13 January 2020

Alice G Wells: sovereignty, shared interests, some laughs and a question

Alice G Wells, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia at the US Department of State, will arrive in Sri Lanka on January 13, 2020 for a two-day visit. She is to meet with senior government officials and members of civil society ‘to discuss a range of bilateral and regional issues, including “shared interest” in a free and open Indo-Pacific region that fosters prosperity, democracy, justice and human rights.’

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Seriously.

What is ‘shared interest’ in the Indo-Pacific region? The USA has her interests, strategic mostly but there are of course the Washington perennials of resource extraction, securing and defending markets. Alice has on a previous visit (2017) grumbled about Sri Lanka ‘ceding sovereignty to China over the Hambantota Port’. As though that’s any of her business, even assuming that’s what has happened. As though she would give two hoots about sovereignty, considering Washington always privileging US interests over democracy, human rights and sovereignty. 

Once, responding to a question put to her at the think tank ‘Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars,’ she expressed concerns about ‘the crystal clear geopolitical elements of China’s One Belt One Road initiative. As though geopolitical elements are absent in the various ‘initiatives’ of the USA all over the world! So when she talks about democracy, justice and human rights, it is laughable. Seriously. 

Just the other day, her president said he was ready and willing to attack 52 places of historical and cultural significance in Iran. Not a very polite thing to say and certainly not the language used by his predecessors, but then again you can politely bomb a country into the middle-ages, politely attack civilian targets with drones, politely rig elections, politely bribe politicians and officials in countries you want to control, politely arm-twist nations to submit to your will, and politely make sure that entire communities ‘believe’ your version of their realities. Donald Trump’s predecessors were polite. On other counts they were no different to Trump.  

Still, it is funny when a US official talks the language of prosperity (THEIR prosperity, that’s about it), democracy (when they have championed and/or helped put in place or protect monarchies, military juntas, theocracies and other authoritarian regimes), justice (observed in its breach when it comes to non-White people in the USA, for example) and human rights (which, clearly they believe brown people whose countries they invade do not deserve). 

Who are these ‘members of civil society’ she plans to have discussions with, I would like to know. I really hope she names these individuals just so we can figure out what’s what about these kinds of visits. Not that it’s hard to imagine, but the names would reveal much. I have a sneaky suspicion that they are mostly if not exclusively Kolombians, also known as Colombots, Born Again Democrats, Funded Voices, Rent-a-Protest Executives, Candlelight Ladies and other closet UNPers masquerading as liberals and leftists. Ideologically and politically compromised individuals who certainly don’t make up or represent ‘civil society’. That the US State Department deems fit to mention this ‘meeting’ indicates two things at least: a) these individuals are agents of the USA, and b) the USA has no clue about Sri Lankan civil society. Well, it’s her wish, so be it.

What are these ‘bi-lateral’ issues, though? Alice G Wells, back in November bragged that the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact ‘would be launched soon in Sri Lanka.’ Is that what she’s going to talk about with ‘senior government officials’? She probably knows that the draft agreement is currently under review. Is her visit all about getting it done? What kind of carrot-stick strategy is she going to employ during her visit?  

Well, it’s her job, we understand. The USA looks after her interests. With bucks, if that works. With joy-rides if that’s what it takes. With the threat of sanctions, bombs and assassinations too — we’ve seen that happen. 

We know that the USA backed Maithripala Sirisena’s presidential bid. We know that the USA, up in arms over the smallest wrongdoing by his predecessor’s government (of which he was a senior minister), turned a blind eye when it came to Yahapalana corruption, thuggery, political victimization etc., etc. We know that the USA hoped against hope that the Yahapalana candidate, Sajith Premadasa, would defeat Gotabaya Rajapaksa. We know that the USA always has Plans B, C, D etc., to get what it wants. We know that officials are either ideologically aligned with the USA’s ‘vision’ for Sri Lanka or are not averse to being ‘persuaded’ one way or another. We know that the USA can create any number of narratives and get the rest of the world to believe them and even champion them, not least of all because countries such as Sri Lanka do not have the will or the capacity to counter the lies. 

We know that the USA bad mouthed the UN’s human rights body, but that they can and probably will get the European Union and Britain to operate as proxy in furthering its devious designs based on such lies.  We know that such narratives went a long way in getting Resolution 30/1 passed in Geneva. We know that an incompetent, servile and vengeful regime compromised Sri Lanka’s sovereignty by co-sponsoring that resolution. We know how such things are used as bargaining chips to get countries to submit to the USA’s will on so-called ‘shared-interests’. 

All this is ‘par for the course’ as far as the USA is concerned. It’s ‘par for the course.’ Sadly, submitting to US agenda has also been ‘par for the course’ when it comes to governments in countries such as Sri Lanka.  

And therefore, ladies and gentlemen, only one question needs to be answered: ‘What will President Gotabaya Rajapaksa say?’

This article was first published in THE SUNDAY MORNING [January 12, 2020]