The Games that the Almighty Play: Syria Now, Sri Lanka Then

Sanja De Silva Jayatilleka, from The Island, 10 April 2017, where the title is “Watching Syria, seeing Sri Lanka” … highlighting in this presentation being my workas Editor …. and with further Commentary and Bibliographic References at the end

It was not easy to watch the proceedings on Friday April 7 that the UN Security Council’s emergency ‘open session’ on Syria without thinking of Sri Lanka, although the actual circumstances of the UN’s engagement with the two countries are very different. Only one thing seemed alarmingly similar. It seemed like a set up. US Ambassador Nikki Haley’s dramatic gesture of holding up photographs of chemical-gassed children only served to bring to mind the now famous theatrical display of a vial of anthrax by US Secretary of State Colin Powell at the same venue to warn the Council of the imminent danger that lay before the world from WMDs in Iraq.

Image #: 24024242 Pigeons lie on the ground after dying from what activists say is the use of chemical weapons by forces loyal to President Bashar Al-Assad in the Damascus suburbs of Arbeen August 24, 2013. Picture taken August 24, 2013. REUTERS/Ammar Dar (SYRIA – Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST CONFLICT ANIMALS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) REUTERS /STRINGER /LANDOV

It was only a matter of time before one of the members would hold up a photograph of that particular shameful attempt, and so it happened at the hands of the Bolivian Ambassador/Permanent Representative Sacha Lorenty who proved that there are still good men left in the world, taking on every irrational argument by the West,and quoting his President Evo Morales’ condemnation of the US strike on Syria, even though Bolivia had no dog in this fight. He stood up for the principles that all those Security Council members had signed up to.

The Russian Deputy Ambassador inevitably referred to the 2003 ‘Anthrax episode’ as well, since the Security Council session’s target for verbal recriminations by US, UK and France was more Russia than Syria. He made it a point to warn Britain not to even try to get into a war in the Middle East because in that part of the world they remember, he said, Britain’s colonial hypocrisy.

Ambassador Nikki Haley, new to diplomacy, and apparently new to due process, insisted that “while the Syrian regime is responsible for the chemical weapons attack, it is not the only guilty party.” Really? Had the UN completed its investigations?”  It hadn’t. Is the new world order ‘Post-UN’ as well as ‘Post-Truth’? She continued: “The Iranian government bears a heavy responsibility. It has propped up and shielded Syria’s brutal dictator for years.” Oh please. In this digital age where information (including about past decades) flows freely, when it comes to propping up brutal dictators, which country comes to mind first?

The Bolivian ambassador helpfully reminded the Security Council about the overthrow of Allende in Chile and the training, sponsorship and support to brutal military juntas throughout Latin America. Add to that the more recent practice of propping up ‘moderate rebels’ who then turn into moderate terrorists.

Is this looking like an improved way of conducting international relations? Could this become the new norm? Aren’t we lucky that the world is increasingly multipolar? And bless those vetoes! Listening to the UK Permanent Representative’s outrage and indignation at Russia for blocking sanctions on Syria, one had to wonder if the UN was not to play any role at all, except to provide the room, the table and chairs for the Western Big Powers to indulge in their prejudgments while bullying the rest into compliance.

Russia was in the process of negotiating a resolution for a credible investigation to gather facts about what actually happened in Idlib, Syria, when the Trump attack took place. Isn’t an impartial UN investigation necessary anymore? As the Bolivian Ambassador explained at the media stakeout at the UN on April 7th, the Security Council could not be expected to accept without question the findings of the intelligence agencies of those states that were opposed to the Syrian regime.

The US missile attack flouted a number of provisions in international law. The Security Council is meant to prevent threats to international peace and security. And here were three of the five permanent members cheering on the violation of the sovereignty of another country and verbally carpet bombing Russia for not agreeing with them.

