If we are to Lead, doing so from the Front with Strength, Competence and Conviction is not Optional.

A Stratfor article, From Gadhafi to Benghazi, appears below in its entirety following my comments. It would be great — and so would be our nation — were our leaders to learn from and be guided by it.

The United States of America is now perceived as weak regardless of whether she actually is. The Stratfor article concerns naive attempts by such nations to do, or at least to feel, good by freeing the impoverished subjects of suitably weak dictators without following through competently and in the long term to ensure the successes of their efforts. Since the freed subjects often had tasted neither freedom nor democracy previously, mob rule masquerading under the label “democracy” flourishes.  Internecine conflicts to determine who will become the new rulers soon begin and often those who helped to free the masses are successfully cast as their oppressors.

As the Stratfor article suggests, it is commonly necessary to occupy and control the country of a deposed dictator and to lead his former subjects out of their misery by teaching them how to govern themselves — often something quite new to them. Freedom and democracy do not spring forth unbidden like weeds. Nor can they be given as we might give money, food and modern weaponry. Rather, the values we cherish and hope to see take root and flourish have to be planted. Then they need to be fed, watered and otherwise tended by newly free citizens who desire and stand to benefit from them, eventually without much assistance from the external forces that helped to plant them.

The process has lately been a failure in Islamist lands.  Perhaps the soil is barren and rocky, the plants may be of the wrong sort or are undesired. Although mob rule under the label “democracy” may be relished, mob rule is incompatible with freedom, particularly for those not in the mob(s). The sorts of freedom we revere (such as freedom of religion, speech and press) have not been popular, have not taken root and even when small signs of growth have been seen we have often failed to nourish them.  While we oppose “honor killings” and the stoning of blasphemers and women who had been raped, for example, we haven’t done much to prevent them. Instead, we have helped to preserve aspects of the cultures that perpetuate such practices.

An analogy can be drawn to the British Empire in India and the age-old religious practice of Sati, the commonly involuntary immolation of new widows on the funeral pyres of their recently deceased husbands. It took a long time for the British to do much, but eventually laws were passed, and even enforced, forbidding it.

The practice of sati, and its later legal abolition by the British (along with the suppression of the thuggee) went on to become one of the standard justifications for British rule. British attitudes in their later history in India are usually given in the following much-repeated quote, usually ascribed to General Sir Charles Napier

“This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs.” [71]

Perhaps similar steps could be taken against those who behead apostates and otherwise reject freedom, if we had the strength and will to do it in the long term — or even if we were perceived as having them. Instead, we and much of the “free world” bow to Islam, out of fear for ourselves. Doing so impairs the growth of freedom and democracy in those lands and also diminishes them in our own. Salman Rushdie, author of Satanic Verses, recently

said he does not think his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses would be published today because of a climate of “fear and nervousness.”

The writer said the banning of his book in many countries and the subsequent threats on his life had created a “long-term chilling effect.”

“A book which was critical of Islam would be difficult to be published now,” he told the BBC’s Will Gompertz.

He said the only way to solve the issue was for publishers to “be braver.”

The only way of living in a free society is to feel that you have the right to say and do stuff,” he said. (Emphasis added)

The popularity of the stuff one wants to do and say should not determine whether it can be done and said. Nor should our society yield to those who seek to impose their own cultures of fear and opposition to freedom upon us.

It is quite difficult for a weak nation, or one perceived as weak, to encourage the successful development of democracy coupled with freedom. As observed here,

Far from the murder of Ambassador Stevens and four others being the “revenge of Khadaffi,” the murder was planned and carried out by the very people Obama helped: the Muslim Brotherhood. Obama reluctantly, but nevertheless visibly, helped remove Khadaffi. While it must be noted, Putin supported Khadaffi. Who did the Muslim Brotherhood attack? The Weak Obama rather than the FEARED Putin.

Then, Obama essentially ordered Mubarak to resign, handing the nation of Egypt to the Muslim Brotherhood. This against the pleadings of both the Saudis and the Israelis, who saw the danger of empowering the Brotherhood.

