Simon Jenkins pulverized Miliband’s assinine foreign interventions in 2009

Simon Jenkins, courtesy of The Guardian, 19 May 2009 —  with title  David Miliband’s piccolo diplomacy

Blair at least walked the walk. But this foreign secretary can offer only feel good gestures of episcopal concern. I hope President Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka takes time out today to comment on the resignation of Mr Speaker. What the Sri Lankan government has “wanted to see”, he might say in the jargon of the new interventionism, is clean and transparent democracy in Britain. Speaking for all Sri Lankans, he would regard the affair of MPs’ expenses as “unacceptable” and “not living up to their commitments”. A group of Sri Lankan MPs would be visiting Britain to monitor developments.

Ridiculous? Yet those are exactly the words and tone of voice used byBritain’s foreign secretary, David Miliband, in his dealings with what seems like half the globe. The Foreign Office wakes each morning and scans the world’s conflicts to ponder where it might score a quick headline with a call for peace, reform, a ceasefire or “United Nations actionI cannot see the point of Britain telling the world that “what we want to see is Russia on a different course“. It merely infuriates every Russian. Why does Miliband say of Syria’s dictator that “I’ve been talking for over 18 months to him about his responsibilities in the region”, as if he were Lugard addressing a recalcitrant Nigerian chief? Why boast that he is “working on maintaining a ceasefire between Israel and Gaza” when he is doing nothing of the sort?

A delegation of Singapore’s MPs might feel equally justified in visiting London to express the “unacceptability” ofBritain’s financial regulation. The Colombian prime minister, recently criticised by Miliband for the “impunity” of his militia, might wonder at the impunity of Britain’s corrupt arms dealers. Pakistan, lectured weekly by London about its army’s performance, might demand an inquiry into discipline at Deep Cut barracks. Beijing might discover a Miliband-style “moral obligation” to defend minority rights in Northern Ireland, given the resurgence of separatist violence. The Swedes might denounce Britain’s care of the elderly on the grounds that they “cannot stand idly by” while welfare state values are traduced by British callousness.

Were any of these things to happen, British politicians and the British media would be outraged. How dare other nations pass judgment on our affairs? What business is it of theirs? Yet this is what Britain does to them. Foreign policy is in 19th-century mode, with a moral gunboat over every horizon. Iran, Colombia, Kenya, Russia, Sri Lanka have all been damned by Miliband with the same fatwa as “unacceptable”.

Regular ceasefire calls are bread and butter to the Foreign Office’s underemployed policymakers. These feel-good gestures of episcopal concern are intended to generate a warm sense of wellbeing in speaker and audience, a jerkily liberal response to “something must be done”. The effect is zero. This is not megaphone diplomacy but piccolo.

Ceasefires usually benefit one side or the other in a running conflict. They are seldom impartial to those embroiled in the theatre of war, any more than are other weapons of soft intervention such as condemnation, boycott and commercial and financial sanction.

In Sri Lanka a rudimentary study of the past three months of fighting would have told Miliband that a ceasefire would be pro-Tamil, not just “pro-humanitarian”. He compounded his demand by damning the “indiscriminate” shelling of Tamil civilians. How he could do this while supporting the bombing of Pashtun civilians along the Afghan border is a mystery.

Yet the consequence of appearing to support the Tamils was to infuriate those same insurgents when Miliband refused to lift a finger to give force to his ceasefire call. It was just words, hypocritical window-dressing. It appeared to support a partitionist movement, but refused to do so in practice.

The outcome has been entirely negative. Miliband is regarded in Colombo as an incompetent neo-imperial ­meddler whose embassy was attacked on ­Monday and whose effigy was burned and tossed into the compound. Meanwhile the Tamils, double-crossed by London’s posturing, reacted with one of the most furious demonstrations seen inParliament Square.

The conflict was not ended by this rhetorical intervention. No lives were saved, no British interest served. Each side has merely been convinced thatLondonwas favouring its sworn enemy. Policy towards Sri Lanka merits a doctoral thesis in diplomatic ineptitude.

Britain had no dog in this fight, and no capacity to influence events either way. Its platitudes, bromides and ­hectoring were merely patronising, like an NHS advert telling the world to wash its hands and blow its nose. As of today, Britons travelling to Sri Lanka must be less safe than any other foreign nationals, whichever side of the divide they happen to encounter.

Such intervention soon falls victim to relativism. The one country that is treated by Miliband with kid gloves is the People’s Republic of China. He recently told the Fabians that “it is important that we don’t treat China as an errant child” – implying just such treatment for every other moral ­miscreant. Why? Because China is rich.

