliver an annual tax to the empire.
      Whatever the procurators raised beyond the quota assigned, they could keep. Not surprisingly, they often imposed confiscatory taxes.

      Equally infuriating, Rome took over the appointment of the High Priest (that the Jews appreciated as much as Catholics would have appreciated Mussolini appointing the Popes).

      A new group arose among the Jews: the Zealots. These anti-Roman rebels were active for more than six decades, and instigated the Great Revolt. Their most basic belief was that all
      means were justified to attain political and religious liberty for Rome´s suppression.

      Caligula, ordered his statue to be set up at every temple in the Roman Empire. The Jews refused to have a staue in Jerusalem as the only group in the Empire. All other occupied countries obeyed as the wagging sheeple they were.

      In the year 66, Florus, the last Roman procurator, stole vast quantities of silver from the Temple.
      The outraged Jewish masses rioted and wiped out the small Roman garrison stationed in Jerusalem. Cestius Gallus, the Roman ruler in neighboring Syria, sent in a larger force of soldiers. But the Jewish insurgents routed them as well. This heartening victory had terrible consequences:
      Many Jews became convinced that they could defeat Rome, and the Zealots’ ranks grew geometrically.

      When the Romans returned, they had 60,000 heavily armed and highly professional troops. They launched their first attack and vanquished the Galilee, and an estimated 100,000 Jews were killed or sold into slavery.

      During the summer of 70, the Romans breached the walls of Jerusalem, and initiated an orgy of violence and destruction. Shortly thereafter, they destroyed the Second Temple. This was the final and most devastating Roman blow against Judea.

      In later generations, the rabbis hyperbolically declared that the revolt’s failure, and the Temple’s destruction, was due not to Roman military superiority but to causeless hatred (sinat khinam) among the Jews against Rome (Yoma 9b).

      • Sinbad2

        And you know all this because of the books written by Jews?

        • Tommy Jensen

          Off course not. I cross examine most of my references.

          Wikileads here have a lot of references, but all parties, historians, scientists, minority religions, museums and also anti-jews agree in the substance in this story.
          The previous slaving of Jews by Persians and Egyptians tell the same story. The dead sea rolls tells about bitter and angry Jews on foreigners in Jerusalem.
          The main reason is the taxation imposed by foreigners, but added with religious insults and racism it blow up to Jewish riots and revolte.

          • Sinbad2

            The Jews were slaves in Egypt, but the leader of these lowly slaves was granted the right to press their claims to Pharaoh, the living god.
            After these poor slaves got their freedom they suddenly were so rich, that they could waste gold to make idols, but could not buy food.

            Texts I have read suggest that Jews were expelled from the Assyrian empire as criminals and lived by stealing from travelers and traders.

            Now I’m not saying that the ancient empires were any different to the American empire, it’s the nature of empires to oppress.
            But the idea that you can get a true reading of history from that time is preposterous.

          • Tommy Jensen

            Fact is fact. My impression about Egypt/Pharao rule is that this is the closest we get to the highest civilisation.
            Pharaons were without the human sacrifizes we find in other ancient cultures eg Mayans, they banned criminals from enter Egypt, and had very few death sentences for very grave offences.
            Their 24 negative commandments shows a very high degree of dignity and civilisation.

          • Sinbad2

            The Egyptian empire rose because of climate change, the warming climate made Egypt the world food bowl.
            All empires are built on money earned through trade, today the Chinese are replacing the Americans because China makes a lot of stuff, and America doesn’t anymore.

          • Nosferatu

            there was more then 350 cases of jews being expelled from somewhere in the history…….

          • Tommy Jensen

            No one likes independent people, who refused to be tax slaves.

          • Nosferatu

            That is the most bulshit theory of 2019 so far….

          • Sinbad2

            Nobody likes people who use the services that taxes provide, without paying their fair share.

    • Zionism = EVIL

      The destruction of Syria did not happen in a vacuum but is part of the larger Americunt, NATO and Zionist plan to destroy any country that posed a threat to their agenda of “full spectrum” domination and control of oil resources.Unfortunate that Russia is a corrupt weak player that colluded with them at the UN theater of the absurd in giving the Americunts, NATO and Zionist hyenas a green light in the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, bombing of Libya, holocaust of Yemen and most despicably the illegal sanctions on Iran. Even today, Russia is working hand in hand with its western “partners” groveling as the Zionist launch daily attacks on Syria with impunity. My guess is that Iran is next if the moron Trump gets a second term in a manipulated and corrupted US system. Middle East and the dumb Arabs are the new guinea pigs in a 21st century Yalta great game.

