How Tamil Tigers increased their Influence in U.S. under Professional Sri Lankan diplomats in Washington
Daya Gamage – US Bureau Asian Tribune Analysis
Washington, DC. 10 August (Asiantribune.com): “Unlike standard diplomacy, which might be described as the ways in which government leaders communicate with each other at the highest level, public diplomacy focuses on the way in which a country, acting deliberately or inadvertently, through both officials and private individuals and institutions, communicates with citizens in other societies. But like standard diplomacy, it starts from the premise that dialogue, rather than sales pitch, is often central to achieving the goals of foreign policy. To be effective, public diplomacy must be seen as two-way street. It involves not only shaping the message(s) that a country wishes to present abroad, but also analyzing and understanding the ways that the message is interpreted by diverse societies and developing tools of listening and conversation as well as the tools of persuasion.”
That is how the Center on Public Diplomacy of the University of Southern California (USC) summarized the 101 of Public Diplomacy.
It is not by sheer accident that we inAsian Tribune used a self explanatory caption to this analysis: How Tamil Tigers increased their Influence in U.S. under Professional Sri Lankan diplomats in Washington.
This analysis well summarizes the plight of Sri Lanka currently facing in ‘selling her story’ to the West because of successful inroads gained by the front organizations, professionals and acolytes of Sri Lanka’s separatist/terrorist Tamil Tigers (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam-LTTE) in the US Congress, US Department of State and among policymakers or those who influence policymakers.
The LTTE public diplomacy machinery in the U.S. is well oiled having its tentacles all over the US polity. The inability to identify the ways in which it operates greatly helps the machinery to sustain and allows its further growth. And, the story here is how the Tamil Tiger machinery in the U.S. not only sustained but grew in strength to consolidate the already established mind-set of US State Department officials that majority Sinhalese (74%) and minority Tamils (12%) are on a ‘free-for-all’ in the sovereign territory of Sri Lanka because, in the words of one of the State department documents, ‘the country is under Sinhalese domination’ practicing genocide on the minority Tamils leaving no political and economic leverage to them. The psychology of leading US Congressmen is settled in harmony with this mind-set contributed jointly by the Tiger machinery and State Department ‘feeds’.
And, the ‘professionals’ who were at the helm of Sri Lanka’s most vital overseas diplomatic post in Washington D.C. since the advent of this millennium knowingly or unknowingly aided and abetted that growth of the Tamil Tiger ‘diplomatic hegemony’ in a nation whose footsteps are found all over the world with immense influence.
Therefore, the larger part of this decade in the new millennium the Tiger machinery was allowed to sustain and grow with no obstacles in their path to project Sri Lanka as another Sudan, Bosnia or Burma frustrating Sri Lanka’s efforts to safeguard her territorial integrity, sovereignty and democratic system from the most ruthless terrorist movement that project itself the ‘sole representative of the Tamil people’ to which the West and the United States succumbed, at least partially, to complicate the internal situation in this South Asian nation and to the utmost delight to the ‘international professional wing of the LTTE.’
The fresh oil for that ‘international professional wing’ was well provided by the ‘professionals’ who had the reigns of Washington’s Sri Lanka embassy during this period.
The sustenance and the steady growth of the Tamil Tiger machinery in influencing the policymakers and those who influence policymakers in the United States system greatly negated many attempts by Sri Lanka to ‘explain’ her story to the West. And, by the time Sri Lanka inaugurated a new president in November 2005 the ‘failed overseas public diplomacy’ load he inherited clearly manifested when he had to summon his government’s diplomats in principal overseas posts ten months later to Colombo to tell them not to consider the country’s diplomatic missions abroad as branches of the Immigration and Emigration Department to confine themselves to the issuance of visas, making travel arrangements to visiting dignitaries and facilitating their kinsmen in the seats of higher learning.
