Sri Lanka's message to the International Community: Lost in Translation
U.S. State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland, a high ranking official holding the position of assistant under secretary of public affairs and public diplomacy, declared at the Washington media briefing Wednesday, 16 January when asked if the department "received any response from the Sri Lankan Government explaining why did it take such a measure" - to impeach and remove the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court - said "We are obviously in contact with them. I would not say that the explanations are satisfactory in terms of protecting democracy".
The Asian Tribune wrote earlier on 11 January under the caption A communication gap between US State Department and Sri Lanka "The United States Department of State has been raising the same question on the issue of impeachment of Sri Lanka's Chief Justice Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake, and Obama administration's overseas diplomatic arm either doesn't understand the analyses and explanations the Government of Sri Lanka has endeavored to justify the impeachment process or the GSL arguments have not been cogent for the state department to comprehend".
We further said "The GSL has been using its erudite professor of law who is also its external affairs minister, scores of newspaper articles in the GSL-controlled media and other leading political cum legal luminaries to justify its action.
"The message has not either reached Washington through its diplomatic mission in Colombo, or they do not totally understand the GSL position on impeachment or they simply dismiss the GSL explanations".
The Asian Tribunecautioned in that submission "If Sri Lanka's External Affairs Ministry and U.S. State Department do not understand each other, it is a serious situation between the two countries".
What we said on 11 January was confirmed when spokesperson Victoria Nuland declared 16 January "We are obviously in contact with them. I would not say that the explanations are satisfactory in terms of protecting democracy".
This is not the first time this writer has been raising Sri Lanka's deficiency in overseas public diplomacy and strategic communication which contributed toward building misunderstanding among the leading nations of the international community especially the United States and European Union on most pressing domestic issues that have global interests.
The result was the strengthening of interested 'conglomerates' in Western capitals to successfully reach policymakers, rights groups and the media to project Sri Lanka as a pariah state that has no concern for the rule of law, good governance, basic rights and democratic norms.
As theAsian Tribune reported in recent days highlighting three to four declarations and statements which underscored the American government's grave suspicion about 'the direction' this South Asian nation is taking - questioning her adherence to rule of law and democratic norms - Sri Lanka's incapability to use knowledgeable experts who understand public affairs, public diplomacy and strategic communication greatly contributed toward this calamity and confusion.
Of course, Sri Lanka can dismiss these sentiments as 'conspiracies to destabilize' the regime. But one cannot ignore that, as American ambassador to Colombo Michele Sison addressing the Matara Chamber of Commerce on 16 January reminded "The United States is the largest single export destination for Sri Lankan goods, buying over 20% of your exports".
In fact, it is 23%.
The American ambassador further reminded "You’ve probably seen the headlines expressing our Government’s concern over the impeachment of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake. Actions that undermine an independent judiciary in Sri Lanka may also undermine Sri Lanka’s ability to attract foreign investment. It’s no secret that foreign investors assess the state of rule of law in a country as a factor when making investment decisions".?
She said "the two countries were working together to strengthen the rule of law in Sri Lanka" adding "The impeachment called into question issues about the separation of powers in Sri Lanka and the impact of its absence on democratic institutions".?
She, however, did not fail to say this to the Matara business audience; "But I know that you as business leaders would agree that a key element in accomplishing the goal of a stronger business climate is an efficient legal system that meets the needs of the public and the country. That is why we are working on programs to strengthen the rule of law in Sri Lanka".
Nevertheless, Sri Lanka doesn't seem to have understood the importance of maintaining the United States as a close partner for investment, trade, commerce etc., allowing its surrogates to declare that a conspiracy is being hatched to destabilize the nation. On the other hand, as spokesperson Victoria Nuland told Washington State department media briefing on 16 January "I would not say that the explanations are satisfactory in terms of protecting democracy".
