A matter of self-interest
The Colombo foreign office has excelled its previous best in issuing a "say nothing" statement on the US and British led war against Iraq now gathering steam. There is little doubt that the vast majority of the people of this country, like most of humanity, are implacably opposed to what the worlds sole remaining superpower is doing to a country that has had to suffer Saddam Hussein for a quarter of a century. The Iraqi people are now being made to pay a heavy price for their countrys oil wealth, coveted by the invading powers who are justifying what they do on the compelling need to rid Iraq of its despotic dictator. All that we in Sri Lanka can do at this time is to hope and pray that the war would swiftly end with the least possible suffering to millions of innocents already burdened by years of sanctions that has sapped the vitality of the most vulnerable sections of the Iraqi people.
Self-interest, whether enlightened or otherwise, is the name of the game. That is why Sri Lankas wishy-washy statement on the war in Iraq read as it did. Uncle Sam is going to crush Iraq and in the process inflict untold suffering on helpless people. Clearly we cannot cheer him on, but neither must we rap him on his knuckles leave alone kick him in the bottom. So we issue the kind of statement we were treated to last week. Colombo obviously could not influence the course of events. European powers like France and Germany did their best but President Bush remained unmoved, as unmoved as his staunch ally, Tony Blair who was unfazed by a revolt in his Labour Party and the weight of overwhelming British public opinion. Given the fact that Bush and Blair and their friend in Spain were quite willing to undermine the United Nations where France, Russia and possibly China were going to use their Security Council vetoes, what could the likes of poor small us do? Certainly not roar like the lion emblazoned on our national flag or even cluck like a broody hen.
So voice the usual platitudes. Say that we have long urged Baghdad that it must comply with Security Council resolutions and get rid of its weapons of mass destruction. But those WMDs, as the military jargon has it, have still not been used. Would a megalomaniac like Saddam hold back if he had them is a moot point. Then we hope for a quick end to the conflict. Who does not? We are gravely concerned about the humanitarian consequences of the war. And of course we must butter up those whose goodwill we seek, nay need, given the LTTE time bomb that continues to tick ominously on our lap notwithstanding cease-fires and peace negotiations. Hence our "confidence that the coalition partners would move early to minimize adverse consequences on the civilian population in Iraq" and our blind faith that those who are dropping the bombs will move swiftly to repair the damage. They cant, of course, give life to the dead and limbs to the maimed. But no matter. They can always "coordinate the rehabilitation effort" in Iraq. Nary a word of censure. Instead magisterial pronouncements and pious hopes that UN which Bush has emasculated by short circuit must continue to play an "undiminished role" in such hot spots like Palestine.
While Lankans cannot be happy that we are now placed in a situation that our government cannot honestly reflect public opinion in its statement on a matter as grave as the US-British action in Iraq, we have also to accept the reality that the past crimes of our leaders, beginning with Prime Minister Bandaranaikes Sinhala Only and going on to President Jayewardenes abject failure to control the 1983 riots have placed us in our present sorry predicament. We are today dependent on the goodwill of the international community to keep a belligerent LTTE somewhat in line although if that is actually happening remains debatable. Whether there will be a payoff for statements such as last weeks effort by the Colombo foreign office only time can tell. But a harder line, as practitioners of real politik well understand, would surely have meant a payback. The Tigers today are no longer what they were when 9/11 happened in the USA. They have got themselves a degree of international legitimacy thanks to the ongoing peace negotiations that they might not even have dreamed was possible less than two years ago. And they are strong enough to bluff and bluster about their blatant gun running with Scandinavian monitors refusing to ask the hard questions.
While Mr. Wimal Weerawansa can airily state that we will not get even poonac from the US and Mr. Nimal Siripala de Silva can demand condemnation of the invasion of Iraq, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and the UNF must perforce take a different view. Military and economic considerations are factors that he cannot overlook. While greed for Iraqi oilfields may well be a part of the US rationale, ours is more a matter of need. So we have to do what the boys at Senate Square have done and while the lesser lights in the PA and the JVP which hopes to advance from probation to coalition sooner than later can say what they think, we wager that President Kumaratunga will be more circumspect. And so also her brother who will not want to mess up relations with a country that he frequently visits.
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