Two years into his presidency Mahinda Rajapaksa did not see the overseas diplomatic clout the LTTE had possessed diminishing. And, Asian Tribune which very closely monitored how Sri Lankan diplomats in the U.S. handled affairs which culminated in a series of investigative/analytical accounts did not see any positive improvement of Sri Lanka’s overseas diplomacy to convince US lawmakers and even those who engage in research in the US Congressional Research Service (CRS) of the US Library of Congress that the LTTE does not represent or speak for the Tamil minority and that the outfit is not interested and was not interested in any dialogue but its sole aim was to carve out 33% of Sri Lanka’s territory for less than 6% of minority Tamils who have been held captive in a less than 15% of Sri Lanka territory and that any unilateral attempt by the LTTE to engage in dialogues with the Government is nothing but to buy time to first, mislead Sri Lanka and the international community and second, to strengthen its military power for the next onslaught on Sri Lankan military forces.
On 28 September 2007, in an exclusive interview with President Rajapaksa in Los Angeles, Asian Tribune very boldly told him that his ‘Sri Lanka story’ is not being bought by the West especially the policymakers of the United States. Rajapaksa confessed to this writer in that interview that the Tamil Tigers have won the ‘hearts and minds’ of the policymakers of the West which he publicly stated the same evening when addressing a packed auditorium of expatriate Sri Lankans in Los Angeles.
And, the Tamil Tiger strategies in the United States worked in the greater part of this decade while ‘professionals’ had a tight reign in the Embassy of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka in Washington DC in the United States of America.
The steady reduction of US economic assistance since 2005, the loss of the Millennium Challenge Grant, reduction of military assistance, the misreading of the situation that gave a ‘lifeline’ to the LTTE in the US polity pushing Sri Lanka’s battle to safeguard her territorial integrity, sovereignty and democracy to the back burner while the Lankan administration was endeavoring to strike a delicate balance between national security and individual rights, State Department officials entertaining the avowed LTTE policy plank ‘Tamil Homeland’ as part of the solution to this South Asian nation’s terrorist crisis, the reflection of US two-decade old policy that the total annihilation of the Tamil Tigers may not facilitate the minority Tamils to fulfill their grievances under a ‘Sinhala-dominated’ government etc occurred when ‘professionals’ were at the helm of Sri Lanka’s overseas mission in Washington, DC in the United States.
These developments did not happen in a year or two but slow and steady manners during the first eight years in the new millennium.
Even to entertain the idea to obtain a ‘lobbying service’ from a US public relations company to lobby the White House, State Department, US Congress and policymakers to build a “positive image’ of Sri Lanka while selling “Sri Lanka’s story” is itself an impeachment on ‘professional diplomats’ who handled the country’s diplomatic post in Washington during a greater part of the first decade of this millennium.
Asian Tribune inquiries found that a section of the Government that was responsible for its overseas public diplomacy was in utter frustration that the US polity has not understood “Sri Lanka Story” in the United States to make a move to engage a US public relations corporation to give the country’s true story to US policymakers.
President Rajapaksa last September in Los Angeles expressed his frustration to Asian Tribune and later to a Sri Lankan expatriate gathering that the LTTE has won the propaganda and public diplomacy battle in the West especially in the United States. This was a clear indication that Rajapaksa considered Washington as the most important diplomatic post for his country contrary to what some Sri Lankan media outlets say these days.
And, up to the time the GSL entertained the idea of handing over the overseas public diplomacy campaign in the US to a public relations firm the task of improving Sri Lanka’s image in the US and combating wild, half truths and blatant lies of the Tamil Tiger propaganda machinery in the United States was totally handled by ‘diplomatic professionals’ at Washington’s Sri Lanka embassy.
Let’s start with Devinda Subasinghe who was Sri Lanka ambassador to the United States from September 2002 through April 2005 appointed by then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe.
