John Campbell The downward spiral in Ivory Coast continues toward civil war or, at best, stalemate. The standoff between long-time ruler Laurent Gbagbo and the internationally supported presidential victor in credible if imperfect elections, Alassane Ouattara, is far from resolved. Both have had themselves sworn in as president. Both also maintain substantial support within their constituencies, some of whom are prepared to fight. A recent general strike called by the opposition to force Gbagbo out was widely observed in the north, where Ouattara derives much of his support, hardly at all in those parts of the country supportive of Gbagbo, and only sporadically in Abidjan, where Gbagbos thugs, the Young Patriots, are active in the streets. Outside opinion has only limited relevance inside a fractured Ivory Coast. The fear must be of a resumption of the countrys destructive 2002 civil war that severely damaged the economy; hitherto Francophone West Africas most successful. The international community has recognised Ouattara as the duly elected president. Regional organisations, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) have imposed sanctions on Gbagbo, and even raised the possibility of military intervention, though interest in that option has receded. The Central Bank of West Africa has cut off Gbagbos access. The UN extended its mission and the secretary general has recognised Ouattaras nominee as the Ivorian PR. Gbagbos supporters are threatening foreigners. This raises the specter of ethnic killings or genocide. Fearful of threats, the Nigerian business community has urged Abuja to remain neutral. Gbagbos Young Patriots are threatening to attack Ouattara and his UN protectors. There are credible reports of almost 200 dead and many disappeared, mostly from the opposition. Should fighting break out, the UN peacekeepers in the country would not be able to stop it. They need a new UNSC mandate, which might be difficult to achieve. The 900 French troops in this former colony remain to expedite the departure of some 15,000 French citizens, should it be necessary. It is an open question whether French public opinion would support the active engagement of French forces other than to protect French citizens. Hence, it is no surprise that Ecowas is refocusing on diplomatic pressure. Three Ecowas heads of state and the Kenyan prime minister were in Abidjan to try to persuade Gbagbo to leave. They follow earlier Ecowas missions and one undertaken by South Africas former head of state Thabo Mbeki on behalf of the African Union. Even the US has hinted at offering Gbagbo residency if he quits. Gbagbo has shown no interest in the honourable exile and immunity from prosecution that they have offered. In the face of his intransigence, there is talk of power-sharing between the two presidents. International mediators should be wary of such a proposal. Power-sharing in Zimbabwe and Kenya ended violence in the short term, it has not resolved the underlying causes. Given these unpleasant realities, the Obama administration has little leverage to get Gbagbo out quickly. It prudently has reduced the size of the US Embassy and is likely planning to facilitate the departure of US citizens, if necessary. The administration can and should move to contain the consequences for the region of the crisis and underscore Gbagbos pariah status. For example, it should provide assistance to Liberia and Ivory Coasts other neighbours to respond to a potential humanitarian disaster caused by refugee flows. According to the UN, as many as 20,000 refugees have fled the country since the beginning of the crisis. It should seek to stench any flow of arms into the country. The administrations spokesmen should continue publicly to recall that Gbagbo and his minions would be held personally accountable for human rights violations he perpetrates. The administration should provide diplomatic support for Ecowas and the African Union in international forums like the UN Security Council. There should also be international planning for the delivery of humanitarian assistance within Ivory Coast, should widespread fighting start again. Over time Gbagbos domestic support is likely to erode, a process that will be promoted by his new status as an international pariah and if he is cut off from access to international financial agencies. But, in the meantime, the international community will need to show persistence and patience; Gbagbo is unlikely to go away soon. Khaleej Times