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Biden’s Possible Strategic Blunder

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NO SIGN OF NEW THINKING ON FOREIGN POLICY . . .

by Selvam Canagaratna

Melvin Goodman, writing in CounterPunch magazine, noted that Donald Trump’s wretched national security inheritance for President Joe Biden included some low-hanging fruit that is being addressed. Biden’s speech to the Munich Security Conference last week reasserted the importance of the transatlantic alliance, particularly the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the US commitment to mutual security. Biden’s delayed discussions with Israel’s Bibi Netanyahu and his warning to Saudi Arabia indicate that the United States considers the renewal of the Iran nuclear treaty a top priority, and that Jerusalem and Riyadh must not get in the way.

Goodman

is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and a professor of government at Johns Hopkins University. A former CIA analyst, Goodman is the author of and . and . His most recent book is American Carnage: The Wars of Donald Trump (Opus Publishing), and he is the author of the forthcoming The Dangerous National Security State (2020).” Goodman is the national security columnist.

There is no sign of new thinking on our most important foreign policy problems, however — our relations with Russia and China. Biden’s unnecessarily harsh campaign messages to Moscow and Beijing were designed for a domestic audience, but it means that Biden’s national security team is on a “short leash,” not only for re-engaging both capitals but, more importantly, for trying to prevent movement toward a Sino-Russian alliance.

There is no sign that Biden recognizes US responsibility for the difficult relations with Moscow and Beijing. The expansion of NATO and the aggressive deployment of US and NATO forces in East Europe and the Baltics in violation of a verbal understanding between then-President George H.W. Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev is a key component of Russian-American friction. Trump’s trade and tariff war as well as gratuitously tough rhetoric toward Beijing is part and parcel of Xi Jinping’s annoyance with Washington.

Meanwhile, the Congress and the pundits of the Washington Post and the New York Times appear to be thirsting for a renewal of the Cold War. The military and intelligence communities are piling on with the recognition that their bloated budgets, which should be facing constraints, are at stake.

Although Russia and China have been steadily increasing contacts and co-operation on every level, including unprecedented joint military exercises in the Arctic and the Pacific, both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping want to renew dialogue with the United States.

Putin wants to reopen the arms control dialogue on both the strategic and conventional level. He also favours extending the discussion to the problem of cyberwar and cyber-espionage, the invisible weapons that many consider the “perfect weapon.” Russian military intelligence invaded a major internet software manufacturer nearly a year ago, and as a result roamed widely throughout government and private computer systems without US awareness. The Russians were able to steal a great deal of information over a period of eight months, before a private company — and not the National Security Agency’s Cyber Command — were able to detect the cyber storm. In view of our vulnerability, it clearly is in our interest to pursue such negotiations.

Xi wants to resume economic co-operation, particularly to gain greater access to US technology exports and to end US sanctions on Chinese officials and companies. The Chinese challenge to US interests is complex, but Sino-American discussions on climate and economic issues could pave the way for wider co-operation in the same way that arms control negotiations between the Soviets and Americans contributed to a strategic detente. The Chinese have never indicated an interest in challenging America’s global hegemony, and expect a continued US military presence throughout the Pacific.

The United States, meanwhile, is displaying insufficient concern with Sino-Russian co-operation that is taking advantage of US intransigence toward both nations. Biden’s personnel appointments, moreover, do not point to “new thinking” toward either nation, and point to a tougher stance that our European and Asian partners consider counter-productive. The European Union has ignored US wishes and proceeded to conclude a huge investment agreement with China. In the Pacific region, China has strengthened ties with both South Korea and New Zealand over the opposition of the Biden administration. It is noteworthy that China’s neighbours have reconciled themselves to Beijing’s presence in the South China Sea, while the Biden administration has gratuitously sent an aircraft carrier, the USS Theodore Roosevelt, into the region.

Biden’s entire national security team appears to endorse the need for hard-edged statements toward both Moscow and Beijing. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s remarks have been unnecessarily harsh, and the appointment of Victoria Nuland, a Cold Warrior from the Obama administration, as the Undersecretary of State for Policy is a bad sign.

The appointments for China policy have been worse. Kurt Campbell, the father of containment toward China from the Obama administration, is the National Security Council’s chief of Asian affairs, and the National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, has promised to take a tough line toward Beijing. Even Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellin took a hawkish line in her confirmation hearings, and the nominee for trade representative, Katherine Tai, will presumably do the same. Biden himself has taken credit for a tough line in his phone calls with Putin and Xi.

Both Russia and China have adopted abusive practices that can’t be ignored; the Navalny case in Russia and the treatment of the Uighurs in Xinjiang must be addressed. But their actions for the most part have not confronted, let alone threatened, American national interest.

