Mr. Gregg A. Rubinstein
April 11, 2007
Director, GAR Associates
Former Official of the U.S.
Departments of State and Defense
Now a Consultant on U.S.-Japan Defense Programs
|Click text links below to navigate the Interview|
|Introduction to Japan|
|Foreign Service Exam and Early Career|
|Assignment: Embassy Tokyo|
|Back to State Department in Washington|
|Political-Military Affairs at State|
|Back to Tokyo; On Loan to Dept. of Defense|
|Leaving Government to Become a Washington Consultant|
|Acquisition and Industrial Expertise in Bilateral Security Relations|
|Coping With Critical Bilateral Issues|
|The FSX Controversy|
|Change in Japan's Attitude Toward Defense Issues|
|Plans to Return to Government Service?|
|Occasional Paper Contribution, 2007. "U.S.-Japan Missile Defense Cooperation: Current Status, Future Prospects."|
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RCA: Good Morning, Gregg Rubinstein.
GAR: Good Morning to you. Let’s begin with the question we usually ask for these Japan Considered interviews.
RCA: When did you first become interested in Japan?
GAR: In my case, Japan was an area and culture I had some exposure to since childhood. My father had a lot of business in Japan. Mostly import and export work in electronics. He made frequent trips there in the fifties and sixties. So I more or less grew up with an awareness of the area. I developed an interest in East Asian history – China, Japan, the general region – as well when in high school and pursued that as a major in college.
RCA: Where did you do your undergraduate work?
GAR: I was at the University of Chicago.
RCA: What was your major?
GAR: I had a dual major in history and East Asian studies. Originally I was more interested in China. But as I studied modern Chinese history, I became more interested in Japan again. Particularly the 19th and early 20th century. How Japan went through its modernization phase, its reaction to contact with the West. How it differed from China as much as it did. And why.
I then had a chance to do what amounted to a junior year abroad in Japan. Which I was eager to take up because I already was feeling some frustration with trying to study an area that I had no first-hand feel for at all. So I took my one year of Japanese language, and so on, and went off to Tokyo. Originally I was supposed to go to International Christian University, ICU. But that place more or less shut down in 1969 and 1970, during the year of student disturbances. I wound up at Sophia University, or Jochi, as it’s known in Tokyo, where I did the usual student thing of studying Japanese in the evening, taking other classes, teaching English by the day, or copy editing. And whatever else I could do to get along. That sort of determined my interest from then on -- that exposure to Japan.
GAR: Right. By the time I had finished my undergraduate work at Chicago, I was rethinking my initial idea of pursuing an academic career in history, deciding I wanted to focus more on contemporary issues. Columbia, as you know, had the School of International Affairs which, in a way, was an ideal complement to Chicago in focusing more on contemporary East Asia issues while Chicago was far more focused on history and the more academic side. So I came to Columbia, did the usual international affairs, interdisciplinary program. Spent part of the time in the East Asian Institute, where we first met, and part of the time taking a variety of other courses.
RCA: What year was that?
GAR: That was 1972 to 1974.
RCA: 1972 to 1974. That’s right. And how did you find the Japan-related courses at Columbia? Did they meet your expectations?
GAR: Some of them did. Of course, the Japanese politics courses I took with Gerry Curtis were superb. As was the foreign policy seminar offered by Jim Morley. Economics wasn’t quite as strong. It was much less focused, much more theoretical. I actually found that as far as economic studies related to Japan, I was better off auditing the business school for a couple of courses on finance and international trade.
RCA: So, that’s where you learned your economics. I always wondered.GAR: Well, My exposure to economics at Chicago was sort of traumatic. They hardly recognized that people would even take economics unless they already had a substantial background. There was no “economics for poets” kind of course there. I found myself thrown into the breech, and came out of it so frightened that I decided I had to try to give it another try at Columbia. Fortunately, the teaching there was much better.
RCA: And then, did you apply to the Foreign Service while you were at Columbia? Or was that later?
GAR: I took the Foreign Service exams during my first year at Columbia. Not necessarily with an intent to go in to the Service, but just to open up an option. At that time I really was more interested in international business and finance, and looking much more to New York banks for future employment.
RCA: How did you find those exams for the Foreign Service at that time?
