Sri Lanka skeptical of Susan Rice-Samantha Power elevation to top U.S. diplomatic positions
The Obama White House indication that Dr. Susan Rice, currently U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, is likely be nominated for America's 'Chief Diplomat' position - Secretary of State - has drawn skepticism in Sri Lankan circles in the United States as well as in Colombo, 'Asian Tribune' understands.
With the possible departure of Dr. Rice from the UN post, the Obama administration is considering to nominate Dr. Samantha Power, a close foreign policy mentor and adviser to Mr. Obama, to fill the slot at the UN adding even a greater concern to Sri Lanka.
Dr. Rice' possible nomination - which the US Senate Foreign Affairs Committee has to ratify with the possibility of the full Senate taking an up or down vote, or a filibuster to put the nomination on hold - has moved toward several 'road blocks' where prominent Republican senators and the right wing media questioning her wisdom in 'distorting' the September 11 Benghazi attack in Libya as a spontaneous act which later emerged as a pre-planned terrorist assault in which Ambassador Chris Smith and three Americans were killed. The allegation against Dr. Rice is that she was distorting facts to safeguard the Obama administration who has vowed to the American people after the killing of al Qaeda leader bin Laden that the Islamist movement has been destroyed.
Dr. Samantha Power, on the other hand, is currently a member of Obama's national security team handling human rights, war crimes and genocide issues and heads the newly inaugurated White House Office of Genocide Prevention.
Both Rice and Power have track records of closely scrutinizing violations of international humanitarian law (IHL), international human rights law (IHRL), crimes against humanity and genocide.
Both are very close associates of President Obama, Dr. Power being the foreign policy advisor when the former was in the US Senate, and both were advisors of international affairs when he was a candidate for the presidency in 2007-08.
Referring to Dr. Rice "She's got a sort of a cowboy-ish attitude," one Western diplomat said. "She has a tendency to treat other countries as mere (U.S.) subsidiaries."
It is widely believed that Rice, who is a member of Obama's Cabinet, has an advantage as a U.N. negotiator because other nations' delegations know that when she takes a position on an issue, the president is almost certainly behind her.
It's with this clout that she will possibly step into the position of secretary of state.
Beside Secretary Hilary Clinton, at present both are close and valued advocates of foreign policy issues for Obama White House.
When these two named emerged to fill the two most influential diplomatic positions of Mr. Obama's second four year term which commences on January 21 next year, Sri Lankans in the United States as well as in Sri Lanka who have intimate knowledge of the role they played ( and are playing at present) connected to issues that have emerged with the defeat of the separatist Tamil Tigers in 2009 such as accountability and transparency of the battle during the final months - January through May 2009 - human rights, rule of law, devolution of administrative and political power to the peripheral provinces mainly the Tamil majority districts, and in what manner the international humanitarian law and certain Geneva conventions were observed in the war.
It is in this context that many who expressed their opinion to Asian Tribune were cautious, or over cautious, skeptical and somewhat defensive (of Sri Lanka's interests) viewed the possible elevation - though not imminent - of Drs. Rice and Power who could influence the Obama White House to take 'certain positions' that could be 'uncomfortable' to Sri Lanka.
Rice' Early Contact with Tamil Diaspora
In early April 2009 CNN reported "the 15th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda brought UN Ambassador Susan Rice to tears as she reflected on her personal memories surrounding the slaughter."
Ms. Rice visited Rwanda as a staff member in President Bill Clinton's National Security Council six months after the ethnic cleansing.
The mass killing began on April 6, 1994 when tribal Hutu militia attacked their tribal Tutsi countrymen - within 100 days some 800,000 people were murdered.
"For me, the memory of stepping around over those decomposed corpses will remain in the most searing reminder imaginable of what our work here (in Washington) must aim to prevent," she said 7 April 2009 at a special commemorative event at the UN headquarters in new York.
Not even twenty four hours later of that April 7 commemorative event at New York with a refreshing memory of the Rwanda genocide, Dr. Susan Rice was meeting with several US-based organizations representing members of the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora to discuss the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka in the company of State Department's South and Central Asian Affairs Bureau Chief assistant secretary Richard Boucher and American ambassador to Sri Lanka Robert Blake.
