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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 77

Barack Obama & Civil War in Sri Lanka; Robert Blake’s Mind-Set; Negating R2P Psychology Build-Up

Daya Gamage – Political Memo from Asian Tribune US Bureau

Washington, D.C., 02 November ( Barack Obama, who is favored by almost all national polls to be the next president of the United States, sees a civil war in Sri Lanka when he expressed his sentiments at a Google Forum not so long ago. Backed by the powerful and influential LTTE lobby in the West, which Sri Lanka is still struggling to combat, a psychology is being built to create a conducive atmosphere to apply the theory of Responsibility to Protect (R2P), full or in part, in Sri Lanka having laid a somewhat solid groundwork that the Sri Lankan administration is a blatant violator of human rights, practitioner of genocide on the Tamil minority, and the country’s president Rajapaksa enjoys, according to American Ambassador Robert Blake’s recent ‘Chennai Declaration’, only the confidence of the Sinhalese.

Prescribing many solutions which includes a political one, American ambassador Blake still does not believe that, in the recent past, the LTTE has lost the confidence of a majority of the minority Tamils when he recently declared in Chennai that "this would help reassure the more than 200,000 IDPs now in the Vanni that they can move south and aspire to a better future. It would also disprove the LTTE’s claim that they are the sole representative of Sri Lanka’s Tamils and the only ones who care about Sri Lanka’s Tamils."

If the reader is curious as to what a partial application of the R2P mentioned earlier it is a ‘no fly zone’ over the northern region of Sri Lanka or over the heads of Tamil Tiger fighting cadre. The State Department and its envoy in Colombo are gently paving the way for that.

Most interestingly, Mr. Obama has praised what the United Nations calls a ‘responsibility to protect”, a doctrine that elevates aiding oppressed populations over respecting national borders.

Year after year Sri Lankan administrations and their spokespersons greatly contributed to the emergence of this scenario in stressing that the country is faced with an ethnic problem to the delight of the LTTE because the Tamil Tigers thrived when the four ethnic communities, majority Sinhalese (74%), Tamils (12%), Muslims (8%) and plantation Tamils of Indian Origin (6%) were compartmentalized and kept separately barring any inter-action to build a consensus on any national issue.

So, ‘civil war’ has crept into Obama’s lexicon in describing the situation in Sri Lanka. Richard Boucher who is in charge of the South and Central Asian Affairs Bureau in the US State Department believes, when he declared at a press briefing in Colombo in early 2007, that the predominantly Tamil regions, east and north, should have a ‘homeland’ as a panacea for all Sri Lankan ills. ‘Homeland’ in the LTTE lexicon since mid eighties is ‘Tamil Homeland’. If Sri Lanka accepts the Boucher Doctrine homeland is possible in the western regions of the country too because 54% of minority Tamils live in that region choosing to interact with the Sinhalese rather than with Mr. Pirabaharan. And, Mr. Blake insinuates that the LTTE is still the sole representative of the Tamil people. The irony is that the GSL is yet to seize that scenario that a majority of Tamils (excluding the 6% Indian Tamils) have opted to live among the Sinhalese interacting with them. Neither the U.S. Congressmen nor Mr. Obama’s advisors who fed him that there is a civil war in Sri Lanka are aware that such a bulk of Tamils lives in the predominantly Sinhalese districts in other parts of the country because they were not precisely told that. Imagine how the lack of ‘official diplomacy’ and ‘public diplomacy’ has led to the misunderstanding of what’s going on in Sri Lanka.

