29 February, 2024


‘The Ugly American’

By Rajeewa Jayaweera

Rajeewa Jayaweera

A runaway national bestseller, ‘The Ugly American’ was first published in 1958 by two American authors, Eugene Burdick and William J. Lederer. It was a slashing exposé of American arrogance, incompetence, and corruption in Southeast Asia. The multi-million copy bestseller coined the phrase for American foreign policy blunders and the conduct of its arrogant diplomatic officers. The New York Times reviewed the book thus; “Devastating. Authentic, infuriating, and explosively candid, this is the daring, classic bestseller that unmasked the blundering hypocrisy of some of our top-level diplomats. It exposes the opportunism, incompetence, and cynical deceit that have become embedded in the fabric of our public relations, not only in Asia but all over the world.” 

The task of fostering friendly bilateral relations with other countries despite prevailing conflicts and tensions fall upon respective ambassadors and staff accredited to individual states. In the years gone by, ambassadors, even those representing powerful nations conducted themselves with behavior in keeping with dignity, good taste, and propriety. Few failed to observe diplomatic etiquette and protocol in the execution of their duties. Extreme care was taken to avoid open controversy. Even what was unpalatable was communicated confidentially in an unoffensive manner, akin to a bitter pill with a sugar quoting. 

Despite the conclusion of the United Nations Charter in 1945, the second half of the 20th century has seen powerful countries conducting themselves with total disregard for the fundamental principles of international law. Justifying their actions based on geopolitics and realpolitik, they often act with impunity and little or no regard for the sovereignty of smaller and less powerful nations in violation of Purposes and Principles as defined in the UN Charter. Regrettably, the impunity with which such countries conduct their foreign relations has empowered and encouraged many of their ambassadors / high commissioners (Heads of Mission) to execute their duties in a manner contrary to all norms of diplomatic practice and niceties. 

Sri Lanka has had its share of foreign envoys who have conducted themselves in a vice-regal manner. Some notable exceptions were former US Ambassadors Chris van Hollen (1972/76), Donald Toussaint (1980/82), James Spain (1985/89) and Peter Burleigh (1996 /97) besides former Indian High Commissioners Shivshankar Menon (1997/2000) and Gopalkrishna Gandhi (2000).  According to a former senior diplomat, their conduct and the manner in which they had executed their duties without being overbearing and sans boorish arrogance displayed by some others had endeared them to many a local. 

Jaffna based Tamil daily, ‘Kaalaikkathir,’ on June 12, 2018, citing “very very trustworthy circles” broke the news of a 90-minute farewell call paid by outgoing US Ambassador to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa (MR). It was reported, the envoy had expressed opposition in ‘clear, unambiguous and definite’ terms of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s (GR) acceptability to western nations including the USA as a Presidential candidate in Sri Lanka.  

The response from the US Embassy in Colombo; “The Ambassador meets routinely with political leaders, civil society, and community leaders. The Ambassador honors the confidence of private meetings and does not discuss the contents of such meetings publicly,” was non-committal.

The editor of Kaalaikkathir is known to have close contacts with Mahinda Rajapaksa (MR). As the age-old adage says, ‘there is no smoke without fire.’ It is not uncommon for contentious issues to be discreetly leaked to the press in situations when a direct press release or statement is considered inappropriate.    

It must be stated at the outset this writer is no political supporter of MR, Gotabaya Rajapaksa (GR) or any other of the Rajapaksa clan. That said, this is not about GR or his credentials/suitability for the Sri Lankan Presidency. Being a dual citizen, it is GR’s constitutional right to contest the Presidency provided he revokes his US citizenship. It is also the constitutional right of all adult citizens in this country to decide if GR should ascend to the Presidency. The USA, currently embroiled in an investigation of Russian involvement in the last American Presidential election should appreciate more than any other nation of the necessity to refrain from meddling in this country’s elections, Presidential or otherwise.

