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Sep-24-2012 21:18printcomments

We came, We conquered, He died

Reflections on Hilary Clinton’s Libyan triumph, Chris Stevens, and the price of regime change.

Ambassador Stevens being pulled from the burning building
Ambassador Stevens being pulled from the burning building.
AFP photo

(COLOMBO, Sri Lanka) - Foreword by editor: Salem-News readers know we have rallied endlessly for the Sri Lanka Tamil Diaspora; my decision to carry this article by Rajiva Wijesinha does not signal a change in direction in any way. Instead we find common ground as he makes excellent points that very much reflect the position our writers have taken on the subject of Libya and the Benghazi rebels and their western supporters.

I personally think the mutual decision to publish this article shows the maturity of all parties. As Sri Lankan's Government Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP), and Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights in Sri Lanka, Rajiva's role in whatever peace does and will exist is crucial, so this is all about goodwill, thank you.
- Tim King


When I read of the sad death of the American ambassador in Libya, I wondered whether Hilary Clinton, who had reacted with such depressing vulgarity and Caesarian pretension to the death of Colonel Gaddafi, registered the link between this killing and what the Americans had done in Libya. At the very least, she much have realized that, had Gaddafi still been in power in Libya, the American ambassador would not have died.

I presume the lady would assume that the death of her representative was a small price to pay for having got rid of Gaddafi. The fact that American interventions have resembled another less famous line from Julius Caesar Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war- is probably of little consequence to her in comparison with what seems the enthronement of American capital and the enhancement of American power. Which is more important in her eyes, God alone can tell, if indeed he can cope with the schizophrenia that seems to govern American relations with what they see as lesser breeds without the law. Cunningly, though, now the responsibility for continuing deaths can be seen as lying with other agents, unlike in the days when the chosen instruments of American domination, from Papa Doc to Pinochet, got away with mass murder on the grounds that they were saving their people from godless radicals.

So doubtless the hunt for Bashir Assad will continue, regardless of the increasing evidence that extremist forces are in the forefront in this respect, and have committed their share of atrocities that are all attributed in the Western press to the Syrian government. The techniques being used are of course not new, as I realized again when reading William Dalrymple’s account of the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Talking of the annexation of Oudh, which had contributed to the resentment that fuelled the uprising, he cited a disillusioned British official who ‘exposed the degree to which a largely fictional dossier…had been assembled by interested parties within the Company to push for Avadh’s annexation. The dossier had depicted a province “given up to crime, havoc, and anarchy by the misrule of a government at once imbecile and corrupt.” This image, wrote Bird, was little more than “a fiction of official penmanship, (an) Oriental romance”’.

At the same time, in deploring American perfidy, we should be aware of the excuses given for it by both imbecility and corruption on the part of governments they wish to get rid of. Gaddafi, for instance, who had seemed deeply committed to his people in his early years in power, seems to have relished luxury in his old age. Ironically this went together with a softening towards the West, which was the counterpart perhaps of the softening in the head that several decades in absolute power had precipitated.

Some of this change in attitude may have been due to the affection for Western values – as evinced in practice, as opposed to the moral perspectives celebrated by Western apologists – evinced by his children. Educated in the West, relishing nightclubs and haute couture even though provided with a doctorate at one of Britain’s more prestigious universities, Said Gaddafi provided those who wanted to intervene with the excuse they needed through his reaction to the uprising in Benghazi. His response suggested a bloodthirstiness that called to be contained, and it was used to influence public opinion, leading to the resolution in the UN Security Council which Russia and China did not veto.

I think there is a lesson for us here, for I believe the more myopic Americans are still keen to see a change of regime in Sri Lanka. So long as they have to deal with Mahinda Rajapaksa himself, I have no fears, for his popularity in the country is obvious. Though the Anglo-Saxons, in a move some of the Europeans deplored, tried to promote Sarath Fonseka in 2009, the results of the election made it clear that getting rid of President Rajapaksa would not be easy – and it also confirmed what I have always felt, that his appeal lay not in narrow nationalism, of which his enemies accuse him, but which their chosen candidate in fact exemplified, but in a human sympathy that the vast majority of Sri Lankans appreciates.