Such intervention has been as pointless in Sri Lankaas its predecessors in Israel/Palestine, Russia, Georgia, Iran, Burma, Sudanand Zimbabwe. Tony Blair’s 1999 exegesis on so-called liberal interventionism, whatever its justification in the Balkans, has degenerated into a global woe-crying under Gordon Brown and Miliband.

Where the fine talk led to military action, at least it walked the walk. Labour’s early decision to move from the Tories’ policy of humanitarian relief inYugoslaviato threatened, then actual, aggression against the Serbs represented a coherent policy. By rewarding each separatist movement in turn it achieved Nato’s covert objective of Balkan fragmentation. The same outcome will probably follow intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan and evenPakistan.

Such policies may be disagreeable but at least they are understandable. Miliband’s piccolo diplomacy is a mystery. He seems to crave a role above his station, howling at the moon as if saying so made it so. He has summoned the ghost of Palmerston from a Whitehall attic, but confined him to the press office, to write endless speeches full of words such as unacceptable and disappointed.

At this very moment someone in the Foreign Office must be drafting a memorandum for his boss, welcoming the agreement of both sides in Sri Lanka to Miliband’s demand that they cease ­hostilities and behave like sensible chaps. How good of them to do so. Cucumber sandwiches, anyone?


Filed under LTTE, politIcal discourse, power politics, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, terrorism, world events & processes

7 responses to “Simon Jenkins pulverized Miliband’s assinine foreign interventions in 2009

  1. guest

    This is to share a joke making the rounds in Toronto.

    A Tamil tiger refugee now in Toronto phones the Suicide Counselling Hot Line. The call is relayed to a call centre in Chennai, India, where another ex tiger is manning the phone lines. After listening to the suicide threats of the Toronto caller, the guy in Chennai asks,
    ” Can you drive a truck?”

    Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka claim the dubious distinction of “inventing” the suicide bomber/truck attacks on innocents popular among many terror groups in the world. It is noteworthy that after the demise of the Tigers, no suicide bomber attacks have taken place in Sri Lanka.

    • pba

      Why not? Mervyn de Silva (a Minister in the Rajapaksa govt) threatened the UN Secretary General that he has got a number of suicide bombers ready for action in case any UN officials visit Sri Lanka for war crimes investigations!

      • Guest

        reply to pba:
        I am not sure as to what he said, or who said. Perhaps he meant that there were still quite a number of sleeping Tamil Tigers lurking around. I am sure there are many stiil around, as we have in Toronto.
        As a frequent visitor to Sri Lanka, since the late 1970s, on various consulting assignments, I find the current gov has restored some law and order since 2009, after the LTTE were eliminated. Since then there have not been any random bombings or attacks on civilians, and no one needs to pay money to the tigers to go to Kilinocki. Also, I find that the gov is rehabilitating the infrastructure destroyed by the terrorists. On the whole I find the the civilians in Jaffna are better off than under the LTTE.

      • Everybody except maybe yourself knows that mervyn de Silva is a thug with a big mouth –yes dangerous for some Lankans in local circumstances but he has no reach outside Lanka and none of his goondas have the same sacriifical commitment that a significant number of Tigers dispalyed. So please do not show us your own type of extremist bile andan incapacity to analyse

      • Hikz

        The person you want is Mervyn Silva. Mervyn de Silva was a veteran journalist (and Dayan Jayathilaka’s father I believe).

      • thanks for the correction. PS: MERVYN SILVA is actually not soemone to “want” -better if there is a “WANTED” poster out for him so that some sheriff — GARY COOPER reincarnted perhaps? –can hunt him down.

  2. Guest2

    Myunderstanding was that the discussion here was on the lTTE, and Millbrand’s sanctimonious and hypocritical utterences. Don’t know or have not heard of Mervyn Silva or Mervyn De Silva.

    In the plitical arena, there are many who continue to make stupid perhaps illegal threats- for example the North Koreans, Dick Chenry, Barry Goldwater of USA. I am not surprised, if the current crop of pliticians in SL are also indulging in such threats. But it really hurts when guys like Millbrand or Stephen Harper (Canadian PM) make these threats, just to please LTTE voters in their ridings.

    As an expat Tamil my view is that wiping out the LTTE by the SL gov has resulted in a net benefit to the Tamils, although it has adversely affected money extorting cabals of the diaspora, as well as the would be economic migrants, who claimed discrimination.

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