GAR: Well, at that time the process was probably more straightforward than the sort of exams being offered today. By that, I mean the written exam was much like taking the Graduate Record Exam. A mix of history, government, economics, geography. Some social and cultural, as well as political history in that mix. That was very consistent with my earlier studiesso I didn’t have much difficulty .
The oral exam was not the sort of mix of group interviews, simulations, and other … well, for lack of a better word, “touchy-feely” exercises so much in vogue today. It was me sitting in a room with three examiners, and being interrogated for about two hours on whatever they felt like asking me. After which point I was excused, waited for about twenty minutes or so, and was then told whether I passed or failed. In my case, it came back positive. So I started further processing.
RCA: So, right after Columbia you began your U.S. Government career. Is that right?
GAR: Yes. There was a couple-month interval(while) I was still looking somewhat at the banking and business area. I’d had some exposure to this line of work through intern-study programs while I was still at Columbia, (but) was not too happy with what I had seen. Over the summer following my graduation I got a couple calls from the State Department saying, “We have an entering class meeting at such a time. And, oh, by the way, you’ve turned us down a couple of times. And your candidacy is going to run out in a few months. So you might want to think about it.”
So I thought about it and said, “Yeah, let’s do it.” And I wound up in Washington in September 1974 to begin my Foreign Service Work.
RCA: What kinds of jobs did you have after 1974?
GAR: Of course, when one goes into the Foreign Service, in many cases you have preferences for what part of the world you’d like to be in. What sort of work you’d like to do. I came in as a political officer with an interest in national security issues, wanting to go back to Japan. I also was interested in doing economic/trade work as well. Needless to say, there are few entry-level jobs in that sort of work. Your chances of doing that normally would be very slight. I understood that and was prepared to go wherever they sent me.
As it turned out, however, a few weeks into my stay in Washington, I was informed by Personnel that there was a job open in the Embassy in Tokyo, doing political military work. And while it wasn’t a junior officer job, I did have the requisite background – language studies, etc. In effect, if I could sell myself to the person I’d be working for there, I was good to go. So, I did, and he said “yes,” and a month later I was on the plane. So, I wound up back in Tokyo.
RCA: What did you do while you were in Tokyo?
GAR: There I went into the Political Military Office of the Political Section, where I did the usual run of security relationship management issues; base problems, liaison with the Japan Defense Agency, liaison with U.S. Forces, Japan. Otherwise supporting visitors -- an almost endless stream, it seemed, of Congressional and senior DOD and State visitors when they came into town. Learned how the embassy worked, and the like.
After about fifteen months of that, the embassy wanted me to do other work, to have some kind of rotational program while I was there. I was quite agreeable to that, and managed to work out a sequence of assignments where I was sent to the State Department language school in Yokohama for further language training, and then was sent to the embassy’s economic section. This would have been in early 1977.Now, the timing of that was interesting. Because, as you recall very well, this was right about the time that trade issues with Japan started to heat up. Especially in areas like steel, non-ferrous metals, the beginning of issues with automobiles. And, of course, various agriculture-related matters, and textiles. I was involved to some extent in all of those.
RCA: And, let’s see. When did you go back to Washington?
GAR: The assignment in the economics section lasted two years. So, in the beginning of 1979 I found myself back in Washington. I had wanted to go back to the State Department, to get some more experience in how the system worked there. The price I had to pay for my early assignment to Japan was I left learning virtually nothing about how things in Washington worked. And that obviously was something I needed to fix.
So, I did that by being assigned to the Political-Military Bureau, in a position called a ‘staff assistant,’ or ‘staff aide.’ That’s basically the young and eager person who sits right outside the assistant secretary or under-secretary’s office, staffs his paper and coordinates traffic in the bureau. And runs around doing whatever the senior official wants.
RCA: That’s a very important position for a young person to have. They must have thought highly of you.
GAR: Well, I was available. I wanted to do it. And they were always looking for people to recruit. They’re very good jobs for the experience. But I think you have to be something of a masochist to enjoy doing it. That sort of work is about as close to slave labor as you get. You keep very long hours. It is very high tension sort of work. There’s always something going on. Something that needs to be done today or the world will come to an end. Or in the next hour…So there’s a lot of pressure. But there’s certainly no better way to learn how the Department works. How the system works, or doesn’t work, and why. So it certainly was beneficial in that sense. Plus, being there, you get a hand in engineering your next assignment.