Despite the perceived unsuitability of GR in the eyes of some western nations, NGOs and some locals, GR remains a hero in the eyes of a substantial number of citizens, especially the ordinary rural folk. Allegations against GR on non-military matters including abductions and extrajudicial killings is a matter for the courts, and it is up to the state to prosecute him if sufficient material is available. However, few in this country will endorse any attempt to prosecute him for war crimes stemming from the contentions UNHRC 30/1 Resolution. 

From a realistic point of view, there is no case for prosecuting GR for war crimes when the likes of Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara were permitted to retire and die in peace beside George W Bush, Dick Cherney, and Donald Rumsfeld being allowed to lead peaceful lives in retirement. Notwithstanding their lead roles in events in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, there was and is no call nor will there be any support for their prosecution for war crimes, from the American populace. To most Americans, they are heroes.  

Sri Lanka too has its own heroes. Following is a narration by cricketing great (another hero) as reported by veteran journalist Shamindra Ferdinando of the Daily Island. The incident had taken place a few days after Sangakkara’s return from the ill-fated tour to Pakistan in 2009 when the team came under attack by terrorists in Lahore. 

“A week after our arrival in Colombo, from Pakistan, I was driving about town and was stopped at a checkpoint. A soldier politely inquired as to my health after the attack. I said I was fine and added that what they as soldiers experience every day we only experienced for a few minutes but managed to grab all the news headlines. That soldier looked me in the eye and replied: ‘It is OK if I die because it is my job and I am ready for it. But you are a hero and if you were to die it would be a great loss for our country.’ I was taken aback. How can this man value his life less than mine? His sincerity was overwhelming. I felt humbled.

For them, avoiding bullets, shells, mines, and grenades, was imperative for survival. This was an experience that I could not relate to. I had great sympathy and compassion for them but had no real experience with which I could draw parallels. That was until we toured Pakistan in 2009.”

That soldier was but one of the thousands of this nation’s unsung heroes. The role played by GR as Secretary Defense in the formation of a fighting force with such courageous and selfless individuals where so many of his predecessors failed, undoubtedly makes GR too, a hero.  

It must be stated the great betrayal of these heroes was the co-sponsorship of the Geneva UNHRC Resolution by the former Foreign Minister and the deafening silence of the President and Prime Minister without taking advantage of the Naseby revelations and seeking a review of the resolution, not forgetting the baton charging of some of the wounded war heroes demanding pension payments.

Detainees upon arrival in Camp X-Ray GTMO January 2002

USA took the world by surprise last week with the announcement of its withdrawal from UNHRC. Announcing its withdrawal, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, together with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the media; “I want to make it crystal clear that this step is not a retreat from human rights commitments. We take this step because our commitment does not allow us to remain a part of a hypocritical and self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights.” 

Following the US announcement, the cabinet spokesman made an entirely unwarranted and inappropriate statement; “The withdrawal will significantly reduce the pressure mounted on Sri Lanka regarding the resolutions we co-sponsored and those that were agreed upon by the previous governments, as the US was the country which was pushing for the implementation.” Meanwhile, a media release from the US Embassy in Colombo stated among other things; “Ambassador Keshap met with senior Sri Lankan officials to convey the assurance of the United States Government that we will remain fully engaged with the Sri Lankan Government to help it meet its continuing and standing commitments to the international community to advance the cause of reconciliation and lasting peace for all Sri Lankans.”  

America, of all nations, based on its own track record is the least suited to speak of Human Rights, may it be in Sri Lanka or elsewhere. 

Reproduced herewith is a document published by Human Rights First, US-based independent advocacy and action organization that challenges America to live up to its ideals.  The document dated February 14, 2018 deals exclusively with the controversial US military prison Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp (GTMO) on the coast of Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. 

GTMO was set up outside the USA during the war on terror campaign by the George W Bush presidency as the administration considered the facility would then be outside US legal jurisdiction and detainees were not entitled to any of the protections of the Geneva Convention. However, the US Supreme Court, in June 2006 ruled that detainees were entitled to the minimal protections listed under Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention.

