“Speaketh with Forked Tongue” — John Kerry in Sri Lanka

Mohan Samaranayake, in The Island, 16 May 2015, where the title is “Holes in John Kerry’s bucket

The two day visit to Sri Lanka by John Kerry, the Secretary of State, USA, on 2nd and 3rd May, the first by a US Secretary of State since Collin Powell’s brief visit here in 2005 in the aftermath of boxing day Tsunami, rightly received wide media coverage in news and commentary. Leaders of the Government lost no time to call it a landmark achievement for its yahapalana principles and it s efforts to win back the International Community which was ‘foolishly antagonized by the Rajapaksa regime’. A section of the media, especially English language, and civil society activists hailed the visit, with heightened joy and enthusiasm.


A major English weekly in its editorial of 3 May, visibly in a happy note, said “the significance of the Kerry visit…is a diplomatic and political signal that US-SL relations are back on track after the previous administration sank ties to an all-time low”. While castigating MR government for what it called mishandling relations with the US the editorial gave its own interpretations to portray the visit as a triumph for the entire Sri Lankan nation. Describing Kerry’s visit to the historic Kelaniya Temple “as a considered message that the US recognises that Sri Lanka also has a majority” is one such interpretation. However the editorial failed to explain why the US Secretary of State had only met with TNA when there were so many other political parties representing majority.

Among other happy men over Kerry’s visit was a well known NGO activist who, writing to The Island on 5 May, only didn’t equate the significance of the visit to the arrival of Arhath Mahinda in this land two millennia ago. He predicted towards the end of his article that “The large scale and generous US assistance that helped transform South East Asia could now come to Sri Lanka, albeit a half century later”. In the sixties and seventies of the last century a massive amount of US money capital flowed into South East Asia not as a result of US generosity but to finance devastating wars it waged in Indochina killing millions of innocent people in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. In the first quarter of 1991 a US-led military alliance fought with Iraq, on the pretext of liberating Kuwait from Saddam Hussein, with an estimated cost of up to 57 billion dollars for the US. However the US managed to get Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Germany, Japan and South Korea to pay $ 54 billion out of this amount. (Andre Gunder Frank; The Third World War, 1991) So much so for US generosity!

John Kerry, former Massachusetts Senator, unsuccessful candidate of the Democratic Party in the 2004 US Presidential election and refined diplomat, while in Colombo, delivered a skillfully worded speech that included several diktats and strong messages coated in sweet diplomatic language, under the auspices of the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute for International Relations and Strategic Studies. It is worthwhile for the country to examine and understand the reality behind the assertions made, the importance and implications of what was unsaid during the Kerry speech and thereby identify real motives that have led to the revival of US-SL relationship which is said to be “back on track” after a decade of “an all time low”.

Extolling the virtues of speedy reconciliation here in Sri Lanka John Kerry quoted late Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar as saying “We have to live in Sri Lanka as Sri Lankans tolerating all races and religions”. However he failed to mention that the very person who said that was murdered by a group called LTTE which did not believe in ‘Living in Sri Lanka as Sri Lankans tolerating all races and religions’. That was the very reason that compelled the previous administration to go to war with the separatist organization which the US itself branded as “the world’s most ruthless terrorist outfit”. Though the LTTE was militarily decimated its separatist ideology remains very much alive and active both here and abroad thus placing a formidable obstacle to genuine reconciliation. This, the US government does not seem to understand.

While recognizing the need to go to war sometimes the US secretary of State said “For all my country’s disagreements with the previous government in Sri Lanka over how it fought the LTTE, we clearly understood the necessity of ridding this country of a murderous terrorist group and the fear that it sowed……You saw, I trust, that it is obvious the value of ending wars in a way that builds a foundation for the peace to follow”. So one of the US disagreements with the previous government was ‘over the way it fought the LTTE’. Kerry did not elaborate what was wrong with the ‘way’, the previous government fought against the LTTE and made no distinction between ‘right ways’ and ‘wrong ways’ of fighting wars.