No sane person would condone chemical attacks. Not even after the most powerful state in the world set a terrible example in the in the 1960s and 1970s in a failed attempt to bring a poor Asian state to heel. Whatever the colour of the chemical agent (sorry, defoliant), the perpetrators need to be stopped, once they are properly identified. But all within agreed norms and standards. I daresay UN standards. I would go further: those who have been recognized as past perpetrators could even be made to apologize and compensate the victims. That would surely stop future miscreants.

Was the US missile attack on Syria meant to be R2P? That requires sanction from the Security Council. It wasn’t even sought. It was completely unilateral. Take a bow, President Trump.

It’s frightening how similar this is turning out to be to like the story line of the ongoing Season Six of the TV series ‘Homeland’ (with Claire Dane as Carrie Mathieson and Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson). The plot is scarily simple. The newly elected President tries to go independent of the ‘Deep State’. The Deep State carries out false flag attacks. The President tries valiantly to resist the pressure from the media and more personal threats from the Security Establishment with the help of dissenting elements within it. But she seems doomed to failure and the Deep State destined to win. As on TV, so in life. (The US version is an adaptation of an original Israeli TV series and book.)

Sri Lanka faced similarly outraged diplomats from the West in 2009. The then British FM was particularly passionate, flying across to the US in April 2009 to lobby then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It was later discovered that Minister Miliband had ‘electoral compulsions’ which drove this effort, when his top aide admitted this to a ranking US diplomat in London who cabled it to Washington (the world read it courtesy WikiLeaks).

Seeing how the West brings in its full arsenal including its control of global media into play to support its interests, the unqualified thwarting of their concerted efforts to put Sri Lanka in the dock at the UN in Geneva in 2009 for its victorious war against LTTE terrorism, is a singular achievement. I can hardly believe now, that nearly two thirds of the UNHRC voted with Sri Lanka, despite the West’s best efforts, including the personal involvement of the powerful Secretary of State and future presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton.

Since then we have seen the West’s escalation on the Sri Lanka issue at the UNHRC, imposing resolution after resolution requiring War Crimes related inquires, first on a hapless postwar Rajapaksa administration without a clue as to how to respond to the combined onslaught from Human Rights lobbies, Diaspora groups, and powerful states which later included our neighbour India, and then on the new Yahapalana administration which laps up every indignity with relish.

Viewing the live TV coverage of the April 7th debate on Syria at the UNSC, it looked like hypocrisy has now evolved to even greater heights (or descended to even greater depths) in those very same powers who are attempting to discredit Sri Lanka’s war of reunification of this island, a third of which was under separatist terrorists. The unilateral missile attack by the US on a sovereign country while resolutions were being negotiated at the UN and peace talks were on-going in Geneva, was hailed by Western allies for being ‘restrained’. That makes it alright then.

This is the level of cynicism that Sri Lanka will face at every UN forum from those influential countries, with regard to Sri Lanka’s war against the LTTE. With a “Unity” government intent on being seen as compliant in the extreme to all comers, embracing every hypocritical suggestion as to the methods and modalities of investigation, undermining our own existing judicial mechanisms, what are our chances?

Are there people in Sri Lanka’s diplomatic service capable of defending Sri Lanka’s armed forces from this travesty that is ongoing, and worse planned for it in those forums? If there are, would they be willing to be sacked for their pains?

   ***   ***

A COMMENT: FIVE NOTES, by Michael Roberts

  1. While David Miliband may have been directed in part by constituency politics (Sanja’s reading), I think this emphasis can be overstated. I affirm in conjecture that he was moved by liberal radical thinking arising from his Jewish background and Leftist leanings. His father Ralph Miliband was one of the key forces behind the New Left Review and his British public-school upbringing would have encouraged liberal humanist thinking. There are strong currents of righteousness in the Western world today inspiring all sorts of investigations –with some bearing an air of inquisition. I find some of the moral fervour to be one-eyed in its determinations. It was with similar fervor that Radhika Coomaraswamy sundered our friendship in her knee-jerk response to my criticism of Gordon Weiss, John Dowd and others.**
  2. Apart from rushing to USA, Miliband and Kouchner descended on Sri Lanka and tried to browbeat President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Here Rajapaksa stood firm and acted cleverly in setting up the meeting at Chandrikawewa. … …………………and Yes, you are right Sanja to cane the Rajapaksa administration for their foreign policy efforts – stemming in part from terrible appointments and permitting schemers such as Sajjin Vaas Gunawardena to interfere with activity from the master bedroom behind the portals. Miliband at Manik Farm before the met with Mahinda R — the intensity of visage says it all perhaps … 