The ‘civil war’, ‘homeland’, ‘genocide’, ‘Sinhalese-dominated government (as some US State Department and Congressional Research Service documents still refer), Rajapaksa enjoying only the mandate of the Sinhalese (as Blake insinuated in Chennai in his address at the University of Madras) etc., lead toward building a conducive environment to apply the R2P on Sri Lanka or threaten to use the doctrine which the Tamil Tiger lobby is now working hard to achieve citing Kosovo. On top of it, Sri Lanka government spokespersons in frequent intervals erroneously declare that there is an ethnic conflict. When this sentiment was officially presented to the world it became easier for the Tamil Tiger professionals in the West to manipulate to ‘condition’ the West in their favor, despite Ambassador Blake repeatedly say that the US was the first country to declare LTTE a terrorist outfit, and little too late to convince the international community what foreign minister Bogollagama recently said that there is no ethnic problem but a terrorist problem in Sri Lanka. If it is an ethnic issue then the issue of civil war comes in, the issue of political solution comes in, the issue of air strikes comes in, the issue of Tamil civilian displacement comes, the issue of imposing ‘no-fly zone comes in moving the issue of economic disability of the poor rural Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim and plantation Tamils into a non-issue or an issue with less priority.

Hanging on to the issues created during a course of two decades attributing Sri Lanka’s problems to the ethnic issue the U.S. Foreign Service Officers in Colombo and their counterparts in Washington continue to give lectures to Sri Lanka what the solutions should be as Mr. Blake recently did in Chennai.

The United States has the habit of lecturing to the developing world with the intention of imposing their views on them giving little or no opportunity for them to express their opinion blocking a two-way dialogue. In Sri Lanka’s case the officials in the government for decades gave a garbled version of the nation’s problems making much easier for the LTTE to manipulate the minds of Western diplomats.

One of Ambassador Robert Blake’s bosses in the U.S. State Department James K. Glassman, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs in a Washington briefing on U.S. Public Diplomacy and the War of Ideas as recently as October 28 confessed the lack of dialogue between the U.S. and other nations in this manner:

"But America’s image is important. And my conclusion is there are really three reasons that, in some parts of the world – now, I want to stress the some – that in Africa, for example, the United States is very, very well liked, in much of Asia the United States is well liked, in countries like India, Japan, South Korea. The main locus of animosity toward the United States is Europe, or much of Europe, and the Middle East, as well as some other majority Muslim countries.

"And I think there are three reasons. One – and it’s not just I think, this is the research that I’ve seen. Number one, people understand that we’re kind of the big guy on the block and that ultimately we, like very other country, you know, like Portugal, like Finland, like Indonesia, will follow our own national interests. I mean, that’s – they understand that. But what they don’t like is their perception that we don’t listen to them and don’t respect their views before we formulate what are our own policies. And whether that’s a valid criticism or not, it’s out there and we need to address it, and we have been addressing it.

"Finally, there are policies, and absolutely there are people around the world who disagree with our policies. And in the end, we are not going to take a global vote about particular policies. But there’s no doubt that there are consequences when people oppose your policies. And one of those consequences is you are reduced, let’s say, in their respect and in their trust".

Let Asian Tribune stress what Mr. Glassman confessed: "But what they don’t like is their perception that we don’t listen to them and don’t respect their views before we formulate what are our own policies. And whether that’s a valid criticism or not, it’s out there and we need to address it, and we have been addressing it."

The following statement by Mahinda Samarasinghe, Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights at Agenda Item 64 - Promotion and Protection of Human Rights at the United Nations General Assembly 63rd Session Third Committee on October 21, 2008 goes to the deaf ears of Ambassador Blake:

(Begin Quote): The Government of Sri Lanka has, throughout the duration of the conflict, sent food, medicine, educational supplies and other essential items into the affected areas. This sustained commitment, over such a prolonged period is, perhaps unparalleled in similar situations elsewhere. As our President stated at the UN General Assembly: "The Government of Sri Lanka continues this humanitarian policy even today although we know that the terrorists seize a good proportion of these humanitarian supplies. Our supplies are not confined to food; they extend to medicines, and all other essentials as well as schools and hospitals, with teachers, doctors, nurses, and all other essential staff. This is not all, the government also purchases the paddy and other foodstuffs produced in those areas. I do not think there is any country in the world where there is a government that provides such humanitarian assistance to terrorists that attack it. Our Government considers the supply of humanitarian relief to its people as its prime responsibility." (End Quote)

Now let’s turn to Mr. Obama: What Senator Obama, now the front-runner for the U.S. presidency projected by all current opinion polls, told in a special exposure at the headquarters of the internet search engine Google in Los Angeles a couple of months ago in relation to Sri Lanka did not escape the attention of Asian Tribune authoritatively describing Sri Lanka’s battle against Tamil Tigers as an ‘ongoing civil war’.