Asian Tribune was rather amused to read an account of a Sri Lankan newspaper The Sunday Leader in its July 27 issue under the caption ‘Lanka’s diplomatic nightmare in Washington’ which said: “our ambassador needs to have the steel and tactful wit to take on the LTTE’s finest advocates and enablers, such as lawyer Bruce Fein without cowering behind slander articles of the Defense Ministry web site and kept press, which is the current government’s strategy,” belittling the recent appointment of former Sri Lanka Consul General for Western States in the US Jaliya Wickramasuriya as Sri Lanka’s new envoy to Washington stating that the latter does not match the professionalism of the two previous envoys Devinda Subasinghe and Bernard Goonetilleke.
Bruce Fein, a former Deputy Attorney General in the US Department of Justice and now a Washington lawyer, is on a special mission for a long time to de-proscribe the LTTE in the U.S., supporting the aspiration for a separate state for the minority Tamils in Sri Lanka, advocating the right to self-determination of the minority Tamils in Sri Lanka, and most recently, preparing to bring justice through instituting grand jury proceedings against Defense Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa, his brother parliamentarian Basil Rajapaksa and Army Commander Sarath Fonseka “of grave violation of human rights, humanitarian laws and crimes against Tamils”.
Mr. Fein, for some time, tied up with a Los Angeles-based Tamils for Justice organization and now, lately, tied up with Justice for Thamils toward fulfilling the same objectives noted above.
On September 10, 2007 Bruce Fein in an e-mail letter to the Asian Tribune editor said he represents the former (Sri Lanka) ambassador Devinda Subasinghe and that the editor was “writing about the flagrantly defamatory article you published on Sunday, September 9, 2007, entitled ‘What diplomats and ex-diplomats do to their country?’, the said article maliciously and falsely asserted or implied that my client was a traitor to his country or unpatriotic” demanding the editor to remove the story from the web site and tender an apology to Subasinghe.
Bruce Fein’s e-mail communications regarding his ‘client Devinda Subasinghe’ are in the possession of Asian Tribune.
Does the often used maxim “one is judged by the company one keeps” come to one’s mind? Of course!
One may refer to the February 3, 2004 article Fein wrote to The Washington Times which discussed the US District Court for Central District of California judgment which said (US) citizens enjoy a constitutional right to provide “expert advise or assistance” to US designated foreign terrorist organizations in which Bruce Fein was critical of the LTTE. Mr. Fein in a statement issued on January 4, 2008 answering his critics who accused him of 180 degree turn about the position he took regarding the LTTE gave the following explanation of the position he took in 2004:
“A second Tamils for Justice (TFJ) objective is statehood. None of my doubters have either read or written even a microscopic fraction of what I have read or written about natural law, morality, and modern practice to justify a right to statehood. I have previously advocated statehood for Kashmir and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. The gruesome deterioration of the circumstances in Sri Lanka since my (2004) Washington Times article establishes the Tamil case for statehood more strongly than the American colonial demand for independence from Britain in 1776.”
And, Bruce Fein says in his January 4, 2008 ‘explanation’ that he has not change position on ‘Tamil Statehood’. This is what he says: “The Tamil right to statehood is on much firmer legal, moral, or historical grounds than East Timor, Montenegro, Eritrea, the Slovak Republic, Bosnia, Kosovo, Bangladesh, and a host of other new or would-be new nations. Nothing in (2004) The Washington Times article undercuts the Tamil statehood entitlement in 2008.”
When Bruce Fein was retained by (former) ambassador Devinda Subasinghe in September 2007 undoubtedly he would have known very well of Mr. Fein’s allegiance to Sri Lanka’s separatist/terrorist Tamil Tiger movement since 2004 and that he was a very visible proponent of Tamil Tiger agenda. One of the tasks that fell on Mr. Subasinghe as Sri Lanka’s ambassador in Washington between September 2002 and April 2005 is to build the image of the country he was serving thwarting half truths and blatant lies of the Tamil Tiger propaganda machinery in the United States and give explanations and analyses to policymakers in the US polity.
