23 October 2011

A note on the ‘commonsensical’ in meeting threat

Dayan Jayatilleka -- obsessed with the 13th?
I suppose it is incumbent on diplomats to defend regimes and policies, to see the positive side of things and call for celebration.  It is perhaps natural also for ex-diplomats to paint the bleak picture and point fingers at policy and personnel for contributing.  This is what I felt reading two contrasting articles on the country’s foreign policy recently, one by Dayan Jayatilleka, former Permanent Representatives at the UN (Geneva) and currently the Ambassador to France (who, between jobs, gave down-in-the-mouth interviews compared to his things-are-rosy articulations when employed by the Ministry of External Affairs), and the other by a retired career diplomat Izeth Hussein.

Dayan, citing a cable from the US Embassy in Sri Lanka unearthed by Wikileaks, pats his ministry and himself on the relevant backs for ‘effective diplomatic approach’ in Geneva.  It is certainly a defensible claim, considering outcome, although the by now par-for-the-course self-congratulatory  vein of Dayan’s comments does leave a poor taste on tongue. 

Izeth Hussain -- touting selective commonsensicality?

Izeth Hussain (‘Rethinking war crimes allegations’) seems to think that the outcome had nothing to do with the grand strategies that Dayan claims were orchestrated (his  typically wordy contention was ‘refreshing non-aligned roots while twinning Tri-continentalism with the rise of Asia and emergent multi-polarity in the world order’).  Izeth says, bluntly, that if Sri Lanka came through unscathed it was simply because ‘the powerful bloc of countries arrayed against (her) has decided that this is not the time to give a whacking’.  He claims, moreover that the test of effectiveness is not measured only in outcome but in winning over those opposed.  In this regard, he claims that the government’s counter-thrust has not made any difference to the US, the EU member states and their allies, and concludes ‘flopped, and flopped badly’. 
Izeth argues that the government ought to try ‘commonsensical arguments’ and adopt a ‘holistic approach’.  The first would, in his view, involve telling the world that any serious war crimes investigations ‘would envenom the political atmosphere’ so much that it would compromise efforts to find political solution and obtain ethnic reconciliation.  He is correct, I believe.  Investigating war crimes, whether or not any were committed would lead to the kind of outcome he describes.  Whether this would dissuade Sri Lanka’s international foes, I am not sure. 
If, as he argues, these powers are not swayed by the logic of argument, there is no reason to believe they would listen to commonsense, if indeed what Izeth proposes is commonsensical.  NATO, for example, didn’t give a damn about the political being envenomed in Libya.  The assumption that things like solutions and reconciliation really matter is not supported by the history of engagement as practiced by these powers.  It is silly to think that truth counts.  Moreover, that kind of line gives the impression that uncommitted war crimes were indeed committed but the perpetrators are seeking to get off the hook by pleading a worsening if they were investigated. 
His ‘holistic’ answer is of course an echo of Dayan’s perennial whine-want: ‘give me the 13th and lots more besides!’ Both these individuals are loathe to give the true dimensions of grievances and match proposed solution to these, nor defend solution with respect to objections on lines of demography, history, geography, political efficacy and economic sense.  In Izeth’s case, if telling the truth or ‘commonsensicality’ really matters, then it is strange that he is silent on the commonsensicality of telling the truth regarding grievance and related facts. 
Interestingly, while Izeth wants negotiations (one assumes, with the TNA), Dayan, in an interview has stated that the TNA’s expressed desire ‘to start from scratch’ is making the government and the Sinhalese cautious ‘as to where power-sharing might lead’.  Well, ‘starting afresh’ means we cannot presume that devolution will result.  Given that the discourse has been so marred by rhetoric and myth and buttressed by a strong aversion to defeating the LTTE military by vociferous defenders of devolution (Dayan is an exception here), it makes sense to start afresh, which would include a discussion on the true dimensions of grievances.  If indeed they are territorial, then a territory-based agreement makes sense. 
On the other hand, if the issues are not territory-bound, then a different mechanism has to be worked out.  Dayan’s aversion to a fresh start is couched within a devolutionist frame of thinking, hence his contention about imagined fears about ‘where power-sharing might lead’.  As things stand, power-sharing and devolution are being conflated and presented as ‘solution’, when in fact it is just Tamil nationalism in reduced circumstances deferring to the Chelvanayakam option of ‘A little now, more later’. 
The bottom line is that truth and fact have little currency in the machinations of international busybodies and thug-nations.  Commonsense hardly counts.  I don’t know if it was, as Izeth claimed, that the Geneva-outcome had nothing to do with the government’s efforts, but if, as Dayan claims, strong ties with friends and being conscious of changes in the global political equation helps, then it makes sense to pursue this line of engagement.  ‘The Worst Case Scenario’, as Izeth claims but doesn’t factor into his recommendations, is truth-averse anyway.    
Still, it is better to be honest than to lie and it is better to win friends and enemies over with truth.  It is all we have.   What we lack is effective mechanisms to ensure that truth emerges from all relevant deliberations, that there is transparency and accountability, and robust institutional structures including legal mechanisms that are truth-yielding.  In the long run, this is the true site of struggle. Diplomats and ex-diplomats have a lot to offer by way of educating the people on how things happen on the international stage of course, but perhaps these two learned gentlemen can shed more light on what’s possible and what’s not in this regard.  I know Izeth touches on these issues frequently and that his analysis is largely free from preferred outcomes in the rough-and-tumble of party politics.  I know that Dayan is cagey, naturally, and tends to play safe.  I would suggest that commonsense has more currency here in Sri Lanka than in engagements with the largely disingenuous set of thugs running the world these days.