Obama and his people argued that the Muslim Brotherhood represented most of the people (which was true). And that they would only be responsible if they had power, and that furthermore it was both futile and stupid to keep them out of power, because the ability of dictators to keep and hold power had eroded due to social media and rising commodity prices (no more bribes to keep the populace in check).

Rudyard Kipling has long been among my favorite poets. While now disparaged as “racist” (what isn’t?), he got it right in The White Man’s Burden, written in 1899. Perhaps we would feel more comfortable were the phrase “White Man’s” to be replaced with “Civilized Man’s.”

Take up the White Man’s burden–
Send forth the best ye breed–
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild–
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child.

Take up the White Man’s burden–
In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
An hundred times made plain
To seek another’s profit,
And work another’s gain.

Take up the White Man’s burden–
The savage wars of peace–
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hopes to nought.

Take up the White Man’s burden–
No tawdry rule of kings,
But toil of serf and sweeper–
The tale of common things.
The ports ye shall not enter,
The roads ye shall not tread,
Go mark them with your living,
And mark them with your dead.

Take up the White Man’s burden–
And reap his old reward:
The blame of those ye better,
The hate of those ye guard–
The cry of hosts ye humour
(Ah, slowly!) toward the light:–
“Why brought he us from bondage,
Our loved Egyptian night?”

Take up the White Man’s burden–
Ye dare not stoop to less–
Nor call too loud on Freedom
To cloke your weariness;
By all ye cry or whisper,
By all ye leave or do,
The silent, sullen peoples
Shall weigh your gods and you.

Take up the White Man’s burden–
Have done with childish days–
The lightly proferred laurel,
The easy, ungrudged praise.
Comes now, to search your manhood
Through all the thankless years
Cold, edged with dear-bought wisdom,
The judgment of your peers!

Was Great Britain driven by her own self-interest in her efforts to civilize barbarians? Of course she was, as have been all other successful nations that have tried to do so. Humans are not by nature consistently and exclusively actuated solely by altruistic motives. But Great Britain also sought to bestow the lights of her civilization; they have endured in some countries and have faded in others. Where they have endured, the people are better off than they would have been without those lights. Where they have not endured, at least some rudimentary bases for their restoration may remain.

A nation that hopes to lead in such matters needs a President with a full and mature appreciation of the beauties of freedom and democracy as well as solid insights into how and by whom they must be planted, watered, fed and otherwise tended. We do not have such a President and are additionally perceived as weak. These deficiencies have led us to be the butt of jokes in other nations, including our allies. Did we screw up? I think we did, and not only in  Islamist lands.

If we do not want to lead, we should follow or get out of the way. I would prefer that we lead, effectively.

Here is the Stratfor article, From Gadhafi to Benghazi:

From Gadhafi to Benghazi is republished with permission of Stratfor.”

By George Friedman

Last week, four American diplomats were killed when armed men attacked the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The attackers’ apparent motivation was that someone, apparently American but with an uncertain identity, posted a video on YouTube several months ago that deliberately defamed the Prophet Mohammed. The attack in Benghazi was portrayed as retribution for the defamation, with the attackers holding all Americans equally guilty for the video, though it was likely a pretext for deeper grievances. The riots spread to other countries, including Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen, although no American casualties were reported in the other riots. The unrest appears to have subsided over the weekend.

Benghazi and the Fall of Gadhafi

In beginning to make sense of these attacks, one must observe that they took place in Benghazi, the city that had been most opposed to Moammar Gadhafi. Indeed, Gadhafi had promised to slaughter his opponents in Benghazi, and it was that threat that triggered the NATO intervention in Libya. Many conspiracy theories have been devised to explain the intervention, but, like Haiti and Kosovo before it, none of the theories holds up. The intervention occurred because it was believed that Gadhafi would carry out his threats in Benghazi and because it was assumed that he would quickly capitulate in the face of NATO air power, opening the door to democracy.