In what manner did Devinda Subasinghe, a professional to Sri Lanka’s Sunday Leader newspaper who in the description of Sunday Leader “steel and tactful wit to take on the LTTE’s finest advocates and enablers such as lawyer Bruce Fein” served his country of birth and his adopted country while at the helm of Sri Lanka Mission in Washington to combat LTTE propaganda machinery that was slowly but steadily influencing the US lawmakers, State Department officials and policymakers?
In an interview with The Washington Diplomat which carried in its March 2004 issue Sri Lanka ambassador to Washington Devinda Subasinghe said: “Having lived in this country for many years, I have a relative advantage in being able to understand Washington and present the Sri Lanka case”
In the same interview in another place Subasinghe says “The terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, brought the Tamil Tigers to the bargaining table. Their sources of funding from the Tamil Diaspora dried up after 9/11. There was also an element of fatigue after 20 years of fighting and 60,000 killed. They had been asking for a separate state, but they’ve now agreed that they would settle for a federal system of government.”
In a previous interview given by Subasinghe as Sri Lanka ambassador to Washington carried in St. Petersburg Times in its December 11, 2002 he said “They have been fighting for almost 20 years and getting nowhere. A lot of this had to do with fatigue and a realization since 9/11 that this is no-no.”
Obviously using Devinda Subasinghe’s ‘insight’ the St. Petersburg Times interviewer, senior correspondent Susan Taylor Martin, editorialized: ‘The two sides announced a cease-fire in February, and the government later lifted its ban on Tamil membership and eased travel restrictions to Tamil areas in the north. On Thursday, the Tigers dropped their demand for independence, and agreed to regional autonomy, perhaps along the lines of Switzerland’s cantons or the semi-autonomous Quebec enjoys in Canada.’
In his well known and well publicized relationship with deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage which even a former American ambassador to Sri Lanka Jeffrey Lunstead in his July 2006 submission to Asia Foundation about Sri Lanka’s peace process acknowledged as ‘most beneficial to Sri Lanka’ Mr. Subasinghe’s ‘diplomatic prowess’ and ‘professionalism’ made the second highest ranking officer in the U.S. State Department to believe that the LTTE coffers in the U.S. have dried up, and that there is an element of fatigue after 20 years of fighting and that the LTTE is now ready to accepts regional autonomy or a federal system.
To Ambassador Subasinghe, according to the 2004 interview, Tamil Tigers are on a downward trend with less clout. During this time Jeffrey Lunstead was promoting federalism as a solution to Sri Lanka’s national question using Colombo’s USAID facility to hold meetings and seminars to influence Sri Lanka’s public opinion the merits of federalism. And, Subasinghe, said to be a professional, succumbed to that ‘grand design’ of the State Department instead of giving some insights of the LTTE’s bizarre behavior in given intervals misleading the Sri Lankan polity to achieve their uncompromising goal: the separate state.
It was way back on 18 April 2005 when Mr. Subasinghe’s diplomatic scent was still within the portals of the Washington Sri Lanka mission Asian Tribune in a review ‘Sri Lanka’s Foreign Public Diplomacy in U.S. in Jeopardy’ questioned the manner in which his Washington embassy was performing in its most vital public diplomacy portfolio, how ill-informed he and his principal deputy H.K.J.R. Bandara were, how the Sri Lanka embassy was in an utopian world to believe that the Tamil Tiger activities and their influence in the United States were on the decline.
The embassy headed by Mr. Devinda Subasinghe, to the utter amazement of Asian Tribune, even did not know that the LTTE were very active in its backyard to raise funds to send Democratic US Congressman from the State of Illinois Danny Davis to Tiger-controlled territory.
The deputy chief of mission Mr. Bandara was parroting what his ambassador believed when he told the Asian Tribune in mid April 2005 that “Tigers in US are on the decline.”
The Asian Tribune in that 18 April 2005 review made Subasinghe responsible when it said “In a startling revelation, the position of Counselor for Public Affairs in the Washington embassy, despite occupied by an outgoing and experienced public affairs personnel, is being degraded to a level of a clerk whose responsibilities are usurped making its public affairs and public diplomacy program a non starter.”
