Let only one voice be heard

George Bush Snr., in his memoir, “A World Transformed” made an astute observation back in 1998.
“Trying to eliminate Saddam...would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. Apprehending him was probably impossible.... We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq.... there was no viable “exit strategy” we could see, violating another of our principles. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally, exceeding the United Nations’ mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression that we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could, conceivably, still be an occupying power, in a bitterly hostile land.”
If only his son could read, someone quipped, upon reading this account of why the US should refrain from invading Iraq.
It is this very same kind of illiteracy, that appears to be plaguing Sri Lanka’s political leaders today.

With one diplomatic faux pas after the other, Sri Lanka appears to be taking the short cut to isolation. On Wednesday, a letter from UN Under-Secretary General of Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes, landed on the table of Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, regretting the fracas created by his interview to Reuters and affirming his commitment to cooperating with Sri Lanka. The very same day, Chief Government Whip Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle shoots off his mouth in style, reigniting a controversy that was finally simmering down. Fernandopulle, who is allowed to speak to the media, on behalf of the government, despite several devil-may-care statements that have proved very costly for the country, called Under Secretary General Holmes a ‘terrorist’ and said that he had been bribed by the LTTE to make anti-government statements.

Naturally, the UN Chief rose stoically to the defence of his representative. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called Fernandopulle’s verbal assault ‘unwarranted and unacceptable’. If only members of this government could discern diplomatic language, they would surely realise that this is a relatively sharp rap on the knuckles, as far as the international community goes. Instead, they are blinded by their ignorance and continue to dig themselves deeper and deeper into a hole from which, at this rate, there might be no return. Fernandopulle continued his barrage, when he told this newspaper that he did not give a ‘damn’ what some ‘foreigner’ had to say, (referring to no less than the UN Chief himself), adding that he stood by his previous statements about Holmes’ terrorist links.
For journalists, Fernandopulle is a windfall – he always makes excellent copy, as we are finding out each week. But the news is not as good for the country.

Sri Lanka has been a vibrant member of the UN community, since as far back as 1955. Despite her size, this little teardrop has played an active part in shaping UN policy, chairing committees and bringing resolutions that have had a major impact on mankind in the post-World War II era. We have always played the game of diplomacy and statecraft well, allowing us to remain on good terms with most parts of the world. Even when nations have been at war with each other, Sri Lanka has managed to maintain good relations with the warring parties, allowing us to obtain maximum advantage. The Lakshman Kadirgamars and Ranil Wickremsinghes have all done their part towards ensuring that Sri Lanka never allowed her size to dictate her status in the global community.

That was of course, until this administration came along. Time and again, it has shown its ineptitude in handling crucial international situations – whether it was human rights, dealing with international pressure and criticism or diplomacy. Any foreigner, no matter how high a position he holds in the global community, may be assured that there will be slurs cast upon him, should he dare to criticise the state of security and human rights in this country. They will, undoubtedly, be treated to the worst of Sri Lanka, in terms of intolerance, abuse and alas, a significant lack of comprehension. We may be an old democracy, but we are not above the law. One too many statements by Fernandopulle or other government members, and we could just find ourselves cut loose, adrift and friendless in an unforgiving world.

It is not too much to expect that government ministers advised on matters relating to foreign policy and international affairs, are properly advised, before being allowed to speak in public forums. A government cannot speak in a myriad voices – it is a privilege no nation state will afford them. Fernandopulle cannot express personal opinions at a government media conference, anymore than President Mahinda Rajapaksa can express personal opinions at the UN General Assembly. And everytime a Minister oversteps his mandate and makes utterances that irk the international community, causing harm to Sri Lanka’s image abroad, the government cannot claim it was that member’s personal view. If that were possible, then there would be no need for a clause on collective government responsibility, to be added to the Constitution of Sri Lanka. Churchill once said, “Study history - in history lies all the secrets of statecraft.” If only our leaders would learn.