Since 2002, 780 detainees have been incarcerated at GTMO including 17 to 22 minors under the age of 18 years, possibly a violation of international law. Nine men have died in the prison camp, six of which has been termed as ‘suicides’ by the Department of Defense (DoD). Nationals from over 50 countries have been interned in the facility, the highest numbers being from Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

A 2006 report prepared by the Center for Policy and Research at Seton Hall University Law School reviewed DoD data in 2005 and “established that over 80% of the prisoners were captured not by Americans on the battlefield but by Pakistanis and Afghans, often in exchange for bounty payments.”  Suffice to state, none of these detainees were flown to GTMO after following extradition procedures in their home countries but kidnapped and flown to GTMO in US military transporters. Three British Muslim prisoners were repatriated to the United Kingdom in March 2004 and were immediately released without charge. They have alleged ongoing torture, sexual degradation, forced drugging and religious persecution at GTMO. A former aide to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson in 2010 stated in an affidavit, President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld had been aware, most detainees initially sent to GTMO were innocent but had to be detained for political expediency. 

President Barak Obama who pledged to close down GTMO during his first Presidential campaign left office after eight years having failed to make good his election undertaking. 

The remaining 40 detainees at present (one has been transferred in May 2018) have all spent over 10 years under detention with neither prosecution or release in sight.  President Donald Trump, in January 2018, signed an executive order to keep the prison camp open indefinitely. 

If GTMO does not make a mockery of human rights, what does?

According to Ambassador Nikki Haley, “For too long, the Human Rights Council has been a protector of human rights abusers, and a cesspool of political bias.” 

Does it not apply as much to the USA?

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Latest comments

  • 4

    you mean The Ugly American” trying to stop “The Ugly American?

    • 10

      “American arrogance”

      This might shock you Mr Jayaweera ………… but America has the right to be arrogant ………… that’s only true human nature ………. Americans have built an America that everyone wants to come to – including all the great Lankan patriots Gota, Basil, Fonseka, Allaperuma ……… they only come back to Lanka for “employment” ( oh forgot, patriotism) which they can’t find in the country of domicile. We Lankans have built a country for ourselves that we all want to get out of …….

      “the opportunism, incompetence, and cynical deceit” ……… Oh Boy! isn’t that a bit rich that we see these traits in others and not in ourselves? That’s Human Nature 101

      “powerful nations conducted themselves with behavior in keeping with dignity, good taste, and propriety.” ………… The same way we the powerful “Sinhalese” majority treats our minorities with dignity, good taste, and propriety, eh?

      I am busy and don’t have the time to write at length …………. but we will not get anywhere by just sitting around and complaining about another group of humans – the Americans ………..humans have always been arrogant and infused with a sense of superiority toward one another ……….. the same way a tall man would feel superior to a short man ……….. no amount of complaining by the short man is going to change anything. ………That’s just human nature ………. the tall man at times might show some false modesty :))

      But there are smart ways to handle these thing ……. and that’s not by complaining and sitting around appealing to the good-sense/benevolence of people who look down on ye ..

      I’m 6’3″ and Old Codger 5’4″ (or vice versa) ……… around him I walk on my toes to gain an additional 3″ …………. in fact I do this to an English expat neighbour who tries to be funny ……… Chinese, Indians, and even a few other smaller nations have used their smarts to draw parity with the Yanks; almost ………. while we are still sitting around screwing our own citizens/people and appealing to the good-graces of others ………….

      • 2

        ‘”I’m 6’3″ and Old Codger 5’4″ (or vice versa) ……… around him I walk on my toes to gain an additional 3″ “
        A pair of high heels would do the trick, Nimal. On the other hand, that would bring more problems………………

        • 7

          Dear Rajeewa, you are complaining of big states bullying small states violating international laws, but this is the same when Sinhalese are bullying Tamils violating international laws. You are saying that ambassadors should not conduct themselves in a vice-regal manner, but do you not see a similarity about the behaviour of every Sinhala governor to Northern province. Therefore please put your house in order before pointing a finger at others. Also you are making a fool of your self for bringing up Naseby revelations, when it has been exposed that Naseby has committed a fraud by selectively brining up certain passages in war report to support war crimes, which is clearly stated as that obtained from armed forces and Gota. This is why house of lords did not give much importance, British government chose to distance itself from him, and UNHCR ignored him.