This expert in public affairs was Ravinath Aryasinha.
This is what Asian Tribune disclosed in its 18 April 2005 review: “Asian Tribune also reminded Mr. Bandara that in fact the LTTE momentum has gathered referring to news reports of its political leader S. Paramu Tamilselvan-led delegation touring on a public diplomacy mission in Scandinavian, European and other countries when he said that the Tiger outfit has lost its momentum.”
Then we wrote: “If the Tiger activities are on a downward trend, according to Mr. Bandara’s understanding, Asian Tribune is at a loss to know a Tiger front organization, which the Sri Lanka embassy had no interest to find out, strategically organized Congressman Davis’ tour to the ‘Tiger land”. In fact, a senior State Department official told this correspondent that the Tiger activists in Chicago gave the U.S. Congressman the impression that he was touring the tsunami disaster region in eastern Sri Lanka but was tricked to enter Vanni, the Tiger stronghold.”
Consider the reading of Sri Lanka issue by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage when he said the following in Oslo, Norway on 26 November 2002 following peace talks between the GSL and LTTE:
Oslo, Nov.26: Deputy Secretary of State said yesterday “Tactics of terror can never achieve legitimate aspirations.” He further said “Of course, peace also requires the full and frank participation of the LTTE. And let me leave no doubt: my nation stands firm in the resolve that the tactics of terror can never achieve legitimate aspirations. So the United States is greatly encouraged that the LTTE has made a commitment to the political solution; it has agreed to settle this conflict through peaceful means.”
Then, following the 10 June 2003 Tokyo Donor Conference on Sri Lanka Peace Process Richard Armitage told the Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS-TV) that not only tensions and mistrust among the Sinhalese and Tamils “it is Christians and Muslims and Buddhists and Hindus. We have a mix of religious and ethnic tensions.”
It was a well known, and former American ambassador to Sri Lanka Jeffrey Lunstead in his June 2006 Asia Foundation submission on Sri Lanka peace process acknowledged, that Devinda Subasinghe and Richard Armitage had very close working relationship when both of them were at helm of their respective jobs.
Does anyone get the impression that Armitage had got a clear and proper reading of the Sri Lanka situation? Does anyone get the impression going by what Armitage said that his understanding is that the LTTE armed struggle and aspiration of the Tamil people are inseparable and that LTTE terrorism and aspiration of the Tamil minority are in no way two separate issues? Does anyone get the impression that the State department’s second highest foreign policy official had received a garbled version of Sri Lanka situation from those who kept close contacts with him?
This was long before Bruce Fein came to the scene. And, does anyone get the impression that how professionalism in the Sri Lanka Mission in Washington worked conditioning State Department mind that Tamil Tiger terrorism and aspirations of the Tamil minority are one and the same and inseparable while giving a fillip to the misinformation, half truths, misinterpretation campaign of LTTE front organizations in the U.S. while strengthening the public diplomacy arm of Tamil Tigers to win the hearts and minds of U.S. policymakers.
On the one hand, professionals who headed the Sri Lanka Mission in Washington throughout the years of this decade were totally unaware of the activities of the LTTE front organizations in the United States, their maneuvers and strategies. As a result of this they unwittingly allowed those front organizations such as Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO), a US Treasury Department registered charity, World Tamil Movement etc, to work their way through to the hearts and minds of Congressmen who held vital positions in vital congressional committees that scrutinize foreign economic and military assistance.
The ‘professionals’ who headed the Sri Lanka’s diplomatic mission in the U.S. did not know what editor and publisher of California-published Sri Lanka Express Hassina Leelarathna discovered: “The relationship between (Congressman Brad) Sherman and the San Fernando Valley TRO comes to the focus again in the wake of tsunami. Sherman, like several other US leaders, urged Americans to make donations to the victims of the disaster, with reference that while others steered donors towards established charities such as Red Cross, he gave the number-one spot to the TRO. In a press release dated January 7, 2005, Sherman provided a list of groups collecting donations. The first group of the list was the ‘Tamil Rehabilitation Organization’. In addition to providing the TRO with huge mileage, by his endorsement Congressman Sherman reveals his awareness of the existence of the TRO office and its location, which, in turn, points to the fact that the lawmaker was endorsing the very group that was regularly trickling money into his campaign.”
