20 June, 2021

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Meet The Players: A ‘Problem From Hell’?

By Dharisha Bastians –

Dharisha Bastians

“I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required.”

         Susan Rice, US Ambassador to the UN in New York, on the Clinton Administration’s failure to intervene to stop the genocide in Rwanda

On the afternoon of April 23, the maiden meeting of the Atrocities Prevention Board, formed by President Barack Obama, was chaired by a 42 year old official with long blonde hair. The Board was set up following a Presidential Study Directive in August 2011, which articulated that ‘preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States.’  The Atrocities Prevention Board is meant to coordinate action across the entire government on stopping genocide and liaise with the NGO community. The US intelligence arm has also been asked to prioritize intelligence-gathering on mass atrocities as part of this policy initiative.

In other words, as the White House website indicates, President Obama has made the prevention of atrocities a key focus of his Administration’s foreign policy. The key influence in the Obama White House on issues pertaining to atrocities and genocide and a major driver in the US’ genocide prevention movement, Power, is credited with being the ‘intellectual imprint’ on the US decision to intervene in Libya during the bloody struggle to oust Muammar Qaddafi. As an increasingly powerful member of the White House hierarchy, Power is guiding President Barack Obama’s policy on civilian security and is a hardliner on autocratic regimes that are heavy abusers of human rights.

If Samantha Power seems almost over-zealous in her commitment to the prevention of mass atrocities, it is because she was an eyewitness to it in the Bosnian war as a 25 year old reporter. If she seems passionately journalistic about her cause, it is because she is a Pulitzer winning author, recognized for her 2003 account of the Bosnian Wars and criticism of US inaction during the Srebrenica massacre of 1995. In her book, titled, A Problem from Hell:  America in the Age of Genocide she accuses the United States of intentionally ignoring genocides and is a strong advocate of military action to prevent mass killing. On her return to the US following her war coverage in the Balkans, Power attended Harvard Law School, where she wrote a paper entitled, ‘Bystanders to Genocide’. So if it seems as if her experiences in Bosnia have shaped her worldview for life and made her single-minded in her mission to ensure America, under President Obama’s watch at least, lives up to the slogan, ‘never again’ when it comes to genocide – it is probably because it has.

Power has been part of President Obama’s inner circle since 2005, when she began working in his Washington office when he was a Chicago Senator and is even credited by the US President for having read through the drafts of his second book, The Audacity of Hope. While she has been a part of President Obama’s team since 2008, Power’s resurgence and prominence occurred in tandem with the Arab Spring, with her role becoming more defined and influential as the US government grappled with its reactions to the monumental changes occurring in the Middle East and North Africa.

Rice and Clinton /Photo by Michael Nagle/Getty Images

I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required./Photo by Michael Nagle/Getty Images

If the reports are true, the Lankan delegation is also to meet with US Ambassador Susan Rice, the powerful UN Ambassador in New York, who led the charge on passing UN Security Council Resolution 1973, that authorized NATO intervention in Libya last year. Ambassador Rice carries the burden of being part of the Clinton Administration and the National Security Council between 1993-1997, that chose not to intervene during the genocide of the Tutsis by the Hutu majority in Rwanda in 1994. Like Power, Rice is another senior and influential official in the present Administration that is shaping the US government’s policy on human rights abuses, mass atrocities and autocratic regimes oppressing its citizenry.

Needless to say, of Minister Peiris’ entire itinerary with the possible exception of Secretary Clinton, the Power-Rice meetings are the most significant. They also signal that somewhere in the last year or so, the focus on Sri Lanka has shifted somewhat from being the sole purview of the US Department of State, to being part of the general agenda of the present US Administration to ensure civilian security and hold regimes accountable. The Power meeting, if in fact it is to take place, is the sharpest and most distinct sign of that shift.

To their credit, this may have been, as some foreign relations analysts point out, exactly what Assistant Secretary of State for Central and South Asian affairs Robert Blake and others in the State Department were attempting to prevent all along. Where State Department officials, in this instance Blake and US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Patricia Butenis, would attempt to engage Sri Lanka on her post-conflict issues bilaterally, the entry of Power and Rice into the melee signals that the US is both ready and willing to take the Sri Lankan case on multilaterally, as was demonstrated also by the decision to bring a resolution against Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council in March. From Colombo’s perspective, this shift does not bode well for Sri Lanka’s future prospects at the UN and poses the very grave potential of having further international action being constituted against the country if the promises made by the government are broken. It also means that while Secretary Clinton and her team will likely focus on the UN Resolution calling for the implementation of the LLRC Report and essentially post-conflict reconciliation and power sharing arrangements,  Samantha Power and Ambassador Rice are likely to make accountability their main focus, given the ideological positions they hold.

If the Power and Rice factors prove to be troublesome for Sri Lanka and the delegation in Washington, it would be an interesting juncture at which to ponder the manner in which Colombo approached its engagement with the US, since the end of the war in 2009. The dressing down of Assistant Secretary ‘Bob’ Blake, the ‘summoning’ of Ambassador Butenis, the irrepressible need to be seen as ‘telling off’ the West, may have all contributed to the Sri Lanka issue slipping into the hands of powerful US officials who deal with human rights offenders and violators of international law on a multi-lateral level. As recently as January, Minister Peiris used the visit of Assistant Secretary Blake to ‘reprimand’ the latter for allegedly leaking private diplomatic communications from Secretary Clinton to Sri Lankan newspapers. The government continues to make the monumental mistake of taking on US officials based on their ‘proximity’ to Colombo’s power centres, little realizing perhaps that each of these negative encounters reflect very poorly on the regime’s conduct and engagement of the US back in Washington.