That Gadhafi was capable of mass murder was certainly correct. The idea that Gadhafi would quickly fall proved incorrect. That a democracy would emerge as a result of the intervention proved the most dubious assumption of them all. What emerged in Libya is what you would expect when a foreign power overthrows an existing government, however thuggish, and does not impose its own imperial state: ongoing instability and chaos.

The Libyan opposition was a chaotic collection of tribes, factions and ideologies sharing little beyond their opposition to Gadhafi. A handful of people wanted to create a Western-style democracy, but they were leaders only in the eyes of those who wanted to intervene. The rest of the opposition was composed of traditionalists, militarists in the Gadhafi tradition and Islamists. Gadhafi had held Libya together by simultaneously forming coalitions with various factions and brutally crushing any opposition.

Opponents of tyranny assume that deposing a tyrant will improve the lives of his victims. This is sometimes true, but only occasionally. The czar of Russia was clearly a tyrant, but it is difficult to argue that the Leninist-Stalinist regime that ultimately replaced him was an improvement. Similarly, the Shah of Iran was repressive and brutal. It is difficult to argue that the regime that replaced him was an improvement.

There is no assurance that opponents of a tyrant will not abuse human rights just like the tyrant did. There is even less assurance that an opposition too weak and divided to overthrow a tyrant will coalesce into a government when an outside power destroys the tyrant. The outcome is more likely to be chaos, and the winner will likely be the most organized and well-armed faction with the most ruthless clarity about the future. There is no promise that it will constitute a majority or that it will be gentle with its critics.

The intervention in Libya, which I discussed in The Immaculate Intervention, was built around an assumption that has little to do with reality — namely, that the elimination of tyranny will lead to liberty. It certainly can do so, but there is no assurance that it will. There are many reasons for this assumption, but the most important one is that Western advocates of human rights believe that, when freed from tyranny, any reasonable person would want to found a political order based on Western values. They might, but there is no obvious reason to believe they would.

The alternative to one thug may simply be another thug. This is a matter of power and will, not of political philosophy. Utter chaos, an ongoing struggle that leads nowhere but to misery, also could ensue. But the most important reason Western human rights activists might see their hopes dashed is due to a principled rejection of Western liberal democracy on the part of the newly liberated. To be more precise, the opposition might embrace the doctrine of national self-determination, and even of democracy, but go on to select a regime that is in principle seriously opposed to Western notions of individual rights and freedom.

While some tyrants simply seek power, other regimes that appear to Westerners to be tyrannies actually are rather carefully considered moral systems that see themselves as superior ways of life. There is a paradox in the principle of respect for foreign cultures followed by demands that foreigners adhere to basic Western principles. It is necessary to pick one approach or the other. At the same time, it is necessary to understand that someone can have very distinct moral principles, be respected, and yet be an enemy of liberal democracy. Respecting another moral system does not mean simply abdicating your own interests. The Japanese had a complex moral system that was very different from Western principles. The two did not have to be enemies, but circumstances caused them to collide.

The NATO approach to Libya assumed that the removal of a tyrant would somehow inevitably lead to a liberal democracy. Indeed, this was the assumption about the Arab Spring in the West, where it was thought that that corrupt and tyrannical regimes would fall and that regimes that embraced Western principles would sprout up in their place. Implicit in this was a profound lack of understanding of the strength of the regimes, of the diversity of the opposition and of the likely forces that would emerge from it.

In Libya, NATO simply didn’t understand or care about the whirlwind that it was unleashing. What took Gadhafi’s place was ongoing warfare between clans, tribes and ideologies. From this chaos, Libyan Islamists of various stripes have emerged to exploit the power vacuum. Various Islamist groups have not become strong enough to simply impose their will, but they are engaged in actions that have resonated across the region.

The desire to overthrow Gadhafi came from two impulses. The first was to rid the world of a tyrant, and the second was to give the Libyans the right to national self-determination. Not carefully considered were two other issues: whether simply overthrowing Gadhafi would yield the conditions for determining the national will, and whether the national will actually would mirror NATO’s values and, one should add, interests.