Russia’s involvement in Syria does not compromise the US position in the Middle East; China’s treatment of Hong Kong was predictable more than 20 years after Britain surrendered the colony. China’s intellectual property theft must be addressed, and trade relations will always be difficult. Neither Moscow nor Beijing is looking for a fight with Washington, however, and both see their economic security as the key element in their national security. But both will protect their periphery if the United States continues to deploy sophisticated military weapons on the Russian border or lethal naval combatants around Taiwan and the South China Sea.

An arms control dialogue with Russia that includes reinstating the Intermediate-forces Nuclear Treaty and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty could be the key to unlocking the Russian-American stalemate before relations worsen. An improvement of relations with Moscow would enable the United States to concentrate on its number one foreign policy priority: stabilizing relations with China. Too many foreign policy mavens in the Biden administration believe that the containment that seemed to work against Russia should be applied to China. China is not Russia; it cannot be contained. It is time for diplomacy to resolve the differences that tactical military deployments would only worsen.

Lord Salibury, the former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Britain, warned that the “commonest error in politics is sticking to the carcass of dead policies.”



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South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and what it means for SL

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At the head table (L to R): High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in South Africa Prof. Gamini Gunawardena, State Minister of Foreign Affairs Tharaka Balasuriya and Executive Director LKI Dr. D.L. Mendis.

State circles in Sri Lanka have begun voicing the need for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) for the country, on the lines of South Africa’s historic TRC, and the time could not be more appropriate for a comprehensive discussion in Sri Lanka on the questions that are likely to arise for the country as a result of launching such an initiative. There is no avoiding the need for all relevant stakeholders to deliberate on what it could mean for Sri Lanka to usher a TRC of its own.

Fortunately for Sri Lanka, the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKI), Colombo, took on the responsibility of initiating public deliberations on what a TRC could entail for Sri Lanka. A well-attended round table forum towards this end was held at the LKI on November 25 and many were the vital insights it yielded on how Sri Lanka should go about the crucial task of bringing about enduring ethnic peace in Sri Lanka through a home-grown TRC. A special feature of the forum was the on-line participation in it of South African experts who were instrumental in making the TRC initiative successful in South Africa.

There was, for example, former Minister of Constitutional Affairs and Communication of South Africa Roelf Meyer, who figured as Chief Representative of the white minority National Party government in the multi-party negotiations of 1993, which finally led to ending apartheid in South Africa. His role was crucial in paving the way for the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994. Highlighting some crucial factors that contributed towards South Africa’s success in laying the basis for ethnic reconciliation, Meyer said that there ought to be a shared need among the antagonists to find a negotiated solution to their conflict. They should be willing to resolve their issues. Besides, the principle needs be recognized that ‘one negotiates with one’s enemies’. These conditions were met in South Africa.

Meyer added that South Africa’s TRC was part of the country’s peace process. Before the launching of the TRC a peace agreement among the parties was already in place. Besides, an interim constitution was licked into shape by then. The principle agreed to by the parties that, ‘We will not look for vengeance but for reconciliation’, not only brought a degree of accord among the conflicting parties but facilitated the setting-up of the TRC.

Meyer also pointed out that the parties to the conflict acted with foresight when they postponed considering the question of an amnesty for aggressors for the latter part of the negotiations. If an amnesty for perceived aggressors ‘was promised first, we would never have had peace’, he explained.

Meanwhile, Dr. Fanie Du Toit, Senior Fellow of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, South Africa, in his presentation said that the restoration of the dignity of the victims in the conflict is important. The realization of ethnic peace in South Africa was a ‘victim-centric’ process. Hearing out the victim’s point of view became crucial. Very importantly, the sides recognized that ‘apartheid was a crime against humanity’. These factors made the South African TRC exercise a highly credible one.

The points made by Meyer and Du Toit ought to prompt the Sri Lankan state and other parties to the country’s conflict to recognize what needs to be in place for the success of an ethnic peace process of their own. A challenge for the Sri Lankan government is to ban racism in all its manifestations and to declare racism a crime against humanity. For starters, is the Lankan government equal to this challenge? If this challenge goes unmet bringing ethnic reconciliation to Sri Lanka would prove an impossible task.

Lest the Sri Lankan government and other relevant sections to the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict forget, reconciliation in South Africa was brought about, among other factors, by truth-telling by aggressors and oppressors. In its essentials, the South African TRC entailed the aggressors owning to their apartheid-linked crimes in public before the Commission. In return they were amnestied and freed of charges. Could Sri Lanka’s perceived aggressors measure up to this challenge? This question calls for urgent answering before any TRC process is gone ahead with.

Making some opening remarks at the forum, State Minister of Foreign Affairs Tharaka Balasuriya said, among other things, that the LKI discussion set the tone for the setting up of a local TRC. He said that the latter is important because future generations should not be allowed to inherit Sri Lanka’s ethnic tangle and its issues. Ethnic reconciliation is essential as the country goes into the future. He added that the ‘Aragalaya’ compelled the country to realize its past follies which must not be repeated.