  • Tommy Jensen

    Im not wondering, Im not left to not be sure. If Israel today can blow the cigaret out of Assad´s mouth with a missile in Damascus Airport, this article is all bs.

    • LR captain

      but they need civilian plans as cover to do it.
      also look at ratio of intercepts over course of Russian intervention the syrains were able to block more and more missiles even when they were fired from the US.

      now the tomahawk cruise missile had listed accuracy of 95% and 4 of them would be needed to destroy. a “so-called” chemical weapons research facility then why were over 100 used on one such during the such a US lead strike. explain that.

      • Tommy Jensen

        Russia has allowed it from the beginning and continue despite all provocations. There is a reason we dont know yet. Maybe Putin is just a Chabad vassal after all.

        • Sinbad2

          The reason is simple, winning hearts and minds.
          The US and Israel behave like barbarians, but the Russians are always polite and civilized.
          Countries like Germany India and Korea watch the theater, and naturally privately support Russia. In fact the whole world is starting to realize that it is the FUKUS countries and Israel that are the bad guys, and Putin is Bond, James Bond.

          Russia is not defeating FUKUS Israel it is simply allowing them to destroy themselves.

          • Tommy Jensen

            270 Russian Servicemen have died in Syria since 2014.
            Hereof 2 Russian generals, 25 proff Airforce pilots, 14 senior radar officers.

            5 US Servicemen have been killed same period.
            Israel Servicemen unknown but < than 30 is a good guess.

            So who is destroying who?

  • David Leach

    Israel has been striking Syria with impunity.” Thousands of times” The Israeli defence minister told the World.

    Besides downing Israeli decoys, the only confirmed kills from the S200/S300 are all Russian,embarrassing. Not one IAF Plane has been nailed yet,,only the Russian one. Damascus airport is hit nearly every other week, I mean seriously what is going on ?.Russia has all this supposedly great air defence Kit,yet IAF hit time after time destroying warehouses and Cargo Planes.The Russians are either fully complicit with Israel attacks or Inept.

    I dont think Russia knows really what their own long term objectives are.If Trump shown Putin any love .in my opinion Putin would be on his knees quicker than a crackhead unzipping Trump, looking for a Dollar to make a fix.This is Russia Foreign Policy in a Nut Shell.Hoping US relations will get better,some day soon Letting Israel do as they please,trying not to offend anyone.For all the good Russia has done against ISIS in Syria,Russian weakness has left Syria exposed to daily Israel/US/Turkey NATO attacks .They are part of the problem,not the soloution. Russia should have been much braver.

    The Russians who were the most concerned about US withdrawal, leaving a void in Syria,go figure ?.Maybe they know their new BFF Erdogan will move in on US territory humiliating them.I think they are really concerned about that.Being humiliated by US is one thing,being humiliated by Turkey another.

  • Jon

    “Tehran (and occasionally Ankara), playing their equal part ‘from behind the curtain’.”

    Who are you kidding? Equal part?! You are absolutely correct that Russia is the MC, but please don’t insult our intelligence by saying Iran and Turkey play “their equal part.”

    Russia’s game has been impeccable. It has committed relatively few resources, assured itself first and foremost (with those resources) a permanent FOB Naval and Air, on the Med in the Levant. Masterful.

    Everyone races off to Moscow to ask for gratuities or explain faux pas. And Putin dispenses benefits or burdens as suits his Russian interest.

    Europe is in disarray; the Sunni block, such as it is, died abirthing; Iran takes orders in the short run from Russia but in the long run from the Ayatollah; Syria takes orders reliably and foreseeable from Russia, because it has no separate existence; and Erdogan tries to figure out where he lost his map and compass, and if he has any real autonomy left.

    Where does this go?

    American foreign policy initiative will be regained when the gamesmen reassume influence and can create again a national security policy that survives intact regardless of which party has the Whitehouse. However this will take years and the combination of Bush adventurism, Obama resets on Iran, and Trump disconnect with his country’s own strategic planners will require much re-investment in stable policy to regain credibility.

    So as to the Mid East we come back to fundamentals. Turkey, Syria and Iran don’t share common interests. Russia, as good as it is in playing the pieces while in motion, won’t be able to change the fundamentals. The statics stay the same. The pretend coalition of “equals” will prove to be a short term mirage.