GSL's Disconnected Messages
The messages are 'lost in translation'. 'Lost in translation' is a metaphor for when lack of communication is more than obvious. And it's the bare fact of a communication coming through but without the connotation that makes it alive.
The policymakers and their immediate spokesperson in Sri Lanka have to be plain speakers, gifted explainers and somewhat thinkers.
Sri Lanka has many foreign adversaries, and the United States is not one of them. A small group of expatriate Sri Lankan Tamils who do not represent or voice the sentiments of the vast Diaspora in western nations became adversaries since the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009. They are professionals with excellent developed contacts with foreign ministries of the western nations and their lawmakers have shown how influential they are, and were very good at confusing policymakers and lawmakers of those nations during the past three years. It is in this scenario that Sri Lanka needs to give a clear and understanding communications to the State Department and the EU.
What the GSL has each day giving up against foreign adversaries who have an agenda to isolate the country and bring it to an international forum for alleged violations of international humanitarian law (not forgetting the creation of a Kosovo situation in the north and east of the country) - presenting the country's case, explaining its thinking.
The GSL message always seems to get lost, and professionals who handle foreign and presidential affairs do not seem to notice.
We have many a time found that the messages originating from the officials - and politicians - are unclear.
Little Sri Lanka says seems to cohere, or to connect with a higher purpose, intent or meaning.
The GSL message is not only unlively, it always seems muted and blurred. To combat adverse domestic and overseas 'explanations' which are amount to propaganda for the consumption of western policymakers and lawmakers, Sri Lanka hasn't been able to come up with prompt and overreaching goals on (public diplomacy) issues it faces at given times, and strategies to achieve them.
The understanding many get and what they feel as if Sri Lanka is always in the dark, unclear on what the Rajapaksa leadership is thinking or about to achieve.
Sri Lanka's foreign adversaries watch this scenario with delight as it contribute to the fulfillment of their overall agenda.
But Sri Lanka, in her foreign dealings, a goal and strategy are needed. Without them, everything will seem ad hoc, provisional, formless, meaningless. The U.S. State Department and the European Union will see it that way. Longer the delay to come up with strategic thinking and coherent overseas public diplomacy the adversaries reigns the day having control over the trajectory of Sri Lanka's destiny.
Here is what Sri Lanka need to do; It has to do in part with policy, in part with attitude and approach.
Some Lies and Distortions
The January 14- New York Times in an account about the dismissal of the chief justice clearly reflected the canards the western policymakers and lawmakers believe mostly fed by Sri Lankan adversaries. It twisted the issue in a such manner that the three Rajapaksa brothers were totally responsible in impeachment and removal of the chief justice using the "parliament packed with Rajapaksa loyalists."
I declares the "impeachment process a naked power grab by Mr. Rajapaksa and members of his family who serve in his government" attributing the sentiment to religious, pro-democracy activists and lawyers.
The New York Times' account ends with the usual propaganda piece of foreign adversaries: "President Rajapaksa and his government ended one of the world's longest and bloodiest civil wars in 2009 by defeating the separatist LLTE, bringing stability to much of the country and increasing opportunities for tourism. But he and his brothers have been accused of being involved in unlawful killings of civilians, and a United Nations panel ruled that accusations of war crimes against the Sri Lanka government were credible and should be investigated".
During his campaign for the second term of the presidency last year, Barack Obama's message to the American people did not resonate well; the messages on issues were unclear and most of the time garbled. The democratic national Committee which handled Mr. Obama's re-election campaign and strategists at Obama's campaign headquarters in Chicago knew that their rival Governor Mitt Romney was gaining as a result. It was after the Obama's re-election campaign tapped and brought former president Bill Clinton to the forefront of the national campaign as the "Explainer-in-Chief" the whole trajectory of the American presidential election changed in favor of Obama. Mr. Clinton strategically using plain language tackling different issues in different ways facilitated the American voters to understand the domestic and foreign policies of Barack Obama.
- Asian Tribune -