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from The Great Debate:

Preventing mass atrocity after Assad

As the second anniversary of the Syrian uprising approaches, close to 80,000 people have been killed, a million are refugees and several million are displaced. The Syrian army and air force are under severe stress and attacking civilian populations, the revolutionaries are increasingly radicalized in a Sunni Islamist direction and Lebanese Hezbollah as well as Iranian Revolutionary Guards are getting deeply engaged in the fight.

It may seem superfluous to worry about what happens to the Alawite community -- the mainstay of Bashar Al Assad’s regime – after he falls. But revenge killing is common after an uprising of this sort, and few regimes born in mass atrocity survive as democracies. A massacre of Alawites could be prelude to state collapse, an extremist regime and regional warfare far worse than the spillover we have seen thus far.

How can mass atrocity in the aftermath of the Assad regime be avoided? Above all, it is Syrians who will need to make sure it does not happen. The Syrian Coalition of Revolutionary and Opposition Forces has already made clear that it intends to construct a multi-sectarian, multi-ethnic and democratic regime post-Assad. What needs to be accomplished to achieve that goal?

A lot. Here are just a few of the options that need to be considered:  A negotiated end to the regime. Atrocities will be far less likely if there is a clear, well-constructed and well-communicated end to the Assad regime, with a roadmap to a future democratic constitution that will respect minority rights. A chaotic collapse of the regime will make mayhem much more likely, including a possible “stay-behind” insurgency like the one in Iraq after the American invasion. International supervision. The roadmap could be implemented with oversight from a “contact group” that includes the main international powers with influence, including neighbors and regional powers. The big issue here is whether Iran is in or out, which depends on Tehran’s attitude toward any negotiated settlement. An international intervention force. There will be many armed groups in Syria, however the conflict ends. A strong, legitimate international intervention force of both police and military could separate warring parties, establish a safe and secure environment and protect minorities. The big question is: Who would provide these troops and police? Iraq’s neighbors have all been parties to the conflict. The Arab League is inexperienced at stabilization and peacekeeping. The United States and Europe are trying to stay out. New security forces. Assad’s army, police, intelligence and other security forces will be thoroughly discredited once the regime is gone. It will be necessary to reconfigure, retrain and reform the security forces so they can reestablish a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence accepted by both former regime elements and rebels. It was the failure to do this effectively that has made a mess of post-Qaddafi Libya. Training of a small Syrian “stabilization” force could begin even now outside Syria, for deployment into liberated areas. Accountability and justice. It is never possible to punish all those who have supported a dictatorial regime, but victims will be looking for satisfaction. This can initially be offered in a well-articulated plan of action for holding a clearly defined and limited number of senior regime figures accountable for abuses, as well as a broader reconciliation effort to give victims an opportunity to voice grievances and seek eventual redress. Outreach by the new leaders to communities that have not supported the revolution. Few countries are blessed with a Nelson Mandela, but even lesser figures could try to reassure those who have supported the regime and provide credible guarantees of security. They might even invite in foreign forces to establish a “safe and secure environment” for particular communities at risk. Basic human needs. Many Syrians are lacking food, water, sanitation and shelter. The country will need a rapid infusion of vital humanitarian assistance that is distributed fairly and transparently by a duly constituted authority. Quick stabilization of the economy. The Syrian economy will be in free fall. The country will be unable to pay its debts and will need relief from international obligations. It may also need a new currency and a credible central bank. It will certainly need jobs, especially for the many youth already unemployed before the war. They will otherwise find employment with militias unlikely to be sensitive to human rights. Local community development. Major development projects will have to wait. They will require a well-functioning government and a credible sovereign guarantee to reopen lending by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. A well-targeted reconstruction effort that local communities help plan and monitor, like the successful National Solidarity Program in Afghanistan, would be a good start, provide livelihoods and contribute to mitigating the likelihood of violence. Dispute settlement. As people return to their homes, disputes will break out over property, much of which will be badly damaged and destroyed. It is important to establish a relatively quick administrative procedure for settlement of disputes and recovery of private property, in particular real estate. Funding for civil society. Syria under Assad lacked the vigorous nongovernmental organizations that provide advocacy, serve as watchdogs and help protect human rights and minorities in open societies. Funding and empowerment of grassroots organizations committed to a democratic outcome and organized across sectarian and ethnic lines, including the revolutionary local administrative councils that have spontaneously appeared in liberated areas, can strengthen social cohesion and prevent violence. Safe havens for particular minorities. Odious though it may be on other grounds, temporary separation of ethnic and sectarian groups in the immediate aftermath of violent conflict can help to prevent violence and reduce risks to vulnerable minorities. Many Syrian neighborhoods are more or less segregated. It may be best to keep them that way for a time, but to move once trust is re-established in the direction of much more sectarian and ethnic integration.