This was Dr. Rice first exposure to the pro-separatist Tamil Diaspora members, and was 42 days before the GSL-LTTE battle ended on May 18.
When the word 'genocide' is mentioned anywhere and anytime Dr. Rice gets emotional, and astute political strategist among the US Tamil Diaspora knew her sensitivity to the issue to appropriately strike that 'red hot iron' to 'stump' Sri Lanka.
What Sri Lanka's diplomacy missed, the section of the most professional US-based Tamil Diaspora, some of whom were working very closely with the Tamil Tigers and their leader Prabhaharan as legal and other counselors, grabbed the opportunity knowing full well that they could travel on that long road to influence the West, guide the West and make Sri Lanka face a complicated situation.
Someone who worked very closely with State Department officials for a very long time this writer is aware when an issue is presented as a fresh attempt in whatever form - exaggerated, distorted or otherwise - to Americans who handle diplomacy, the initial impression that forms in their mind takes root which becomes somewhat difficult to amend or erase by subsequent contrary concepts or reasoning.
The professional operatives of the Tamil Diaspora established the rapport with Dr. Susan Rice as early as 2009 even before the battle between the GSL and the Tigers rapped up. They continued the dialogue with her facilitated by State Department's assistant secretary Robert Blake, and Mr. Blake refused to disclose who participated at one of the meetings in Washington to an Asian Tribune query.
Heavily influenced by the pro-LTTE activists/professionals in the Tamil Diaspora in the West Ambassador Rice gave Sri Lanka the agenda within which she, and the State Department, expected Sri Lanka to mandate the LLRC Commission to undertake its work. The operatives of the Provisional Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam – Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran and Dr. Alias Jeyerajah, a highly respected scientific researcher in the U.S., who carried and read Robert Blake’s congratulatory message at 2010 February Global Tamil Forum in London – have been ‘conditioning the mindset’ of principal USG officials in Washington and New York which culminated Dr. Rice to provide the ‘US Agenda’ for the LLRC Commission.
Heavily underscoring the expressed desire and opinion of the Global Voice of the Tamil Tiger Operatives she said in her statement “particularly important in this regard, broad experience has shown that to be effective in advancing accountability and reconciliation, commission members should be and be perceived as independent, impartial and competent; their mandate should enable them fully to investigate serious allegations of violations and to make public recommendations; commission members and potential witnesses must enjoy adequate and effective protection; the commission must receive adequate resources to carry out its mandate; and the Government should undertake to give serious consideration to its recommendations.
“We hope the commission will also reflect the desires and requests of the citizens of Sri Lanka, who were the primary victims of the conflict. Being responsive to their needs will be an important measure of the commission’s success. In light of these general principles, we would welcome the Sri Lankan Government's commitment to give the Commission on Lessons Learned and Reconciliation a mandate to probe violations of international standards during the final stages of the conflict and to identify those responsible and, we would expect, to make appropriate public recommendations based on its findings,” the US envoy to the UN said.
Dr. Rice has had targeted phrases such as "accountability for serious violations of international humanitarian law is a crucial pillar of national reconciliation and the rule of law" as said in her 10 May 2012 welcoming the LLRC.
On UN secretary general's Panel of Experts' report on Sri Lanka in her statement she highlighted "We strongly support the Secretary General’s call for the Sri Lankan authorities to respond constructively to the report and underscore our belief that accountability and reconciliation are inextricably linked."
Her Indian-American Aid
During the period Susan Rice was made 'knowledgeable and enlightened' by the strategic professionals of the Tamil Diaspora, her developing perspective on Sri Lanka issues was 'enriched' by a young Indian-American whose roots go to Mumbai.
A University of Massachusetts Political Science Major Ms. Taara Rangarajan became the Special Assistant to Ambassador Susan Rice. Prior to that she had a rich experience in Obama White house as Assistant Director in the Office of Management and Administration.
