26 May, 2022


American Presidential Election & The International Investigation

By S. I. Keethaponcalan

S. I. Keethaponcalan

S. I. Keethaponcalan

The traffic from Washington, D.C to Colombo has increased dramatically in 2015. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Sri Lanka in May. The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power was in the country in November. Ambassador Thomas Shannon, Counselor of the Department of State and Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Biswal were in Colombo in December. For Biswal this was her second visit to Sri Lanka within five months. These constant visits of high ranking officials from the United States to Sri Lanka have raised many eyebrows. Why are so many high ranking American officials visiting Sri Lanka suddenly? This is a legitimate question.

The nationalist fringe of the Sri Lankan polity is obviously threatened by these persistent visits, and some suggested that these visits are a part of the American call for an international investigation into human rights violations, which allegedly took place during the last phase of the war in 2009. Some of these groups might view and/or depict these heightened interactions between Colombo and Washington as an indication of the present government succumbing to the pressure from America on the issue of an international investigation. It is possible that these visits have less to do with the violence of the last phase of the war and the proposed investigative mechanism. The reason, perhaps, is some of the recent foreign policy changes introduced in the U.S. by the Obama administration.

Pivot to Asia

President Barack Obama, in the early days of his first term in office wanted to make a fundamental change to the American foreign policy. The idea is to “pivot” to Asia. The desire to pivoting to Asia had two integrated elements: (1) moving away to a certain extent from the traditional policy focus, which emphasized Europe and the Middle East, and (2) providing top priority to Asia. Asia always figured prominently in the American foreign policy orientation, but it never received the highest priority. The decision to provide top most prominence to Asia was the significance of the pivot to Asia policy. Accordingly, the region would receive top priority in defense policy planning, diplomacy and investment. The end of the war in Afghanistan and Iraq enabled the Obama administration to focus more on Asia.

The American foreign policy shift was influenced by enormous growth, potential and some of the problems that stem from the states of Asia. Currently, some of the major rising powers are in Asia. For example, China and India are emerging as major international actors. These are also nuclear powers. China could potentially challenge the U.S. in terms of economic power and military strength. Also, for example, some of the major greenhouse gas emitters are in Asia. As Hillary Clinton stated “the Asia-Pacific has become a key driver of global politics.” This reality obviously influenced the Obama administration’s decision to pivot to Asia. Containing and engaging China are the two cornerstones of the pivot to Asia policy.

Pivoting to Asia however, was not easy. There was internal resistance from the more traditional and conservative section of the American foreign policy apparatus and analysts. This forced Obama administration to repackage the pivot to Asia policy as “rebalancing.” Also, the intensified violence, especially terrorism of the ISIS, forced the administration to return to the Middle-East centered foreign policy. However, the significance of Asia to the present American administration remains very high.


Pacific and South Asia are two major sub-regions of Asia. The American position in the Pacific region has been more than satisfactory because the U.S. has military and nonmilitary facilities in several countries in this region including Japan, South Korea, Philippines, Singapore and Australia. South Asia however was problematic because in the early days of the Obama administration’s policy shift, India and Sri Lanka remained out of the American sphere of influence. The Manmohan Singh Government in India hesitated to forge full partnership with the U.S. However, Narendra Modi’s ascendency to the office of the Prime Minister has brought India and the U.S. much closer as partnership in several areas has strengthened.
In Sri Lanka the Rajapaksa government was leaning drastically toward China, which in turn weakened the American power and influence in the country. The American sponsored United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution on Sri Lanka, to a certain extent, allowed the Americans to have a say in the affairs of Sri Lanka under Rajapaksa administration. The U.S. in Sri Lanka could have been completely isolated without the involvement in the Sri Lankan human rights issue.

However, one may argue that America’s Sri Lanka problem was resolved with the regime change in Sri Lanka in 2015. The new government not only demonstrated willingness to work with the West in general and the U.S. in particular, but also co-sponsored the UNHRC resolution. When there is a friendly government in Colombo that could be of assistance to achieve its regional and global strategic objectives, the U.S. does not have to be imposing in their approach and damage the remerging cordiality between the two states. The constant visits of American officials to Sri Lanka are part of the effort to strengthen the U.S-Sri Lanka relations. An important element of the current American schemes in Sri Lanka (and India) would be containing China in South Asia.
As a result, one may assume that: (1) the American demand for an international investigation into the human rights violations would fade way, and (2) the ongoing engagement and visits would intensify. This however, is a short term prospect because there will be a new administration in Washington, D.C, next year.