Deputy Secretary Armitage, to the delight of the Tamil Tiger propaganda machinery in the U.S., was not given cogent explanations by ‘diplomatic professionals’ of the Sri Lanka Embassy to separate Tiger terrorism from aspirations of the Tamil minority. The LTTE never wanted the two issues separated. The LTTE does not call it ‘terrorism’ instead ‘liberation struggle’ to fulfill the ‘aspiration of the Tamil people’. Armitage believed that a battle existed not only between the Sinhalese majority and Tamil minority but between the Buddhists and Hindus. If he is thinking of India no one has heard about a battle between Hindus and Buddhist there instead Hindus and Muslims. Ambassador Subasinghe’s utter failure to give a correct picture to Deputy Secretary Armitage resulted in Congressional Research Service (CRS) using that misinterpretation in their official documents meant for U.S. Congressmen. The latest 40-page Congressional report titled Sri Lanka: Background and U.S. Relations released 22 January 2008 emphasizes that Sri Lanka is engulfed in an ethnic war, there is a civil war between the majority Sinhalese Buddhists and minority Hindu Tamils and that the ‘Sinhalese-dominated’ Sri Lanka government continues with its Sinhalese supremacy policies.
The ‘professionals’ in Washington Sri Lanka mission were devoid of a vision to calculate the next Tiger move and how it fitted into the overall scenario in Sri Lanka to come out with a strategy that would have helped Armitage and his State Department colleagues to formulate their own policy toward Sri Lanka issue. At the time Mr. Subasinghe headed the Sri Lanka mission Armitage was unaware that even the majority Sinhalese had their own grievances and aspirations. How could one develop a vision when one does not know the modus operandi of the LTTE professionals in the Sri Lanka Mission’s backyard? How could the Sri Lanka Embassy ‘professionals’ develop a vision that leads to strategy to combat Tiger activities in the United States when they were unaware of LTTE inroads into political camps of Congressmen Brad Sherman, Rush Holt, Danny Davis, Jerry Weller, Frank Pallone and others? How much of research has Mr. Devinda Subasinghe directed his staff to undertake what information is fed into State Department documents and Congressional Research Service (CRS) background papers which are readily used by leading congressmen when Sri Lanka issue is brought up in the House and the Senate vis-à-vis economic assistance and military assistance and training? The LTTE professionals and their fronts in the U.S. were busy all these years of the new millennium while the ‘professionals’ in the Sri Lanka Embassy in Washington were in a deep slumber.
This deep slumber of the ‘professionals’ and the sharpness of Tamil Tiger diplomacy manifested very visibly when Congressman Brad Sherman’s mind-set was well developed over the years, uninterrupted by the so called professionals who were singled out by a recent Sunday Leader report as competent and erudite personnel, starting from the tenure of Devinda Subasinghe when the congressman in a House hearing on 15 March 2006 asked State Department official Donald Camp as to why one should not equate terrorism to Al Qaeda, and Tamil Tiger struggle to liberation and George Washington’s liberation endeavors.
The old saying is Even the Elephants Cannot Retrieve What Was Lost, and what was lost for Sri Lanka vis-à-vis her image spilled over after Mr. Subasinghe relinquished his position as ambassador on 31 March 2005 to a new ambassador, who was also named a professional by the Sunday Leader story of July 27, prompted this Asian Tribune investigation to ascertain if his professionalism helped Sri Lanka to put the last nail to the LTTE propaganda machinery coffin in the United States.