If Mr. Obama is of the opinion that the Tamil Tiger terrorism denotes the grievances of the minority Tamils it is relevant here to quote The New York Times’ David Brooks’ recent conversation with the Democratic presidential candidate on how he sees the actions of Hezbollah and Hamas in the Middle East.

"He (Obama) said the U.S. should help the Lebanese government deliver better services to the Shiites ‘to peel support away from Hezbollah’ and encourage local populace to ‘view them as an oppressive force’. The U.S. should ‘find a mechanism whereby the disaffected have an effective outlet for their grievances, which assures them they are getting social services’.

The most important sentiment Obama expressed to The New York Times which he may apply to a situation in a country like Sri Lanka when he is president is that a need for the U.S. to have a foreign policy that "looks at the root causes of problems and dangers." Obama compared Hezbollah to Hamas. Both need to be compelled to understand that "they’re going down a blind alley with violence that weakens their legitimate claims." Obama knows these movements aren’t going away anytime soon, but "if they decide to shift, we’re going to recognize that. That’s an evolution that should be recognized."

Is Barack Obama of the opinion that the LTTE stands for the human rights and legitimate grievances of the Tamil people the manner in which he describes Hamas? If so he believes that what’s going on in Sri Lanka is a civil war between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils, and the Obama presidency will view the LTTE fighting a legitimate battle saying "they’re going down a blind alley with violence that weakens their legitimate claims."

Has Sri Lanka explained all these decades what the ‘legitimate claims’ of the LTTE?

Now, what is the definition of a ‘civil war’ according to experts?

Though the Bush administration continues to insist that there is no civil war in Iraq, a growing number of U.S. and Iraqi scholars, leaders and policy analysts say the fighting in Iraq in every way meets the standard definition of civil war.

The common scholarly definition has two main criteria. The first says that the warring groups must be from the same country and fighting for control of the political center, control over a separatist state or to force a major change in policy.

American professors who specialize in the study of civil wars say that most of them agree that the conflict in Iraq is a civil war.

"I think that at this time, and for some time now, the level of violence in Iraq meets the definition of civil war that any reasonable person would have," said James Fearon, a political scientist at Stanford who in September (2006) testified to Congress on the Iraq war.

Does Sri Lanka meet the definition of a civil war which means a free for all between majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils in all over the country like the Sunnis and Shiites fighting with each other all over Iraq?

If Ambassador Blake insinuates (in Chennai) that Mr. Rajapaksa enjoys only the confidence of the Sinhalese and is of the opinion that the LTTE enjoys being the sole representative of the Tamil people the Asian Tribune authoritatively says that the later mind-set was consolidated in the eighties by U.S. Foreign Service Officers who served in Colombo.

This writer confronted the issue in early 1990’s when he was a political specialist in Colombo’s American Embassy when a very senior Foreign Service officer (FSO) stated that Sinhalese army was killing the Tamils referring to the then ongoing GSL offensive against the LTTE in the north. The writer reminded the FSO and other US State Department officials present that the Sinhalese army also killed the JVP fighting cadre who happen to be from the Sinhalese community when the rebel JVP unleashed insurrections in April 1971 and 88-89 which paralyzed the entire nation. This writer reminded them that this was not an ethnic war and that all four communities in Sri Lanka have serious grievances, for decades, the center catered only to the big cities marginalizing the 65% economically backward and poor rural areas and 15% plantation regions populated by all four ethnic communities.