Presidential Election

The results of the American presidential election would certainly have implications for Sri Lanka. Therefore, ideally, Sri Lanka should be closely watching the on-going primaries taking place to elect the nominees for the general election, which will take place in November 2016. Who is the best option for Sri Lanka?

The field has been really crowded. The Democratic Party contest has already been narrowed to two person race. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are the two candidates competing for the Democratic Party nomination. Sanders is a self-proclaimed socialist promising free public education and healthcare in addition to a “revolution,” which has been attracting a large number of young voters. Hillary Clinton, a former first lady, served as the Secretary of State in the Obama administration. She was one of the architects of the American policy of pivot to Asia and played a major role in the UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka. Therefore, if Hillary is elected president, one may assume, that the current American interest in and engagement with Sri Lanka would continue; they may even intensify.

Sanders is a novice in international affairs and so far, has demonstrated ignorance about developments taking place outside of the Middle-Eastern region. He is too much into internal revolution, hence, he may pay less attention to Asia and Sri Lanka. At this point in time, however, it seems, even if he wins the democratic nomination, he would find it extremely difficult to win the general election with his socialist mantra.

The Republican Party started with seventeen candidates and has been reduced to five, currently. All of the leading candidates are foreign policy hardliners, who would “carpet bomb” the ISIS and other Islamic radical groups. Some, for example, Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, wants no rules in war. According to him, winning the war should be the only rule, which should be applied to warring parties. Donald Trump, the real-estate businessman, who probably would win the republican nomination, has similar views about foreign policy and war. Therefore, all Republican Party candidates would be sympathetic toward states that have to deal with terrorist threat and would probably understand human rights violations of state parties. Also, all Republican Party candidates, in terms of foreign policy, are excessively Middle-East oriented. Therefore, a republican president in the Oval Office in January, would pay very little attention to Sri Lanka, which would work well for the government in power in Colombo.

*Dr. S. I. Keethaponcalan is Chair of the Conflict Resolution Department, Salisbury University, Maryland

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 12

    Keethaponcalan is neither here nor there. There cannot be a more insipid analysis.

    Whether it is a republican or a democrat who ascends the throne, Colombo will receive no priority. US interest in SL is determined by its foreign policy towards China.

    With Modi US has an ally against China. As far as US is concerned, what India does with SL is its business. Period.

    UNHRC resolution was another cup of British tea. US was obliged to serve it to please UK, in the context of rising ISIS threats.

  • 12

    I agree completely. Hillary Clinton’s remarks “We’ve seen rape used as a tactic of war before in Bosnia, Burma, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere…” were completely uneducated and uninformed.In addition, Hillary’s comments at the end of the war was even worse accusing the SL government of causing untold suffering to tamil civilians. A woman with such hypocrisy should not be the first female president of the United States of America. Let’s hope for the sake of Sri Lanka and America, a republican candidate wins the American presidential elections in 2016.

    • 6

      Hillary Clinton stated the truth, unpalatable to many.


      • 6

        Are you serious??
        Who wrote that article? No one else than Anti-Sri Lankan Frances Harrison!

        • 4

          Eusense, the bloody nuisance and a downright low racist screw up, one is never against a country but against the ruling thugs of the country. I am and was against the paddy farmers from Hambantota but that did not mean I was against this beautiful country filled with beautiful people. Yes I understand this beautiful country also produced garbage like you, KA Sumanasekera, Jim Softy and ilk, it is unfortunate your parents worked hard one night behind a tree to produce miscreants like you all. They did cruelty to the world to have created trash like you all but also taught you well how to be racist. You racists amongst the Sinhala Buddhists have serious insecurity issues. Always worried that 15% of the population is after your arse. Grow up!!!!!

  • 3

    “The desire to pivoting to Asia had two integrated elements: (1) moving away to a certain extent from the traditional policy focus, which emphasized Europe and the Middle East, and (2) providing top priority to Asia. Asia always figured prominently in the American foreign policy orientation, but it never received the highest priority.”

    Naivety or covering up US intentions?

