Reflections on Hilary Clinton’s Libyan triumph, Chris Stevens, and the price of regime change

Chris Stevens following the attack which resulted in his death.

When I read of the sad death of the American ambassador in Libya, I wondered whether Hilary Clinton, who had reacted with such depressing vulgarity and Caesarian pretension to the death of Colonel Gaddafi, registered the link between this killing and what the Americans had done in Libya. At the very least, she much have realized that, had Gaddafi still been in power in Libya, the American ambassador would not have died.

I presume the lady would assume that the death of her representative was a small price to pay for having got rid of Gaddafi. The fact that American interventions have resembled another less famous line from Julius Caesar – Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war- is probably of little consequence to her in comparison with what seems the enthronement of American capital and the enhancement of American power. Which is more important in her eyes, God alone can tell, if indeed he can cope with the schizophrenia that seems to govern American relations with what they see as lesser breeds without the law. Cunningly, though, now the responsibility for continuing deaths can be seen as lying with other agents, unlike in the days when the chosen instruments of American domination, from Papa Doc to Pinochet, got away with mass murder on the grounds that they were saving their people from godless radicals.

So doubtless the hunt for Bashir Assad will continue, regardless of the increasing evidence that extremist forces are in the forefront in this respect, and have committed their share of atrocities that are all attributed in the Western press to the Syrian government. The techniques being used are of course not new, as I realized again when reading William Dalrymple’s account of the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Talking of the annexation of Oudh, which had contributed to the resentment that fuelled the uprising, he cited a disillusioned British official who ‘exposed the degree to which a largely fictional dossier…had been assembled by interested parties within the Company to push for Avadh’s annexation. The dossier had depicted a province “given up to crime, havoc, and anarchy by the misrule of a government at once imbecile and corrupt.” This image, wrote Bird, was little more than “a fiction of official penmanship, (an) Oriental romance”’.

Gaddafi was captured and later killed by the Libyan rebels.

At the same time, in deploring American perfidy, we should be aware of the excuses given for it by both imbecility and corruption on the part of governments they wish to get rid of. Gaddafi, for instance, who had seemed deeply committed to his people in his early years in power, seems to have relished luxury in his old age. Ironically this went together with a softening towards the West, which was the counterpart perhaps of the softening in the head that several decades in absolute power had precipitated.

Some of this change in attitude may have been due to the affection for Western values – as evinced in practice, as opposed to the moral perspectives celebrated by Western apologists – evinced by his children. Educated in the West, relishing nightclubs and haute couture even though provided with a doctorate at one of Britain’s more prestigious universities, Said Gaddafi provided those who wanted to intervene with the excuse they needed through his reaction to the uprising in Benghazi. His response suggested a bloodthirstiness that called to be contained, and it was used to influence public opinion, leading to the resolution in the UN Security Council which Russia and China did not veto.

I think there is a lesson for us here, for I believe the more myopic Americans are still keen to see a change of regime in Sri Lanka. So long as they have to deal with Mahinda Rajapaksa himself, I have no fears, for his popularity in the country is obvious. Though the Anglo-Saxons, in a move some of the Europeans deplored, tried to promote Sarath Fonseka in 2009, the results of the election made it clear that getting rid of President Rajapaksa would not be easy – and it also confirmed what I have always felt, that his appeal lay not in narrow nationalism, of which his enemies accuse him, but which their chosen candidate in fact exemplified, but in a human sympathy that the vast majority of Sri Lankans appreciates.

This is not necessarily true of his family. Though they all have their virtues, and it is easy to defend them against the common criticisms made, none has the same charm or understanding of the wider Sri Lankan picture. Concentration on one aspect or the other can be perverted by those who do not have the best interests of the country at heart, and any excess can be exploited by the hostile.

Given the use made of his children’s excesses by those who thought anything better for Libya than Gaddafi, even the forces that have killed the American ambassador, it is important that the President ensures that his children are well mentored. Namal Rajapaksa has G L Pieris, who I suppose is better than the academics in England who provided Said Gaddafi with his doctorate, but I was reminded of the very different sort of mentoring the President himself had, when Chamal Rajapaksa related a tale of his boyhood, when his father had sent him and the future President to my father when something amiss had occurred. Home spun wisdom may sometimes be better than sophistication in pursuit of agendas that are not objective.

Robert Blake’s latest pronouncements, together with the relentless campaign with regard to war crimes that the usual suspects are conducting, to coincide with the Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva and the visit of Navi Pillay’s team, suggest that we need to be constantly vigilant. The Ministry of External Affairs may now think that all will be well, and that sacking Tamara Kunanayagam and preventing her from chairing the Working Group on the Right to Development will keep the West happy. But pressures will continue, and there are ways, as Oudh and Libya and Syria show, to create moral pressures that may be simply ‘Oriental romance’, but which can lead to replacement of leaders who are disliked. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance, and the quality of that freedom must also be maintained, as that poor American ambassador must have realized when the forces his Caesar had unleashed fell on him.

Lakbima News 23 Sept 2012 –

Salem News – 24 Sept 2012 –