But Ms. Rice 'replenished' her 'understanding' of the Sri Lankan situation/issues while being fed by the pro-LTTE political strategist/professionals from Ms. Rangarajan's experience in working at the American Embassy in Colombo where she worked on the Human Rights Report and related issues.
It is this background that Sri Lanka needs to be more cautious of the possible appointment of Dr. Susan Rice to be the next Secretary of State in the second Obama administration.
Dr. Samantha Power, the special assistant to President Obama, the senior director of the US National Security Council handling the subject multilateral affairs and human rights, and the head of the Atrocities Prevention Board is tipped to succeed Dr. Susan Rice as the United States Permanent representative to the United Nations is another top official who has devoted some time to the issues confronting Sri Lanka even undertaking an official fact-finding tour to Colombo in June 2010.
To further mold her perspective on Sri Lanka situation Dr. Power rely heavily on a senior state department official who currently works with her in the White House.
Michael Newbill is no stranger to Sri Lanka. He started his state department career as an intern in the American Embassy in Sri Lanka. He was appointed by President Obama to the National security Council's South Asia Director in August 2010. Newbill, a well-respected Foreign Service Officer, has been serving as the chief political and economic officer at the U.S. consulate in Mumbai. He served in the Philippines, Thailand, and Washington (on the State Department's India desk).
Samantha Power relies heavily on the knowledge, wisdom and professionalism of Mr. Newbill on Sri Lanka issues. He continues to maintain close contacts with political activists and others in Sri Lanka to keep himself updated on the country's fast pace developments.
The journalist, activist and Harvard professor, Samantha Power, burst onto the foreign policy scene in 2003 with her book "A Problem from Hell", which accused the United States of intentionally ignoring genocides.
Ms. Power has mostly stayed away from campaigns, but she stepped into the ring after meeting then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in 2005. In fact, it was Senator Obama who invited her for a conversation after reading her book. Media reports at that time noted that at their first meeting, Power was so impressed that she offered to volunteer in his Senate office. She was one of Obama’s closest advisers on the 2008 campaign, at least until she called Obama’s then rival and now Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton a “monster” to a Scottish newspaper in a report published January 9, 2008. That week she withdrew from the Obama presidential campaign but, observers and media knew, she continued his unofficial adviser as it was very apparent when President Obama appointed her to an influential position in his National Security Council with the ‘tag’ ‘multilateral affairs and human rights’ when she arrived in Sri Lanka for her ‘fact finding tour’ June 14-18, 2010.
Ms. Power’s 2002 book A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide supports the humanitarian claim that genocide and human rights abuses can, in fact, be successfully stymied with the proper leadership.
She advocates that if only the United States were more proactive in stamping out moral abuses such as genocide, its security would be enhanced.
Ms. Power made the following remarks on 15 November 2010 at an international symposium on preventing genocide and mass atrocities representing the symposium as President Obama's 'Special Assistant for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights'.
(Quote) "So in the Sri Lanka case, I don’t think anybody’s disputing the right of a sovereign government to put down a rebellion within its territory, never mind one as brutal as the LTTE, but the question is, how you go about doing that and whether you observe the laws in war. Again, my government—Louise Aarbour is here from the International Crisis Group that has done very important work on Sri Lanka, on the ground there, in terms of what was done. Again, the reason that we have these principles is to stand by them. In the event that they’re just thrown out there, then there can be perverse consequences, but again, I think our struggle is to rationalize and ensure that they are more binding than they have often been." (Un Quote)
Her interests using public affairs, public diplomacy and strategic communication occasionally touching Sri Lanka's human rights, accountability and transparency issues, Samantha Power is President Obama's 'point person' who monitors, investigates, researches and establishes policy planks on human rights, genocide, war crimes, international humanitarian law (IHL) for the administration's specific understanding.
“She is clearly the foremost voice for human rights within the White House,” Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, told The New York Times “and she has Obama’s ear.”
As tipped, if she occupies the position of US ambassador to the United Nations she has a greater leverage over such issues.
- Asian Tribune -