New York Times and New Straits Times columnist W. Scott Thompson, D.Phil., has a deep appreciation of the political, social and economic dynamics of our country. Scott has earned the trust of the highest officials of the US government. Scott is Professor Emeritus at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and held four presidential appointments in American administrations. He recently published “Trustee of the Nation: the biography of Fidel V. Ramos.”
After reading my June 28 column (“Can we be the Israel of the US in Asia”), Scott wrote a rejoinder, which demonstrates his agreement to the proposition. Allow me to share with you Scott’s rejoinder, as follows:
The Philippines as an ‘Israeli-type proxy’
By W. Scott Thompson
The question of Philippine-American relations in the context of China’s growing role in the region — and world — is a deeply absorbing one. And it’s a vital one for both countries.
It may not be cricket for a columnist to respond to another op-ed, but we do this only in part. Nevertheless when someone of the stature of William Esposo, doyen of journalists in this country, proposes that the Philippines must attain an Israeli-like position in the American firmament — and implementation — some additional thoughts are required. We must confess friendship and admiration for Mr. Esposo meantime.
Let us firstly make some clarifications between the standing of Israel and the Philippines. As Professors Meersheimer and Walt have powerfully argued in a recent book and articles, in the process almost ending the self-censorship even at American universities on this subject, Israel is in every sense a strategic liability to America not just in the Middle East but also in our supremely important relations with Europe. That Israel as a ‘democracy’ is advantageous to America doesn’t even pass the straight-face test, given its 45-year occupation of major swaths of its region, making it a breeding ground for terrorists and terrorism, as no less than President Obama, in a speech while still a mere Illinois state congressman, argued by implication in 2003.
The Philippines, in contrast, with its ups and downs, is indeed a democracy. We share values and we value the long association, while, admittedly, feeling guilt over the war that deprived the archipelago of its independence; and then we ‘abandoned’ the Philippines in 1942 when we in fact had no choice. But we returned. The USA couldn’t win in the Pacific until it had knocked out the hard fact of German strategic power over, and occupation of, all of Europe. And even before we beat it to a pulp we fought the largest naval battle in world history in…the Leyte Gulf! And then with significant Filipino help we beat Japan to a pulp.
The import of Israel influence in America comes from an overriding fact: 64% of contributions to American Democratic politicians come from Jewish-American sources. When President Obama showed Prime Minister Netanyahu the back door of the White House AIPAC — the Jewish lobby — flexed its muscles until Obama turned on his heels. But what does that tell us of the President’s orientation? He knew that the worst thing for Israel was and remains the policies of the Israeli government in refusing to support real negotiations with the Palestinians (confession: at his distinguished home school, of which the current contributor remains Professor Emeritus, a significant clique of professors wanted him turned out for proposing, in an Indonesian paper, a ‘two-state solution.’!)
And now European diplomats tighten the screws on Iran, not because they consider this sensible, but merely giving in to Netanyahu’s blackmail to launch a preemptive war on Iran, which most of his strategic advisers consider a potential national suicide.
Yes, the Philippines lacks the power to blackmail the US government and president, who, as Filipinos will understand, would like to be reelected president of (and then guess what his policies will be). The Philippines has something far more important going for it. A long time relationship, shared values, and strategic advantage. Israeli policies are leading potentially to a national disaster for them; Filipino policies are the precise opposite, with a popular president highly regarded in Washington. No back door for P-Noy.
Now Mr. Esposo wants Washington to arm his country as mine does Israel. But we do the latter because we’re forced to; we would do the former because it’s in our interest. Israel is a client state with few friends beyond Washington and its all-powerful lobby. The Philippines is spreading its wings with its accomplishments, rapid economic growth, and, yes, absolutely central geographic position. Vietnam is not ‘allied’ with America save in the narrow sense of standing up to China. Filipinos are the second largest group of ethnic Asians in America and they count more and more. But history counts even more. The Death March we shared, the imprisonment of old friends from earlier days in Santo Tomas…And we kept our word. In 1946 the Philippines got its long-delayed independence.
The Philippines doesn’t have to be a pawn of Washington. Pawns are there to be bought and dropped, as Israel might find if it launched a totally unwarranted aggressive war against Iran.
In diplomatic circles worldwide, the Philippines is no longer considered an ‘American responsibility’. It’s a country of almost 100 million, and it straddles the sea-lanes of Asia. Its colonial relationship to the USA is very old news, though there is work to be done in some minds, where it is still felt that Washington determines the outcome of elections here (it doesn’t: the problem is making Washington care enough.)
I want friends like Billy Esposo to see that the Philippines deserves better. It must get more advanced weaponry; it must be helped across the board militarily, in joint interests. But let’s not fool ourselves. Israel is a debit to America strategically, harming us not just throughout the Islamic world. The Philippines is an asset on so many fronts we need not enumerate them. There is no analogy between this country vis-à-vis China and Israel vs. ‘the rest.’ After all, Vladimir Putin visited them last week. America must work with all its allies to contain China — even Korea and Japan are now in military alliance despite their tortuous history.
But our Asia strategy starts with the Philippines, because most importantly we are friends. Do we need a more important exemplar than the British-American ‘special relationship’? Franklin Roosevelt contrived our entry into the war thanks to American ties to Britain, with a little conniving and brandy on Winston Churchill’s part. MacArthur and the early Republic here are a different, but illustrative, comparison. And America, from 1946 to 2006, sent among its most famous diplomats to Manila — like Charles E. Bohlen and John Negroponte.
It’s time for a reset in our relations, to use the words of Raffy Alunan, the distinguished former DILG head. Yes substantial military assistance. And yes, both heads held high.
We Filipinos should deliberate on these insights provided by Scott. Acquiring an Israeli-type defense capability would not just be a national security boost but a tremendous investment magnet as well. Investors won’t want to put their money in countries that cannot even defend themselves from external aggression.
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Shakespeare: “Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.”