In early April 2005 Bernard Goonetilleke era commenced until it ended in June 2008, and it was during this time – September 2006 - President Mahinda Rajapaksa summoned all heads of Sri Lanka overseas Missions to impress on them that they are not heading overseas outlets of the Department of Immigration and Emigration issuing visas. Mr. Rajapaksa was still frustrated when he told a well attended Sri Lanka expatriate gathering in Los Angeles on 28 September 2007 that the LTTE has won the propaganda war in the West especially in the U.S., and his frustration came out again during the tenure of Mr. Goonetilleke. The Asian Tribune, in an exclusive interview on the same day, was bold enough to tell the Sri Lankan president that the West is not buying his country’s story to which Mr. Rajapaksa totally agreed.
The Asian Tribune on 6 November 2006 wrote, “Rabid left-wing liberal Democrats in the U.S. Congress are easily susceptible to the ‘fairytales’, ‘distortions’, ‘misinterpretations’, ‘fantasies’, and ‘slanders’ of the Tamil Tiger professionals domiciled in the United States in the absence or lethargy of those who are in public diplomacy in Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry.”
Exactly seven months later on July 01 (2007), on the floor of the U.S. House, the chairman of the Subcommittee on Middle East and South Asia of the most powerful Foreign Affairs Committee Garry Ackerman accused the Rajapaksa government of giving a ‘free reign to Sinhalese nationalists’.
Democratic Congressman Frank Pallone, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and chairman of the House Sri Lanka Caucus, in his submission on the same day likened Sri Lanka to the Darfur Region in Sudan or to anarchy-ridden Somalia to sound that Sri Lanka issue is nothing but a free for all between two ethnic communities.
What’s lacking here is that the Sri Lanka Mission in Washington all these years under so called professionals have failed to analyze the way in which the Tamil Tiger lobby message is interpreted by American lawmakers and diplomats in the State Department giving rise for them to believe that in fact the majority of Tamil minority in Sri Lanka is in favor of having a ‘Tamil Homeland’ which synchronizes with the agenda of Prabhakaran’s LTTE. This is why the State department officials believe that crushing or annihilating the LTTE will not help the minority Tamils in Sri Lanka at all. The professionals in the Sri Lanka mission in the U.S. all the years in this decade failed to combat that core belief that has been detrimental to the survival of the sovereign state of Sri Lanka.
Developments that are detrimental to Sri Lanka is far from Washington Sri Lanka Embassy’s agenda when its Deputy Chief of Mission H.K.R.J. Bandara, a veteran career diplomat, told Asian Tribune in a telephone interview on 17 April 2005 that the LTTE’s momentum has declined when the Asian Tribune reminded him that his Washington mission was unaware that Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helderson was in town meeting with top officials of the State Department to discuss the Sri Lanka issue. According to Mr. Bandara the embassy was unaware that Congressman Danny Davis’ took off for Sri Lanka and that a Tiger front organization arranged it with funds.
Congressman Brad Sherman started to be the standard bearer of the Tamil Tiger flag when he addressed a letter to the then U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright dated 01 September 2000 advocating US intervention to award a confederation or a separate state to the Tamil people in Sri Lanka.
The professionals in the Sri Lanka Mission were so engrossed in other business that Sherman continued to be the standard bearer of the Tiger flag when he endeavored to compare the ‘LTTE liberation struggle’ to George Washington’s independence struggle in a House testimony in March 2006.
The following year at a news briefing in Colombo assistant secretary of state Richard Boucher revived the ‘Homeland Concept’ that the LTTE presented in the 1985 Thimphu Talks.
Joined by Brad Sherman the other two notable Sri Lankan critics of the U.S. House Frank Pallone and Jerry Weller jointly submitted a resolution in the Congress on 25 June 2007 expressing sentiments which can be identified with that of the LTTE.
Then the Congressional Research Service (CRS) issued a report titled Sri Lanka: Background and U.S. Relations on 22 January 2008 which said among others: “President Rajapaksa has been faulted by many of his apparent belief that the LTTE is the chief source of the country’s ethnic strife and that only their military defeat would open the space in which to effectively address Tamil grievances. Rather, many analysts content, the Tigers are only one manifest aspect of a greater ethnic problem.”
