Sen. Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., is calling on the Obama administration to “redouble” its engagement with Tunisia after the country holds elections on Sunday. Tunisia, where protests sparked the pro-democracy movement across the region, will become the first "Arab Spring" country to head to the polls.
“Although Tunisia lacks Egypt's demographic weight or Libya's oil wealth, that is not a reason to play down its importance. Tunisia's revolution has already inspired the rest of the Arab world,” Lieberman wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed published on Thursday. “…While the fate of Tunisia's transition will be determined by Tunisians themselves, the U.S. has a clear interest in supporting the cause. Indeed, precisely because of Tunisia's smaller population, a modest commitment of U.S. resources can go a long way.”
He listed as priorities: that Sunday’s elections are an “unambiguous success—free, fair, and perceived as such by the Tunisian people;” and that the U.S. ramp up its engagement, especially with its new politicians, political parties, and independent media.
“In this respect, Tunisia provides us with the challenge of distinguishing between violent Islamist extremists like al-Qaeda, who are at war with us, and Islamist political movements that are neither violent nor extremist,” Lieberman wrote.
He also argued that Washington should expand economic engagement by establishing a compact with the country and pass legislation to help small and medium-sized businesses there. “Probably the most powerful economic step the Obama administration could take is to restart negotiations for a free trade agreement with Tunisia,” Lieberman wrote.