Unintended Consequences

The events of last week represent unintended and indirect consequences of the removal of Gadhafi. Gadhafi was ruthless in suppressing radical Islamism, as he was in other matters. In the absence of his suppression, the radical Islamist faction appears to have carefully planned the assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. The attack was timed for when the U.S. ambassador would be present. The mob was armed with a variety of weapons. The public justification was a little-known video on YouTube that sparked anti-American unrest throughout the Arab world.

For the Libyan jihadists, tapping into anger over the video was a brilliant stroke. Having been in decline, they reasserted themselves well beyond the boundaries of Libya. In Libya itself, they showed themselves as a force to be reckoned with — at least to the extent that they could organize a successful attack on the Americans. The four Americans who were killed might have been killed in other circumstances, but they died in this one: Gadhafi was eliminated, no coherent regime took his place, no one suppressed the radical Islamists, and the Islamists could therefore act. How far their power will grow is not known, but certainly they acted effectively to achieve their ends. It is not clear what force there is to suppress them. It is also not clear what momentum this has created for jihadists in the region, but it will put NATO, and more precisely the United States, in the position either of engaging in another war in the Arab world at a time and place not of its choosing, or allowing the process to go forward and hoping for the best.

As I have written, a distinction is frequently drawn between the idealist and realist position. Libya is a case in which the incoherence of the distinction can be seen. If the idealist position is concerned with outcomes that are moral from its point of view, then simply advocating the death of a tyrant is insufficient. To guarantee the outcome requires that the country be occupied and pacified, as was Germany or Japan. But the idealist would regard this act of imperialism as impermissible, violating the doctrine of national sovereignty. More to the point, the United States is not militarily in a position to occupy or pacify Libya, nor would this be a national priority justifying war. The unwillingness of the idealist to draw the logical conclusion from their position, which is that simply removing the tyrant is not the end but only the beginning, is compounded by the realist’s willingness to undertake military action insufficient for the political end. Moral ends and military means must mesh.

Removing Gadhafi was morally defensible but not by itself. Having removed him, NATO had now adopted a responsibility that it shifted to a Libyan public unequipped to manage it. But more to the point, no allowance had been made for the possibility that what might emerge as the national will of Libya would be a movement that represented a threat to the principles and interests of the NATO members. The problem of Libya was not that it did not understand Western values, but that a significant part of its population rejected those values on moral grounds and a segment of the population with battle-hardened fighters regarded them as inferior to its own Islamic values. Somewhere between hatred of tyranny and national self-determination, NATO’s commitment to liberty as it understood it became lost.

This is not a matter simply confined to Libya. In many ways it played out throughout the Arab world as Western powers sought to come to terms with what was happening. There is a more immediate case: Syria. The assumption there is that the removal of another tyrant, in this case Bashar al Assad, will lead to an evolution that will transform Syria. It is said that the West must intervene to protect the Syrian opposition from the butchery of the al Assad regime. A case can be made for this, but not the simplistic case that absent al Assad, Syria would become democratic. For that to happen, much more must occur than the elimination of al Assad.

Wishful Thinking vs. Managing the Consequences

In 1958, a book called The Ugly American was published about a Southeast Asian country that had a brutal, pro-American dictator and a brutal, communist revolution. The novel had a character who was a nationalist in the true sense of the word and was committed to human rights. As a leader, he was not going to be simply an American tool, but he was the best hope the United States had. An actual case of such an ideal regime replacement was seen in 1963 in Vietnam, when Ngo Dinh Diem in Vietnam was killed in a coup. He had been a brutal pro-American dictator. The hope after his death was that a decent, nationalist liberal would replace him. There was a long search for such a figure; he never was found.

Getting rid of a tyrant when you are as powerful as the United States and NATO are, by contrast, is the easy part. Saddam Hussein is as dead as Gadhafi. The problem is what comes next. Having a liberal democratic nationalist simply appear to take the helm may happen, but it is not the most likely outcome unless you are prepared for an occupation. And if you are prepared to occupy, you had better be prepared to fight against a nation that doesn’t want you determining its future, no matter what your intentions are.