This is not necessarily true of his family. Though they all have their virtues, and it is easy to defend them against the common criticisms made, none has the same charm or understanding of the wider Sri Lankan picture. Concentration on one aspect or the other can be perverted by those who do not have the best interests of the country at heart, and any excess can be exploited by the hostile.

Given the use made of his children’s excesses by those who thought anything better for Libya than Gaddafi, even the forces that have killed the American ambassador, it is important that the President ensures that his children are well mentored. Namal Rajapaksa has G L Pieris, who I suppose is better than the academics in England who provided Said Gaddafi with his doctorate, but I was reminded of the very different sort of mentoring the President himself had, when Chamal Rajapaksa related a tale of his boyhood, when his father had sent him and the future President to my father when something amiss had occurred. Home spun wisdom may sometimes be better than sophistication in pursuit of agendas that are not objective.

Robert Blake’s latest pronouncements, together with the relentless campaign with regard to war crimes that the usual suspects are conducting, to coincide with the Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva and the visit of Navi Pillay’s team, suggest that we need to be constantly vigilant. The Ministry of External Affairs may now think that all will be well, and that sacking Tamara Kunanayagam and preventing her from chairing the Working Group on the Right to Development will keep the West happy. But pressures will continue, and there are ways, as Oudh and Libya and Syria show, to create moral pressures that may be simply ‘Oriental romance’, but which can lead to replacement of leaders who are disliked. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance, and the quality of that freedom must also be maintained, as that poor American ambassador must have realized when the forces his Caesar had unleashed fell on him.

Rajiva Wijesinha, MA, is a Sri Lankan writer in English, distinguished for his political analysis as well as creative and critical work. An academic by profession for much of his working career, he was most recently Senior Professor of Languages at the University of Sabaragamuwa, Sri Lanka.

In June 2007 President Mahinda Rajapakse appointed him Secretary-General of the Sri Lankan Government Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP), and in June 2008 he also became concurrently the Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights (Sri Lanka). The Peace Secretariat wound up in July 2009), and in February 2010 he resigned from the Ministry as well as the University, and became a Member of Parliament on the National List of the United People's Freedom Alliance following the General Election held in April 2010,[4] following which he was appointed a Member of Parliament.

He belongs to the Liberal Party of Sri Lanka, and has served as its President and Leader, and also as a Vice-President of Liberal International. He is currently Chair of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats and was re-elected leader of the Liberal Party Sri Lanka on the proposal of the previous leader following the Liberal Party Annual Congress of 2011. He has travelled widely, including as a Visiting Professor on the Semester at Sea Programme of the University of Pittsburgh, and has published Beyond the First Circle: Travels in the Second and Third Worlds.

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Ralph E. Stone September 25, 2012 7:34 am (Pacific time)

The author seems to have a real affection for Qaddafi. Rather, the Libyan grievances against Qaddafi were similar to those in Tunisia and Egypt: high youth unemployment and the harsh suppression of all political activity under an autocratic rule which has lasted decades in this oil rich country of 6.5 million. Libyans wanted the ouster of Qaddafi, a constitution, and political and economic reforms. A little background: on September 1, 1969, an obscure group of military officers seized power. There was very little opposition to the coup and few deaths. About a week after the coup, the 27-year old Qaddafi emerged as the head of the Revolutionary Command Council and as the country's new leader. Qaddafi closed all British and American military bases, expanded the Libyan armed forces, the exile and arrest of senior officers with connections to the monarchy, and the closure of all newspapers, churches, and political parties. In the mosques, Sanusi clerics were replaced by more compliant religious leaders. Banks were nationalized and foreign oil companies were threatened with nationalization. All assets in Libya belonging to Italians and non-resident Jews were expropriated. Close to 30,000 Italian settlers were deported. Political opponents were jailed giving Libya the unenviable prize of the highest prison population in the world per capita. This seems to run counter to the author's statement that Qaddafi "seemed deeply committed to his people."

The author's linkage between the fall of Qaddafi and the killing of U.S. Ambassador Stevens is a bit tortured. The attacks in Egypt and Libya were really a case of political opportunism by the Salafist Islamic extremists who are unhappy with the success of the more moderate Islamist and secularist parties in Egypt and Libya. While I agree the U.S. has much to answer for, our active support of the downfall of Qaddafi is not one of them.

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