Let us have a brief look at the way the US fought its numerous wars particularly against third world countries since the Spanish-American war of 1898 when it seized Spanish colonies in the Caribbean and the Pacific, emerging for the first time as a world power. To put down the Filipino resistance that emerged soon after the seizure of the Philippines, US troops killed at least a quarter of a million Filipinos, most of them civilians, with only 4200 US soldiers killed. During its fight against Muslim Filipinos, known as Moros, US troops massacred at least nine hundred Filipinos, including women and children, who were trapped in a volcanic crater on the island of Jolo. In response to the massacre Mark Twain said in bitter satire: The enemy numbered six hundred (that was the initial figure reported) including women and children and we abolished them utterly, leaving not even a baby alive to cry for its dead mother. This is incomparably the greatest victory that was ever achieved by the Christian soldiers of the United States. (Monthly Review, November 2003).

After the victory of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua in 1979, which overthrew the US supported, four decades long brutal dictatorship of the Somoza family, the United States started a war against Nicaragua, first by imposing an embargo and then organizing guerrilla bands called Contras. A 1984 CIA “Psychological Operations” manual destined for ‘freedom fighters’, as President Reagan called the Contras, recommended kidnapping all officials or agents of the Sandinista government and hiring professional criminals to carry out specific selected jobs. Later a shorter manual recommended a series of ‘useful sabotage techniques’ to hasten “liberation”: Stop up toilets with sponges; pull down power cables; put dirt into gas tanks; put nails on roads and highways; telephone to make false hotel reservations and false alarms of fires and crimes; hoard and steal food from the government; leave lights and water taps on; steal mail from mail boxes; rip up books; spread rumors.(William Blum, Rouge State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, 2005)

More recently when the US fought the first Gulf War in 1991 against Iraq-a country with a 7000 year old civilization was “pushed back into the stone age” according to General Norman Schwarzkopf, the US Commander of the operation ‘Desert Storm”. American military and CIA estimates put the death toll between 100,000 to 250,000 both military and civilian. Although prohibited by the Geneva Conventions they even attacked and killed retreating Iraqi soldiers out of Kuwait. Pilots later said that the retreating Iraqis were “basically just sitting ducks” and “it was like shooting fish in a barrel” (Washington Post, Feb. 27 1991).

In March 2003 the US led NATO forces invaded and later occupied Iraq even without seeking the approval of the UN Security Council, on the flimsy pretext of saving the world from’ Saddam Hussein’s huge arsenal of Weapons of Mass Destruction’. Shortly after the invasion inhabitants of Fallujah, a major Iraqi city, demonstrated peacefully and the Americans fired into the crowd killing sixteen people. What happened next was thus described by Jean Bricmont in his book Humanitarian Imperialism; Using Human Rights to Sell War: “Fallujah was a Guernica with no Picasso. A city of 300,000 was deprived of water, electricity and food, emptied of most its inhabitants who ended up parked in camps. Then came the methodical bombing and recapture of the city, block by block”.

These are only four from a long list of examples as to the way the US has fought its wars in history. When the Secretary of State John Kerry said in his speech that his government’s disagreements with the previous administration of Sri Lanka was over the way latter fought with the LTTE, it is not clear whether he wanted Sri Lankan forces to follow the ‘way’ his country fought its wars. Further he stressed “the value of ending wars in a way that builds a foundation for the peace to follow”. But the way the US fought its war in Iraq-an unending war- instead of building ‘a foundation for the peace to follow’ has resulted in splitting that country into three pieces that fight with each other with no end in sight.

