Sycophancy, Diplomacy And Flattery
The often used quote: An ambassador is an honest man sent abroad to lie for his country, has been given cynical and ambiguous interpretations by cynics such as an ambassador is one who is expected to lie in speech for his country or lie in bed for pleasure. Ambassadors will obviously deny both insinuations. A good ambassador knows well that lies are soon found out and will do damage to his country’s credibility as well as himself. In present times with newspersons equipped with cameras and sound recorders of all sorts under beds, on the streets, in jungles or other exotic places, to lie or lie in bed is absolutely counterproductive.
Godage as Ambassador
The question of lying or not telling the truth does not arise in the case of Nanda Godage who was recalled from his post of High Commissioner in Malaysia last week because he had asked at a conference of Sri Lankan ambassadors (closed to the media) what his responses should be to queries made by Tamil lobbyists in Kuala Lumpur.
Directions given on the stand taken by the Sri Lanka government on questions raised by the LTTE lobbyists and members of the Tamil diaspora in Western and even oriental capitals would have been beneficial to all Sri Lankan ambassadors. But Godage’s queries had obviously grated the powers that be. In a letter to Prof. G. L. Peiris, he says: ‘I can’t believe that you of all people had me recalled’. He may have caused the professorial ire by asking embarrassing questions from his immediate boss in the audience of diplomats, but the Prof. with a ‘monitor’ at his heels wherever he goes and considering whom the ‘monitor’ is expected to report to, we may be pardoned for saying that the ultimate decision made for recall may not be that of the professor but the almighty ‘Creator and Destroyer’, the Brahma, in contemporary Sri Lankan politics.
Godage is the most experienced diplomat in the Foreign Service right now. Having served in embassies like Tokyo, Washington, New Delhi and finally Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Brussels, he knew his diplomatic lingo and table manners. He ended his career as the Acting Foreign Secretary. But even Homer nods.
Politics and diplomacy
Was the mistake – if it was a mistake at all – political or diplomatic?
The line dividing politics and diplomacy today is vague. It is said that diplomacy is more than doing the right thing at the right time; it is avoiding, saying or doing the wrong thing at any time. Godage’s request for policy direction on an issue that concerns almost every Sri Lankan mission cannot be faulted diplomatically, we are told by some past masters of the game. But he apparently erred in his politics. Today, almost all appointments are political. Although Nanda Godage was a veteran foreign service diplomat, his appointment to Malaysia after being recalled 15 years on retirement was political. The maxim of political appointments of the Rajapaksa regime is that you cannot even tread softly on the toes of the 3R-s and certainly not on the big toe and Godage apparently did that. G. L. Peiris is not in the all powerful Kitchen Cabinet and it is doubtful whether he could appoint or recall ambassadors.
In his retirement as a journalist Nanda Godage evinced a fair degree of liberalism even though he breathed fire and brimstone, quite justifiably, at the LTTE and Velupillai Prabakaran as the latter’s Gotterdammerung was near at hand. It would have certainly warmed the cockles of the Rajapaksas’ hearts. He was also liberal in his praise for Mahinda Rajapaksa for his conduct of the ‘War’. The Island newspaper (Aug 15, 2012) commenting on Godage’s evidence before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) last year, says that he paid ‘a glowing tribute to President Mahinda Rajapaksa for thwarting an attempt by the West to throw a lifeline for the sinking Tigers’.
After the end of the war Godage pushed strongly for justice to Tamils. In his evidence before the LLRC and before his appointment to Malaysia he spoke of several thousands of Tamils being held in custody with no charges being brought against them and called for justice to be done. He was even critical of the judiciary on the plight of Tamil refugees. Yet he was appointed as High Commissioner and would have been lulled into the belief that such criticism as passé.
It has been well known that any attempt to show that some Tamil refugees are not being accorded justice and even international laws are being flouted in their treatment results in the Rajapaksa regime going berserk – like setting Hanuman’s tail on fire. But Godage was appointed and continued as High Commissioner for eight months till the conference of diplomats took place. Perhaps he was also lulled into the belief that the Rajapaksa regime had gone liberal in its thinking.
G. L. Peiris is being projected as the villain of the piece by some sections of the press. Whether it is so we do not know but in Godage’s letter published in the anti GL press says: ‘You of all people had me recalled’ pointing to the professor’s guilt.
A curious feature about criticism levelled at GL is that he is being singled out for lambasting by the anti GL section while even Mervyn Silva, S. B. Dissanayake, Bandula Gunawardena and Susil Premjayanth are treated much more favourably. Does the power to appoint ambassadors or sack them lie with President Mahinda Rajapaksa or Prof. Peiris?
Three ambassadors – all three political – have fallen from the grace of the Rajapaksa regime in recent times – Dayan Jayatilleke, Tamara Kunanayakam and Nanda Godage. Strangely all three performed exceptionally well in their assignments.
Dayan Jayatilleke was the head of mission in Geneva when Sri Lanka successfully defeated a resolution moved by the Western nations to condemn the country for violation of human rights and war crimes at the Geneva Human Rights Council. Jayatilleke was recalled because in this country success results in a very antagonistic opposition.
Jayatilleke no doubt contributed to his downfall mightily with his flamboyance and his irresistible urge of tapping himself vigorously on his back. But like an Arpico rubber ball he had bounced back and is now in Paris playing a vigorous role as brand ambassador to the Rajapaksas from Paris. Tamara Kunanayakam, a Sri Lankan Tamil, played a heroic role as Ambassador in Geneva at the last sessions of the Human Rights Council albeit not successfully because of the tremendous forces arraigned against the country and the Sri Lankan foreign policy of banging its head against mighty rocks. She was sent back to Cuba against her express wishes.
Now comes Nanda Godage, the veteran, whose head rolls for no diplomatic faux pas but trying to do his job.
What these personages seem not to have grasped is that today’s Sri Lankan diplomacy involves a great degree of sycophancy and flattery without which the chances of survivability are poor.
Hamlet to the rescue
William Shakespeare gives an example of such sycophancy and flattery in Elizabethan times in Hamlet.
Prince Hamlet points to the sky and asks Polonius if the cloud above has the shape of a camel and Polonius agrees. Hamlet then changes his mind and says the cloud looks like a weasel and Polonius agrees. Hamlet once more changes his mind and opines that it looks like a whale and Polonius once again affirms the view. Diplomats should go back to reading Hamlet if they are to survive.