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Another mark of increasing age, though I suppose I should be pleased at this one, was a request to deliver a memorial lecture. The topic given to me was ‘The March of Folly’, which led me to look up the origin of the phrase. I knew it was the title of a book by the popular American historian Barbara Tuchman, but I had thought this was the one she wrote about the beginnings of the First World War, chronicling the headlong rush into a war that could have been avoided, and which destroyed the world its perpetrators thought to perpetuate.
In fact ‘The March of Folly’ is a later book, based on the idea that folly is the pursuit by governments of policies contrary to their own interests. Tuchman deals with four examples of this, beginning with the decision of the Trojans to take into their city the horse left on the beach by the Greeks who had pretended to abandon their attempt to conquer Troy. She goes on to discuss the policies of the Popes who precipitated the Reformation, and then the British blunders that led to the independence of the United States. Finally, and at length, she deals with the American disaster in Vietnam.
All very interesting subjects, and I should now read the book. But it gave me a focus for this new series, which will look at recent political history in the context of folly in the Tuchman sense. I will not confine myself to governments alone, since the whole picture demands looking also at what others in the political arena engage in. And the series will be different from the lecture, which will have to be tightly focused. But these articles will I hope provide some food for thought, and with luck some changes in approach – assuming, that is, that those who decide, and those who influence decision making, both read and think.
I will begin however in an area where obviously I cannot hope for influence, since I shall talk about the folly of the West in persecuting us for achieving what it pretends it desires, namely the eradication of terrorism. But from the Sri Lankan perspective it is essential to consider this too, for the mess the current government is in springs largely from its unthinking acceptance of Western mythology. Some in the government, and even perhaps the Prime Minister, have begun to realize how badly they blundered way back in 2015, but he has no idea how to reverse gear effectively, and he certainly cannot even begin to do this while Mangala Samaraweera continues to run foreign affairs and bleat helplessly in Geneva. Read the rest of this entry »
Reflections on Hilary Clinton’s Libyan triumph, Chris Stevens, and the price of regime change
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.
The American creation of opposites
Over the last couple of weeks Sri Lanka has had to face a number of attacks and critiques, most obviously the latest film from Channel 4, but also reports from both Amnesty International and the International Crisis Group. These focus, often directly, on the resolution about Sri Lanka that has been proposed by the United States of America, and is being lobbied for by that country and some of its allies in an intensive fashion all over the world, in a manner that few countries have had to face.
Why is this? Why did the American Permanent Representative here tell ours last September that, whether or not the LLRC Report was a good one, they would get us this time round? Perhaps she spoke in the heat of frustrated persuasiveness, perhaps she was misunderstood, but this intensity is strange, and seems immensely at odds with what the resolution is presented as, namely a way of supporting Sri Lanka in its efforts at Reconciliation after several decades of brutal conflict.
The actual wording of the resolution however belies that claim, as Sri Lanka’s most accomplished student of foreign policy, as well as one of its best diplomats, Dayan Jayatilleka, made clear in his recent deconstruction of the resolution. It not only asserts that the Report of Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission is inadequate, it flouts all principles of the United Nations and the principles of this Council in trying to impose external mechanisms on a country that is simply suspected of not doing all that others want it to do.
The absurdity of the allegations now being advanced is strengthened by the way in which goalposts have shifted over the years. Whenever one query is satisfied, another is produced in its place. Those who were at the Human Rights Council in May 2009 will remember the allegations being made at the time that several European countries had demanded a special session because they were worried about the fate of the Tamils of the Wanni who had been displaced by the conflict, and about the future of former LTTE cadres. This concern was belied by the assertion in the House of Commons by the then British Foreign Minister, David Miliband, that the special session was meant to be about war crimes, a startlingly hyocritical statement from a government that had cooked up evidence about Weapons of Mass Destruction and driven a brave scientist to suicide, if that indeed is how he died, when he tried to expose the deceit.
We have now resettled all the displaced, more quickly than in any similar situation elsewhere in the world, and rehabilitated nearly all former cadres, but the persecution continues. Later we were told that the LLRC could not be trusted because it had been appointed by government and included individuals whom some elements in the international community thought untrustworthy. Then, when the LLRC produced a sharp and potentially very productive report, which was welcomed with few reservations by almost all countries except the United States, we are told that we will not implement it.
I don’t believe a number of Western nations are determined, it seems this time round to be largely the United States (whereas in 2009 it was mainly Britain, with France tagging around – though Kouchner later I was told granted to his much more sensible Ambassador here that the latter had been right). Though the British will end up supporting any American initiative as they generally do, and other Europeans will probably follow, I believe that most of them are not too enthusiastic, and in at least some cases such a decision would I believe be contrary to advice given by ambassadors on the ground here. You can see the difference in the initial reactions to the LLRC report, where the Americans were really quite preposterous, given their own record, while others, including the British, were much more nuanced.