RCA: Didn’t you spend some time over at the Pentagon after that?GAR: Eventually, yes. But where I went after my Pol-Mil Bureau experience was as the political-military officer on the Japan Desk at State.
RCA: Oh. What did you do while you were there?
GAR: The person in that job covers U.S.-Japan security relations, as well as other aspects of political relations with Japan, and is a back-up for whatever else they have. All of the desk officers do that, to some extent. But 90% of my time was spent on the security relationship. Again, liaison with DOD and with other elements of the national security community. Work on policy papers and innumerable background memos, drafts. Liaison with the Congress, when that was required, on issues concerning U.S.-Japan defense cooperation, defense budgets. And the like.
RCA: That’s pretty broad experience in State for such a young officer, isn’t it?
GAR: Yes, it was. And there was, I must say, some harrumphing within the system over my being given a job supposedly intended for somebody a little more senior than I was at the time. But, people knew me from my work in Tokyo. I had friends in the system. And it all worked out.
RCA: Was it after that that you went to the Department of Defense.
GAR: This was an interesting twist. When I was still in the Embassy in Tokyo, in the economics section, one of my jobs was to liaison with a group in the Embassy known as the Mutual Defense Assistance Office. This was the former Military Assistance Group that supervised sales of defense equipment, licensed production, industry programs, etc.
I found this very interesting work, because it touched on all of my interests. Security issues, on the one hand. Economic, industry issues, on the other. And it was in an area of the security relationship that, while very important in terms of amounts of money spent and constituencies influenced, was not being very well or very thoroughly worked. Not much of a big-picture perspective. Just more or less a process of administering programs; not sufficient appreciation of policy issues.
But at the time I was focused on other concerns . So I tucked away the thought that if given the chance I might like more to do with that office, and that kind of work. Well, fast-forward about three years later. I was on the Japan Desk, thinking about future assignments. And, indeed, there was an opportunity to go back to Japan and work in the MDAO office. This came about because the position of Deputy Director, which was normally held by a long-serving DOD civilian, became vacant quite suddenly. A political officer in the Embassy had been thrown into the breach to cover things temporarily. People found that, lo and behold, it was no bad thing to have somebody with a Foreign Service background, and a somewhat broader perspective, in that kind of position.
So, the idea came that maybe this shouldn’t be a one-off. Maybe instead of just having a person temporarily assigned to MDAO, they should make it a State Department slot that State would send people over to DOD to fill.
I thought that was a great idea. And I thought that was a job I wanted too. So, again, start working the system. And in 1982 I went over to the Pentagon for what amounted to about a year of on-the-job training before I went back to Tokyo.
RCA: So, you returned to Tokyo in 1983, then.
GAR: That’s right. I returned … I was still in the Foreign Service, on loan to DOD. I went back as Deputy Director of the Mutual Defense Assistance Office, a job that I held for about three years.
RCA: What kind of work did you do in that job?
GAR: Again, the focus of that office was on sales of defense equipment, licensed production of advanced defense systems in Japan, and other things that had to do with defense acquisition and defense industrial programs. So, this was the office that did things like co-production of the F-15 fighter, various missile systems, acquisitions of major war ships, as well as some of the defense-related training.
The work was again, very interesting to me because it touched on a lot of security policy issues, but also got very broad exposure to other areas of the Japan Defense Agency, as well as the Ministry of International Trade and Industry. And, of course, various corporations – (places) where embassy people would never go otherwise.
RCA: You must have made a lot of interesting personal contacts at that time.GAR: Well, some of them have stood me in good stead since. As I said, this is an area of work that covered a lot of ground and was of enormous consequence to U.S.-Japan security relations. But it was not being well worked on a policy level. So there was a lot of room for me to … well … I won’t use the word “freelance.” That would be an exaggeration. But certainly to build up a portfolio, and a sort of approach, over ground that wasn’t much trodden.
GAR: Of course, there were some of the major licensed production programs like the F-15 fighter and the Patriot Missile. These were issues that, quite aside from their major roles in defense programs, were also politically sensitive. There was a lot of controversy at the time over why the Japanese didn’t just buy these systems? Why do we have to license produce them? Is this is the best way we can run our relationship? Are we not leaking technology to Japan, etc.?