    This ‘pivoting’ is part of a scheme to encircle China.
    This is not a new finding, but something well known to analysts other than US loyalists.

    The writer has not offered any fresh insight.

    Think of the prospect of Trump as President: the world will have two Modis in power.

  • 4

    Dear Dr,

    I was very intrested when i saw the title of this article but i must say after reading it, it is quite a shallow analysis which simply touches the top of the iceberg with respect to many points of interest.

    The first commentator is correct, one can very confidently state SL featuers nowhere in USA’s interest in the region and even with regard to the pivot to Asia policy, which is mainly oriented towards managing the rise of China and the subsequent threat it possess in terms of its land and ocean grabs in the south China and east China sea, cyber and financial threats it posse and most notably as a counter to china’s one belt one road strategic policy attempting to connect China with the Indian ocean, Africa and Europe via the gulf if Aden all the while reducing the dependence on the Malacca Straight.

    Also one factor you has over looked entirely is the role of the anti- SL diaspora which seeks to pursue the separatist agenda of the LTTE. There is very little in terms of studies done on this matter and the lobby power the mentioned group has on the american political establishment, this has been so due to the lack of publicly available data as well. One need not try too hard, look at the campaign financing of the senate and house memebers in USA congress in the States of Cali, Florida, NY and Washington D.C. you will have more than 70% of the data needed to make any causal statements. The rest has to do with the South Asia desk at the state department and the officials manning it. Study their history and association and ‘wala’ another 10% would be fulfilled.

    So dear Dr. Please don’t think I am belittling you. I have no such need or happiness to derive. All I’m saying is when I saw the title on the Twitter feed I was interested but the plot and analysis has been rather a let down. If you are really interested in SL politics and US FP then I believe you will have an entire ambit to cover and a very intesting on it will be when writing your next paper.. Which I very much look forward to read.


  • 4

    1. Next US President will have to deal with ISIS and the destablization in Libya. Libya became a mess as a direct result of the overthrow of Dictator and narcissistic ruler Gadaffi. But Gadaffi had return to the fold of mainstream geo politics, given up his WMD program and was ready to cooperate with the West. I predicted what will happen there in 2011-2012. It is a mini Iraq now. So whoever is President will have to deal with ISIS and do better than incompetent Obama.

    2. US will focus on Middle East indeed

    3. US interests in SL was a result of the foolish hostility towards it by MR and India and US interests coalescing to ward off China.

    4. Other liberal US interests in SL have to do with many social policies etc

    5. It was dumb for SL to piss US off when US is its number one market for apparel products and exports.

    6. US got involved in Maldives only in 2008 and as a result, Maldives was also made unstable.

    7. US was directly involved in regime change in SL and again due to fears of Chinese expansionism

    8. It is also good and safe for SL to be close to India and not antagonize India. Mrs B had the best policy towards India and that was also partly due to personal relationships with Mrs. Gandhi. But DO NOT Forget India armed, trained and financed Tamil Tigers and other groups to destabilize Sri Lanka when JRJ became hostile to India and started veering into the US camp during the Cold War. What was the result?

    9. Sri Lanka has no choice but to go along with Indian diktats on major issues and be overrun by Indian business interests now.

    10. Indeed Republicans are war mongers. They will focus on regaining their lost image and control of client states around the Middle East.

    11. Don’t forget in 1953 US ovethrew a DEMOCRATICALLY ELECTED Socialist Mossadegh regime in Iran to install the pro US Puppet Shah they armed to the teeth,

    12. Later on when the Mullahs ovethrew the Shah, US started paying attention to the Arab thug Saddam who was basically a Soviet CLient State but also independent in where he was procuring weapons. They encouraged him to attack Iran over the Shatt El Arab waterway. What was the result? a bloody gory muslim Arab vs muslim Persian 9 year war which ended disastrously for both sides with over a million dead. Why did Kissinger and others encourage that? Geo political games.

    13. Remember US dirty wars in S.E Asia? Remember how Nixon lied to the people and bombed the shit out of Cambodia and Laos? hundreds of thousands of CIVILIANS died; US used cluster bombs, chemical weapons, and mines which are still exploding in deep jungles of Cambodia and Laos.

    14. Yep in a way, US will focus on ISIS(a creation of their mistakes of invading Iraq and during Obama’s time because of Libya)

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 5 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.