In May 2009, the army of the South Asian island nation of Sri Lanka did what decades of UN diplomatic intervention and State Department pronouncements could not do. It ended its 26-year war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, more commonly known as the Tamil Tigers. The war not only extracted a tremendous economic cost, but had a massive human cost—the UN estimated that the death toll might exceed 100,000. In the end, Sri Lankan action was both merciless and effective. The army reconquered Tamil Tiger-held territory and slaughtered the group’s leadership. The final battle was messy, but with the Tigers gone, both Sri Lankan Sinhalese and Tamils can get on with their lives and, with luck and persistence, build a strong, democratic, and prosperous state.
The Tamil Tigers were an atrocious bunch who kidnapped children and slaughtered civilians in Sri Lanka, and terrorized the Tamil Diaspora with mafia-style extortion with which they funded their terror campaign. They maintained close links with terrorist groups and rogue states. For example, they reportedly helped train the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Congressional Research Service reported ties as well between North Korea and the Tigers.
Enter the Obama administration. Earlier this month, Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake traveled to Sri Lanka. Among the points on his agenda Blake was reportedly instructed to urge the Sri Lankan government open a war crimes investigation into their army’s actions which ended the civil war. War is hell, and the Sri Lankan army was brutal during the war’s climax, but this brutality was well-justified, ended the conflict, and ultimately saved lives. Further, the Tigers seldom if ever abided by the laws of war, and so it is rich to upbraid the Sri Lankan army for showing little restraint.
Rather than sully a victory over terrorism, the Obama administration should celebrate it. And rather than condemn an ally, the White House should congratulate it.