And, of course, you had to deal with these political considerations, as well as try to manage the complexities of the program. So, although I was not doing a Foreign Service job, per se, I wound up functioning very much as a Foreign Service officer, in terms of providing that broader political-military policy context to the sort of programs we were running.
RCA: Did you find that your Defense Department masters appreciated those skills? Or were they suspicious of them?
GAR: Well, the truth is my employers in DOD were far more appreciative than was the system in the State Department.
RCA: I’ve heard … never having had experience in this area … but I’ve heard there is no love lost between the two bureaucracies.
GAR: There often is friction.Given issues in the current Administration and the personalities there, you’ve heard a lot about State-DOD friction. I think that’s often over-played. On practical, day-to-day matters, State and DOD interface all the time. And, on the whole, they interface pretty well.In my case, I found the major problem with my colleagues in State was having them appreciate work on issues they normally didn’t deal with and didn’t really understand. And this was probably more so in the case with Japan than it might have been in political-military relationships with other countries.
RCA: What year, then, did you return to Washington and become a consultant?
GAR: It’s a long story to compact. But as I went on in my MDAO work, it became clear to me that one, I liked this work very much. I was well suited to it. And, two, obviously I was somewhat outside the conventional Foreign Service system. The State Department let me know in fairly clear terms that it was time to get back in line; that if I really was looking for a full term career in the Foreign Service, then I needed to do work better recognized by the system, better accepted.
I thought, well, I’d rather do what I’m interested in than simply stay in line with the system. And that’s when I decided that perhaps the best thing for me to do would be to carry on my accumulated experiencein the kind of work I had done, that I was interested in, outside the government. Or, at least work in the private sector for a while.
RCA: What is a consultant? Many of us have exaggerated, or distorted, views of that term. What does a consultant do?
GAR: There probably are as many answers to that question as there are consultants to answer it. But I’ll give you my approach. If somebody asks me in one or two words what I do, I say I’m a problem-solver. By that I mean that for various industry clients, as well as for my continued work as an adviser to the Pentagon on Japan issues, I’m part analyst, part planner, part strategic paper writer, part negotiator, and part implementer; taking on particular issues and working them within the system; covering gaps between government and industry, policy and acquisition communities, let alone the U.S. and Japan.
RCA: So, do you find the contacts that you made and the experience you gained in government to be the core of what you do?
GAR: Absolutely. My current job is to take the work I’ve done in government and apply it in a private sector context. Couldn’t happen otherwise.RCA: That’s really interesting. Your perspective, I think, is unusual. Very few people have that breadth of experience to draw on. Let alone the personal skills required to do it.
I wonder if before we end we might talk a little bit about your views of Japan’s relationship with the United States. Or the U.S.-Japan relationship. Especially the diplo-military aspects.
GAR: All right. One thing I’d like to raise … I’ve made references already to how this part of the security relationship is not covered very well. That is, not security policy, or base issues, but talking more about the acquisition/industrial side. I’ve always viewed the security relationship as resting on three pillars; policy -- all of the stuff people do with the 2+2 dialogues; what would be called strategic dialogue, or defense policy planning. [Second,] you have operations, including the bases, joint exercises, and so forth. The third leg is the acquisition/industry end. And on Japan that’s always been sort of the short leg of the stool. Maybe we can talk for a little bit about why that is.
RCA: Why is it?
GAR: There are three levels to the issue. One is very generic, not Japan-specific at all -- basically that policy and acquisition communities don’t mix much, even in DOD. As you just suggested, there are very few people who have experience in both areas. That kind of cross-cultural training, if you will, is not really encouraged, even among DOD civilians, and certainly not outside DOD. As in the Foreign Service, for example.
Clearly, also, when you get outside government into the think tank and the academic communities, there are similarly very few people [with such broad perspective]. There are a lot of people talking about security issues in general. But very few focused on more specific issues in industry, in acquisition. Despite the fact that such programs touch on so many constituencies-- political, economic, as well as military.
Another [issue] relates to how Japan is different from our other relationships. Compare the situation in NATO. The NATO alliance is a real alliance in the sense that there is obviously a huge operational aspect to it. The troops are out there together. They interact together. They train and exercise with, for a long time, a very real expectation that they would have to fight together. That obviously keeps acquisition-industry issues very much in the loop.
