Colombo Telegraph

The Soft And Hard Of Diplomacy

By Malinda Seneviratne – 

Malinda Seneviratne

It was reported that the United States of America had softened its stand on Sri Lanka.  This was after President Mahinda Rajapaksa met US Secretary of State John Kerry on the margins of the UN General Assembly. Jen Psaki, spokesperson for Kerry and the US State Department has since said that the US position on Sri Lanka had not changed.

So it’s still hard.   Not news, though.

Psaki elaborates thus: ‘We would like our relationship with Sri Lanka to achieve its full potential. That will only happen if Sri Lanka builds enduing peace and prosperity for all of its diverse ethnic and religious communities. That’s why the Secretary made clear to the President that Sri Lanka needed to take meaningful steps to act like a country that is no longer at war but instead is now building a future that includes all of its citizens.’

Perhaps Psaki hasn’t heard the adage ‘charity begins at home’ for if he did he would be agitating for an end to structured racism in the USA which results among other things in racial profiling and the regular pumping of bullets into the bodies of Blacks and Latinos by white police officers who are subsequently absolved of any wrongdoing.

But if indeed he hasn’t heard of home-charity, it might have something to do with the fact that his office is not about ‘home’ but about ‘abroad’ even though all interventions and engagements are predicated with the now tired and meaningless caveat ‘to ensure the security of our country’.  What does one say to a country that is perpetually at war and yet preaches peace to the rest of the world?  What does one say to a country that destroys other countries and robs the yesterday, today and tomorrow of millions of people and yet talks of ‘building futures for all citizens’?

The point is that softness and hardness are just carelessly and illogically used descriptive of US policy towards this or that country.   The only way to win the friendship of the USA (and thereby obtain softness-degree desired) is to play ball.  In other words, do Washington’s bidding; in a word, enslavement.

This simple truth, clearly, has not been understood by whoever interpreted what transpired at the Rajapaksa-Kerry meeting.  There’s nothing to gain by misinterpretation.  Indeed, there’s no practical value in any kind of interpretation without concrete evidence with which the claim can be anchored.  Another important element in this game is to understand that there’s absolutely nothing to gain by playing word games with who have the power to write and re-write script and even deny authorship.

It is far more profitable to listen, nod, smile, shake-hands, pose for photograph and leave.  Whatever is said and even what’s not said will be read and transmitted as per Washington-requirement.  Indeed, in situations such as the one which prompted this soft-hard talk, the more sensible diplo-speak would have President Mahinda Rajapaksa asking Kerry about Seed Global Health founded by his daughter Vanessa Bradfor Kerry, a physician and healthcare administrator.  He could have also asked if his other daughter Alexandra has made any new films after ‘The Last Full Measure’.

This is easier than talking politics with the powerful.  Unless you want to submit or making an offer that is impossible to refuse but one which plays Russia, China and India against the USA with respect to overall strategic interests and comparative advantages.  This side of that kind of give-take proposal, it is patently silly to say, hear and then indulge in sophomoric interpretation games.

*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at 

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