Advising the Sri Lankan military of duties it should perform Kerry observed: “None of us wants to live in a country where the military is stopping its own citizens at checkpoints. And Sri Lankan military has so much more to contribute in defending this country, protecting vital sea lanes, and taking part in UN peacekeeping missions all over the world”. Here again the top level US official easily ignores the fact Sri Lanka had left with no other option than calling its military to serve civil defense functions when the country was engulfed in a terrorist fire with bombs going off almost everywhere killing civilians in large numbers. No sensible person would disagree that military presence at public places must be reduced to the required minimum when the peace is fully consolidated and the threat of separatism is over. I firmly believe that military should not be involved in civil defense and public administration in peace times. Nevertheless Sri Lanka has the right to maintain necessary vigilance until the dust is completely settled. When the twin towers of the World Trade Centre were attacked by Al-Qaeda in 2001 the USA within weeks went to war with two far away countries, first Afghanistan then Iraq to eliminate the threat of terrorism. In Sri Lanka even during the height of the war, killing unarmed civilians at military checkpoints was rarely reported. In the US it is not that rare; not the military, but traffic cops shoot and kill unarmed civilians (owned citizens) as happened in Southern Carolina on 3 last April. Ironically majority of those get thus killed happened to be Blacks! Kerry’s advice to Sri Lanka on functions to be performed by its military echoes the TNA demand to drastically reduce military presence in the North.

The US Secretary of State resorted to convince the audience that his government was not going to interfere in Sri Lanka’s affairs when he said, “Now, problems of Sri Lanka are clearly going to be solved by Sri Lankans. That’s the way it ought to be, but it is also the only way it’s going to work”. Then in the same breath he added, “But we also know that, in today’s world everyone and everything is connected…we do have some suggestions, as friends. And let’s offer our possible areas of cooperation”. From the bitter experience of Iran under Mossadegh (1953), Guatemala under Arbenz (1952), Chile under Allende (1972) and more recently Iraq, Iran, Libya, Venezuela and Ukraine history tells us what can happen to a country if it does not accept these ‘friendly offers‘ by the world’s sole super power. Also people of this country remember how the US exerted pressure on Sri Lankan authorities, when the LTTE was facing imminent defeat, to make arrangements for the LTTE leadership to surrender and handover their weapons to a third party. The US-provided intelligence enabled Sri Lanka Navy to locate LTTE arms shipments and destroy them. However the US did not want to see the complete elimination of the separatist outfit so that it could go ahead with the once failed formula of the Co-Chairs for Sri Lanka in line with its global designs as they did in other places.

During his long speech John Kerry told Sri Lanka to work closely with the UN, ICRC and the civil society to investigate cases of missing persons calling it “an essential part of the healing process”. Reiterating his government’s commitment to promote and protect human rights ‘here and around the world’ he urged our government ‘to mount a credible domestic investigation into allegations of human rights abuses’. He repeatedly stressed the need to take immediate measures to ensure reconciliation for which he said “the United States is ready to be a partner with you in that effort”. All that what he said here in Colombo represent ingredients of the same prescription that has been handed down to poor and weak third world countries by the West led by the US since 1945 in order to keep them under their control. It is no secret that in the final analysis entities like the UN and ICRC are not free from diktats from the West and Sri Lanka’s civil society that deals in areas of good governance, human rights and media freedom etc entirely depends on money comes from the global north.

The essence of Kerry’s address reminds me of what Michael Ignatieff, Professor of Human Rights Policy at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University and an influential figure of the US think tank, proclaimed in the New York Time Magazine (January 5, 2003); “America’s empire is not like empires of past, built on colonies, conquest and the white man’s burden…The 21st century imperium is a new invention in the annals of political science, an empire lite, a global hegemony whose grace notes are free markets, human rights and democracy, enforced by the most awesome military power the world has ever known”.

As the Secretary of State rightly said ‘today everyone and everything is connected’. We are all living in an extremely globalized and interdependent world where no nation can live in a hermit kingdom with all doors and windows closed to the rest. All have to give and take. Sri Lanka needs friendship and support of every nation; from west to east; north to south. Particularly Sri Lanka needs friendship, support and understanding from the United States, still the number one world economy and the most powerful nation on the earth. That relationship must be based not on the 21st century imperium, that Professor Ignatieff described but on International Law and the principle of the sovereign equality of nations as enunciated in the United Nations Charter.


ALSO SEE Kalinga Seneviratne: “Lessons for Asia in Sri Lanka’s souring ‘Revolution” ….13 May 2015, http://www.manilatimes.net/lessons-for-asia-in-sri-lankas-souring-revolution/183273/

ALSO SEE Izeth Hussain: “Pluses and minuses after Jan. 8″ ... Island, 16 May 2015, http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=124753

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