Until recently, this kind of – if you will – “real-world dimension” was largely absent in the U.S.-Japan context. We had a security relationship. But we didn’t really have an alliance in the NATO sense. Our governments and our militaries, did not have a lot of operational interface. There was little thought given to real defense requirements.
The defense programs that I worked in Japan in the 1980s were sort of check-the-box exercises. Meaning they were there to fill out tables of equipment, to provide work for the industrial bases of both countries. But there wasn’t a lot of thought of actual use by the Self Defense Forces, let alone joint operations with the U.S. That’s only happened more recently.
There’s one other point, and this is something quite peculiar to U.S.-Japan relations. There was for a long time not only a lack of inclination to deal with the sort of acquisition-industry issues that I’m talking about, but a positive aversion to doing so. There was an aversion to even associating defense and economic interests.
You recall, Bob, from the late 1970s there was increasing trade pressure on Japan, a lot of calls from critics in the Congress and elsewhere to have Japan spend more on defense. “Well, if only the Japanese would spend three percent of GNP, rather than one percent, then the trade balance would go down…”
Now, this was obviously nonsensical. I spent a fair amount of time while I was on the Japan Desk in Washington writing papers that rebutted such assertions. However, such legitimate reaction morphed, to my great discomfort, into what was all but a mantra of how defense and economic issues could never mix.
I found when I returned to the Embassy in 1983 in my MDAO job, that one of the hardest problems that I faced was that I was dealing with issues that seemed to cross the line between defense and economics, something that people were very uncomfortable with.
All well and good, but how could you then deal effectively with the issues that are, by definition, defense and economic as well? All of this came to a head, you will recall, with the FSX controversy.
RCA: That’s a very interesting issue. Or was a very interesting issue. Can you give us some background on that, from your perspective?
GAR: Very briefly, the FSX issue was Japan’s interest in the 1980s in developing a combat aircraft that was supposed to be an indigenous project, although one that everybody knew would draw on a fair amount of foreign input. Just as earlier indigenous programs had, and indeed most so-called indigenous programs still do.
But this interest in an indigenous program ran head-on into DOD interest in trying to have Japan consider a U.S.-based aircraft for FSX. There was very much an attitude in the Pentagon at that time that, “look how often we’ve gone to bat for Japan in building up the security relationship, underwriting Japan’s defense, and off-setting criticism of Japan’s economic trade practices. Here’s something we obviously do better than Japan, and they really ought to buy from us. Or at least license produce from us…”
So you had a lot of that emotion in the U.S., on top of a lot of heated atmosphere already from the trade issues of the time, running head on into Japanese focus on building up autonomy in their defense industry. That too took place in an atmosphere of … well, hubris, even arrogance that was so typical of the bubble economy years in Japan. It was like a highly charged atmosphere where all you had to do was set off some spark, and there would be a storm. FSX provided that spark.
RCA: Are we over that storm now?
GAR: In a way. Certainly the context of U.S.-Japan relations, both security and economic, have changed considerably since the 1980s. Somebody asked me what I consider the biggest lesson of FSX. It goes back to the question of what we are working for in terms of defense cooperation.
Just a minute ago I was discussing what the FSX was about -- political expectations, political and economic agendas, and so forth. But there was one major thing that FSX was never about. It was never, at least not except at the very beginning, about trying to identify a real defense requirement that both countries could share and work on for mutual benefit.
Now, right at the beginning -- and I can say so because I was directly involved -- there was some effort to find an answer to FSX through joint development of an aircraft that would have use for both the U.S. and Japan. Unfortunately, that effort died off, or was overwhelmed as the political heat increased on the FSX controversy. That was very unfortunate because from that time on, all positive content in FSX went out, and it was really a confrontation -- a test of political will. The project was eventually, as you know, focused on development of something based on the U.S. F-16 fighter, but entailed a lot of difficulty and was pursued with a lot of grudge feelings. And that has not entirely gone away, even today.
RCA: You know, this isn’t my area. But I somehow get the sense that in Japan attitudes have changed toward defense-related issues. And maybe changed in important ways. Do you see anything like that? Given your actual experience in the area?