Syrians will have to decide for themselves what they want to take advantage of, or not, from this laundry list. They may well also discover some new tricks. But the country will be far better off in the long term if Syrians and internationals start thinking now about what to do to prevent the worst from happening after Assad falls.

from Blogs Dashboard:

A devalued pound can’t save the British economy

There it goes again. Sterling has been dropping sharply this year against the U.S. dollar and especially the euro, as Britain turns to a tried and trusted remedy for its economic problems: devaluation. Even with its slight uptick on Wednesday, sterling is down more than 6 percent against the euro since the beginning of 2013 and has slid 10 percent over the past six months.

This is not something the British government is boasting about, especially at a time when there’s concern over -- and sometimes a high-level condemnation of -- countries such as Japan that allegedly seek to manipulate their currencies. But it’s also not something the British government or the Bank of England is trying to hide – or stop.

from Felix Salmon:

Britain’s fiscal failure

Never mind Sachs vs Krugman: by far the most interesting and important fiscal-policy debate right now is Cameron vs Wolf.

David Cameron, of course, is the prime minister of the UK, and last week he gave a rambling 4,000-word speech on the national economy which is almost impossible to read. For some reason the speech appears online in what you might call teleprompter format, with a single sentence sometimes spanning three separate paragraphs. It's a clear indication that Cameron is more interested in rhetoric than he is in substance.

“Tobin Tax” is a step backward for financial markets

–Tanuja Randery is the CEO of trading services firm MarketPrizm. The opinions expressed are her own.—

As the economic downturn continues to drag on, the cynics amongst us might be forgiven for thinking that the “Tobin Tax” is a move by politicians to curry public favour by taking punitive measures against the financial services sector.

from The Great Debate:

Chávez’s death leaves Venezuelans with hard choices

Venezuela has kicked off a presidential election campaign whose charismatic central figures are a governor and a ghost. The victor, however, may well be the flesh and blood heir of a revolutionary regime left to grapple with real and deepening crises.

The opposition has seized upon the death of President Hugo Chávez last week as an opportunity to break the 14-year grip on power of the self-styled socialist revolutionary and send their candidate, state Governor Henrique Capriles, to the Miraflores palace in elections set for April 14. But the outpouring of grief following El Comandante’s death from cancer showed the polarizing figure will continue to grip the national psyche.

from The Great Debate:

Without coordinated leadership, Europe will falter

There is an increasing probability that financial markets will respond negatively to the unfolding economic and political drama unfolding across Europe. So far, the European Central Bank has pumped out cash and calmed the nerves of investors, but it needs to do more. A cut in interest rates by the ECB is crucial to contribute to a revival of growth across the euro zone. On its own, however, that is not enough. Europe’s political authorities need to counter the increasingly widespread perception that they lack the will to confront the zone’s economic ailments and promote a clear path to growth – austerity policies alone will not work.

The situation has become far more serious now that the crisis has moved from the zone’s periphery to its major economies: Spain shows no signs of emerging from prolonged negative growth, Italy is now facing mounting difficulties and France is sliding into recession.

All pain, no gain for Germany

By Laurence Copeland. The opinions expressed are his own.

Whenever the question of the future of the euro zone comes up, you can always rely on someone (often a German) to say something like “Yes, of course the Germans don’t like having to foot the bill for the weaklings… but at the same time, they do get enormous benefits from having a fixed exchange rate. I mean, just look at their trade surplus. All those Mercs and BMW’s you see in Milan and Athens and…”

This argument is utter nonsense, and the economists especially ought to know better.

from The Great Debate:

With Chavez gone, what of ‘Chavismo’?

“The End of the Chávez Era” That was the headline on Colombia’s major newspaper, El Tiempo, the day after Hugo Chávez’s death.

True, Chávez’s controversial and colorful 14-year rule has ended, and Venezuela has lost a president who evoked uncommonly intense passions among followers and detractors.   Venezuelans will not easily forget a leader who, for better or worse, was the consummate showman and left an indelible mark on a highly polarized society.

If only more CEOs were like Andrew Mason


By Kathleen Brooks. The opinions expressed are her own.

Groupon’s ex-CEO won’t be remembered for his stewardship of the internet deal company, but he is likely to go down in history as writing one of the best and most honest goodbye memos of all time when he was sacked at the end of last week.

Two things in the memo to Groupon employees announcing his departure stand out: humour and honesty. This has to be the best opening line in the history of the departure letter: “After four and a half intense and wonderful years as CEO of Groupon, I’ve decided that I’d like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding – I was fired today.” How many times have we heard CEOs, politicians and other leaders use the “family” card to disguise the fact they have been unceremoniously dumped from their role of authority?

from The Great Debate:

A blueprint to make banks behave

Banking integrity has become an oxymoron. Top bankers need to change this and take responsibility for tackling ethical issues. For this to happen, every part of the organization – from senior management to human resources managers to those on the trading floor and beyond – should be assessed according to the contribution it makes to promoting ethical values, not just the bottom line.

The investigations into the LIBOR rate-rigging scandal showed how commonplace bribery among dealers had become. For example, between September 2008 and August 2009 a single trader at the Royal Bank of Scotland had made corrupt payments to interbank brokers on 30 occasions, by means of risk-free transactions known as "wash trades."