This writer produced a 54-page socio-economic-political report, an extensive six-week non-partisan/independent/objective study based on 12 administrative districts in Sri Lanka along with the chief economist of the USAID office in Colombo in mid 1989, which gave an eye opener to the senior FSOs in the American embassy and the Washington State Department officials about the dire plight of the rural masses, the disparity of income distribution unfavorable to the rural masses, economic development in the urban centers at the expense of the rural areas, central government concentration on urban centers and the neglect of vast rural areas and how the rural masses, which included all ethnic communities, were left behind for decades.

The Asian Tribune inquiries indicate that the situation has not changed much in 2008 for those rural forks.

Succumbed to international pressure, especially to US pressure and internal constrains, the GSL officials were forced to highlight the grievances only of one ethnic community but not the socio-economic hardships faced by underprivileged rural forks of all communities. Hence, the emergences of the thorny issues like ‘civil war’, ‘genocide’ and ‘human rights’.

GlobalSecurity.Org definition of a civil war is: "A war between factions of the same country; there are five criteria for international recognition of this status: the contestants must control territory, have a functioning government, enjoy some foreign recognition, have identifiable regular armed forces, and engage in major military operations."

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Definition of Civil War: "A war between opposing groups of citizens in the same country. A war within a country rather than between countries; it may be between two or more ethnic groups, political parties, regions or socioeconomic interests. Recent civil wars in Central America have been uprisings of poor, rural people who are the majority against a small ruling class made up of the wealthy elite and the military."

The American Civil War was the conflict between the northern states and the southern states of the United States of America between April 12, 1861 to April 9, 1865.

If the U.S. does not make any attempts to listen to others, as Mr. Glassman confessed, can R2P theory applied to Sri Lanka?

The concept of the responsibility to protect (R2P) was embraced by the 2005 World Summit and has been endorsed by both the General Assembly and the Security Council. It is sustained by the positive and affirmative vision of sovereignty as responsibility and rests on three pillars: the affirmation of Member States that they have a primary and continuing legal obligation to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, and from their incitement; the acceptance by Member States of their responsibility to respond in a timely and decisive manner, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, to help protect populations from the four types of crimes described above; and the commitment of the United Nations system to assist States in meeting these obligations.

As Gareth Evans, former Australian foreign minister and president of the International Crisis Group and author of "The Responsibility to Protect: Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once and for All" puts it: "The core of R2P is that sovereign states should retain the primary responsibility to protect their own people from mass atrocities. But if they manifestly fail to do so, through either incapacity or ill will, then it becomes the collective responsibility of the international community to take appropriate action. Sovereignty conveys no immunity when massive human rights violations are involved. The emphasis is on prevention and assistance for states in need. And any further response necessary stresses using the least coercive and intrusive effective means possible. Force might be needed, but only in extreme and exceptional cases, and with Security Council approval."

And, R2P is in Mr. Obama’s lexicon.

When Mahinda Rajapaksa ascended to the presidency in November 2005 his administration invited the LTTE for talks despite the fact that they abandoned many previous talks and built up their military arsenal while engaged in talks to successfully fight the military. Before a month to his presidency the LTTE commenced its offensive, endeavored to assassinate the defense secretary and Army Commander, and forcibly closed the sluice gates of a major reservoir that provided water to the poor farmers of all ethnic communities when the GSL’s patience exhausted to start a serious offensive against the LTTE. Mr. Blake is aware of that.

In his address to the University of Madras in Chennai Mr. Blake said: "One reason or the lack of recent progress on a consensus APRC document is that some in Sri Lanka believe that the Government should first defeat the LTTE and then proceed with a political solution. The U.S. view is that the Government could further isolate and weaken the LTTE if it articulates now its vision for a political solution."