As to why the Americans are in an extreme position on this one, I believe there are several reasons involved, beginning with what a Republican friend told me, that the Bleeding Hearts in the Obama Administration had to do a volte face on Afghanistan and Iraq etc and so they salve their consciences with Sri Lanka. Then there is the essentially Manichaean American view of the world, which is why for instance during Cold War days, when they found a willing warrior here in the form of President Jayewardene, they encouraged his anti-Indian postures. Now, given their fear of China, they are trying to suggest that they are supporting India by pressurizing Sri Lanka, whereas the Indians know perfectly well that, if they got a better offer, they would sell India down the river, as happened with Pakistan earlier on.
The report of the Commission of Inquiry on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation is now public. It has been generally welcomed, and the exceptions that prove the rule sadly confirm the distinction between those who seek reconciliation and those who have other motives in the extraordinary campaign that has been conducted against Sri Lanka over the last two years.
The vast majority of local and international observers have welcomed the Report, though many have noted that a positive report will serve little purpose if its recommendations are not implemented. This is an understandable caveat, for Sri Lanka has not always acted as swiftly as it should, and it has also often failed to publicize its actions. This latter shortcoming is unfortunate, not just because it allows critics to claim that nothing is being done, but more seriously because it prevents the analysis both by government and by concerned persons with no axe to grind of achievements, and thus, as importantly, understanding of deficiencies that need to be corrected.
This inadequacy has been startlingly illustrated by the failure to work coherently enough on the interim recommendations submitted by the Commission. Initially these were not adequately publicized. This was not because of any commitment to confidentiality, since they were soon enough readily known by anyone who was interested, but simply because government did not seem to realize the importance of the recommendations and of, not only acting, but being seen to act. Though a committee was set up to ensure implementation, the lack of transparency in this regard, and what can only be described as a concomitant absence of any sense of urgency, allowed for the feeling that government was not really serious. The views of the Commission, that many current problems might have been avoided had their recommendations been implemented coherently, is quite understandable.
I say this with a slight but not overwhelming sense of guilt because one of my functions, as Adviser on Reconciliation, was supposed to be to ‘Monitor and report to HE the President on progress with regard to the Interim Recommendations of the LLRC, and promote appropriate activities for this purpose through the relevant Ministries.’ In mitigation I can plead that, though my appointment was made in January 2011, my terms of reference were only received in May. And I finally received an office only in October, with one operational staffer in December. I have no budget for work, though since December I have been supplied with fuel for visits to the North.
Why such incoherence? Whilst I have no illusions about the slowness with which government moves, in general, and find this culpable, I should also note that the more vociferous members of the international community, those who now criticize the LLRC Report, were not really concerned with reconciliation, as opposed to their own sometimes agendas. With a stunning ignorance of history, and exemplars such as South Africa and Chile where the country moved forward without bruising animosities, they confused reconciliation with retribution. Even more absurdly, they thought it was the democratically elected government that should be punished, not terrorists or those who hijacked power and used it brutally as the Pinochet government in Chile or the apartheid regime in South Africa, both of which were allowed to go away quietly as it were.
What is the reason for this? On the one hand there were countries such as Britain and other European states that were worried about the electoral power of the Tamil diaspora, and assumed that its more vociferous members were decisive factors. Fortunately that populist perspective has now diminished, and perhaps one of the most heartening developments in recent months has been the impression Britain has given of wanting to move on, instead of dwelling in the unprincipled wickedness of the Miliband years.
But, conversely, the United States of America seems to have got more intense, as was exemplified by its efforts to suborn military personnel to give evidence against the Sri Lankan state. The recent efforts of its political affairs officer to pressurize government with regard to Sarath Fonseka, whom earlier the Americans had fingered as a possible war crimes suspect, is only explicable in terms of a sense of guilt about the garden path up which he was led.
I should note that one should not of course generalize about the Americans. Even more than other countries, they seem to suffer from schizophrenia with regard to foreign policy, as was exemplified by the positive approach of their Defence Attache in Colombo, who was promptly rebuked for his pains. But, in addition to the endemic tussle between foreign affairs and defence perspectives, America also suffers from a strange combination of ruthless self interest, as their performances in Iraq and Pakistan over the years have shown, and a desire to be seen as decent guys. For Sri Lanka this has led to astonishing levels of persecution since, as one forthright Republican observer put it, the bleeding hearts had to keep quiet about Guantanamo and everything else they had shouted about before, so they transferred their attention to Sri Lanka.
In this series of reflections, I have looked at various aspects of Western involvement in the Middle East, and in the Wider Middle East as well. The latter term refers, as Craig Murray defines it, to ‘the Middle East as we understand it, plus the Caucasus and Central Asia, which is of course a massive belt of oil and gas resources.’ Given his stress, it makes sense to include North Africa too in any generalizations of the subject.
