A Better Friend: How the U.S. Can Support Transition in Syria
by Charles Dunne
After the events of recent weeks, all eyes are again on the Middle East. Questions about America's response to the Arab Spring and how best to support the fragile new democracies of the region are at the forefront of the debate. In Syria, as the Bashar al Assad regime continues its brutal assault against its people, now in its 19th month, the time has come to reflect on how to set up the best possible start for a legitimate successor government that will give it the strongest chance for a free, independent and democratic future.
Yesterday, September 28, the Friends of Syria group met in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. The U.S. announced increased humanitarian assistance and assistance to civilian opponents of Assad. While it would have been hard to get agreement on military action, the United States should have used the meeting to capitalize support for tougher sanctions against the Assad regime. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chaired the meeting and missed an opportunity to advocate for a new diplomatic option -- one that not only tightens the squeeze on the Assad regime but also signals that the international community will support a new, legitimate successor government as it starts to rebuild the country after Assad's departure.
Preemptive contract sanctions do just that. Under this approach, the United States, along with other members of the Friends of Syria, would declare any new oil or arms contracts with the Assad regime illegitimate and not binding should a future, legitimate government choose to repudiate them. This would further isolate the regime and signal that the economic pressure will not let up. But more importantly, it will help protect the eventual post-Assad successor from having to repay any new debt that the regime takes on to fund its oppression and help to give the new government a better start than that of other neighboring democracies that have emerged after the fall of brutal regimes.
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