    In this handout picture released by The Sri Lankan Presidential Office, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner (L) looks on as his British counterpart David Miliband (C) shakes hands with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa (R) as they arrive for a meeting at Ambilipitiyasits on April 29, 2009. British foreign minister David Miliband and his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner who are in Sri Lanka for a one-day visit have failed to secure an agreement from Sri Lanka to end an offensive against Tamil rebels and allow humanitarian access to civilians trapped by the fighting. AFP PHOTO/HO/Sri Lankan Presidential office RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE GETTY OUT (Photo credit should read HO/AFP/Getty Images)

  3. Apart from a well-coordinated and wide-ranging campaign beginning in mid-2008 by LTTE personnel and diaspora lobbies to present a picture of an “impending humanitarian catastrophe,” in the early months of 2009 the LTTE also acted cleverly to paint the GSL forces in a cruel light. At least three subterfuges were coined. Their artillery and mortars were directed to fire at their own civilians in one of the so-called No Fire Zones at night –as indicated by one of the Tamil priests in the trapped populace reporting directly to the US Embassy (see Ambassador – Washington,,,,, in Wkileaks). C2. Because the First NFZ was immediately north of the A35 road from Paranthan to the coast and the UN supply convoy was parked in an area called “The Hub’ immediately abutting that road, on the night of 22nd January (or 23rd) the
    Tigers deployed mobile artillery from the road to fire at the SL Army positions …. And then quickly moved away. The SL Army responded with calibrated return fire –with some shells hitting the Hub area. This is a conjecture on my part, but a hypothesis that has to be taken note of when evaluating Gordon Weiss’s high dudgeon and indictment on this count (see The Cage, chap 00). C3. Both at the international and local level Tiger personnel and sympathetic supporters presented accusations that the GSL forces were using chemicals and “cluster bombs.” They circulated fragments of data and images to support their case. One of those who bought into this “evidence” was a friend of mine in Melbourne, Lionel Bopage, a former JVP leader of the 1970s. Clearly, his Leftist leanings and moral positioning induced him to seize upon this evidencc, even though he has, like me, no expertise on this type of issue. Ideology often trumps pragmatics. Like Miliband. Like Bopage. However, this weakness cannot be directed at Allan Postan, a technical expert in the UN Development Agency involved in mine-clearing in Sri Lanka who in 2012—yes 2012!!! — accused the GSL forces of deploying cluster bombs during the war. However, he seems to have relied on photographs to reach this verdict — an argument invariably seized on by Charles Havilland of the BBC (who has the distinction of being categorized within the “BBC Blind” personnel in one of my articles).  a cluster bomb–Getty
  4. Even the more discerning authors in the UTHR team under Rajan Hoole were induced by tales from Tamil civilians to suggest that the GSL has used chemical weapons –a charge that is comprehensively dismissed by Gerald Peiris (2014).
  5. I stress here that in one of his despatches (09 COLOMBO412) the US Ambassador Blake noted that “both ICRC and the Indian Ambassador reported that their medical teams treating wounded have come across no evidence of CW or phosphorous use. ….. “. Note that early February and 9th May 2009 over 6000 sick and injured patients were transported from the Last Redoubt of the LTTE by the ICRC and SL Navy working together. If there were people with marks of chemical weapons or cluster bombs the Tigers would have slipped a few into those they chose for these “medivac” evacuations; and the Indian doctors (several of them Tamil) at Pulmoddai would have spotted the evidence of this form of damage.

SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY

Citizen Silva  2013 “The Use of Cluster Bombs in Sri Lanka: Fiction rather than Fact,” ….. http://www.scribd.com/doc/92760423/The-Use-of-Cluster-Bombs-in-Sri-Lanka-Fact-or-Fiction. 

De Havilland, Charles 2012 “Cluster bombs found in Sri Lanka, UN expert says,” 26 April 2012, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-17861187

Peiris, Gerald 2014 “Striving for Evidence of War Crimes: “Cluster Bombs” and Other Dud Weaponry,” 30 January 2014, ………………………………………… https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/01/30/striving-for-evidence-of-war-crimes-cluster-bombs-and-other-dud-weaponry/

Ranga Jayasuriya: “The Fanciful Logic ICG’s War Crime Report,” 23 May 2010,

Jennifer Oriel: “Reckless West could unleash Jihadist Hell in Syria,The Australian, 10 April 2017, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/columnists/jennifer-oriel/reckless-west-could-unleash-jihadist-hell-in-syria/news-story/923cc11081a9905fa668b7eb552cc228

ESSAYs from MY PEN, Michael R

Dilemmas at War’s End: Thoughts on Hard Realities,” 10 Feb. 2009, http://groundviews.org/2009/02/10/dilemmas-at-wars-end-thoughts-on-hard-realities/, rep. in Roberts, Fire and Storm, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, pp. 267-74.

“Dilemma’s at War’s End: Clarifications and Counter-offensive,” www. groundviews.org, rep. in Roberts, Fire and Storm, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, pp. 275-87.

“People of Righteousness march on Sri Lanka,” The Island, 22 June 2011 and https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2011/06/27/people-of-righteousness-target-sri-lanka/

“Reading “devastation”: Botham, CMJ, Ban Ki-Moon,” 10 June2011 https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2011/06/10/reading-%E2%80%9Cdevastation%E2%80%9D-botham-cmj-ban-ki-moon/

“Amnesty International reveals its Flawed Tunnel-Vision in Sri Lanka in 2009,” 10 Aug. 2011, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2011/08/10/amnesty-international-reveals-its-flawed-tunnel-vision-on-sri-lanka-in-2009/

“The Tamil Death Toll in Early 2009: A Misleading Count by Rohan Gunaratna,” 23 November 2011, http://transcurrents.com/news-views/archives/6285.

“The Torture Scene in “Killing Fields” and Gordon Weiss,” 9 January 2012, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2012/01/09/the-torture-scene-in-killing-fields-and-gordon-weiss/

Truth Journalism? Marie Colvin hoist on her own Petard,” 5 November 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/11/05/triuth-journalism-marie-colvin-hoist-on-her-own-petard/

The War in Sri Lanka and Post-War Propaganda,” 18 November 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/11/18/the-war-in-sri-lanka-and-propaganda-debates/ …being Memo sent to OISL with Hyperlinks and Images added

Cartographic & Photographic Illustrations in support of the Memorandum Analysing the War in Sri Lanka and Its Propaganda Debates, 18 November 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/11/18/cartographic-photographic-illustrations-in-support-of-the-memorandum-analysing-the-war-in-sri-lanka-and-propaganda-debates/

The War in Sri Lanka and Post-War Propaganda,” 18 November 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/11/18/the-war-in-sri-lanka-and-propaganda-debates/ …being Memo sent to OISL with Hyperlinks and Images added

“A Bout at Chandrikawewa, 29th April 2009: Miliband & Kouchner Vs Mahinda Rajapaksa,” 5 July 2016, …………………………………………. https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/a-bout-at-chandrikawewa-29th-april-2009-miliband-kouchner-vs-mahinda-rajapaksa/

HRW in Syria and Sri Lanka: Moral Fervour generating Political Blindness and Partisanship,”3 January 2013, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2017/01/03/hrw-in-syria-and-sri-lanka-moral-fervour-generating-political-blindness-and-partisanship/

** Radhika’s spontaneous act constituted no problem for me. “Amen” I thought in a totally non-religious and yet determinate manner.

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