        • 4

          Ha ha ha that’s a good one!

          It’s much better than sitting around complaining about the Yanks

          “A pair of high heels would do the trick”

          Luck’s on your side …….. you can always borrow Ramona’s, Champa’s ……..walk a mile in their shoes ………….

  • 1

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

    • 7

      Absolute “sovereignty” exists only in theory. That is why the fixed membership of the Security Council is limited , with a few rotating seats thrown in as a sop. It is clear who runs the world.
      Sri Lanka has no resources to speak of, no financial power. It is in fact in debt over its ability to pay , mostly due to buying weapons and building a huge standing army that it dare not touch now.
      The best analogy for diplomacy is a Kindergarten . The strongest kids beat up the weakest ones in a natural process. People like Mr. Jayaweera should study this . Whining about sovereignty gets us nowhere. China has us by the b—s. But they are seen as “our greatest friend”! At least Uncle Sam is open about his intentions.
      Send all our diplomats and politicians back to Kindergarten to learn the survival ropes again!

      • 2

        Old codger
        Based on your remark, would it also be correct for 70% of the population to beat up 12% of a minority population???

        • 5

          Eagle, I didn’t say any of the above is right, just that it’s how the world works.
          Beating up minorities is also how the world works.

  • 8

    Sinhala Intellectuals laugh at the person walk with short while they dance nude in the public. Is that an excuse or their natural moronic attitude? They say in Tamil, “Aanaikku Paanai saman”. (An elephant and a pot are equal in value). Is that what the writer proving?

    This guy is trying to read 1958 – Ugly American, but did not read Emergency 58 and find evidences to bring legal action against SWRD’s government’s rowdies who staged that year pogrom. He says if there is prove they will take legal action on Old Brother Prince. This is the team places bombs in the private part of raped victims to destroy the evidence. A well-known data bank describes how the Presidential Guards staged Kumar Ponnambalam’s murder and the murderers’ murder and their murders too. They killed Lasantha, Eknaligoda like Sinhala writers to cover-up evidence and called them terrorist, but did not arrest and take to a prison like Guantanamo- that is treatment for enemy combatants. Had they known beforehand that this is type of sequential murders Sinhala Intellectuals will be planning and staging to wipe out evidences, does this guy says still the Tamils ministers would have ratified Unitary Soulbury Constitution in 1948 to stay with Lankawe?

  • 4

    There are many witnesses saying all Lankawe leaders directly gave the orders to murders. That is why they are in war crimes. Two days ago Mervyn Silva said that in front of him Old Brother Prince was giving orders to murders. Media reported that Pillaiyan said that he was hired by the Old Royals to kill New Royals, in the Old Royals’ time. New King has made public speeches that Old Royals were planning his murders. The earlier presidential candidate, Ponny had said same things. Chandrika still fears for her life in Lankawe. Does author see that type things i.e. Kennedy planning murder of Nixon or something like that in Ugly American? Does this foolish writer know all living past American presidents always go together to fund rising when there are emergencies? Can Chandrika, Old King and New King do that in their own party meetings?

    Nuremberg judgments did not allow any Nazi criminals get back to German politics. In WWII, many allies conducted the war. They had reserved the right to interfere in the judicial procedure. In Lankawe war, 32 nations helped the Old Royals. Still Mangala and Thero de Silva claims it is they made Condoleezza Rice to proscribe and make LTTE lose IC sympathy. There are all over everywhere trophy video clips and Photo of low grade methods Rapist Army used to torture the Tamils. UN has recognized that the Rapist Army is one of 22 notorious countries use rape as a weapon.