    The big danger lies in Putin substituting a new common enemy in order to keep the momentum which creates movement which allows him to effect the course of history. That common enemy can only be Israel.

    And hence we return to the existential threat scenario. Fortress America is proving an unreliable ally. Israel will face the threat alone and will have no alternative.

    • Sinbad2

      I agree with most you wrote up until “American foreign policy initiative will be regained”

      American foreign policy initiative will never be regained, the empire is dying, this is as good as it gets for the US.
      The only threat to Israel is Israel, their bodyguard is dying, but they keep strutting about like they are the rulers of the ME. Without American and other western money most Israelis will just leave for an easier life somewhere else.
      Putin couldn’t give a fk about Israel, they are simply not important enough.

      • seawolf

        But please don’t forget that the majority of Russian oligarchs, sucking the wealth of the country, are Jews. Besides I didn’t see Putin going against them, but rather the opposite.

        • jako

          And what would you do Einstein?
          That is obviously straight forward equation for you!
          Putin has ONE rule only about tycoons: NOT to get in politics!
          He is not going to do anything simply because he can NOT afford to scare foreign investors
          That is ONE and only rule he respects and everybody knows that and accepts that
          The huge bulk of Russian money went out of Russia LONG TIME AGO!
          He would only shoot himself in the foot to walk over his promise not to touch them and scare all foreign investors for gaining nothing but stupid satisfaction!
          Putin is not populist like Poroshenko he doesn’t do cheap theatrics and he thinks about interest and future of his country!
          The biggest Russian capital is to be the country of LAW and stability!
          Solid law respecting country where the words and promises by Putin and Russia are RESPECTED and they are good as gold!
          US is opposite.
          All that will be paid back to Russia with interest one day

          • Brother Ma

            Well said and i hope it all comes true yet it does look to many that Putin kowtows to the oligarchs too much and thus the Jews.

          • jako

            WHAT he can do ?!!?
            WHAT would you do?!?
            Put tycoons in prison despite PROMISE and NOT get the money anyways and have money run away from Russia?!?!
            Not to mention … ended up to be labeled “dictator” even more.
            WHAT would be the purpose of such stupid vindictive move?
            Populist vote, popularity chart !?
            Putin is already long past those populist cheap political moves!
            Everybody just keeps throwing cheap accusations and not thinking about the CONSEQUENCE of such moves !

            There are TOO MANY “stealth” extreme-right wingers, Shiites and all other who hate Zionism or simply Jews for being Jews on this forum….All want death to Israel!
            They should go to Lebanon and join Hezbollah maybe?
            And they can NOT FORGIVE Putin not to fight to the last Russian for the interests of Iran, Syria, or simply for not EXTERMINATING Israel (to get their revenge)!
            Putin thinks of RUSSIAN INTERESTS only!
            Russia does not print money out of thin air they can NOT afford to fight NATO (if not challenged directly)
            That would RUIN Russia economically!

            It is NOT Russia’s role to liberate Syria !
            That is role of Syrians!!!!

          • seawolf

            Oh I didn’t mean to dethrone you or to challenge the wisdom of your excellency as I am not claiming to be anything else than a simple participant in the free dialogue in this site. I mostly agree with your comments with one exemption, Putin is a very smart politician of a capitalist economy Russia and as such he serves the interests of the elites in his country, that’s they way capitalism works. Yes Putin did a great job stopping the demolition of his country following the collapse of the Soviet Union and even manage to revive to a certain extend. I admire the way he and his administration handle foreign affairs and actively supporting a multi polar world. But I am sorry I will insist that the mostly jew oligarchs are sucking the wealth of the country as they do in very capitalist economy.

          • jako

            I think that you irony is ILL PLACED this time.
            I like Russia very much but not to that point…I am not obsessed to be right about Russia (or anything else) all the time.

            I can not simply read any more the same endless (sorry) crap accusations against Putin and Russia on this forum!
            ———————
            ” I am sorry I will insist that the mostly jew oligarchs are sucking the wealth of the country as they do in very capitalist economy.”
            —————
            Well you are giving us “yesterdays” news and you know that!
            We all know that!
            My ONLY question to you and to everybody is:
            Tell me what is to be done in this situation?!
            You think I am pretentious big mouthed asshole (and maybe I am exactly what you say) than ANSWER PLEASE – teach me where is the fucking solution?!
            What Putin should do?
            Do not be hypocrite like 80% people here who only know to spit on Putin and vomit all over Russia without mere suggestion of what has to be done to stop all that?!
            I am listening