I don’t know what will come of Libya’s jihadist movement, which has showed itself to be motivated and capable and whose actions resonated in the Arab world. I do know that Gadhafi was an evil brute who is better off dead. But it is simply not clear to me that removing a dictator automatically improves matters. What is clear to me is that if you wage war for moral ends, you are morally bound to manage the consequences. (Emphasis added.)

About danmillerinpanama

I was graduated from Yale University in 1963 with a B.A. in economics and from the University of Virginia School of law, where I was the notes editor of the Virginia Law Review in 1966. Following four years of active duty with the Army JAG Corps, with two tours in Korea, I entered private practice in Washington, D.C. specializing in communications law. I retired in 1996 to sail with my wife, Jeanie, on our sailboat Namaste to and in the Caribbean. In 2002, we settled in the Republic of Panama and live in a very rural area up in the mountains. I have contributed to Pajamas Media and Pajamas Tatler. In addition to my own blog, Dan Miller in Panama, I an an editor of Warsclerotic and contribute to China Daily Mail when I have something to write about North Korea.
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7 Responses to If we are to Lead, doing so from the Front with Strength, Competence and Conviction is not Optional.

  1. Boeke says:

    Victor Davis Hansen has been writing this same article for 50 years and he’s much better at it than this writer. Better scholar and better writer, too.

    • Boeke, Like the Stratfor literary style or not, the substance is basically correct — even though VDH may have been “writing this same article for 50 years.”

      I had not known that although VDH is brilliant he was a child prodigy as well. He was born in 1953 and so fifty years ago would have been nine years old.

      It would be helpful if President Obama were to read either Stratfor or VDH, but it would be even better were he to read both.

  2. Pingback: Opinion Forum » I Am Fed Up!

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  4. Ruvy says:

    Dan, long as your article is, what it really is is your reaction to seeing your nation, the one that you love, being dragged in the mud – not so much by its enemies, but by those it has attempted to help. And obviously, having been a soldier for your country, and a good one, you don’t like it. I can empathize with you.

    The reality is, my friend, that your nation no longer LEADS. I cannot emphasize this point too strongly. In some instances, it can bully – but it can no longer lead. Obama has sacrificed your ability to lead on his altar of apologies. At a certain point 1,500 yeas ago, the Vandals, Alans and others made the phrase, “civitas Romanus est”, meaningless. The rape, murder and humiliation of Ambassador Stevens in Libya recently has made the phrase, “I’m an American citizen”, equally meaningless.

    I’m deeply sorry to tell you this, but THIS IS THE NEW REALITY. YOU NO LONGER LEAD.

    Your nation did not wage war in Libya for moral reasons but for reasons of réalpolitik. But your leaders do not understand the réalpolitik of the modern world. It is NOT the réalpolitik of Metternich, Disraeli or Bismarck – or of Lenin, Stalin or Mao Tze Tung – or even of the Bilderbergers, peak oil and the international banksters. It is the réalpolitik of messianic politics. And people who do not believe in a messiah – and Americans do not, no matter what they say to the contrary – can not comprehend the réalpolitik of messianic politics.

    Aní ma’amín b’emuná shlemá babiát hamashíaH – “I believe with full faith in the coming of the messiah.” I UNDERSTAND MESSIANIC POLITICS, DAN. It is part of me. It is part of my very being. Those of us who comprehend messianic politics will be the ones thrust forward to lead – and to defeat the evil on the planet.

    • Thanks, Ruvy and best wishes to you and to your bride. I have kept her in my hopes and thoughts and hope that she is doing better.

      I wish you were wrong but am afraid that you may well be correct in contending that the United States no longer leads and is no longer capable of doing so. There have been many causes and I don’t know whether there exists a cure or a combination of cures which, if attempted, could produce desirable effects.