  • 8

    GR is a man who ran from the country to US in fear of the war and came back when he got the power through his brother to command a force which he abundant due to fear …… a war hero …no he is a coward who ran away

    • 5

      Even after he took over power in Srilanka he did not give up his US citizenship and now bargaining for power to give up US citizenship. He earned billions using the power and still wants to earn billions using the power. What did he do in his power? He killed over 60000 Sinhalese youth in 1990 and another 40,000 Sinhalese youth in 2005-2009 and 40000 Tamils in 2009.

  • 3

    The “Ugly American” will ALWAYS be the “Ugly American”, but pretend to be the Model World Leader. As the saying goes, “The leopard cannot change its spots”

  • 4

    “The Ugly American” was to show how the meek and friendly American travelling overseas becomes ‘loud and ostentatious’. It describes the failure of American Embassies to recognise local customs and cultures. The book makes special mention of the US Embassy in Colombo having signs in English only while the USSR Embassy had it in Russian, English, Sinhalese and Tamil. John F Kennedy was impressed with the book and made it compulsory reading for US Embassy staff. It was a book of the times. During SWRD B tenure a US Ambassador on arrival, could not say who the PM was!
    Americans are no longer ‘loud and ostentatious’ but President Trump…………need I say anything?
    Having said that, Rajeewa Jayaweera again goes back to the after effects of the end of the infamous Lankan civil war. He says that the hands of US are not clean as far as human rights is concerned. He avoids China.
    Yes, Rajeewa no country in the world is human-rights-clean but is this good enough to claim exemption for past violations? And future violations by implication?
    Basil and Gota are US citizens. So they are NOT eligible to stand for the Presidency. Basil at some stage said that he will never ever renounce his US citizenship. GR said that he will, if he is elected President. Has GR ever tried to renounce his citizenship? GR must answer this please.
    So Rajeewa you are accusing US of interfering in Lankan elections. Is this based on hearsay?
    At one stage you sang your favourite ‘Lord Naseby song’. He could not sell a single album to his peers Rajeewa!
    You are not even handed Rajeewa.

  • 3

    The author probably expecting some favous from gota and the gang. If tbis chap gota is patriotic why is he still hanging on to US

  • 5

    This UNP regime is subservient to the USA
    But USA is the largest export market for Sri Lankan goods.
    Keshap is a first generation immigrant american with a white mother and an Indian father. He uses that to his advantage.
    Nikki Haley is a christian convert but was born into a Sikh family of immigrants. Her degree is in Accountancy. She is not a Foreign policy expert but a Christian extremist but not as bad as Mike Pence the fanatic christian who will become president in 2024.
    US withdrew from UNHRC because it got peeved when the commission made a mild criticism of US behavior towards illegal immigrants.
    US State department will always work to foster and ensure their agenda. That is something they do very well. US wants access to Trincomalee. USAID secretly carries out so called projects to promote the UNP because RW is their handmaiden.
    Racism is alive and growing in the USA. Demonizing of even Mexican American citizens is in full swing. Despite FBI statistics showing 67% of Rapists are WHITE, Trump and his ethically challenged bozos try to paint a false picture of “invasions” and “infestations” US Ambassador in Sri Lanka has to promote those policies. Trump is doing Putin’s bidding; they are hell bent on destroying NATO and free trade. Tariffs are the new fashion for US which started trade wars. Decency has no place in US politics now.

    • 2

      “UNP regime is subservient to the USA”.
      That explains the reason for MaRa siblings Gotler & Basil to hang on to their Green Cards.
      They all sync in with the “Ugly” American.

      • 1

        Uthungan; Well Observed!

  • 0

    Is Jayaweera a leftist? Does he hate America? We need rock solid answers

    • 1

      Jane Vasudetty;
      You don’t have to be a Leftist to Hate America!
      Donald Trump, ‘The Ugly American’, has done it all by Himself!

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