And as if to just heat things up a little bit more during this crucial political week abounding with speculation about the release of political prisoners and victory day parades, Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga delivering a speech at the launch of the book ‘Gota’s War’ detailing Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s battlefield experiences, took huge swipes at India, blaming New Delhi for having a big hand in planning and executing terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka in the 1980s. Also a guest at the launch was Indian High Commissioner Asok K. Kantha. Undoubtedly, these jabs are motivated by the fact that Colombo is still smarting from India’s decision to vote with the US on the UNHRC resolution against Sri Lanka in March. But all the while, the dots fail to connect for senior officials in the government that the US role in South Asia, how much pressure is applied or how little, is ultimately decided in New Delhi. It is elementary then, that to incense New Delhi further would only result in Sri Lanka digging herself a little deeper into a dark hole. If the events in Washington and the future trajectory of international pressure and action prove hellish for Sri Lanka, the government can console itself that by and large, it has at least been a hell of its own making.

Courtesy Ceylon Today

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Latest comments

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    Appreciate your article, My issue continues to be solved.

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    This really is a really good read I think, Must admit that you’ll be one of the best Journalists I ever saw.Many thanks for posting this informative article.

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    Excellent points made. Thanks for this article.

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    Fantastic submit, very informative. I wonder why the other specialists of this sector do not understand this. You should continue your writing.

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    Oh dear, the opening quote, attributed to Susan Rice, is actually from Samantha Power. One must never quote something one has not read.

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      Dayan must never comment something he has not read! LOL

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      Excellent article Dharisha, and you make great points. It is unfortunate that this government has only a tunnel vision, and totally incompetent at looking at the larger picture, while displaying a somewhat petty behavior, hollering at “western countries” out to “get us”. The question is “get us” for what? They have indeed put the country in a very bad light where the US is concerned, and made things worse. The Rajapaksa regime have made their very own hell, but unfortunately the entire country could suffer for it.

      Thank you for correcting Dayan Jayatilleke. What we do without excellent thinkers/writers like you?
      I enjoy reading your articles, please keep up the great work.

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    oh my god….It’s scary. Clinton,Power,Rice…. GL must be wetting his underpants!Darisha is trying to scare us in to the dark hole we are supposed to be digging.
    All these arrogant lofty hangers on could be history come November.
    Even if that were’nt to happen, What can America do to us? Invade? the most they can do is to cut trade and place embargos, we must be prepared for them anyway because Whatever we do America (this Obama regime)is not going to let us up untill they get what they want….a regime change.

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    Excellent and very informative,keep up the good work-P Sahib

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    @Nak

    Yes we want a regime change, but not UNP or SF, must chase all rogue politicians out, & bring a new system with honest intellectuals.

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      Then you’ll have to be patient until some one invent the kind of politicians you want.

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    Dear Dr. Jayatilleka, with reference to your comment above, please note the following:

    Obama gave Rice the go-ahead — and in doing so, put her on the spot. Rice, 46, was a staffer at the NSC in 1994 when the world failed to stop the genocide in Rwanda. A participant in deliberations on the crisis, she later said the White House failed to see the larger moral imperative to act and told Harvard scholar Samantha Power, now an Obama NSC aide, “I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required.” (Time Magazine, March 24, 2011)

    Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2061224,00.html#ixzz1vCFTSHb4

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      Dayan Jayatilleke is a pompous, sexist, self-promoting pseudo intellectual who loves to talk down to WOMEN and put women down by pretending he knows better and he is the expert. I have seen this behavious on numerous occasion. He would not have dared write such a comment to a man! [Edited out]

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        Kapila:
        You are wrong. Dayan Jayatilleka’s pomposity and self-righteousness extends BEYOND being sexist.

        He is simply an arrogant stooge of Sri Lanka’s current regime whose arrogance tends to overtake his capacity to kowtow to this lot!

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    Spot on Kapila..DJ is such an arrogant pompous fellow. no wonder he’s disliked in dpl circles..a diplomat cannot be condescending and arrogant..he thinks he’s god of political commentary and everyone else are just idiots..Gadafi’s bootlickers also roamed high until they got a good lesson from the people

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    oh dear dayan has made a buffoon out of himself..and he didnt even have to write the article..one must never try be too smart than one’s capacity

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    Well done Dharisha!!

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    Indeed well research well written article!

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    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy
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    In short:
    • If you act with maturity and consideration for other users, you should have no problems.
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    Excellent .. Wonderful .. I’ll bookmark this!

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    Oh dear, Dayan J seems to have shot himself in the foot again….. has he never seen a typo before?
    Great article, Dharisha …. you don’t need to dignify idiotic comments like this by responding to them.. keep up the good work!

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    I love you so much Darisha…. Keep it up…

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