Robert O. Blake
By “Republicans are a bit stupider, more rigid, more doctrinaire in their laissez-faire capitalism than the democrats, who are cuter, prettier, a bit more corrupt – until recently... and more willing than the republicans to make small adjustments when the poor, the black, the anti-imperialists get out of hand. But, essentially, there is no difference between the two parties.” (Gore Vidal, “The State of the Union”)
The tagline for McLarty Associates reads, “We know diplomacy.” I asked a friend for a comment the other day, and this is what I got: “They should change it to ‘We buy diplomacy.’ ” Given the history of the US meddling through lobbies, think tanks and organisations that supposedly stand for (the business of) human rights, the witticism isn’t unwarranted or uncharitable. So when an ex-ambassador attached to such an organisation lets out his thoughts on the present imbroglio in Sri Lanka in a local newspaper, we need to not just read, but also read into what is written.
Robert O. Blake is not the US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, though he’s identified as such in his piece, just as Mahinda Rajapaksa is not the prime minister here (as far as the Constitution goes, that is). According to his CV, he now “advises the US business overseas on behalf of McLarty Associates.” Is this the same McLarty whose chairman once wrote that he had hopes for no less a far-right dictator than Bolsonaro? The same chairman who wrote that while Brazilians were entering a “new chapter full of fear and uncertainty,” global markets are willing to give the man a “honeymoon phase”? If so, I struggle to understand what the former ambassador, now at McLarty, means when he talks about promotion of human rights and democracy in our country. Where do Brazil and Bolsonaro figure in that scheme of things?
People known for their antipathy towards the US and what it does in/to the rest of the world will no doubt think uncharitable thoughts of Blake, McLarty, the Clintons (with whom the chairman associated), and Henry Kissinger (a friend of the chairman), along with those other officials from the Clinton and the Obama regimes who write diatribes against the Rajapaksas and China whenever Mahinda Rajapaksa makes a statement or does something, anything. Since I’m not willing to entertain uncharitable thoughts like that, Mr. Blake, I’d like to get some points across.
Mr. Blake, we were not born yesterday. Our politicians like to thump their chests whenever they talk about our 2500 year history, but such pride is, while symptomatic of chauvinism (in your books, at least), understandable, given how we were forced to flirt against our will with colonialism and how we are still trying to recover from the colonial hangover. It’s also understandable given our suspicions about the Colonial Project that’s being touted in the guise of democracy and human rights and what not (call it what you will) today. You will forgive me for saying that a substantial part of that project is, in the opinion of many people from the underdeveloped world, being spearheaded by the country you are working for. Mr. Blake, if China is indeed colonising this country, through ports and massive investments and aid that come with strings attached, it is not the first to do so and it will not be the last. Just the other day one of our writers penned a letter to the Chinese Ambassador. This writer, if I may put it bluntly, seems to believe that the Chinese are washing their dirty laundry using us. He claims to be a big fan of Chinese literature and films and believes that this qualifies him to accuse that country of undermining ours with the recent deadlock. He also claims that the likes of him are for democracy and that they want to build a socialist Sri Lanka. I’m not sure how a socialist Sri Lanka would sit in with your government, but for the moment let’s forget that.
The point is that none of this happened yesterday. So please, indulge us: how is the “Chinese threat” any bigger than the threats from your part of the world? I can go on talking about unwarranted interventions, invasions, and covert projects your part of the world has sponsored to the detriment of those same human rights and democratic ideals you say you are concerned with. I won’t. Instead I’ll talk about a claim you make at the end of your “analysis.”
The Democratic Party won back control of the House of Representatives. That it had to cede territory to the republicans in the Senate is grist for another debate altogether. You seem to think, in any case, that this blue wave will bring “added scrutiny” to Sri Lanka. You believe, and I quote, that the “promotion of human rights and democracy would be a priority” and that “Sri Lanka should expect more intensive congressional review of its recent actions, which could impact Sri Lanka’s access to financing from the new IDFC or the MCC.” Of course, the IMF and other international lenders have withdrawn support from the government until it resolves the deadlock (read, “until it installs Ranil Wickremesinghe as prime minister”), but for the moment let’s forget the threat you’ve highlighted there. Let’s talk about the party and what people in this part of the world think of its commitments.
Dictatorships and totalitarian states (some of which you oppose, others which your government has propped up, because after all, “in OUR interests!”) are essentially, as you would know, run by monolithic parties. There are no oppositions and if there are, they are undermined. It’s fashionable to term such societies as One Party States.
What of the US? What of the distinction between republicans and democrats? Is it as simple as the good guy bad guy fights John Wayne gets through? Is it a distinction at all? Gore Vidal once wrote about this and he made the following observation: “There is only one party in the United States, the Property Party... and it has two right wings.” There are many reasons to agree with Vidal and many reasons to disagree, but on this point, history bears him out. Notice, by the way, that he didn’t place them on opposite sides; he called them both “right wings.”
" Dictatorships and totalitarian states essentially run by monolithic parties
Democrats, in the popular view of many, espouse liberalism
Problem isn’t with President, but legislature
We were not born yesterday"
The democrats, in the popular view of many, espouse liberalism. They stand for rights. They believe in welfare. They want decency everywhere. They aspire for democracy in every part of the world (can we call it “permanent democracy”?). The president in power is a man they oppose, so the narrative they’ve built up is one where they, the heroes, are fighting a crusade against a group of bigots, zealots, sexists, and falsifiers. The narrative that the Trump administration has brought out, in other words, is that your president and his cohorts are not American; that they do not stand for what America stands for. Resistance to Trumpism must, according to this, come from the party you were once affiliated to (and still are, going by the tone of your piece).
But Mr. Blake, that is not how reality works. Resistance to Trump and advocacy of human rights and promotion of democracy in countries like ours is never one party’s preserve. It certainly isn’t yours.
That is why it confounds me as to why, in this grand, sweeping narrative, people who went on record claiming that the death of half a million children in Iraq in the 1990s was “worth it” are put on a pedestal as anti-fascists, or how a former First Lady who originates from one of the most marginalised minorities in your country can describe a president alleged to have callously treated that minority during the aftermath of a powerful hurricane her “partner in crime.” And in a best-seller, too!
If these are the people whose party you now claim will add more scrutiny to Sri Lanka and help it stick to its human rights commitments and democratic potential, we are left to wonder, “Quis custodiet?”
Anyway, back to the point: given this truth, this undeniable truth, can we really take your word for it that the democrats coming back to power means more scrutiny and more safeguards in terms of democracy for us? Given its history, is the Democratic Party, which by the way is associated with McLarty Associates, the best bet we have? I will not write here about what you weren’t concerned about in the last few years: the postponement of elections, the swearing in of a prime minister who lacked a majority (I am not talking about Rajapaksa), and the austerity measures that made it difficult for people to live, let alone live for democracy. But I must mention them, because your lack of concern about those issues and your sudden upset over the coming to power of the Rajapaksas make me question your motives.
One final point. You believe that presidential elections could be called next year. But you see, the problem isn’t with the president. It’s with the legislature. Parliament. This deadlock came about because the men and women we elected didn’t correspond to the seats their parties won and lost at the local government elections last February. If ever there was a democracy deficit here in the first place, that was it.
And yet, you never said you were concerned. You never wrote missives to the papers outlining your worries. You never urged the government to address the issue. Why?
I think we know the answer to that, Mr. Blake. Let me spell it out for you.
The truth is, you never really cared.