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Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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A Nice Little War

Editorial, Oru Paper, 7 August  2006

"..As has been said before: it is much easier to start a war than to finish one. President Rajapakse�s government believes that it controls the war, but in reality it is the war that controls them. They have mounted the tiger, and can not be sure of getting off without being torn to pieces..."

It is the old story about the losing gambler: he cannot stop. He continues to play, in order to win his losses back. He continues to lose and continues to gamble, until he has lost everything: his house, his wife, his shirt.

The same thing happens in the biggest gamble of all: war. The leaders that start a war and get stuck in the mud are compelled to fight their way ever deeper into the mud. That is a part of the very essence of war: it is impossible to stop after a failure. Public opinion demands the promised victory. Incompetent generals need to cover up their failure. Military commentators and other armchair strategists demand a massive offensive.

Cynical politicians are riding the wave. Sri Lankan government got carried away by the floods that they themselves have let loose. That is what happened this week, following the battle of Mavil Aaru.

As has been said before: it is much easier to start a war than to finish one. President Rajapakse�s government believes that it controls the war, but in reality it is the war that controls them. They have mounted the tiger, and can not be sure of getting off without being torn to pieces.

War has its own rules. Unexpected things happen and dictate the next moves. And the next moves tend to be in one direction: escalation.

President Rajapakse, the father of this war, thinks that he could eliminate Tamil resistance by means of the air force and shelling. A few days of massive pounding, hundreds of tonnes of bombs on �identified targets�- and that�s it, a �lion response� he must have told himself. Well, that wasn�t it, as it turned out. Tamil resistance continues to hold.

Now the generals are convinced that there is no alternative to occupying the whole area, in order to prevent future water blockades.  What next? One cannot stop. Public opinion will demand more decisive moves. Political demagogues will shout. Commentators will grumble. The people in the south will cry out. The generals will feel the heat.

Everybody will clamour to storm forwards. Where to? Towards Vanni in the north? Or towards Thoppikal, in the east? Rajapakse and his friends will recite in unison: No! Never ever! This is not war! Just a humanitarian issue!

Perhaps some of them really don�t intend to. They do not dream of a war with the Tamils. But these politicians only delude themselves when they believe that they control the war. The war controls them.

When it becomes clear that nothing is helping, that LTTE goes on fighting and the bombs continue to explode, including in the South, the political and military leadership will face bankruptcy. They will need to pin the blame on somebody. On who? Well, on Norwegians, UNP, of course, India perhaps.

How is it possible that a small �terrorist outfit�, with a few thousand fighters altogether, goes on fighting? Where do they get the arms from? The finger will point towards the Tamil Expatriates.

President Rajapakse and his generals did not think about that when they decided on 28th of July 2006 in haste and light heartedly, without serious debate, without examining other options, without calculating the risks, to attack Mavil Aru. For a president who does not know what war is, it was an irresistible temptation: there was a clear provocation by the Tamils, international support was assured, what a wonderful opportunity!

Buddhist monks submitted an offer that could not be refused. A nice little war. Military plans were ready and well rehearsed. Certain victory. The more so, since on the other side there was no real enemy army, just a �bunch of terrorists�.

How hotly the desire was burning in the hearts of Rajapakse and his generals is attested by the fact that they started to bomb while the SLMM chief was trying to find a way out for this particular problem. The main thing was to rush in and gather the laurels and to show their primary colours to their core supporters.

They had no time to think seriously about the war aim. Now they resemble archers who shoot their arrows at a blank sheet and then draw the rings around the arrow. The aims change daily: to open a dam, to destroy LTTE positions around the dam, to drive the LTTE out of that area, to kill Tamil fighters, to re-establish the sovereignty of the Sinhalese government over all of Sri Lanka, to establish new Sinhala settlements, to deploy the army every where in the Northeast, to rehabilitate deterrence and so on.

Or just to imprint into the consciousness of the Tamils. The more this nice little war continues, the clearer it becomes that these changing aims are not realistic.

The term �guerrilla� (�small war�) was coined in Spain, during the occupation of the country by Napoleon. Irregular bands of Spanish fighters attacked the occupiers and beat them. The same happened to the Russians in Afghanistan, to the French in Algeria, to the British in Palestine and a dozen other colonies, to the Americans in Vietnam, and is happening to them now in Iraq. Even assuming that Rajapakse and Sarath Fonseka are greater commanders than Napoleon and his marshals, they will not succeed where those failed.


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