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On America

By Indi.ca

(November 08, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) I like America. I grew up there. There’s a lot of good people and ideas coming out of there. In Sri Lanka, however, they seem a bit adrift. Besides doing good and being liked, I don’t know what America’s interests are here. Neither, I suspect, do they.

Our Friendship

On a personal level, I think Sri Lankans and Americans get along very well. I have lived there as have many Sri Lankans. Americans visit here and are warmly welcomed throughout the island. We follow their pop culture and they seem to like our food.

On a business level as well. They are our main export partner (about 25% of, according to Wikipedia) and American businesses and consumers power a lot of our economy.

On a political level, however, things have started to go a bit sour. The largely leak-driven and internal scuffle over them trying to question General Fonseka is one issue, but on a broader level anti-American sentiment is beginning to emerge from political leadership. Behind closed doors they continue to ask for money and support, but this development is troubling.

Our Issues

However, the Americans are actually part of the problem. Human rights and liberties are generally tools of the opposition and foreign powers to beat others over the head with. Once actual power comes into play, they are forgotten. The US has no particular strategic interest here so they cultivate the luxury of indignation. Where they do have interests (like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, or Israel) they generally look the other way.

Now, ten years ago one could give America a pass based on their generally commendable ideals, but George W. Bush razed that moral high ground to the dust. Any condemnation from the US doesn’t sound right while they’re still engaged in wars of choice that killed and displaced millions. I suspect they say these things in Sri Lanka simply because there is not political cost, and I think people can see that fakeness.

The Point

What this question of tone and place obscures, however, is the sad fact that they may be right. The question is, however, how do they help? The US lecturing Sri Lanka and hassling General Fonseka is simply offensive. One response is that Sri Lanka is small and Fonseka is questioned like any other Green Card holder, but that’s offensive as well. More to the point, it’s threatening.

For better or worse, this is the government we have for now. Many US actions seems threatening to the very existence of the government, and that’s not a very productive way to make incremental changes. Much of the constituency lobbying the US seems to be members of the Tamil diaspora, many of whom do support the LTTE. This means, regardless of their intentions, any American influence is going to be viewed with apprehension.

For Moderation and Respect

For these reasons, I think America could make a more positive impact if they eased up on the condemnation and focused on a more strategic relationship. Power to power, state to state. China’s intentions are more scary, but they at least don’t threaten the stability of the state. They consider those matters internal.

Even I, who didn’t vote for this government, still do not want foreign powers destabilizing it. Even I respect General Fonseka even if I don’t agree with a lot of what happened. I think he should be treated with respect. If the US confronts the Sri Lankan government aggressively they will find that Sri Lanka people are rather united about resisting foreign interference.

If they just close their eyes and pretend like they have a strategic interest here they may be able to interact with the state without coming off as threatening. They could also work with the Sri Lankan people, maybe get their journalists better access, etc. Because I think, whatever’s said, the Americans are our friends. They are not, however, our parents. They can give us frank advice, but at some point they need to recognize the limits of their power.

Sri Lanka is going through something and the Sri Lankan people need to be the ones to work it out. The US can and should support us and give us honest advice, but they should make some cold calculations and deal with us as a sovereign state rather than a CSR case. I know we’re small, but we’re pretty great and I think it can be a beneficial relationship. It just has to be founded on respect. From both sides.
-Sri Lanka Guardian

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