I realize of course that my generalizations are just that, simply points to be pondered if we are to make sense of what is going on in the region. I have looked at the moral aspects of actions and reactions, while noting that it does not make sense to expect consistency of outlook or indeed any commitment to principle in the dealings of the various nations concerned.
I have looked too at the historical record, since this is often forgotten. It is important to remember the manner in which various nation states were constituted after the two World Wars, and then how some of them changed governments through revolutions. I referred to the socialist military bent of the most notable of these revolutions, and pointed out how the West, in reacting to these, thought regimes based on religion preferable. Indeed it is worth noting here that one reason for the British desire to see an independent Pakistan (as indicated both by Narendra Singh Sarila and Jaswant Singh in their recent accounts of the struggle for Indian independence) was the view that India would be governed by dangerous socialists, and solidly conservative Muslims were more likely to continue loyal to the West.
I could scarcely believe it when I was told that Hillary Clinton’s reaction to the death of Colonel Gaddafi was, ‘ We came, we saw, he died.’ The statement seemed so vulgar, and at the same time so asinine in its meaningless parodying of Julius Caesar, that I could not imagine that it had actually been made by the Foreign Minister of the most powerful country in the world.
I checked then, and was told by someone I can rely on that she had indeed said. ‘We came, we saw, he died….heh, heh.’ He had seen this on CNN.
I was immensely saddened by this. Some months earlier I had written about what I thought was a civilized element in the lady, the awe that seemed apparent in her eyes while she was watching the killing of Osama bin Laden. That had seemed to contrast with the steely determination of the others in the room, and I had fancied that the maker of policy was at least aware of the wider moral dimensions of that particular execution.
But now it seemed morality was trumped totally by what seemed to be unashamed gloating. Of course there was a difference, in that the Americans were clearly responsible for the killing of Osama bin Laden. The lady knew this was a defining moment for American decision makers, for clearly they were behind what could be seen as cold blooded murder. But I assume the powers that be felt this was a risk that could be run, that the argument could be made that Osama was a threat to national security even if disarmed and in custody, and therefore it could be argued that the decision had been made as a form of self defence.
The last extract from the Report of the Darusman Panel that I read referred to rape. The Panel begins its discussion of this factor by stating that ‘Rape and sexual violence against Tamil women during the final stages of the armed conflict and, in its aftermath, are greatly under-reported’.
They go on to indicate that their Report is based on ‘indirect accounts’ and explains this by talking about many ‘photos and video footage, in particular the footage provided by Channel 4’. If this is their principal evidence, one wonders about their standards, given the questions raised about the authenticity of what Channel 4 showed, the discrepancies in the dates Channel 4 put forward, the shifty segments (such as the shifting leg, which even Alston’s bunch of experts could not explain).
Anyone with a modicum of intelligence combined with objectivity would have thought about previous allegations with regard to sexual violence made against our forces. The most famous of these is the pronouncement by Hillary Clinton about our forces using rape as a weapon of war, for which Ambassador Butenis apologized. While I can see that we were correct to accept her apology graciously, it is astonishing that she herself did not see fit to examine and explain how Hillary Clinton was fooled into making that particular blunder.
Then there was the famous case of I think fourteen women found with their throats cut near Menik Farm, reported with complete fraudulence by the ‘Guardian’, though not I hasten to add by its regular correspondent. The article was written by a callow young man named Gethin Chamberlain, who later confessed to me that he realized later the story was false. He claimed that he had written it up because he thought he had a reliable source, which I think he indicated in response to a question from me, though never directly admitting it, was a UN official. He told me that after that he had realized he should not trust that particular source, but surely a good journalist would have tried to find out why such an outrageous lie was thrust upon him.
I do not think Mr Chamberlain was quite as innocent as he pretended to be, for in his article he claimed that he had tried to contact the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, but they did not respond. The day this happened was a holiday, but since he had the number of my mobile phone, it is clear he did not even try to get hold of me. It was typical however that he wanted to both have his cake and eat it, which is why he tried to suggest that we were avoiding him, when in fact, with the usual pusillanimity of such creatures when dealing with us, he did not dare to even try to talk to us, given the enormity of the whopper he was perpetrating.
By then I had a pretty shrewd idea of what was going on, confirmed indeed by Jeremy Paige of the Sunday Times, whom I also met in Delhi around the same time. When I asked him why he was perpetrating lies, having denied that he had anything to do with the massive figures as to deaths that his colleagues were advancing, he claimed that he had UN authority for some of the things he wrote. When I pointed out that the UN had refuted these, he claimed that there were junior people in the UN who disagreed with the position of their superiors, and were therefore leaking information to journalists. Read the rest of this entry »