GAR: I think there’s no question that now, compared to twenty, or even ten, years ago there’s much more appreciation in Japan of the fact that national security issues are not just an academic concern, or something to be avoided because war is bad. But that there is a real security dimension in Japan’s policies, in a positive sense of contribution to regional security through peacekeeping operations. Also, of course, the ever-present threat across the channel. Kim Jong Il and Company, just as the Soviets used to, have made sure that if ever anybody doubts there is a security threat, he’ll do something to remind everyone. He’ll touch off a missile, or detonate a nuclear device, or something of the sort.
Of course, there’s always behind North Korea the issue of China. No one wants to talk about it very much. But whenever Japanese and U.S. defense planners get together, everybody acknowledges that China is obviously the growing regional military power, with an agenda that isn’t necessarily friendly to Japanese interests. It’s always something they have to contend with. One of the major tests now for the U.S.-Japan alliance is how do they do that in a manner that is more realistic in response, and yet at the same time does not pose a provocative threat that could destabilize the region.
RCA: So, Japan’s response or military planning is no longer just something they do to please the Americans, but ….
GAR: Well, for a long time the Self Defense Forces were a contingency option. It was a force that acquired a lot of equipment, trained on it, but had very little focus on real-world operations. That was true of a lot of defense planning in Japan. That was the way the Defense Agency and its forces were generally viewed by Japan’s political establishment. So, there wasa very unworldly view of what was, in fact, a rather large defense force, upon which quite a bit of money was being spent.
This was politically expedient as well, of course. People always talk the about pacifism, the pacifist sentiment in Japan, the allergy to military issues, and the like. How much real pacifism there is in Japan I think is debatable. But it’s certainly true that after fifty years there’s a definite mind set that is geared away from thinking about defense issues in serious terms, one that tends to have almost a knee-jerk reaction to anything that seems “unconstitutional” and makes dealing with security matters in any realistic sense quite difficult. Of course, you can still see this going on now.
RCA: Is it as intense as it was in the past? Or has there been change?
GAR: Obviously there has been some evolution. The current defense plans that have been adopted during the last few years, the National Defense Program Guidance, the current Mid-term Defense Program all reflect a somewhat more realistic approach to security issues. You see that somewhat reflected in debate in the media as well.
But you’re still trying to overcome the effects of what some people have described as two generations of arrested development, in terms of popular thinking. What is informed opinion? You like to use the term “thinking public,” or “informed public” in your commentaries. The problem is that until recently you haven’t had much of a thinking public on national security issues. You’ve had some rather narrowly focused bureaucracies doing the day-to-day work. You’ve had very ideologically strait-jacketed views in the press, as well as in the academic communities. Public debate, per se, has been extremely constrained. Only now is that really changing. You’re starting to get some semblance of a defense debate.
RCA: There seems to be. I think it’s too early even to speculate on how that’s going to turn out. But my impression is that things are different. Different challenges.GAR: Oh, I think things are shifting in a different direction. It’s hard to get perspective now because we’re in the midst of what’s really a paradigm shift. I like to use the analogy of a mind set and approach to issues that’s like a long-frozen river in winter. The ice is very thick, and nothing has happened. Only now are you starting to see major cracks in the ice, and the ice is even starting to break up -- some real flow returning to the situation. That’s another way of phrasing what I meant before by arrested development.
RCA: If things are changing in Japan, this presents new challenges to the American government. First, to understand. And then respond to those changes. Maybe you’d better go back into government! Have you given that any thought?
GAR: No, I haven’t. At this point, I still have my hand in government work because of my consulting work with DOD on Japan programs. I’m in the Pentagon or Pentagon-related offices fairly frequently working those issues and dealing with the policy as well as the acquisition people. That, frankly, is about as close as I want to get.
RCA: Thank you so much for your time, Gregg. I know you are busy. As you told me before we began this interview, you have another appointment this morning that I’m afraid I’ve kept you from.
GAR: Back to the Pentagon, yes.
RCA: I hope that you continue to be active in the U.S.-Japan relationship, and continue to play the role you’ve played.
GAR: In the best of all worlds, if our governments were functioning as smoothly as they should, if we had good interface between government and industry, there would be no role for consultants like me -- a point that’s often made in a rather accusatory manner by some of the government people I’ve worked with. My response to them has been, “Fine. Couldn’t agree with you more. You show me a time when things are interfacing and proceeding as smoothly as they should, and I’ll go away.”
Well, I’m still here. And I suspect there always will be work in the area I deal with.
RCA: Well, thanks again for your time.GAR: My pleasure.
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