In his closing remarks, former Minister of Public Works of South Africa and High Commissioner of South Africa to Sri Lanka ambassador Geoffrey Doidge said that Sri Lanka’s TRC would need to have a Compassionate Council of religious leaders who would be catalysts in realizing reconciliation. Sri Lanka, he said, needs to seize this opportunity and move ahead through a consultative process. All sections of opinion in the country need to be consulted on the core issues in reconciliation.

At the inception of the round table, Executive Director, LKI, Dr. D. L. Mendis making some welcome remarks paid tribute to South Africa’s former President Nelson Mandela for his magnanimous approach towards the white minority and for granting an amnesty to all apartheid-linked offenders. He also highlighted the role played by Bishop Desmond Tutu in ushering an ‘Age of Reconciliation’.

In his introductory remarks, High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in South Africa Prof. Gamini Gunawardena said, among other things, that TRCs were not entirely new to Sri Lanka but at the current juncture a renewed effort needed to be made by Sri Lanka towards reconciliation. Sri Lanka should aim at its own TRC process, he said.

During Q&A Roelf Meyer said that in South Africa there was a move away from authoritarianism towards democracy, a democratic constitution was ushered. In any reconciliation process, ensuring human rights should be the underlying approach with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights playing the role of guide. Besides, a reconciliation process must have long term legitimacy.

Dr. Fanie Du Toit said that Bishop Tutu’s commitment to forgiveness made him acceptable to all. Forgiveness is not a religious value but a human one, he said. It is also important to recognize that human rights violations are always wrong.

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Cucumber Face Mask

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*  Cucumber and Aloe Vera

Ingredients

• 1 tablespoon aloe vera gel or juice • 1/4th grated cucumber

Method

Mix the grated cucumber and aloe gel, and carefully apply the mixture on the face and also on your neck.

Leave it on for 15 minutes. Wash with warm water.

* Cucumber and Carrot

Ingredients

• 1 tablespoon fresh carrot juice • 1 tablespoon cucumber paste • 1 tablespoon sour cream

Method

Extract fresh carrot juice and grate the cucumber to get a paste-like consistency. Mix these two ingredients, with the sour cream, and apply the paste on the face.

Leave it on for 15 to 20 minutes. Rinse with lukewarm water. (This cucumber face pack is good for dry skin)

* Cucumber and Tomato

Ingredients

• 1/4th cucumber • 1/2 ripe tomato

Method

Peel the cucumber and blend it with the tomato and apply the paste on your face and neck and massage for a minute or two, in a circular motion.

Leave the paste on for 15 minutes. Rinse with cool water. (This cucumber face pack will give you brighter and radiant skin)

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Christmas time is here again…

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The dawning of the month of December invariably reminds me of The Beatles ‘Christmas Time Is Here Again.’ And…yes, today is the 1st of December and, no doubt, there will be quite a lot of festive activities for us to check out.

Renowned artiste, Melantha Perera, who now heads the Moratuwa Arts Forum, has been a busy man, working on projects for the benefit of the public.

Since taking over the leadership of the Moratuwa Arts Forum, Melantha and his team are now ready to present their second project – a Christmas Fair – and this project, I’m told, is being done after a lapse of three years.

They are calling it Christmas Fun-Fair and it will be held on 7th December, at St. Peter’s Church Hall, Koralawella.

A member of the organizing committee mentioned that this event will not be confined to only the singing of Christmas Carols.

“We have worked out a programme that would be enjoyed by all, especially during this festive season.”

There will be a variety of items, where the main show is concerned…with Calypso Carols, as a curtain raiser, followed by Carols sung by Church choirs.

They plan to include a short drama, pertaining to Christmas, and a Comedy act, as well.

The main show will include guest spots by Rukshan Perera and Mariazelle Gunathilake.

Melantha Perera: Second project as President of the Moratuwa Arts Forum

Although show time is at 7.30 pm, the public can check out the Christmas Fun-Fair scene, from 4.30 pm onwards, as there will be trade stalls, selling Christmas goodies – Christmas cakes and sweets, garment items, jewellery, snacks, chocolate, etc.

The fair will not be confined to only sales, as Melantha and his team plan to make it extra special by working out an auction and raffle draw, with Christmas hampers, as prizes.

Santa and ‘Charlie Chaplin’ will be in attendance, too, entertaining the young and old, and there will also be a kid’s corner, to keep thembusy so that the parents could do their shopping.

They say that the main idea in organizing this Christmas Fun-Fair is to provide good festive entertainment for the people who haven’t had the opportunity of experiencing the real festive atmosphere during the last few years.

There are also plans to stream online, via MAF YouTube, to Sri Lankans residing overseas, to enable them to see some of the festive activities in Sri Lanka.

Entrance to the Christmas Fun Failr stalls will be free of charge. Tickets will be sold only for the main show, moderately priced at Rs. 500.

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