      In any herd of horses (prey animals) and pack of dogs (predatory animals), there are leaders, usually one per herd or pack. He defends the others as well as his own position. If challenged by a member of the herd or pack, he yields, defeats the challenger in battle or ceases to be the leader. I see the world as not terribly different from herds of horses and packs of dogs, although world leadership is often shared among a few nations. The United Nations is not a leader; it is too divided,corrupt and collectively incompetent to act as such. The whole is substantially less than the sum of its parts and it is an obstacle to, rather than a force for, good.

      I do have a question. You say, “Those of us who comprehend messianic politics will be the ones thrust forward to lead.” Perhaps. But what is likely to happen when two or more messianic groups, driven by messianic determination but different objectives, exert their fullest efforts each to destroy the other(s)? Will one succeed in such destruction? Will two somewhat similar groups (the principal Islamic factions, for example) join to battle the third? Will they commit reciprocal suicide?

      • Ruvy says:

        Dear Dan,

        There are three groups with messianic impulses whom History has thrust forward to be leaders. The first, most obvious, group are the Christians – who say their messiah is due back for a return visit. I don’t like the fundies – but they are – most fundamentally – a group that is devoted to the idea that their messiah – a crucified Jew – will be back to lead the planet in a short time. A lot of them like us in Israel because they feel that their messiah has to come in a Jewish back door – the way he showed up the first time, in their reckoning. Some of the fundies buy into the pro-Arab BS – a few are even stupid enough to believe in “Chrislam” – whatever fool nonsense that is. But get a large enough group of people, and sure enough, you will get a bunch of idiots who make no sense whatsoever. A fundamentalist Christian who likes the Arabs is such an idiot.

        Then there are the Muslims. They believe that their messiah will arrive to fight what they call “the dajjal” – their version of the “anti-Christ”. They will be led, more or less by people from Khorasan – from the far north of the Muslim world – Afghanistan and Pakistan – and according to Mohammed’s Vision, they will ride forth behind their black flags, marching west to Jerusalem, travelling with the Tribe of Moses among them. And who are these people? Oh, that’s the fun part! They are the descendants of the Northern Tribes of Israel, who were exiled to what the Tana”kh calls “Havor and Gozan”. They are the Pashtuns! They live in the area of the Khyber Pass and Ghazni. The Pashtun flag is black in the middle with red on either side.

        The Pashtuns are very very Hebrew in how they act. They love and seek vengeance all the time. The circumcise their boys at eight days. They follow the Hebrew dietary laws set down in the Torah, which they have been following for millennia – even before they became Muslims. They marry off widows to the brothers of the widows – and many of their tribes have Hebrew names – like Gadoon (Gad) Naftali, Shinwari (Shim’on), Afridi (Ephraim); their biggest tribe is called the Yusufzai (Joseph’s Tribe). And of course, amongst them is the Musazai – Moses’ Tribe. Are you getting the picture?:

        This picture is so dramatic that the most messianically oriented of the Muslims – the Shi’a – have been trying to steal the imagery of the Pashtun for themselves. And the Shi’a talk endlessly of the Twelfth Imam. This is whom Ahmadinejad (according to Persian ex-pat journalist Amin Taheri) claims to have met. The Persians have been playing messianic politics for years.

        Finally, Dan, there are us Jews. We Jews are the descendants of the Southern Tribes of Israel. Messianic Redemption is a Jewish idea, and we have worked out the signs of Redemption – and they are all too present in today’s era. The world is coming against Jerusalem – just as our prophets said it would. Even the players are the players our prophets named. This character in the Book of Ezekiel named “Gog” (Ezekiel 38, 39) has, in the description of the Almighty’s attitude towards him, encoded an interesting name:


        So, now you know why Romney will not become president – and why Obama will remain president.

        America’s days of leadership are over. The Chinese think they will inherit the mantle (they won’t). The BRICS nations, a coalition (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) devoted to bringing down the dollar will not inherit the mantle either.

        The focus of war is on Israel. The Japanese and Chinese may well butt heads – and when they do it will a be a bloody affair of the Chinese wreaking vengeance on the Japanese. But World War III started already last year – all across north Africa – and is now spreading to where we in Israel will finally get drawn in. And in the process, you will see messianic Redemption begin to occur.


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