All these developments unfavorable to Sri Lanka point to the fact that Sri Lanka diplomats in Washington never had a coherent diplomatic and public diplomacy strategy that involved a comprehensive understanding of their nation’s internal and external interests and that of the mind-set of the U.S. policymakers and lawmakers.
It is to the utter detriment of Sri Lanka that the Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs of the Senate Judiciary Committee took a hard line view of Sri Lanka when the joint State Department and USAID international Affairs Budget came up before the Senate in 2007 and 2008.
Has anyone in the Sri Lanka Mission in Washington developed a close working relationship with Senator Patrick Leahy the most influential chairman of the main judiciary committee and its subcommittee?
Has a former diplomat in the Sri Lanka Mission in Washington developed a rapport with a principal officer of the Leahy’s senate office to give a dismal picture of the Rajapaksa regime to block foreign assistance going to Sri Lanka?
Asian Tribune found in its investigation that in the State of Vermont in which Patrick Leahy represents as a senator in the U.S. Congress has a most active Vermont Council on World Affairs. Leahy very closely associates with this council and its board of directors, and often attends their meetings when the council hosts foreign dignitaries and parliamentarians one of which in 2007 happened to be from Sri Lanka. One of the Members of that Board happens to be a Sri Lankan, a naturalized Sri Lankan woman who is well respected in Colchester-Milton area. If the professionals in the Sri Lankan Mission in Washington were on the track all these years they would have known to develop a devise to get closer to Senator Leahy who was instrumental last year to cut/block military assistance to Sri Lanka and take Sri Lanka out of the recipient nations list for Millennium Challenge Grant.
Ambassador Bernard Goonetilleke once told this writer that he as the ambassador was like a ‘Kangani’ (head of the Indian tea plucking laborers) who gets instructions from Colombo and had limited or no latitude to work as a fully fledged diplomat. But this writer who had been in a professional capacity in the U.S. State Department’s diplomatic outpost in Sri Lanka is aware of the instructions a diplomatic post receive from its principal office. But if professionalism is combined with wisdom things work in a very different manner.
What Sri Lanka embassy all these years lacked was that wisdom, its inability to do research, monitor its hostile surroundings and a little bit of intelligence work to know the strengths and weaknesses of friends and foes and how to get to them, and most importantly, get serious about shaping the message(s) that Sri Lanka wishes to present in the U.S., but also analyze and understand the way that message is interpreted and develop tools of listening and conversation as well as the tools of persuasion.
This is an analysis of men and matters and how that fits into the overall national issues Sri Lanka currently faces. This is only an analysis about the performance of the professionals who had the reigns of Sri Lanka’s most important overseas diplomatic mission and the impact of their professional performance. Asian Tribune as an independent media outlet does undertake this type of analyses of the Asian Region and the West.
The U.S. Bureau of the Asian Tribune often is critical of the way in which the Bush Administration steers. This Online Daily has also been critical of the Bush administration’s handling of foreign relations and foreign affairs that has adversely affected powerless developing nations. Being critical of the governance of the Bush administration Asian Tribune does not become an agent of the Democratic Party or an acolyte of that political party.
Similarly, this analysis critically looks at the manner in which U.S. policymakers and lawmakers view the most vital national issue in Sri Lanka and how they have succumbed to misinformation and misinterpretations of the situation in Sri Lanka in the absence of progressive diplomatic maneuvers and moves of the Washington Sri Lanka Mission and lack of vision on the part of the ‘diplomatic professionals’ in that mission.
This is an independent analysis of a South Asian nation and the issues that confronts her. Similar analyses are done on other Asian nations which come within the purview of Asian Tribune these are independent and fearless analyses with no strings attached to any power block, country or individual.
The purpose of the above analysis is to give some insights to policymakers in Sri Lanka how the world works in these turbulent times. It is only the professionalism and style that has been targeted in this analysis and not individuals.
- Asian Tribune -