Then he negates his own statement saying: "US assistance now is focused on helping to stabilize and develop eastern Sri Lanka and on providing humanitarian assistance to those displaced in northern Sri Lanka by fighting. Let me first discuss our efforts in the east. Following the Government of Sri Lanka’s successful efforts to defeat and expel the LTTE from eastern Sri Lanka in 2007, the U.S. believes there is now an important opportunity to stabilize the east by encouraging democratic, multi-ethnic governance, and development and growth that will benefit equally the Tamil, Muslim and Sinhalese communities. We have emphasized the imperative of establishing security and demobilizing paramilitaries to help lay the basis for private sector-led investment and growth. A successful and participatory stabilization and reconstruction effort in the east could serve as a powerful template and confidence builder for a future solution in the north."

Is this diplomat, who is already meddling in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka and will be the one through the U.S. State Department who will influence President Barack Obama to strengthen the latter’s belief that there exists a civil war in Sri Lanka, endeavors to give a life-line to the LTTE in attempting to stop the ongoing military offensive in the north contradicting his own belief that the Rajapaksa administration made the defeat of the LTTE in the Eastern Province as a prerequisite for restoring democratic and human rights, bringing long lost development efforts and investment to the Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese in the region?

What is the political solution Ambassador Blake and his State Department officials are talking of? Why is the Rajapaksa administration inviting this US pressure in talking about a ‘political solution’ when it has shown that a military defeat of the Tamil Tigers in the Eastern Province became a catalyst for the restoration of democratic and human rights and bringing economic development that only the urban centers in Sri Lanka saw in the past several decades. Why is some spokesmen of the Sri Lankan administration continue to talk about a ‘solution’ to the ‘ethnic problem’ when the priority is to restore the socio-economic rights of the Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim and Indian plantation Tamils in the periphery that goes along with self governance which has been restored in the Eastern Province whose majority is Tamils and a another one-third is Muslims and Sinhalese?

In promoting a ‘political solution’ greatly discouraging the GSL to move away from the military offensive against the LTTE American Ambassador Robert O’Blake continued to say in Chennai that "it would help to persuade Tamils in Canada, the US and other parts of the Diaspora to stop funding the LTTE which in turn would hasten an end to the conflict."

Is Mr. Blake perpetuating the LTTE agenda of continuously talking about a ‘conflict’ to impose the ‘non-negotiable’ Five Thimphu Principles of the LTTE?

The Government of Sri Lanka faces a Herculean task of escaping from the influence and pressure of the United States in reiterating that its endeavor in defeating the LTTE is to restore the economic, social, and democratic freedoms of the vast rural masses of the people who belong to all ethnic communities and that the only ‘conflict’ Sri Lanka faces at present and faced for many decades is the ‘conflict of economic imbalance’ that eroded democratic, human and economic rights of the rural base.

Despite Mr. Blake’s contradictions in his ‘Chennai Doctrine’ he acknowledged that his country has become a partner to the ‘Awakening of the East’ which was possible after the annihilation of the LTTE in the Eastern Province.

The GSL needs to stick to that argument, move away from reiterating of an ‘ethnic conflict’, highlighting its endeavor to restore the economic and democratic rights of the so far neglected rural mass base and that the only ‘civil war’ now in progress is to give back the ‘economic rights of the civilians’ of 80% that were denied all these decades which was used by Mr. Pirapaharan in the north and Mr. Wijeweera in the south.

Sri Lanka’s overseas diplomatic community needs to be given this message without allowing a garbled version to reach the Obama White House and his advisors.

If the GSL summons its guts it can give this message to Mr. Blake. But before that the GSL needs to assess what it needs to drop from the messages it has been giving all these years allowing the American diplomats to confuse the GSL mind leaving room for continuous US pressure to impose an ‘agenda’ that the GSL does not agree, making GSL spokesmen to describe the nation’s only issue that needs a solution revolves around the ethnic problem giving an impetus to the LTTE to get help from many ‘sources’ for its survival. It is this lack of clarity of Sri Lanka’s existing problems that has given rise to issues such as ‘civil war’ which has crept into Mr. Obama’s lexicon which, in time to come, may be tied to the R2P.

- Asian Tribune -

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